Today's Closet Classic isn't a fight that we expected many fans have seen, but it is replayed in Japan quite regularly as part of a series shown on Fuji's sister channels as part of their "Diamond Glove Golden Legend" series. It features a man who would later become a cult favourite fighting in his first title bout and taking on a determined domestic champion. The bout pales compared to some bouts that one man would feature in, but is certainly a very, raw and exciting bout that is well worthy of a watch.
Yoshihiro Kamegai (14-0, 12) Vs Yosukezan Onodera (20-1-1, 8)
In later years Yoshihiro Kamegai would become one of the sports best value fighters. When he was in the ring you knew you were going to get excitement with his incredible toughness, impressive stamina and brilliant will to win. When he got in the ring you knew leather would be thrown and his two wars with Jesus Soto Karass were both instant classics, worthy of rewatching any day. Before he began to make a mark on the US scene he was, of course, a Japanese domestic fighter and the action and thrills he gave Japanese fans in these early stages were still there. In April 2010 he got his first title fight.
In the opposite corner to Kamegai was Japanese 140lb champion Yosukezan Onodera. Although Onodera would never make a mark outside of Japan. He was a really good domestic fighter with his only loss at this point coming to Hiroshi Nakamori in early 2007. Since that loss he had gone 5-0-1 (2) with a very notable win over Norio Kimura for the Japanese Light Welterweight title in April 2009, ending Kimura's 5 year reign. He had defended the belt twice, beating Yuji Wauke and Akihito Nishio before facing Kamegai in spring 2010. In the ring he was aggressive, fun to watch and tough with a real fun style.
Despite what fans in the West know of Kamegai now, being a face first brawler, that wasn't always the case. He was never a defensive genius, but there was some nous to what he did at times, slipping on the inside and even using a shoulder roll. Yes, we know how alien that concept is to those who saw Kamegai's later career fights. With that in mind it should be noted he does show some nice defensive touches. Despite those defensive touches he's still Kamagei and he still gets inside but it's not all none stop work from him in the opening round and instead Onodera seems to out work Kamegai at times on the inside. Despite Onodera's work he gets put down in the opening round. That seems to set Kamegai off as we end up with an all out war to finish the round.
Having realised he could hurt the champion Kamegai was again willing to have an inside fight with Onodera, who kept marching forward and looking to have a war with the unbeaten, but untested challenger. In round 2 Onodera was down again, and once again the knockdown resulted in the round finishing in spectacular fashion with Kamegai looking desperate to get an early finish and Onodera weathering the storm and firing back.
We won't ruin the fight any further, but for those who love Kamegai's later career and want to see some of his earlier bouts, this is a genuinely great war. He wasn't quite as raw as he would later become, when he attempted to break into the hearts of Western fans, but he's certainly nothing like a pure technician. In Onodera he had the perfect foil for a brilliant fight and this proved to be something very, very fan friendly. It's not always pretty but it's always fun and action packed!
For today's closet classic we roll the clock back to an historic bout from back in 1987, and it's a bout that, sadly, doesn't get the attention it deserves. That's despite the bout being a genuine major one for the division it was in. In fact it was a bout that saw an inaugural champion being crowned and a record being set, that still stands more than 30 years on.
Hiroki Ioka (8-0, 5) vs Mai Thomburifarm (11-1, 4)
The bout in question was the first ever WBC Minimumweight title bout, which took place in October 1987 in Osaka, just 4 months after the inaugural IBF title fight. The division wasn't well-established at this point, but this was a very much a major fight at 105lbs, and pitted an 18 year old Japanese hopeful against a Thai riding an 11 fight unbeaten run.
Hiroki Ioka, the uncle of Kazuto Ioka, had turned professional in 1986 under the guidance of the legendary Eddie Townsend. Ioka had debuted at the age of 17 and debuted in January '86, and had run up 5 straight wins by the end of the year. In 1987 he had beaten Kenji Ono for the Japanese Minimumweight title, setting the record as the youngest Jappanese national champion, before moving on to this WBC title fight. The youngster had been nurtured by Townsend to be an outside fighter, using his long and rangy body to fight off the jab, and with his Japanese title win there was a lot of momentum behind him. Despite the momentum he was still only 18 years and 9 months old. He was looking to set the Japanese record as the youngest world champion, and this was seen as a major step up.
