For the final Closet Classic of 2021 we've gone to a man well known for his year ending bouts from right through the last decade and this is among his most forgotten, yet one of the bouts that really aged well. In fact looking back on the result now, around 8 years later, this may well go down as one of the best wins by one of the biggest Japanese stars of recent years and a win over a man that has gone on to do a lot in the sport himself. This is a Closet Classic that really ticks every single box that we can possible want a to have. It's action packed, it's exciting, it's between two notable names, it's between to men who were unbeaten and two fighters who went on to do bigger and better things with their career's. Welcome to something well worth watching!
Kazuto Ioka (13-0, 9) vs Felix Alvarado (18-0, 15)
Japanese star Kazuto Ioka is now synonymous with being involved in major bouts to end the year. Between 2011 and 2021 he featured in 9 bouts on New Year's Eve. Some of those were rather forgettable affairs, such as his victory over Jose Alfredo Rodriguez, and his non-title bout with Jean Piero Perez. Others however will live on for decades, such as his victory last year against Kosei Tanaka, and his compelling chess match with Donnie in 2018. Arguably his most ill remembered however came in 2013 when he defended the WBA "regular" Light Flyweight title against Nicaraguan puncher Felix Alvarado.
Before we take a look at Alvarado we really need to understand Ioka. He had won the WBC Minimumweight title in early 2011, he had defended that title twice before unifying with a win over Akira Yaegashi then left the division to move to 108lbs. In his first bout at 108lbs he beat the aforementioned Rodriguez for the vacant "regular" WBA title and defended it twice in 2013 before his end of year bout, his third bout to take place on New Year's Eve. By this point he was 24 years old, 13-0 (9), the new star of Japanese boxing and and had gone 7-0 (5) in world title bouts. He looked set to become the face of Japanese boxing, and he, and his team, knew they needed to find some suitable dance partners after 3 rather easy wins.
In Felix Alvarado we had an unbeaten puncher,with a 18-0 (15) record, also aged 24 and with a real point to prove. Up to this point Alvarado really hadn't been given chances. He had been wiping out opponents early since turning professional in 2010 and few had come close to even testing him. There was a chance that he was just the latest can crusher from Latin American, and we've seen a lot of those over the years, but there was also a chance that he was the next great Nicaraguan talent, and the man to follow Roman Gonzalez into becoming a world champion. Up to this point the only fighter to give him any sort of a test was Arnoldo Solano, who is still active as of 2021 and is currently fighting as a journeyman as high as Light Middleweight! This was his chance to prove he was a legitimate contender, and his chance to prove what he could do. An opportunity to prove that he was something special. Something those who follower the lower weights would see in the years that followed.
From the hype video that TBS showed this had the feel of something special. It had the feeling that Ioka was, for the first time since beating Yaegashi, in an actual test, and not just another easy win over and under-whelming Thai or a stylistically easy opponent. This was a dangerous fight. This was something that had the potential to go wrong if Ioka wasn't on point.
The fight started fast and within seconds the Alvarado was backing Ioka up. It seemed clear that Alvarado wasn't just a can crusher, but was a serious challenger, and he was looking incredibly strong and like a genuinely imposing fighter, in a division not too well known for it's physical fighters. Ioka tried to box, use the ring, and make the most of his faster feet, but Alvarado kept pressing, even taking some huge shots as a result. Although he took some bombs Alvarado never looked phased and instead just kept pressing, forcing Ioka to respond. Despite being the opening round this was not a feeling out round, and was instead a thrilling action round that saw Alvarado pressing through out and forced some brilliant action on the inside.
It was obvious, within just 3 minutes, that we were going to get fireworks to end 2013 and that we were sat watching something just a little bit special.
Whilst the first round was brilliant the action didn't relent in round 2. In fact the second stanza saw both men getting shots off, and saw more action up close. The quality as coming from Ioka, who landed some gorgeous shots on Alvarado, but the Nicaraguan looked like the Terminator shrugging off whatever Ioka landed and marching forward in an attempt to break Ioka's heart. Sadly for Alvarado he had several issues, the most notable of which was his accuracy, which was poor and his inability to avoid counters, which Ioka landed very cleanly and very consistently.
It was obvious that Alvarado's aggression, pressure and strength was hugely impressive, but his work was wild, crude and draining, for both him and Ioka. The incredible tempo to start the fight wasn't going to last forever. Despite that neither man seemed to slow down in round 3, as Alvarado continued his bull like forward march, whilst Ioka willing stood his ground more often and picked counter shots on the inside. It was a change in tactics from the champion, who likely realised being on his bike and boxing for 12 rounds would be incredibly tough, and it was a change that really helped make the fight even more exciting. Interestingly it also seemed like Ioka was standing his ground to make a point. He wasn't afraid of Alvarado's much vaunted power. He also managed to leave Alvarado with a badly swollen eye that needed a doctor to look over it before being allowed out for round 4.
Despite his face swelling, and almost fighting with just one eye, no one was going to stop Alvarado from making this into a war and in round 4 we ended up with a thrilling 3 minutes of inside action, with both men holding their feet and letting shots fly. Again it was Ioka's shots that landed clean, and seemed the more damaging, but Alvarado's tempo and work rate was incredible, even if he was stilling missing more than he was landing. The round flew by and it really was none stop action with Alvarado throwing so many power shots and showing absolutely no regard for the fact his eye was almost shut.
Ioka got back on his toes early in round 5, likely realising that Alvarado had a lot more in the tank than anyone could have expected, especially given the punishing shots he had taken and the huge number of shots he had missed with. By the end of the round however Ioka had decided to again work up close, and try to further damage the face of the challenger in an attempt to get his respect.Respect that Alvarado was simply not going to give, no matter how many big head shots he took.
