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Ex-amateur boxing star Hayato Tsutsumi embarks on pro title hunt

Japanese boxer Hayato Tsutsumi poses for photos during a press conference on April 13, 2022, in Tokyo. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Unable to add an Olympic medal to his impressive amateur resume, 22-year-old Japanese boxer Hayato Tsutsumi will next step into the ring as a professional.

    Tsutsumi built his reputation with 13 amateur titles, but opted for a new direction after missing out on last summer's Tokyo Olympics when the final qualifying tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus.

    Now firmly focused on the pro ranks, he will leave the Olympic dreams to younger brother Reito, who will fight for a spot at the 2024 Paris Games.

    "I want to become a world champion before the Paris Olympics and inspire my brother," Hayato said.

    Tsutsumi, who passed the professional boxing license test on April 26, fights out of the Shisei Boxing Gym where Kazuto Ioka, Japan's first four-weight world champion and current WBO super flyweight champion, also trains.

    Under Japan Boxing Commission rules, every boxer in Japan belongs to a gym that has exclusive management rights for the fighter.

    "It's an ideal environment for someone who wants to fight against the world's best. I want to attract people to the sport through my fights and put on a good show for them," Tsutsumi said.

    The second of three brothers, Hayato began practicing Kyokushin karate, a full-contact martial art, as a young child. He began juggling boxing and kickboxing from fifth grade, but decided to focus exclusively on boxing in junior high.

    In 2016, while a student of Narashino High School in Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, Tsutsumi became Japan's first world youth champion. The following year he became a national champion.

    Tsutsumi continued his success at Toyo University, but lost in the Asia-Oceania Olympic qualifiers. His last chance of reaching the Tokyo Olympics ended when the International Olympic Committee canceled the final qualifier.

    The IOC allocated spots to athletes based on their world rankings, leaving Tsutsumi out. Japan entered six boxers, four men and two women, at last summer's Olympics.

    Last month, Tsutsumi announced his decision to turn pro.

    Given his success at the youth level, the youngster, known for left jab and keen ring awareness, should be one to watch in the coming years. He expects to compete at either superbantam or featherweight and make his debut this summer.

    Tsutsumi's dream is to add a world boxing title to his other sporting accomplishments. His boxing wish list also includes having his name near the top of Ring magazine's pound-for-pound rankings.

    Ioka and fellow Japanese Naoya Inoue, a unified WBA and IBF bantamweight champion, were named in the latest top-10 pound-for-pound world rankings released by the oldest U.S.-based boxing publication on April 30.

    According to The Ring, the ratings panel is made up of a dozen experts from around the world.

    Tsutsumi knows that putting his name alongside boxing's greats in the independent rankings is no easy task, but he relishes the challenge.

    "These are fighters chosen by critics in (the top boxing nation of) America so nothing is harder (than making the list). It's worth the challenge," he said.

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