Thai fighter Mai Thomburifarm had lost on his debut, in 1986, but then reeled off 11 straight wins. His competition hadn't been great, though as is always the case with Thai's from that era the records of his opponents are very much questionable and may well be incomplete. What is known is that prior to this fight with Ioka Mai had won the Thai Light Flyweight title. Coming in to this fight he was in his mid 20's but had never previously fought outside of Thailand.
From the off Ioka looked to make the most of size and speed. He got behind his jab, kept it pumped out and tried to neutralise the pressure of the Thai visitor. Ioka's big flaw, through his career, was his relative lack of power and he struggled early on to get the respect of Mai, who continued to come forward. The Thai's hunger and fire kept him coming forward but he continually struggled to get close enough, early on, to get his shots off with much success.
As the bout went on the pace of the bout increased, with Ioka occasionally pushing back Mai and letting his shots go. Mai responded, at times, but generally got the worst of things, as Ioka's clean and accurate punches took their toll on the Thai.
Whilst certainly not an all out war, and very much a show case of boxing, moving and jabbing, this was more exciting than most technical match ups and certainly had it's share of flash points and exciting moments, especially late on as both men started to wear the wounds of their bout.
For those looking for excitement and action this isn't a thrill a minute bout, despite having it's moments. It won't even be remembered as one of the greatest Minimumweight bouts ever. It is however a bout that deserves it's place in the Closet Classic series. It's a bout that helped build the division, and showed that technical and tactical bouts can still be very fun to watch!
Ususually in this series we get to look about legends of yore, putting on some thrillers. It's with that in mind that fighters like Yong Soo Choi, Takanori Hatakeyama, Lakva Sim, Myung Woo Yuh and Naoto Takahashi turn up so many times in this series. Thankfully we still have some great exciting action hero's in the sport, with the mentality of making sure fans are entertained. Today we look at a cracking bout from 2015 which featured a couple of typically entertaining fighters, in what was one of the final bouts of the year.
Kosei Tanaka (5-0, 2) Vs Vic Saludar (11-1, 9)
In one corner we hard WBO Minimumweight champion Kosei Tanaka, who had won the title 7 months earlier, when he had beaten Julian Yedras to take the previously vacant title. Tanaka, who was being managed by former world champion Kiyoshi Hatanaka, had raced to a world title in just his 5th bout, and had been regarded as a fighter on a similar career trajectory to Naoya Inoue. Despite having on only been a professional for 2 years he had gained a reputation as a special talent, and his 2014 clash with Ryuji Hara had been a sensationally high speed bout between two incredible hugely skilled youngsters. At the age of 20 he was being tipped for big things, but was seen as being a flawed genius, even at this stage of his career.
In his first defense of the title Tanaka took on Filipino puncher Vic Saludar. Saludar had suffered an early career loss, following a hand fracture against Powell Balaba, but hand bounced back from that loss and taken the WBA Asia Pacific title in September 2015. Whilst he was known as a big puncher he had also been a very solid amateur fighter and had competed on the international scene a number of times. At the age of 25 he was a full fledged man and had been tipped by those in the Philippines to be a future world champion. On paper he was stepping up as a professional here, in his first world title bout and his first pro bout outside of the Phillipines, but he was regarded as a very live under-dog, with dangerous power, especially early on. In his 12 bouts up to this point he had stopped 6 in the opening round, and all 9 of his stoppages, up to this point, had come in the first 4 rounds.
Despite entering the bout as the under-dog Saludar didn't look like a man who was worried about Tanaka's reputation and speed. Instead he pressed forward, though did so in a technically smart way, pecking away at Tanaka with jabs through the first round and applying smart pressure. For those who were thinking he was just a puncher he was proving otherwise, and was relying on his boxing fundamentals whilst finding holes in Tanaka's defense. Tanaka tried to use his speed and jab to box on the outside by the smart offensive work and patience of Saludar easily took him the first round.
We had seen Tanaka under pressure from Hara, and Yedras, and assumed he could turn it around. Here however Saludar's physical strength and pressure was making it trickier and trickier for Tanaka to settle. Instead the Japanese wonder kid was being made to look like an ordinary fighter by Saludar who pursued him, hammering him with heavy single shots, and some eye catching combinations. As we moved through the second round it clearly made the fans in Nagoya worry about their new star being exposed, and he looked to have no real answer for the pressure and strength of Saludar.
