Yoshio Shirai, 80; Japanese Boxing Champion

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Yoshio Shirai, the first boxer from Japan to be crowned a world champion, has died. He was 80.

Shirai died Friday of pneumonia, the Japan Boxing Commission said Tuesday.

Shirai made history as the first Japanese citizen to hold a boxing title when he won the world flyweight title in May 1952, at the age of 29. Before a crowd of 40,000 at Korakuen baseball stadium in Tokyo, Shirai won a unanimous decision against champion Dado Marino of Honolulu in a 15-round bout.

Shirai successfully defended his crown four times before losing on points to Pascal Perez of Argentina in 1954 in a bout also held in Tokyo. Perez became the first Argentine to win a boxing title.

Shirai retired in May 1955 after he was knocked out in a rematch with Perez.

Born in Tokyo, Shirai made his professional debut in 1943, winning eight matches, but was drafted into the Japanese navy the next year.

He resumed his ring career in 1946 but had mixed success until an American, with no previous boxing experience, became his trainer and manager.

Alvin Cahn, a longtime professor of botany at the University of Illinois, was working for the American occupation administration in 1948 when he happened into a gym in Tokyo and saw Shirai.

"I had every qualification in the world to bar me from being the manager of a world champion," Cahn told Associated Press some years ago. "However, I was always interested in experimental research. I wondered what would happen if you took a Japanese boy and put him on an American diet and trained him with American sports science."

In four years, Shirai had won the flyweight and bantamweight titles of Japan and then the world flyweight title.

After retiring from the ring, Shirai worked as a boxing coach and commentator and owned a gym.

He fell ill in April. Information on survivors was not immediately available.

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