As the rounds wore on Ioka and his team must have been wondering what Alvarado was made out of. He had taken bombs, he had eaten head shots, and body shots and kept coming forward. There was no quit in the guy who fought like a man who simply didn't feel pain. Thankfully Alvarado's toughness saw fans get another action packed round in the sixth as Ioka stood his ground, and the two let their hands go on the inside. One again Ioka's faster, crisper, more accurate shots caught the eye, but Alvarado took them and threw back. Alvarado was even caught by a bomb of a left hook, that would have finished off many in the division, and ate it like it was nothing.
Round 7 was another where Ioka got on his toes, boxed more, but still landed the better shots as we again saw Alvarado walking through some massive counter shots.
By round 8 it was clear Ioka was in a very comfortable lead, but Alvarado was simply not going away. He was going to be in this until he either turned things around, which was possible given his brutish power, or until the doctor stopped him due to the eye, or until the final bell. We'll leave you here, to enjoy the full fight without ruining the outcome too much more, but this is really a cracking fight that showed two styles that gelled really well and some amazing toughness and bravery from a man who looked, much of the fight, like he was out of his league but had absolutely no quit in him.
Although not the most competitive fight, this is an incredibly entertaining contest and one that shows just how much fun the Light Flyweight division has been over the last decade or so. If you've not seen this give it a watch, especially no we're about to end 2021!
(Note - Fight begins around 15:00 in to the video)
When we look at the history of boxing we see a number of fighters pencilled in to be stars, but never reach the heights expected of them. They tend to be stand out amateurs, tipped for the top due to their showcases performances in the unpaid ranks, which suggest they are stars in the making. Then we also get the fighters that had no buzz, battle hard to get to the top and don't ever seem to get the respect for their hardwork, despite seriously deserving it. Today have one such bout as we dip our arm deep into the Closet to bring you another Closet Classic.
Hideki Todaka (15-2-1, 7) vs Akihiko Nago (15-0, 11)
This bout really was seen as something a battle between obscure Japanese champion and an elite tier prospect. It was a man few believed could ever become a champion and someone who seemed groomed for the highest stages in the sport.
Hideki Todaka was never regarded as a special fighter by anyone other than Mack Kurihara, who had spotted something in Todaka very early in his career. He was essentially just another guy. He worked hard in the ring, had something about him, but nothing that suggested world champion. In fact technically he was very basic, easy to hit, but was tough, gritty, determined and had a fantastic will to win. He knew hot to dig deep, and encouraged by a strong, but very local, fan base in Aichi he had become a world champion. He had done so by dethroning Jesus Rojas in 1999, winning a hotly contested decision in a second bout between the two men. It was a genuine upset and a real surprise to most fans in Japan, who saw Todaka as more of a local boxer in Central Japan than a top level fighter capable of beating the best. It was, however a win that helped set up an interestingly all Japanese bout with Akihiko Nago.
Outside of Japan Akihiko Nago's name will not ring any bells. Even in Japan a modern day fan is unlikely to be too familiar with him, though in the late 1990's he was seen as an elite prospect with the ability to be moved quickly, and to be a star. He was 23 years old at this point in his career, being guided by Yoko Gushiken, and the next big thing from Japan. As an amateur he had gone 48-6 (27), he had won two major national titles, turned professional young and was moved quickly, winning a Japanese title in just his 11th bout. He had also defended the national title against former world champion Keiji Yamaguchi and many had anticipated his career to be one of the best in Japan for the 00's. He had power, skills, speed, amateur pedigree, a strong backing and he was building up a good following in Tokyo, the powerhouse of the Japanese boxing scene.
Notably for this bout Nago was essentially in his boxing home, in Tokyo. He had been a regular in Tokyo, fighting at Korakuen Hall on numerous occasions. For Todaka however this was his first bout in the capital, and he had regularly been fighting in Aichi. This was also his first defense. In the eyes of many it was going to be his final defense, and he was going to be handing the title over to the ordained star of the future. We were going to see a star being born.
Straight from the off the natural, well polished boxing skills of Nago were on show as he glided around the ring and looked to set control the distance behind his footwork and southpaw jab. Todaka, who wanted to get inside and get to work was being blunted and was unable to close the distance. Nago wasn't landing much himself through the first round but was frustrating the champion, making him look clumsy and landed some very clean jabs whilst also landing a good left hand late in the round. Todaka tried to close the distance, and had the odd success, but this was not the type of fight he wanted, and he was unable to get combinations off.
Round 2 was somewhat similar, but it seemed like Todaka was getting closer, his pressure paying off just a little bit more, and Nago's seemed to be needing to hold and spoil more to neutralise the forward march of the champion. By the end of round 2 it was clear that Nago really wasn't wanting to engage in Todaka's fight and was instead looking to frustrate the champion as much as possible.
Nago's tactics weren't fan friendly, but they were working. He was taking the steam from Todaka, making the champion take risks and forcing rests frequently. It wasn't fan friendly, but it was working and seemed to be a very clear gameplan from the challenger. Make the champion look bad, tire him out, and land the cleaner shots, taking control later on.
After having had Nago hold and spoil through much of the first 3 rounds Todaka seemed to change tact in round 4. Rather than letting Nago blunt his attack straight away, he was going to let his hands go more, raise the tempo, and let combinations go. He was going to fight, regardless of Nago's tactics, and he was going to win the rounds, or force a fighting response from Nago, this was seen throughout round 4, as Nago took shots before managing to tie up the champion. It was messy and at times frustrating to watch but the style of fight was changing, and Armando Garcia seemed to getting fed up with Nago's holding, allowing Todaka to fire off in the clinch more often.
