On this coming Wednesday Japanese fans will be treat to a world title double header with both fights featuring big name Japanese fighters taking on European rivals. The fights, which are getting attention from hardcore fans around the world, are both major contests and could help define the legacies of both fighters both domestically and internationally.
The card, televised by NTV from 19:00 local time marks the return to free-to-air TV for Shinsuke Yamanaka (20-0-2, 15), the WBC Bantamweight champion who will be hoping to impress fans who may have been forced to miss his fight with Pedro Guevara, and will also see the return to world title level for the "Ace of Japan" Hozumi Hasegawa (33-4, 15) who has been out of major fights since 2011.
With the major significance of these fights and this show in general we've decided to do our first ever show specific feature where we will break down the fights, the fighters and what the bouts mean to their legacies and future.
The first of the two world title fights will be that of Hasegawa who will be challenging Spain's hard charging Kiko Martinez (30-4, 22) for the IBF Super Bantamweight title. For some this is a suicide mission from Hasegawa whilst for others it's a fight that could define him as one of the Japanese greats.
Having already claimed world titles at both Bantamweight and Featherweight Hasegawa is hoping to become just the second ever 3-weight world champion from Japan. At 33 years old this will likely be his only chance and unfortunately for him he's in a tough divisions where even another chance wouldn't guarantee him an easy fight for a title.
Hasegawa first made his name as one of the great Bantamweight champions. He won the WBC title at 118lbs way back in 2005 when he dethroned legendary Thai Veeraphol Sahaprom who had been a champion for more than 6 years and a thorn in the side of Japanese boxing. Sahaprom, who had defeated Joichiro Tatsuyoshi for the title, had run together 15 defences before Hasegawa managed to defeat him and end an impressive 44 fight unbeaten streak that dated back to 1996.
As the Bantamweight champion Hasegawa himself had a legendary reign from 2005 to 2010 that saw him defending the belt against the likes of Veeraphol Sahaprom, the then unbeaten Simpiwe Vetyeka, Simone Maludrottu and Vusi Malinga. His challenger's combined record read a remarkable 248-20-7.
Unfortunately for Hasegawa his reign came to an unfortunate end when he fought giant Mexican puncher Fernando Montiel who stopped Hasegawa in 4 rounds to end the first championship reign of the Japanese fight.
Hasegawa would quickly climb back to the top of the mountain as he moved up to Featherweight and over-came Juan Carlos Burgos to claim the WBC Featherweight title. This reign was short lived though and Hasegawa was dethroned for the second time in just 3 fights as the huge punching Jhonny Gonzalez stopped him in, also in round 4.
For many the loss to Gonzalez signalled the end of Hasegawa and many suggested he had been exposed, twice, by solid punchers and it was obvious he couldn't take a shot. It was as if the fans had forgotten, or simply not seen, the shots he had take from Veeraphol and wrote him off on that alone.
Since the loss to Gonzalez back in 2011 Hasegawa has taken his time to rebuild his confidence and interest in boxing which waned dramatically at one point and he actually spent a year out of the ring. Since returning, in April 2012, Hasegawa has run up 4 straight wins including an eye catching KO over Genaro Camargo last time out. They have been at a lower level though helped show that Hasegawa has still got his speed, timing, skills and criminally under-rated power
In Martinez we do have a hard puncher going up against Hasegawa. Martinez is genuinely rock fisted though unlike Montiel and Gonzalez he's not the most intelligent of boxers. What you see is what you get and what you see with Martinez is a thuggish brute who is all about non-stop pressure, solid shots upstairs and downstairs and a terrier like mentality in the ring.
The Spaniard can be out boxed, as we saw against Carl Frampton not too long ago, but he's not there to be brawled with and to beat him you need to be intelligent, capable of boxing on the back foot and have the power to hurt him to make him think twice about throwing shots. All traits that Hasegawa has in his locker though will need to hope he can access before he's ground down.
For Hasegawa this is his toughest bout since his loss to Gonzalez 3 years ago and he knows it, he's been training for it, he's bee doing all he can to prepare and he's going in knowing full well that this is do or die. A loss really would be the end of his career whilst a victory would have him an even bigger fan favourite than he already is. His name would go down in the annals of Japanese boxing history as a modern day great if not one of the all time greats.
Whilst Hasegawa's legacy is on the line for Martinez it's about the money the opportunity to earn big money as a champion. He was seen as a huge under-dog when he won his title, defeating Jhonatan Romero last August, and has made a single defence against South Africa's Jeffrey Mathebula. Boxing in Spain is about dead and unfortunately the Mathebula fight was fought as a low paying mandatory defence. He has taken this fight due to the money on offer from Hasegawa's team and will know that if he wins this more opportunities will arise for people wanting to take the world title from him. Bouts with the likes of Scott Quigg, Leo Santa Cruz, Cristian Mijares or Jamie McDonnell could make him good money whilst bouts with Shingo Wake or Genesis Servania could also interest the Spaniard.
It's a tough bout and it is really a lightning fast boxer against marauding brawler, the stylistic match up that we dream of.
Having twice beaten Veeraphol whilst also holding wins over Vetyeka, Burgos and Malinga a win against Martinez may not actually fit in to Hasegawa's top 5 wins. On the other hand a victory for Martinez would certainly be amongst he top 2 wins for the Spaniard, comparable with his victory over then unbeaten Romero.
