The domestic Japanese boxing scene has given us so many thrillers over the years and has seen fighters develop individual reputations as men who need to be watched due to their exciting styles, all action bouts and never say die attitudes. They are the fighters who are the life blood of the Japanese scene and are the ones who attract fans and help keep fans. They are a special breed of fighter who are the fighters who provide thrills and spills, and the high octane action that we all love. Today we look at a bout between two such fighters, who fought twice in the 1980's and gave us two amazing battles.
Naoto Takahashi (11-0, 7) vs Mitsuo Imazato (22-10, 12) II
In February 1987 the rising, exciting, and good looking Naoto Takahashi stopped veteran Mitsuo Imazato in 5 rounds to become the Japanese Bantamweight champion. That first bout was tremendous, and just 4 months later they would meet again in a rematch that was short but all action.
Takahashi, for those who aren't aware, was developing a reputation as the type of fighter who provided action. He was a very talented boxer-puncher but found himself being dragged into wars, giving up his skills and speed to engage in battles, going punch for punch with opponents and put on a show for fans. He was technically solid as an outside fighter, boxing behind his jab, but all too often ended up in the wrong type of fight, something that plagued him through his career and eventually curtailed a promising career way too early.
Imazato on the other hand was 24 year old veteran of the Japanese scene. He was a 2-time Bantamweight champion and had been a fairly dominant force on the domestic title picture, with a 9-1 (7) record in Japanese title fights. He had faltered when he had stepped up, to either Super Bantamweight or OPBF title level, but was a very good domestic championship level fighter who had given a lot of excitement through his career, and had taken a lot of punishment since his debut in 1979.
Their first bout had been thrilling, with Imazato being taken out in the 5th round, the best round of the fight and he was desperate to reclaim his title. He applied pressure and tried to control the bout with his stiff, hard jabs. He however lacked the speed of Takahashi who got to his range and boxed behind his jab for much of the first round. By the end of the round however Takahashi was getting cocky and Imazato was starting to get closer, the tempo was heating up.
In round 2 the tempo heated up drastically. Again the key punches in the early going was the jab but with Imazato pressing the he was able to drag Takahashi into a fire fight and by the mid-way point of the round we were seeing a tear up. Sadly for Imazato he was on the wrong end of it and a sharp left hook dropped him. With a minute of the round left when then saw the two men stand trade bombs. Again Takahashi got the better of it, sending his man down again, but their was no quit in Imazato.
The bout was already matching up to the first between the two as we entered round 3...which is where we'll leave you with something of this Closet Classic to enjoy without us spoiling the entire contest.
This is a must watch, and a great example of how exciting the Japanese domestic scene can be and how brutal the finishing can be.
One thing we will never deny is that we are huge admirerers of Naoto Takahashi and his career was short but incredible and he gave us more action in what was a very short career than most fighters will give us in career thrice as long. For the second time in this Closet Classic series we look at one of Takahahi's amazing bouts from the 1980's, and again get the chance to see why his 23 fight career is remembered so fondly by Japanese fight fans from the era. This time around we look at arguably his most famous bout and one of the best bouts form 1989.
Mark Horikoshi (17-1, 13) vs Naoto Takahashi (15-2, 10)
If you read last weeks Closet Classic you'll be aware that Naoto Takahashi had some how pulled out a victory in a bout with Noree Jockeygym in May 1989. His bout prior to that one was just as good, if not even better, as he challenged Japanese Super Bantamweight champion Mark Horikoshi. Coming into the bout Takahashi was looking to become a 2-weight national champion, following a short but exciting reign as the Japanese Bantamweight king.
Horikoshi on the other hand was a Japanese based American born fighter, who was also known as Mark Anthony Brooks. Despite being born in Califnornia Horikoshi fought 19 of his 27 professional bouts in Japan, including his debut. In just his 11th bout Horikoshi would stop Yoshiyuki Nomaguchi for the Japanese Super Bantamweight title. Following his title win he had gone 7-0 (6) making 6 defenses, and ending them all inside the distance. The only man he failed to stop was Filipino tough guy Flash Emmanuel. He had been destructive but had also shown some frailty, with his sole loss coming by stoppage back in 1986.
The fight started at a high pace with both men unloading busy jabs. Takahashi was trying to establish distance, snappign his jab into Horikoshi's face, whilst Horikoshi was using his jab to try and back up Takahashi and go to work with heavier artillery. It was two different styles, yet both were dependent on jabs and they gelled excellently. As the bout went on the pace increased. The exchanges became more intense and both men would find themselves hurting the other. The boxing skills never vanished, but the clean punches increased, and they took it in turns to hurt the other, with Takahashi being hurt in rounds 3 and 4, Horikoshi being dropped when Takahashi was hurt, both men showing incredible heart, determination and will to win.
The bout saw both men being dropped, it saw both men needing to over-come advertcity and it saw both digging deep to give us an amazing action packed and drama filled war. Enjoy this slice of classic Japanese action!
Our first month of Closest Classics all looked at relatively recent bouts, from the last 10 or so years, so today we'll roll the clock back to the late 1980's and talk about one of our all time favourite fighters, and a man who really did pay for his insane wars and style. In fact that man will have several entries in this series given how many incredible bouts he was in. Win or lose he was always worth watching and he was a staple of Japanese TV boxing in the last 80's and early 1990's, despite never fighting for a world title.
Naoto Takahashi (16-2, 11) Vs Noree Jockeygym (25-7-2, 12) I
The man we were talking about in the opening paragraph was, of course, Naoto Takahashi. His nickname literally translated as "The Prince of the Reversal", or to put it another "The King of the Comeback" due to the way he seemed to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat. Whilst he did turn some dire situations into victories his career was an unfortunate one, that ended in 1991 with a bleed on the brain, he was only 23 at the time. His style really didn't give him any chance of having a long career, but he was able to provide so many stand out fights that will always live on in the memory of Japanese fight fans.
At the time of this fight Takahashi was a battle tested 21 year old. His opponent was Thailand's Noree Jockeygym, or Visan Thummong, and he was an 18 year old fighting in his 35th professional bout. This was his 4th bout of 1989, and came less than 3 months after a KO loss in South Korea to former world champion Seung Hoon Lee. Although not a world beater he was a talented young Thai, with a lot of potential, who had won the Thai Super Bantamweight title in 1988, as a 17 year old. He had debuted at the age of 14, had lost to future world champion Daorung Chuwatana as a 15 year old, avenged that loss just 3 months later, and would later challenge for a world title in 1991.
This bout was scheduled for 10 rounds, looked excellent on paper and proved to be something amazing in the ring!
The Thai showed no fear at all of the Japanese fighter and the opening round saw both looking to figure out what the other hand in their arsenal. It was technical stuff, but it was high tempo, technical work. Not a brawl, but not all action either as they boxed typically at mid range. It wasn't the most amazing round that you'll see, but things got a lot better, very quickly with the pace skipping a gear in round 2 going from 2nd to 4th gear. It was still technical, for the most part, but was becoming more action packed, and from then on things turned violent.
We won't ruin any more of the fight but this bout went on to show why Takahashi's career was so short.
Interestingly the two would rematch at the Tokyo dome in 1990, as part of the Mike Tyson Vs James "Buster" Douglas match. By then it was clear Takahashi was a shell of the fight he had once been, he would fight only twice more, suffering the career ending brain bleed in 1991. Noree would manage to fight right through to 2000.
When we have some free time we're hoping to add a series of fun articles to the site. Hopefully these will be enjoyable little short features