Round 4 was the first round that seemed exciting, but it was then followed by another fun round as Todaka's determination to make a fight of things shone through again, and Nago had to respond. He had never faced someone so willing to barrel forward like Todaka, who just kept coming forward. Nago landed some solid shots of his own, but by now it seemed clear he had to move through the gears otherwise Todaka was simply going to break him down. As a result we saw the two men trading shots early in round 6 as the pace again slowly crept up, and the crowd started to sense that something special could break out at any moment. It was clear that Todaka had less respect for Nago by the round, and that Nago had to do more, much more, to take the title away.
Through round 7 we saw touches of brilliance from Nago, glimpses of the talent that he in his arsenal. The tools that saw so many fawning over him. Sadly though they were little more than glimpses, with Todaka able to make things ugly, bullying Nago later in the round before being shaken himself in the final seconds. Todaka continued the rough stuff in round 8 and finally seemed to drag the best from Nago in a round that finally caught fire in the way we had hoped to see much earlier on. From here on the bout took on a new identity as it became more and more a fight, with both men looking to do what was needed to have their arm raised come the final bell. Both managed to land some clean head shots and both seemed to realise they needed to do more. This lead us to some amazing action in the championship rounds.
We'll leave the bout here for you to enjoy with some suspense and without ruining the result.
Although not a true war, especially not given how the bout started, it was a great example of will vs skill. Nago's boxing ability was on a different level to Todaka's but his gameplan was not a fan friendly one, and he was unable to stop Todaka from forcing his style on the fight. It's a fight with an amazing atmosphere, a genuine tension through the bout, and a feeling that we were always on the edge of something big breaking out. It was a strange one in many ways and seemed to show Nago's inexperience in tough fights but also the ability he could box at.
This isn't tidy, it's not beautiful, but in many ways it's the perfect example of a fighting blunting a defensive strategy through bloodymindedness, and forcing a negative fighter to fight more aggressively. When that happened the bout really did pick up
Note - At the time of writing Boxrec are missing a win off Nago's record, he was 15-0 (11) coming in to this bout, not 14-0 (10) as Boxrec have incorrectly listed him.
Some bouts are legendary on the back of their intense action, drama and excitement. They are so exciting they become instant classics and need to be watched by every self respecting boxing fan. Bouts like Hagler Vs Hearns, Mancini Vs Frias, Gatti Vs Ward, Castillo Vs Corrales and Meza Vs Garza.
Today we bring you one such bout, this time from Korea from back in 1990.
This is something of a special bout, with knockdowns galore, incredible drama one of the greatest single rounds in boxing history.
Sung Kil Moon (10-1, 9) Vs Nana Yaw Konadu (18-0-1, 14) I
Before we talk about the action we're going to see we need to quickly go over a few things.
Firstly lets briefly talk about Sung Kil Moon. The Korean had turned professional in 1987, following a solid amateur career, and was a world champion just over 17 months later. He had announced himself on the world stage by taking a technical decision over Khaokor Galaxy to claim the WBA Bantamweight title, in what was just his 7th professional bout. His reign was a short one, losing the belt back to Galaxy just 11 months later. Following that loss he dropped down in weight and just 6 months later challenged WBC Super Flyweight champion Nana Yaw Konadu.
Whilst we often see fighters moving up, as their bodies fill out, we rarely see fighters moving down in weight. That's exactly what Moon was doing at the age of 26, with the thought process likely being that he was going to be super strong down at 115lbs. Given his aggressive, pressure style the move seemed to be a smart one, if he could made the weight comfortably.
Nana Yaw Konadu, from Ghana, is one of the many African legends of the sport who sadly don't get the recognition they deserve. He had made his debut in 1985, scoring a decision win, and had then suffered a draw, in his second bout. After that he had reeled of 17 straight wins, 14 by T/KO, including a decision over former world champion Cesar Polanco and a huge upset win over the legendary Gilberto Roman in Mexico. The win over Roman had netted Konadu the WBC Super Flyweight title, but it was the manner of the win that netted him the acclaim, dropping the brilliant Mexican 5 times en route to a dominant win.
Standing at 5'7" and using a style that was very much one that saw him setting boxing behind a long, hard, rangy jab, and having real sting in his shots. He seemed to have the tools to be a real long term force in the division and prove the win over Roman wasn't just a case of "right place, right time". In his first defense he travelled to Korea for the bout with Moon.
On paper this was a world class swarmer against world class boxer-puncher. Styles that tend to make for great fights anyway, as long as the men are well matched. What we ended up with was better than just great. It was sensational.
From the opening moments it was clear weren't going to get a normal fight. Both men were throwing hooks almost from the off. Konadu managed to get his jab working quickly but was dropped by a left hook after less than 2 minutes, in the first knockdown of the fight. It was a flash knockdown, but only moments later Moon would score another, this one a more series one. Konadu got back to his feet and dropped Moon, who was getting wild in an attempt to finish off his man. Konadu's knockdown helped him get some respect from the challenger, and he began to fight behind his jab again.
It was a round that exceeded all expectations, with 3 knockdowns, and it was only the beginning.
In round two we saw less drama, but the action was intense, with Moon pressing forward for much of the round, trying to get around the jab of Konadu. At the same time the champion kept landing clean head shots, catching the Korean coming in. This made for a brilliant dynamic, even if the two men weren't going down like they had in the first round.
For those who like knockdowns they didn't need to wait long for the bout's fourth one with Konadu being dropped for the third time in round 3. This was a much more frantic round than the second, with Konadu being sent on to his backside when he was caught whilst backing up, partly off balance. Konadu got back to his fight and Moon seemed to think he had his man hurt, as he again chased him around the ring, as he had in the first round. Despite scoring the knockdown, and leaving Konadu with some serious swelling around his eyes, Moon was himself cut up over the left eye from a clash of heads.
