Over the last decade Japan has seen some great fighters come and go. I think the latest of those to go is Hozumi Hasegawa (33-5, 15) who seems almost certain to retire following his most recent loss, a stoppage to Kiko Martinez.
Hasegawa is one of the most iconic boxers from Japan, he is a name known around the world and he is a fighter who managed to become popular in both the east and the west. He was no Many Pacquiao but he was certainly amongst the frontrunners of popularity behind the Pacman.
The speedy Japanese counter puncher began his career in the wake of the insanely popular Joichiro Tatsuyoshi. “Joe” was, for many active fighters, the inspiration for them turning to the ring. His popularity, style and personality made boxing fun and exciting and was something that Hasegawa tried to replicate though much of his career.
Born in 1980 Hasegawa made his debut at the tender age of 18 and began with the modest start of 3-2 (1). After just 18 months as a professional few would have tipped him to become a star but the natural traits were always there, he just lacked the experience and the development needed at that point in his career.
The development of Hasegawa came over the following 8 years as he grew from a teenage kid to one of boxing's long reigning champions. The development saw the Japanese skillster go from feather fisted teen to spiteful counter punching machine and although he was never a “KO” as such he had the power to knock out very tough fighters and the sting to rattle almost anyone he caught clean.
Hasegawa's skills led him to winning both the WBC Bantamweight and WBC Featherweight titles, the same skills saw him score notable wins over Veeraphol Sahaprom, Simpiwe Vetyeka, Simone Maludrottu, Vusi Malinga and Juan Carlos Burgos. Those high level of victories, his skills in the ring and his personality lead him to being a multi-time MVP for Japanese boxing and they also saw Hasegawa become the #1 ranked Bantamweight according to Ring Magazine from 2007-2009.
With a style based on timing, insane hand speed, beautiful counter punching and blurring combinations it always seemed likely that Hasegawa's reign at the top would be great fun to watch.
Sadly when Hasegawa's reign as Bantamweight champion came to an end in 2010 when he was stopped by Fernando Montiel it seemed that was it for Hasegawa. The Japanese fighter did continue and whilst he did go on to win the WBC Featherweight title he never looked like the same man in the ring, his age and style caught up with him and losses to Jhonny Gonzalez and Kiko Martinez summed that up. He wasn't the same fighter he had been, his speed and power were still there but the energy wasn't, the timing had dipped just a bit and defensive issues arose as his movement slowed slightly.
Although the loss to Gonzalez was somewhat excusable and not all that damaging, he was caught by a big shot from a monster puncher, the one to Martinez was sadly a beat down. The Spanish fighter beat Hasegawa into submission and ground him down with a lot of damaging shots. It was the sort of loss that should let Hasegawa know he no longer has what he once had, he is no longer the man he once was and that it's the perfect time to walk away rather than stick around and take a lot more damage like Tatsuyoshi did.
With the adulation of the Japanese boxing fans Hasegawa has nothing left to prove, he owes the fans nothing and due, to the retirement ceremonies that many Japanese fighters have, Hasegawa can even go out of sport with his head held high and in the way befitting of a champion, with his name being chanted and his arm being raised.
(Image, of a beaten Hasegawa leaving the Castle Hall yesterday, courtesy of Boxignews.jp)
For much of the last decade my favourite fighter was Japan's Hozumi Hasegawa (33-4, 15) who always made me smile when I got to watch him in action. He did everything that makes me a fan of boxing and while I know many fans go into boxing because of Joichiro Tatsuyoshi I lots also got in to the sport thanks to Hozumi Hasegawa.
With the "Ace of Japan" fighting again next week in a very hard fight with IBF Super Bantamweight champion Kiko Martinez I have decided to share some of my favourite Hasegawa moments in a small entry called "Hozumi's Hits".
As we all know Hasegawa made his professional debut back in 1999 and surprisingly lost 2 of his first 5 bouts. It's fair to say that when he had a record of 2-3 no one would have expected him to become a star but the natural talent and desire to improve were there and from 2001 to 2010 he went on an excellent unbeaten run of 25 straight wins.
During those 25 wins Hasegawa went from novice, to prospect, to contender, to challenger to world champion and fringe pound-for-pound fighter. A remarkable raise and a rise that featured many of my favourite Hasegawa moments.
April 16th 2005
After the unimpressive start to his career Hasegawa started to find his groove in the ring and in 2005 he moved up to the world level for the first time and tool on Thai great Veeraphol Sahaprom. Sahaprom had lost just once in 49 fights and had been both the WBA and WBC Bantamweight champion in long and illustrious career. His sole defeat had come 15 years earlier, in just his 5th professional contest.
Not only had Sahaprom been very impressive but he had been a thorn in the side of Japanese fighters for much of his career with 2 victories over Joichiro Tatsuyoshi and 4 title defences over Toshiaki Nishioka. That however didn't stop Hasegawa from feeling confident in his own skills.