It may not seem like much of a big deal but Hasegawa has won the big ones repeatedly through his career, for Martinez he has had mixed fortunes in the big ones losing to Frampton, Takalani Ndlovu and Rendall Munroe, twice, whilst beating Romero and Ireland's Bernard Dunne. Saying that however Martinez will have no fear of travelling to Japan having already fought in Ireland, England, South Africa, France, Northern Ireland, Argentina and the USA as well as his native Spain where he is the only real star boxing in the country.
For us this is the more competitive match up than the other title fight but it's also the one we worry about. Hasegawa isn't the fighter he once was and Martinez, for his technical flaws, is an animal in the ring and will view Hasegawa as his next meal. It's tough, it's even matched and it's a bout that should have fans genuinely excited.
Following Hasegawa's contest with Martinez we then get to see "The God of Left" Shinsuke Yamanaka defending his WBC Bantamweight crown against former European champion Stephane Jamoye (25-4, 15) of Belgium.
This will be the 6th defence for Yamanaka who will be seeking his 5th straight stoppage and his 14th in 15 fights. It's that level of power which has seen some referee to Yamanaka's left hand as one of boxing hardest punches in the sport right now though worryingly for his rivals he has been working hard on his right hook as well to try and make him into a more complete 2 handed fighter.
Last year Yamanaka was crowned the MVP of Japanese boxing by the JBC and with his 3 defences, all ending in KO, it was hard to argue with that status.
What's so great about the 31 year old Japanese southpaw isn't his power but the fact he can, when he chooses do anything he wants in the ring. He can box when he wants, he can brawl when he wants, he has the power to knock people clean out and he can almost do them all on the fly. There is really nothing that can phase him and he seems to know that one way or another he will either beat up and break down his opponents or he'll clean their clock.
Yamanaka came to the attention of hardcore fans and Japanese fans back in March 2011 when he stopped Ryosuke Iwasa in one of the best fights of recent years. It was Yamanaka's first defence of the Japanese Bantamweight title though managed to make him, and Iwasa in fairness, a name to follow.
Yamanaka's next fight after beating Iwasa saw him jumping from Japanese champion to world champion as he put on a fun to watch contest with Mexico's Christian Esquivel for the then vacant WBC Bantamweight title. The bout saw Yamanaka beat up Esquivel who was stopped in round 11 as Yamanaka claim the title. Despite being the world champion it wasn't until he defeat Vic Darchinyan in his first defence, winning a 12 round decision, that fans really began to take Yamanaka seriously.
In many recent bouts Yamanaka has looked devastating and eye catching stoppages over Tomas Rojas, Jose Nieves and Alberto Guevara have seen some putting Yamanaka in their top 10 pound-for-pound lists.
Whilst Yamanaka is seen as one of the jewels in Japanese boxing it's fair to say that Jamoye is seen as the jewel of Belgian boxing, unless we include the queen of Belgium boxing Delfine Persoon. Jamoye is really fun to watch and if you've not seen him we recommend you catch his fights with British pair Jamie McDonnell and Lee Haskins, with the Haskins fight being a true FOTY leve bout.
Jamoye is a 2-time European champion though did, unfortunately, lose last time out to tricky Frenchman Karim Guerfi in a bout that saw Jamoye's usually persistent pressure and busy work both vanish. It was truly a disappointing effort from Jamoye but still ended up being a really good fight. Some did question whether the Belgian had struggled to make weight, others asked if he had overlooked Guerfi whilst others suggested it was just an off night. Whatever it was it was poor from Jamoye who has usually been great fun.
In regards to Jamoye against Asian fighters he does hold a notable, albeit controversial, victory over Pungluang Sor Singyu and a split decision loss to Tomoki Kameda. Incidentally Pungluang will challenge Tomoki for the WBO Bantamweight title next month.
This bout isn't about Jamoye's fights with Asian's however and is instead about Jamoye against Leo Santa Cruz. As we all know Yamanaka wants to fight Santa Cruz and Jamoye himself lasted just 6 rounds with the Mexican back in 2011. Sure that fight was 3 years ago but Yamanaka will be hoping to beat that marker, just as he did when he stopped Guevara who had taken Santa Cruz the distance. In turn a good victory over Jamoye would also see him getting 1 up on Tomoki who really struggled with the Belgian.
As for the fight stylistically it's an extremely hard boxer-puncher in Yamanaka facing an aggressive pressure fighter who can be hurt, especially to the body, but tends to find a way past the pain to fight tooth and nail.
For Jamoye a victory over Yamanaka would be career defining. It would be a stand out win by such a margin that no other win on his record would even come close to. The victory over Pungluang, back in 2009, is his best so far but would really not be on the same planet as a victory over Yamanaka in 2014.
In regards to how this would look on Yamanaka's record it wouldn't compare to victories over Darchinyan, Malcolm Tunacao, Esquivel, Rojas or Iwasa. Genuinely it would be, at best, the 6th best win on his record though could very easily be 7th or 8th. It would, by all means, be a good win for the champion but not one of his best.
Fortunately for Yamanaka this isn't supposed to be about scoring a major win but is all about staying sharp and continue to apply mental pressure on Santa Cruz. It's also allows Yamanaka to show off how good his training in the US earlier this was. The training camp, which was spent with Ryota Murata's team in the US, was used to try and help Yamanaka get a feel for the US before a prospective fight over their next year. He worked a lot on his right hook and against a fighter like Jamoye that's a key punch to allow him to get into position to land his fearsome and deadly straight left.
We think Jamoye will come to fight and make for a fun contest but he'll be stopped by Yamanaka's devastating power in what will be a fun but relatively one sided contest.
Images courtesy of:
Top- NTV/Nippon TV
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