Round 4 began brilliantly for Konadu, who looked to have recovered from the punishment in the previous round and he dropped Moon, who was down for the second time in the fight, from a series of jabs. He wasn't hurt, but the cut was a mess. When he got up from the knockdown he began to press Konadu, and certainly had a very strong round outside of the knockdown.
The bout continued to be a war. Round after round we had technical out boxing, aggressive infighting, a brilliant boxer trying to establish distance, and an equally good fighter trying to cut the ring off. They both knew they could hurt the other man and be hurt themselves. We'll leave the bout for you to enjoy, and we really hope you check this sensational bout out. It really is a must watch for all fight fans!
If you like a war, with blood, drama, hugely damaging exchanges, intense action and regular shifts in momentum this is the bout for you. It had everything a fight fan could ever want to see in a bout.
Whilst a lot of Closet Classics are from a by gone era, and none of the fighters involved in them are still active, today's bout is one where both men are still in the sport, and one where they both came out looking like they were going to make an impact on the sport. The bout was one of the very best WBC Youth title bouts and is one that now, more than 6 years later, still stands the test of time as a truly sensational war. This is, for some, a bout that put the winner on the map, but in reality proved both men had guts, toughness and determination. It is a truly fantastic bout, and one that every fan owes themselves 20 minutes to sit down and enjoy all it's beautifully brutal action.
Daigo Higa (6-0, 6) vs Kongfah CP Freshmart (14-0, 10)
For the bout we travel back to the summer of 2015 and head over to Bangkok for a WBC Flyweight title bout between two unbeaten youngsters.
In one corner was 20 year old Thai local Kongfah CP Freshmart, also known as Jakkrawut Majoogoen. He had claimed the WBC Youth Light Flyweight title in just his second professional bout and defended it twice before moving up in weight, heading to Flyweight. Up to this point his competition had been lacking, though he had earned a good win over Filipino fighter Cris Alfante, the most notable name on his record by far.
Although he's not that well known now Kongfah was seen as one of the big hopes in Thai boxing at the time and seemed to be following the tried and tested route to the top in the country. Fight a lot at a young age, build up ring experience, build a close affiliation with a world title body and ride that through his career, eventually getting a world title fight. At this point he was looking talented, and was developing fight by fight into a decent prospect, but was still a long, long way from a world title fight.
In the other corner was 19 year old Daigo Higa, a rising Japanese youngster who was being groomed for success by former Light Flyweight world champion Yoko Gushiken. He had been a decent amateur at local level, but lacked top level domestic success when he turned professional in 2014. Despite not having much buzz about him he had quickly generated some buzz with a string of early wins, and was 6-0 (6) less than a year after his debut. Not only was he quietly creating some buzz, but he had notched a win overseas, stopping Pongpayu Chaiyonggym in South Korea, and had also stopped Cris Alfante, the fighter who had also been Kongfah's best win.
Despite looking destructive and impressive through his first 6 bouts there was a lot of questions left for Higa to answer. What was his chin like? What would happen when a fighter didn't buckle under his pressure? Did he have a gas tank? His 6 combined bouts up to this point had lasted just 11 combined rounds, he had never gone beyond 4 rounds, and had only gone beyond 2 rounds once. On paper he was stepping up, and was going to have to answer some very serious questions about his potential.
Going in we had huge expectations for this bout, but it easily out did those expectations, delivering in a huge way!
From the off we were seeing Higa coming forward and Kongfah trying to fight off the ropes. It wasn't the typical feeling out round we are so accustomed too and instead it was an exciting start to the bout, with the two men really not messing about. Although neither of the youngsters hurt the other in the first round, it was exciting and set the stage for what was to come, which was a high paced and exciting war.
In round 2 the pace increased again, with both men landing some solid shots in the middle of the ring. Sadly for Kongfah he was finding himself being backed up regularly but the fluid offense and combination punching of Higa. To his credit however the Thai fought well off the ropes and landing some solid counters through the round, testing Higa's chin and making the Japanese fighter pay for over-committing to his offensive work.
Just 2 rounds in it was clear we were getting something very special and the action only got better in round 3, a low key Asian round of the year that saw several swings in momentum and some some relentless work from both. This was amazing action, a phone booth war and intense none stop thrill a minute stuff from men with a combined 20 bouts between them.
We won't ruin any more of the bout, but if you like phone booth wars, non stop action and seeing a future world champion in their first serious test this is well worth of 20 minutes of any ones time. This really is something very special, very enjoyable, and showed how damn good boxing in Thailand was in 2015.
This might be a newer classic, but it was an instant classic!
During this series we have featured a lot of Japanese domestic bouts, but not too many other domestic bouts from through out Asia. Part of that is due to how easy it is to get access to TV quality Japanese action, something that's not all that easy in Thailand, Korea Indonesia and the Philippines. Second is the level of match ups in Japan tend to be, for the most part, more interesting than we get from through the rest of Asia.
Despite that we do come across some great bouts from the rest of the continent, and today we bring you a modern day Thai fight that's worthy of attention. It pitted two young novices against each other and they delivered a thrilling bout and both would quickly become among the more exciting Thai prospects that emerged over the following year or two.
Thananchai Charunphak (1-0, 1) vs Phongsaphon Panyakum (1-1)
In one corner was the unbeaten Thananchai Charunphak who had made his debut in July 2018, with a blow out win. He had, reportedly, been a well regarded amateur and was tipped for success when he turned professional, but at this point he was just an 18 year old professional with less than 3 minutes of pro experience under his belt.
In the opposite corner was fellow 18 year old Phongsaphon Panyakum, who had made his debut in 2017, losing to Kai Ishizawa in Japan, before returning to the ring 13 months later to pick up a win at home against Phormsan Chanla. Incidentally his win came on the same show that Thananchai made his debut on.