Hasegawa went in to that bout as the under-dog but came out of it as the champion despite only being a 24 year old with just 19 fights under his belt. He was a novice compared Sahaprom though he found a way over-come the Thai great taking a close unanimous decision to announce himself on the world stage.
March 25th 2006
Less than a year after winning his world title Hasegawa faced the man he won it from, Veerapol Sahaprom, for a second time. This time the Thai was out for revenge.
The bout started well for Hasegawa who had run out to an early lead before Sahaprom started to come back in to it rounds 8 and 9. By the start of round 10 some were questioning what Hasegawa had left in the tank and suggesting that Sahaprom was going to make things very tough late on. In fact it seemed that if either man was going to score a stoppage it was going to be the Thai tough guy.
Hasegawa, who at the time had scored just 6 KO's in his previous 19 fights, then ended Sahaprom's fight back with a perfectly timed right hand at the very start of round 10. It was as good a single punch as he had thrown in 21 previous rounds against Sahaprom and sent the Thai to the canvas face first. Sahaprom would try to recover to his feet but was unable to beat the count and as a result suffered just the stopped stoppage loss of his legendary career.
May 3rd 2007
Some bouts are awful at the the time we see them live. Those bouts can later become very meaningful because of what the other fighter does. Before May 2007 no one have expected Simpiwe Vetyeka to become a major name in the boxing world.
Watching Hasegawa and Vetyeka fight each other was not a joy. It was one of the worst Hasegawa fights as both men looked for counter opportunities against the other, it was a waiting game for the men in the ring and for us watching the fight and it wasn't a very fun game to play.
In the end Hasegawa took the decision in a "stinker" of a fighter which at the time I never thought I would grow to like. Now however we have seen good Vetyeka is as he's stopped Daud Yordan and Chris John. The victory for Hasegawa over Vetyeka might not have been an exciting victory but it is one of his most important and deserves to be recognised as a Hasegawa hit.
March 12th 2009
Although Hasegawa often knocked fighters down he didn't often finish them off early doors. Usually it took a few rounds before he could take out opponents. That wasn't the case when he fought the team tough South African Vusi Malinga.
Malinga, at the time, had a record of 18-2-1 and had not lost in 18 bouts dating back to his third professional contest in November 2000. In those 18 bouts he had stopped both Alberto Rossel and Hasegawa's former rival Sahaprom as he had earned his opportunity to fight Hasegawa.
With in a round Malinga's dreams had been shattered and he had been down 3 times by a destructive looking Hasegawa who looked sensational.
Hasegawa scored his first knocked down after about 70 seconds with a sharp, short left hand left hand that just detonated on Malinga. About 30 seconds later Hasegawa hurt Malinga with a left hand and went for the kill unloading every shot in the book until Malinga went down for a second time. Immediately after Malinga got back to his feet Hasegawa was on top of him and unloaded until Malinga was down for the third time forcing the referee to call a halt to proceedings and give Hasegawa his second ever opening round KO.
November 26th 2010
In April 2010 Hasegawa's long run as the WBC Bantamweight came to an end when he was stopped by Fernando Montiel. For many that loss looked liked it could be the of Hasegawa at the top level. The Japanese fighter however knew he had a lot more left to offer the boxing world and moved straight up to Featherweight to fight the then unbeaten Juan Carlos Burgos (then 25-0, 18) for the vacant WBC Featherweight title.
Although Hasegawa was stepping up in weight and facing another Mexican with power he was never in any real trouble as he out pointed Burgos to become a 2-weight world champion and add to his impressive legacy as one of Japanese boxing's greats.
When you consider that Burgos has become a fixture on the world stage having been robbed with a draw against Roman Martinez and having also given Mikey Garcia a tough contest this win, now, looks like an excellent one.
August 12th 2013
Hasegawa's latest fight saw him fighting against the very limited Genaro Camargo in what was little more than a show case bout for the Japanese ace. He went in knowing he was to make an impression and that's exactly what he did.
Within a minute of the fight starting Hasegawa had taken the centre of the ring and Camargo was being forced into the corner. It was in the corner where Carmago was dropped from a looping overhand left. Camargo got back to his feet to fight but, as with the Malinga fight, Hasegawa could smell blood and went after his man landing a serious of left hooks that sent Camargo down for the count.
Whilst this result was as important as his stoppage over Alvaro Perez in 2009 this was the result that said, to me, that Hasegawa has still got it. He has still got the speed, the power and the fire to become a world champion again. Against Perez, which was was another very good knockout, we knew Hasegawa still had it, though if I extended this list the Perez would be next.
Hopefully you will appreciate Hasegawa and go look at some of these fights of his before next Wednesday's clash with Kiko Martinez.
Fingers crossed Hozumi will become 3-weight world champion next week!
(Images courtesy of:
1 and 7-Boxingnews.jp
2, 5 and 6 -Boxrec.com
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.