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)
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.