Coming in to this both men seemed to feel like they had a point to prove. A win was great, but it wasn't going to be enough. They had to do more than just win. They had to look good, they had to put on a show, and make fans sit up and take note. Both men seemed to go in with that shared mentality, and it made for something truly brilliant.
With a brilliant and lively atmosphere filling the Workpoint Studio in Bang Phun, it felt like a big occasion. Yes these two men were novices, yes these were both kids, but the bout felt big, it felt important and it felt meaningful before a punch was even thrown.
From the off Phongsaphon, in the blue and black shorts, looked to press forward whilst Thahanchai looked to box, move, use his straight punches and rely on his boxing skills. They styles gelled almost immediately with Phongsaphon landing clean single shots and Phongsaphon walking through them to press and land his own shots. It was an opening round that matched volume against quality and although it had sloppy moments it had taken less than 3 minutes to feel like a special fight. At the bell both men played to fans, feeling they had done enough to take the round.
The high tempo action moved up a gear in round 2 as Thananchai started the round fast, unloading big head shots from the opening seconds. Phongsaphon seemed in real trouble, but rode out the storm, recovered his bearings and came back strong in the final moments of a pulsating round that deserved a much bigger audience.
Notably the tempo seemed to be taking it's toll on Thananchai who twice lost his gum shield in round 2.
In round 3 we again saw Phongsaphon forcing the tempo, as he did in the first round, whilst Thananchai tried to rely on his slick skills and movement. This was a big round for Phongsaphon who looked like a man on a mission and refused to back away from the clearly tiring Thananchai.
This left everything to play for in the final round, which was again a sensational round. We won't ruin, or the outcome.
If you want to see a thrilling bout from Thailand, with a great atmosphere, intense and brilliant action, and two men putting it all on the line this is ideal and it really is a bout that everyone deserves to watch. If you've seen it, watch it again! If you've not seen it, put 20 minutes aside and enjoy a fantastic little war between two tremendously talented Thai teens.
Whilst this series has had it's share of big fights and big name fighters we also want to shine a light on the lesser known fights and fighters and for today's Closet Classic we certainly go into the lesser known action for a Japanese A Class tournament final from 1986. Neither of the men involved is well known now, more than 35 years on, but together they made for a brilliant tournament final in a bout that saw to men landing bombs.
Kenji Iizumi (11-1, 9) vs Masahiro Takagi (19-6-3, 9)
In the blue corner was 19 year old Kenji Iizumi. Iizumi had debuted in 1984 and despite a loss in his second bout had proven to be an aggressive, exciting fighter with a a fast starting mentality. From his first 12 bouts he had scored 9 stoppages, with 4 coming in the first round and 7 coming in the first 4 rounds. They had included a notable win over a then 7-0 Mark Horikoshi, who would later become a Japanese champion, and a win over Speedy Kikuchi, avenging his sole professional defeat.
Coming in to the bout Masahiro Takagi was a 26 year old who had challenged for the Japanese Featherweight title just over 2 years earlier, when he lost a decision to Eijiro Kuruma. Although less explosive and exciting than Iizumi he was certainly more experienced, and had proven to be a tough guy, who had only been stopped once, in his third bout, maturing from there and becoming a Japanese level title contender.
As well as being an A class tournament final the bout essentially served as a Japanese title eliminator, meaning there was a lot at stake here, and the two fighters knew it. Despite that it wasn't a bout hindered by pressure. Instead it was a bout that turned into a thriller.
From the off the hard hitting left was pressing Takagi and applying pressure, but Takagi, to credit, was managing to use his feet well to avoid a war from the very sadly. The pressure from Iizumi kept building though and after around 2 minutes of the opening round he was starting to make Takagi work harder to create space. It wasn't the most thrilling of opening rounds but set the stage well, with Iizumi's pressure and aggression going up against Takagi's movement and footwork.
Through round 2 we began to see the pace picking up, with Iizumi getting closer, and Takagi needing to respond to the pressure more. The go to gameplan of Izumi was to hold, but that only bought him a second or two of respite and Iizumi wasn't going to be discouraged that easily. By the end of round 2 we were starting to get a war as Iizumi's pressure began to get it's desired effect.
The exciting ending to round 2 set the stage for what we would get in round 3, as the two men began to exchange heavy leather. Takagi, realising he was going to need to respond, began to land some heavy hooks, but failed to dissuade Iizumi who kept marching forward. This ended up giving us the early stages of a thrilling war, with Iizumi relentlessly pursuing Takagi.
As we headed in to round 4 it was starting to feel like we were about to get something very, very special and it would just take Takagi to play his part for the fight to deliver. Part way through the round he was put down, and it was then clear he would have to turn things around, and quickly as Iizumi began to hunt a finish. To his credit Takagi saw out the storm through the rest of the round, but by now it was clear he needed to change his gameplan. He needed to respond and did so in round 5, loading up on his own shots and countering the aggressive Iizumi with some very solid head shots.
We'll leave the bout at this point, so you all get the chance to witness some of the drama unfolding but this is real fun. The style and aggression of Iizumi making the fight, the heart and toughness of Takagi keeping him in it, the atmosphere of the intimate Korakuen Hall adding to things. This isn't one of the all time great bouts, but is still a hidden gem of aggression will power, power against toughness.
Back in November 2012 we got an absolute treat on from Los Angeles in what was a brilliant double header featuring 4 of the little men in the sport. One of those bouts saw Roman Gonzalez take a very competitive win over Juan Francisco Estrada whilst the other featured a Filipino-American taking on one of the most fun to watch Mexican fighters ever. The bout was was the main event of the card, though in reality it's now not spoken about as much as it should be, sadly. That's despite the fact the contest was sensational. Maybe not as good as the Gonzalez Vs Estrada bout, but it was certainly a special bout.
