TOKYO — After a 19-month layoff, former three-time Japan Boxing Commission champion Rick Roberts is planning to fight again.

Roberts, an Air Force master sergeant at Yokota Air Base, will step into the ring against Kengo Nagashima of Japan, the WBC’s sixth-ranked lightweight, Oct. 4 at Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Arena, JBC officials said Monday.

Roberts, a 37-year-old New Yorker, hasn’t fought since March 9, 2002, when he lost by unanimous decision to Masakazu Satake for the Orient & Pacific Boxing Federation junior-welterweight title. Roberts says he’s returning for “the love of the sport.”

“If I didn’t think I had a chance, I’m not going to do it,” said Roberts, who has a 38-4-2 record with 20 knockouts in a 16-year JBC career, which began in 1987 at Misawa Air Base.

“I’m not trying to get my one last big fight in. I’m enjoying what I’m doing. I think I can do it,” he said. “I’m going out there to have a good time.”

Still, Roberts acknowledged he faces questions about the difficulty of keeping in shape and staying sharp at his age, and that he’s fought just three times in the last 33 months.

“I know I have a lot going against me but a lot of times that’s the motivating factor,” said Roberts, the 730th Air Mobility Squadron’s unit training manager.

“It’s not easy,” he said of staying in shape. “It’s not like before, just go out and get in shape, but I’ve been training hard lately.”

Much of that training is done daily at the Ishikawa Boxing Gym. Managed by Roberts’ longtime mentor Seiichi Ishikawa, the gym is three train stops from Yokota Air Base, where the master sergeant has been assigned for 10 years on two tours.

Roberts, who fights under the handle Rick Yoshimura — the name of one of his sponsors — held the JBC’s junior-welterweight title from 1988-91 and the JBC lightweight belt twice in the 1990s.

Along the way, he earned a No. 3 World Boxing Association lightweight ranking and set a JBC record for consecutive title defenses: 22, from January 1995 to November 2000.

Hana Kusumoto and Dave Ornauer contributed to this report.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now