One thing that struck us was that this was going to be the 5th "Japan Vs South Africa" world title bout in the last few years and the first not to feature either Katsunari Takayama and Hozumi Hasegawa who between them have been involved in all 4 of the previous clashes between the nations. With that in mind we've decided that it was worth looking over the short history of the other recent Japan Vs South Africa world title clashes.
Of course the rivalry between the two isn't a big one. It's not like the rivalries between the Oriental countries which have seen some great fights between Japanese fighters and Thai's, Thai's and Filipino's and Filipino and Japanese. But the rivalry has started to warm up, especially since the JBC began to recognise the IBF and it seems likely that we will see more and more meetings between fighters from the two nations.
The first of these of these bouts was just over 7 years ago as the then WBC Bantamweight champion Hozumi Hasegawa, then with a record of 21-2 (7), battled against the unknown Simpiwe Vetyeka, who was unbeaten with a record of 16-0 (9) though had faced no one of real not.
The bout, which took place on May 3rd 2007 at the Ariake Colosseum, gave us one of the least exciting Hasegawa fights as both men waited on the other to strike. It was as if both were scared of the counters from the others whilst hoping to land their own counter shots. As a result it was a somewhat tiresome affair that did little to helped boost Hasegawa's standing in the sport at the time, though he did manage to take home a decision.
Although both men stood off each other Hasegawa did manage to find some conviction late in the bout to secure the victory and his 4th world title defence though it was his first world title defence in which he failed to score either a stoppage or a knockdown and the first bout that he failed to score a knockdown in since his first bout with Thai legend Veraphol Sahaprom.
For Vetyeka it was actually his first world title bout. In later years he really came to prominence with back to back victories over Daud Cino Yordan and Chris John and in reflection it's a better win for Hasegawa in hindsight than it was at the time. Of course we'd all learn, over the following few years, just how good Hasegawa really was. Sadly though I think he went unappreciated by too many of boxing's fans from the west who refused to give him a watch and this bout arguably solidified their views on him at the time
Hozumi Hasegawa Vs Vusi Malinga
Just 22 months after Hasegawa had beaten Vetyeka he took on another South African fighter as he continued to establish himself as one of the truly elite Bantamweights.
Having run his record to 25-2 (9) Hasegawa was going through an amazing run that really went from strength to strength. His run continued when he decimated the usually tough Vusi Malinga.
At the time of this fight Malinga sported a solid record of 18-2-1 (11) and was unbeaten since 2000 including a stoppage win over Verraphol Sahaprom. That however didn't help him as Hasegawa went to work immediately and scored an opening round stoppage courtesy of the 3 knockdown rule.
Amazingly the bout lasted just 157 seconds and absolutely no one expected such a blitz from Hasegawa, even his most ardent of fans wouldn't have though he'd do such an excellent job.
For Hasegawa it was a sensational victory that helped to boost him in the eyes of the fans who made an effect to track the fight down. His perceived "feather fist" reputation was blown to smithereens courtesy of a victory that showed just how exciting the "Ace of Japan" could be when he really wanted to let his hands go.
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Nkosinathi Joyi Vs Katsunari Takayama I
The first of these bouts not to feature Hasegawa was an historic one. The bout saw the brave Katsunari Takayama, then 24-4 (10), travel over to South Africa to fight the unbeaten IBF Minimumweight champion Nkosinathi Joyi, 21-0 (15).
The bout was Joyi's first defence of his title and was also the first time a Japanese fighter had challenged for an IBF title since Satoshi Shingaki's second bout with Jeff Fenech in 1985, some 26 years earlier. Like that bout however this was fought with out the JBC's blessing and Takayama was actually fighting under the promotion of Filipino outfit ALA Promotions.
Unfortunately for Takayama this bout ended in disappointing fashion, not just for him but also Joyi and all the people in the arena. That's because a headclash in round 3 saw Takayama suffering a cut that caused to bout to be called off as a no-contest.
The headclash immediately caused blood to gush from over Takayama's right and left the doctor with no option but to stop the fight though didn't end their rivalry...
...14 months after their first clash Takayama and Joyi would meet for a second time and like their first bout it saw Takayama as the travelling fighter as the JBC refused to recognise the IBF.
This time the two men wouldn't see a premature ending to their bout and instead we had 12 rounds of very good action between the two that saw an off looking Joyi struggle with Takayama who aggressive throughout in a performance that deserved much better than it got.
Despite many feeling that Takayama had been taking too many hard shots against Joyi in their first fight the Japanese fighter did all he could to secure his rematch with out too much fear. It seemed clear, from his willingness to take the rematch, that he was confident of victory and it seemed that he thought he was getting to Joyi in their first bout. This time around he showed why he was so confident as he really took the action to the South African champion in a bout that couldn't have been any more different to the Hasegawa/Vetyeka bout that I started this article with. It was really all action.
Sadly for Takayama he would find the judges less than impressed by his activity with all 3 judges scoring the bout widely in favour of the defending champion despite neutral observers suggesting the bout could very easily have gone either way. With out trying to sound like a Takayama "fanboy" he probably should have known he wasn't going to get the rub of the green early on when a hurt Joyi held on for dear life with the referee doing nothing about it.
For Joyi this would be his second and final successful defence of the IBF title which he would lose, in a massive upset, to Mario Rodriguez in Mexico. Takayama showed his desire for the title by travelling to Mexico to defeat Rodriguez and, at the third time of asking, became the IBF Minimumweight champion.
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