Brian Viloria (31-3-0-2, 18) vs Hernan Marquez (34-2, 25)
Filipino-American fighter Brian Viloria was always a hard man to really predict. At his best he could truly do it all. He was a boxer-puncher, with vicious power and brilliant skills. He was a smart fighter, but he was also someone who seemed to run into trouble in the ring far more often than he really should. He really should be better remembered than he is, but losses at Light Flyweight to Omar Nino Romero, Edgar Sosa and Carlos Tamara all seemed to leave us with question marks over how good Viloria really was.
Whilst Viloria did suffer those losses he also had numerous top level wins at Light Flyweight, including victories over Eric Ortiz, Jose Antonio Aguirre and Ulises Solis. In 2010, after losing to Tamara, Viloria moved up in weight and went on a truly fantastic run of results beating Julio Cesar Miranda, to claim the WBO Flyweight title and the defended it against Giovani Segura and Omar Nino Romero, in the third bout between the two men. He then got a unification bout with WBA champion Hernan Marqueez.
Mexican warrior Hernan "Tyson" Marquez was one of the sport's must watch fighters at the time. Technically he was crude and clumsy, but had incredible power, heart, work rate, aggression and physical strength. To this point his only losses had been an upset to Richie Mepranum and ill fated bout at Super Flyweight against Nonito Donaire. those losses had both come in 2010 and he had bounced back with 7 wins.
The 7 fight winning streak of Marquez had included a 2011 Fight of the Year contender against Luis Concepcion, in which Marquez claimed the WBA Flyweight title, revenge of Mepranum and 2 world title defenses, including a rematch with Concepcion. He had been blitzing fighters and scoring a lot of knockdowns, quickly becoming the man you tuned into for fireworks and excitment.
Coming in we had two men in good form, two men with solid power, exciting styles and two men who both held world titles. We had the ingredients for an instant classic, and that's exactly what we got!
From the first round it was clear we were getting something special. Viloria took the fight to Marquez with an aggressive gameplan. The tactics seemed a risky one against someone with the power of Marquez, and towards the end of the round Marquez actually began to turn the tables on Viloria. That was until Viloria a brilliant left hook put Marquez down. That was the first of the bouts numerous knockdowns.
Virloia would continue to land clean, accurate shots, getting the respect of Marquez and neutralising the Mexican for the most part. Marquez had his moments, but always seemed to pay for them. The class and more rounded skills of Viloria saw him being able to soak up the pressure from the Mexican and land the more clean and destructive blows. Those shots from Viloria saw him scoring a second knockdown in round 5, just as it seemed like Marquez was building some momentum of his own.
Viloria then controlled the action without much bother for a bit before he began to slow.
With the bout slipping away from him Marquez began to pressure and press, trying to make Viloria drain his take and drown him late on. Viloria's work rate began to decline notably in round 9 and Marquez turned it on, as if feeling that Viloria was gassing and tiring.
We'll leave this bout here, but we do need to say this is one of the most entertaining and exciting 1-sided bouts in recent memory. It was over-shadowed by the Gonzalez Vs Estrada bout, but was genuinely thrilling, as pretty much every Marquez bout was during this stage of his career.
When we look through the history of boxing we find so many great fights that just don't get much attention, even among the hardcore fans that do watch boxing outside of the mainstream. Today we're going to look at one such bout from 2000 which is exciting, action packed, sees two men take some brutal shots and has momentum shifts and drama throughout. It's the sort of bout that would have been an instant classic had it not been tucked away in Nagoya but instead took place in Las Vegas.
Hideki Todaka (16-2-1, 7) vs Yokthai Sithoar (23-1-1, 13)
In one corner was defending WBA Super Flyweight champion Hideki Todaka, who had won the title in 1999 with a victory over Jesus Rojas and was now looking for his second defense of the belt. The man from the Midori gym had been the under-dog when he beat Rojas and had also been the under-dog when he retained the title with a win over former Japanese amateur stand out Akihiko Nago. Here he was looking to build on that reputation as an upset minded fighter. As well as recording two upsets he had also been a fighter who had been unlucky through his career, carrying multiple injuries, including a back injury that delayed his debut and a hand injury that had forced him to vacated a Japanese national title. Unlike many Japanese fighters he was a local star, making his name in Central Japan rather than one of the boxing powerhouses like Tokyo or Osaka, rather than a national boxing hero.
In the opposite corner was former champion Yokthai Sithoar, a 25 year old looking to reclaim the WBA Super Flyweight title that he had lost in Nagoya to Satoshi Iida, who boxed at the same gym as Todaka. Prior to losing the title in 1997 Yokthai had racked up 4 defenses and proven himself to be a heavy handed fighter. In fact the heavy hands of Yokthai had been known about before his boxing debut, as he had been a devastating puncher in Muay Thai. Although not too well remembered now a days, the Thai was a crude, limited boxer, but one who was tough, threw a lot of shots and had incredible work rate, determination and every shot he landed hurt like hell. He wasn't the type of fighter who turned up for a bout to lose, but instead he seemed to enjoy having a tear up, and beating his opponents up.
On paper this was an attractive match up. Two relatively limited boxers, with styles that were going to gel. Todaka was probably perceived as the more technical fighter, but neither man was exactly well known for their boxing brains and their ability to lay traps. Both were known for being tough guys, who came to fight, threw a lot, and made up for their deficiencies in skills, but being so damned determined.
