The 35 year old former Bantamweight and Featherweight champion had been written off by all, including ourselves, but put in a thrilling performance to force a stoppage of heavy handed Mexican Hugo Ruiz (36-4, 32).
Hasegawa's skills were on show early and he seemed to take the opening round, though had been deducted a point under the WBC rules for a headclash and the effort he put in essentially got him a 9-9 round before Ruiz upped his pace and we began to see the Mexican try to make the most of his power and size advantage. Despite being younger Ruiz was slower and his punches seemed to be read well by Hasegawa who continued to look the faster and smart fighter. Despite being faster there was always a risk that he would be tagged and hurt.
Through 4 rounds the fight was close. The Japanese fans, who were able to watch the bout on Sky Perfect 1, seemed to feel their man was doing just enough to have a lead going into the first round of open scoring though the judges didn't agree, having Ruiz in the lead on a split decision after 4 rounds. With the cards reading 38-37 Hasegawa and 38-37 and 39-36 Ruiz
Knowing he was behind Hasegawa changed the tempo and pace of the bout, upping the ante and taking the bout more to Ruiz. Whilst it seemed like a foolish tactic, walking into the firepower of Ruiz, he actually managed to stifle the Mexican who was struggling. Ruiz's struggles were worsened slightly when he cut Hasegawa over the left eyelid, originally ruled a punch though came from a headbutt as seen on replay with the WBC rules then costing Ruiz a point.
Despite the cut Hasegawa wasn't going to be denied and continued to take the fight to Ruiz who looked to have no answer for the southpaw left hand of Hasegawa. After 8 rounds the judges had flipped their view on the bout with one having Hasegawa up 78-72, another having it 76-74 to the Japanese fighter whilst the dissenting judge had Ruiz up 76-74.
In round 9 Hasegawa took a big hook but saw it off and fired back at Ruiz who looked like he was going all in for the round. By the end of the round Ruiz was done and knew it with his team keeping him in the corner following the round.
Ruiz reign, which began earlier this year with an opening round win over Julio Ceja was ended in his first defense. It was a disappointing reign in many ways but we doubt many would complain about seeing him again. The story however is all about the 35 year old Hasegawa who has finally become a 3-weight world champion, achieving one of his boxing dreams. Whether he continues to fight on and defend the title is yet to be seen but what is clear is that this win is one of his most memorable and will help define a career as modern Japanese legend. The HOF in Canastota may be a big ask, but his his effect on Japanese boxing has been huge and he really deserves to tell every one off for writing him off.
To quote the brilliant boxmob - "長谷川!ありがと", "Hasegawa, thank you"
(Image courtesy of daily.co.jp)