From there things got worse for the youngster, who moved to plan B. Rather than trying to stay on the outside and use his feet he tried pushing Saludar back, and walked into some big shots from the Filipino challenger, who seemed to hurt Tanaka in round 3.
With Plan A and Plan B both failing for Tanaka things went from bad to worse, with Tanaka being dropped in round 5, from a right hand by Saludar who went for the finish. We leave you here to enjoy the fight, with Saludar looking like he was about claim the WBO Minimumweight title and crush the "KO Dream Boy".
To close out the Closet Classic series for 2020 we thought it would be a good idea to feature a bout that took place "on this day", and with New Year's Eve being a big day for boxing in Japan in recent years it left us with a lot of options. We've gone with a bout that isn't one of the more famous New Year Eve bouts, but is very much a Closet Classic. It's a bout that goes over-looked, and often ignored, yet was a real thriller between two exciting little men. Not only was it a thriller but their controversy, excitement and drama.
Katsunari Takayama (30-7-0-1, 12) Vs Jose Argumedo (15-3-1, 9)
Coming in to the bout the always fun to watch Katsunari Takayama was the IBF Minimumweighgt champion, and was hunting his third defense of the title. He was 32 years old and had had a long and successful career winning the WBC, WBO and IBF Minimumweight titles, along with the WBA interim title. Although not the most skilled or the biggest puncher in the sport he was an all action fighter who could box, but almost always ended up in a war and had provided so many Fight of the Year contenders, including a sensational 2014 war with Francisco Rodriguez Jr. The reason Takayama was so great to watch was that he let his hands go, a lot, and took risks as he attempted to break down opponents with work rate. He lacked power but made up for that with volume, speed, heart and desire and even in his 30's was still a little energiser bunny full of energy, and able to fight at a very high work rate through the full 12 rounds. Sadly for Takayama the wars he'd been in had taken a toll on his flesh, and he was prone to cuts, which had been a massive issue 2 fights earlier against Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr, and caused that bout to be stopped in round 9.
Whilst Takayama was a known quantity at world level, the same couldn't be said of Mexican challenger Jose Argumedo. The 27 year old Mexican had lost on debut, to future WBC champion Oswaldo Novoa, and later lost a rematch to Novoa, but had scored decent wins on the Latino scene with victories against the likes of Saul Juarez, Martin Tecuapetla and Javier Martinez Resendiz. Other than Novoa the only other loss on Argumedo's record was a split decision to Carlos Velarde. Although not too well known he has proven to be a limited, but very strong and tough fighter. He came forward a lot, took a good shot and hit hard for a Minimumweight. Notably this was his first bout outside of Mexico and his first world title bout, in what was a clear step up in class.
The bout started with Takayama trying to use his speed against the slower but visibly bigger Argumedo. Despite being the slower man Argumedo was managing to land plenty of eye catching shots, which had more power on them than Takayama's quicker blows. Within 2 minutes of the first round it was already clear we were going to get a treat to end 2015, and the bout did not disappoint as the action got more and more intense. The only problem was the occasional clash of heads, which were a result of the two men fighting at such an aggressive and exciting pace.
In rounds 2 the action became more and more intense, with both men landing a lot of leather. Despite the two men having very different styles they were both delivering fireworks to end the year, and they were giving us some amazing exchanges. Not only were they both unloading shots but they were both taking them clean as the bout started to go through the gears. Sadly the round also saw Takayama suffer a cut, from a clash of heads. The cut seemed to put a big question mark on "how long" the bout would last, and with that in mind Takayama knew he would have to put his foot on the gas even more.
From there on we ended up getting something truly tremendous, between two men who fought incredibly hard for the title, and gave all they could in a thrilling contest.
We won't ruin what happens here, but this is a tremendous bout, and if you're looking for some fireworks before ringing in 2021, this is a great throw back to 5 years ago, and a bout that if you've not seen before is seriously worth a watch. On the other hand if you already seen it, watch it again, it's a second viewing!