Straight from the off Yokthai looked to make a fast start, getting his jab pumping and really trying to get his distance down as quickly as possible. Todaka wasn't having that however and tried to to let bombs go up close, which say Yokthai respond with some of his own. Within a minute of the fight starting we were seeing both letting big shots go up close, with the men essentially taking it in turns to let their shots go, then reset. It made for an instant welcoming to the action and it was certainly not your typical first round. Neither man seemed to be hurt at any point, but it was clear that the styles were gelling just as well as we could have hoped and they gave us a very hotly contested opening 3 minutes that was fought in the style that seemed to be exactly what both men wanted.
Whilst the first round was good the second was even more better as we got more of the same. It was again a round where the two guys pumped out some jabs before getting inside, unleashing a combination then getting tagged themselves in response. Midway through the round we began to see more exchanges as both men looked to prove they were the stronger man and the bigger puncher.
After two very close rounds we began to see the challenger moving through the gears slightly, picking up his work rate, and not backing off when he was tagged, instead he was making sure he got the last word in every back and forth sequence. It was brilliant work from the Thai who, at times, seemed to be using Todaka's head as target practice. The straights, the hooks and the uppercuts from the challenger seemed like they couldn't miss, and Todaka took a genuine beating through parts of the round. The champion always tried to fight back, but his shots had little to no effect on Yokthai who looked like a man fighter who had chosen to use a cheat code or something. The same aggression from the Thai continued in round 4 and 5 as he got inside and continued pummelling Todaka, who really had no answer and nothing he could do to stop the charging Thai. Sadly for Todaka the shows he was taking were taking a clear affect on his face, leaving him swollen, bruised, and bloodied by the end of round 4. The only real relief that Todaka had going his way was that Yokthai had been putting a lot of effort into those rounds, but he had also done a lot of damage and Todaka seemed to be feeling the effects, backing up a lot and throwing little himself.
Thankfully for Todaka he did have a much stronger round 6, but it looked more like a last stand than a true turn around from the champion, who needed to stop the rot.His was face looking a mess by then and he had to be down on the cards, even in Nagoya where judges were historically very favourable to the local fighter. He seemed to be putting everything into the round, and did have something of a break through, that it was very hard to know if it was a true turn around or just a minor respite after the beating he had been taking.
Rather strangely round 7 become one of the quietest rounds of the fight. Yokthai was now looking like a man who had began to feel the effects of the tempo he had set early on, and Todaka seemed unable to really build on the success he had had in round 6. It was a much, much quieter round and neither seemed to take much punishment through the first 2 minutes. The final minute of the round however was much better, with Yokthai starting it well and Todaka having a good run through the middle of it. It again seemed like Todaka was turning things around, and some how his faced seemed to be looking better now than it had earlier in the fight. It was clear he felt things were swinging his way.
Todaka had another major break through in round 8, as he began pressing more, getting on the front foot and forcing Yokthai to give ground fairly consistently. Yokthai seemed to outland Todaka, but his shots seemed to have little effect on the Japanese fighter. On the other hand Todaka shook Yokthai to his core with a right hand on the bell, that sent Yokthai stumbling and then dropping to the canvas. It was clear Yokthai was hurt, and had the shot come 30 seconds earlier that could have been the start off the end.
In round 9 Todaka jumped on his man, feeling Yokthai was their for the taking. This lead to a brutal round of action that saw Yokthai bite down had and go to war with Todaka in arguably the round of the fight. It was a round that only one issue with it, the top on Yokthai's glove kept coming undone. That however didn't phase Todaka who went on to hurt Yokthai again, and pushed the Thai to his physical limits. Somehow Yokthai remained upright despite looking ready to go on 3 or 4 occassions.
The moment was now all with Todaka as we leave the conclusion of the bout down to you to enjoy. But this is genuinely one of the true closest classics from 2000, and is a bout that every fan deserves to see. It's brutal, it's exciting, and it's another great example of what the Flyweight division has been giving us over the years. You may not be aware of the fighters but this shows exactly what both men brought to the ring. A true brilliant war.
(Note - Fight starts at around 11:19 into the video)
This week we are delving deep into the closet to share a Closet Classic from 1987. Not only is this fight well over 30 years old, but it's also pretty obscure one and one that we suspect those who live outside of Japan probably haven't seen. Though they should! It's fun, it's short, explosive and exciting, with both men being hurt. It's not the highest level bout we'll ever share, but it one of the true hidden classics that the 1980's gave us.
Kengo Fukuda (7-1, 6) vs Tomio Shibata (1-2, 1)
In one corner was Kengo Fukuda, a youngster who quickly had star appeal. He had began his professional career at the age of 17 and instantly connected with fans, being dubbed the "Idol Boxer" at a young age. He had began his career with 6 straight TKO/KO wins, with the first 5 coming in the opening round. His style had excited the Japanese boxing fans and his looks drew in a female fanbase. Sadly he lost in his 7th professional bout, but quickly bounced back with his 7th win at the end of 1986.
In February 1987, just months after his professional loss, he took on Tomio Shibata.
Shibata was a bit of an unknown and his 1-2 (1) record on BoxRec appears to be incomplete incomplete, with the onscreen graphic listing him as 4-3 (2). We suspect the more than 2 year gap in his BoxRec record saw him fighting the additional 4 bouts, though what we do know is his his bouts rarely went the distance. His 3 recorded bouts on boxrec were all concluded early and at least 1 of his other 4 also ended inside the schedule. So he seems, at least on paper, like a stop or be stopped, type of fighter and we can assume he had a suspect chin.
At the end of the day hoever neither man's record could possible have predicted that two men deliver a drama laden shoot out.
From the very opening moments Shibata was on the offensive and ended up on the canvas, just 12 seconds into the bout, slipping face first whilst in pursuit of Fukuda. Shibata got back up, dusted himself off and continued to pursue Fukuda, throwing wild, wide bombs and dragging Fukuda into a war. After just over a minute Shibata was down. Fukuda then tried to finish off the raw but aggressive Shibata who quickly struck back, dropping Fukuda around 30 seconds later.
With both men down it would have made sense for both to have found some respect for their opponent, but that didn't happen and instead Shibata continued trying to bomb out his man and Fukuda kept responding whilst looking for some big bombs of his own.
It wasn't a pretty first round, but it was an entertaining, wild round full of excitement.
The aggression and wild power of Shibata continued into round 2 as he again tried to test Fukuda's chin. Despite that aggression we did see a much smarter game plan from Fukuda who boxed and moved, let Shibata hit air, and countered. Despite the change in game plan the bout remained an edge of your seat affair, knowing that a clean shot from either man could send the other down. The clean connects might have been less frequent than in the opening round, but both continued to connect with heavy leather, especially in the later part of the round.
We'll leave the bout here for you to watch without ruining it any more.
For those who like wild action, knockdowns, and a bit of crazy action this is worthy of your time. It's not a cerebral bout, but it is very entertaining and a rather fun low level encounter.
Usually if a match ends in decisive fashion we don't get too excited about a rematch. Today however for our Closet Classic, we are looking at a rematch between men who were seen on different levels after their first bout, but ended up giving us something truly special in their rematch. Their first bout wouldn't have made anyone anticipate their rematch was going to be special, but we got something jaw droppingly good. In fact even now, 50 years on, it still stands as one of the greatest Bantamweight bouts of all time.
Kazuyoshi Kanazawa (30-8-1, 17) Vs Ruben Olivares (67-1-1, 62) II
In January 1969 Japan's Kazuyoshi Kanazawa travelled to Mexico and was beaten in 2 rounds by the then unbeaten Ruben Olivares. In the years that followed that victory Olivares had lost his unbeaten record, losing in a second meeting with Chucho Castillo, but had gone on a tear avenging his loss and twice become the World Bantamweight champion.
In October 1971 Olivares travelled over to Japan to give Kanazawa a rematch, this time in Aichi. What we ended up with was a legendary Bantamweight bout.
Before we look at the bout lets briefly look at the two men.
Olivares is one of the true legends of Mexican boxing and his 3 fight series with Chucho Castillo is one of the most violet series of fights out there. As well as going 2-1 against Castillo the heavy handed Olivares had scored notable wins against Japanese Olympic gold medal winner Takao Sakurai, beaten Lionel Rose for the Bantamweight throne and beaten Efren Torres. By the time he travelled to Japan to face Kanazawa he was a massive Mexican fighting star, and at only 24 years old his future looked incredibly bright.
Blessed with brutal power, an exciting style and under-rated skills Olivares was a nightmare for anyone in Bantamweight history. Looking at his record today we see a man who retired for good in 1988 with a ledger of 89-13-3 (7) but a lot of those losses piled up later in has career, when his hard bouts caught up with him and when he moved up to Featherweight, with mixed success.
Whilst Olivares is a legend Kanazawa is much, much less well known. The Japanese fighter had began his career as a teenager, in 1965, and was 11-4-1 (6) after 16 bouts. He then turned things around, winning 19 of 23 bouts including wins over Jesus Pimentel, Jose Medel and Berkrerk Chartvanchai. Strangely, looking back, he never won any form of title, until July 1971, when he took the OPBF Bantamweight. That title win was then followed by him rematch Kanazawa in this legendary bout.
Up to this point Kanazawa had proven to be a fringe level guy, with wins over the likes of Pimentel, Medel and Berkrerk had proven that, but inconsistent and he had lost 2 of his previous 6, both by stoppage, and it seemed his chin was an issue, with 5 of his previous 8 losses coming by stoppage. Against Olivares that was almost certainly going to be his downfall.
In the opening round both men took their time, neither man wanting to make a mistake, and it didn't seem like a bout that was going to go down in folklore as something special. Kaanzawa seemed fully aware of how hard Olivares could punch and was deciding to box, keep things at range and not take risks. Olivares looked like a man who was confident that, sooner or later, he was going to get to his man so didn't feel the need to rush. The entire first round saw very little action.
The pace would increase in round 2, as Olivares began to put his foot on the gas and Kanazawa responded, picking some very nice shots. It wasn't all out action, far from it, but it was wonderful boxing from both, with both men having some moments to excite their teams. Suddenly the crowd were beginning to wake up, and both men were starting to feel more at ease.
The pace continued to increase in round 3, as the men went through the gears. Olivares clearly had the edge in power, and had Kanazawa's full respect, but to his credit the challenger was taking shots well, and picking some excellent shots of his own. It seemed the Kanazawa gameplan was to blunt the attack of Olivares, keep range and counter on the Mexican's mistakes. Late in round 3 those tactics began to shine as he seemed to bother Olivares for the first time.
Despite Kanazawa having success in round 3 Olivares bounced well in round 4 and rebuilt his confidence, despite getting caught by some very solid counters from the unfancied challenger. Olivares did find himself on the canvas part way through the round, but it was judge to have been a slip.
By now the quiet opening round was easily forgotten and the tempo, excitement and drama had grown wonderfully. The two men were finding they were matching each other fantastically, and Kanazawa actually began forcing Olivares backwards in round 5 the momentum continued to swing back and forth. This was already becoming a very, very good, technical fight, but the best was to come much later on.
We won't ruin what happens later in the bout, but as we got into the championship rounds the fight moved yet another gear. The action continued to be exciting and technical but the drama went through the roof as both began to tire, and their movement began to slow. Things got sloppy in those later stages but the drama, heart, determination and excitement more than made up for that.
If you like fights to build, and build, unfurling a story of desire, with a mix of skills then this is something you will love. A truly legendary Bantamweight thriller!
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