A number of recent bouts featured in this series have been bouts at the highest level, with world titles on the line. Today we drop down a level and bring you a Japanese title fight, though it did feature two men who would compete in world title fights. This, like many in this series, is a hidden gem, a bout that didn't get much attention outside of Japan and even now does really ever get spoken about. That's despite the fact it's a real fun bout between two men who really do get over-looked.
Suguru Muranaka (19-2-1, 5) vs Masayuki Kuroda (21-4-3, 13)
Heading in to the bout Suguru Muranaka was the Japanese Flyweight champion, having dethroned Takuya Kogawa in December 2013. His first defense was a mandatory against former Japanese Light Flyweight champion Masayuki Kuroda, who had lost to Juan Carlos Reveco in a world title fight just a couple of fights earlier, the following April.
Muranaka is one of those fighters that really could have done so much more with his career, had he been committed and disciplined. He was a solid Flyweight, but struggles with the weight saw him become the first Japanese national champion to lose a title on the scales. He would go on to miss weight a number of times, even doing so when he'd moved to Bantamweight. He would fight for a world title in 2017, losing to Kal Yafai in the UK, but by then his career had started to leave people disappointed. Whilst his career didn't reach the heights once expected of him he was regularly in fun fights. He was strong, tough, came forward and made a fight of things. He had a a rugged toughness, a high work rate and despite his record not showing it, he hit solidly, with his power being enough to keep anyone honest. He was however a bit basic, and relied more on his toughness and work rate rather than his skills.
Kuroda on the other hand was a dedicated professional. He had began his career at Light Flyweight and went on to score solid wins over the likes of Shin Ono and Yuki Sano and he had also fought to a draw against Ryoichi Taguchi. Those came before he moved up in weight and challenged WBA Flyweight champion Juan Carlos Reveco, giving a Reveco a decent fight. In the ring Reveco was a solid boxer with a solid power on the domestic scene, a good work rate, and seemed to be just a touch under-world class. Coming in to this bout he had been win-less in over 2 years, but that had seen him fight in 3 draws, and lose to Reveco. Although he was lacking momentum at the time he was experienced, and their was real hope for him in the Kanagawa region. Those who are familiar with Kuroda will also be aware that he fought Moruti Mthalane in 2019 for the IBF Flyweight title.
From the off both guys looked to get a read on their opponent. Kuroda boxing smartly, trying to maintain some space and land his jab. Muranaka on the other hand was coming forward in bursts, staying quiet and almost trying to lull Kuroda before putting his foot on the gas. It wasn't a typical feeling out round, but it wasn't a war either, and both men managed to land some solid right hands.
As the bout went on the pace began to slowly increase with Murnaka coming forward more, trying to use his physical strength more against Kuroda. The boxing skills of the challenger were more impressive but Muranaka seemed to be happy to fight with the intention of trying to turn it into a brawl. Round by round we began to see Muranaka turning things his way, with more exchanges.
By the middle rounds the footwork of Kuroda was slowing down, and we began to see the two men spending more and more time up close. This was causing the action to get more and more brutal, more and more exciting and allowing Muranaka's arsenal to shine through with combinations of uppercuts and hooks. This caused Kuroda to respond as we got some amazing rounds of inside action, trading back forth at an incredible pace.
This had started calmly enough but warmed very nicely, and got better and better and better as the rounds progressed, becoming an excellent war through the middle and later rounds!
This was great, and this is our final treat in this series for you guys before Christmas, so please enjoy this bout, and enjoy tomorrow! Have a Christmas and stay safe everyone. We'll be back the final Closet Classic on New Year's Eve, giving you one more classic before the year is out!
It's great when we get to include multi-fights from a single rivalry in this feature, as it shows the fighters involved were so well matched that they didn't just provide one Closet Classic by fluke, but gave us at least 2 incredible bouts. Sometimes rematches don't end up being as good as the original, but sometimes they are just as good if not better. Today we look at a rematch that, like the bout that proceeded it, delivered something truly amazing.
Myung Woo Yuh (30-0, 11) vs Mario Alberto Demarco (25-3-4, 8) II
In 1985 emerging Korean Myung Woo Yuh announced himself on the world stage by winning the WBA Light Flyweight title with a win over Joey Olivo. In his third defense Yuh had beaten Argentinian challenger Mario Alberto Demarco in a sensational bout, less than a year after his title win. In 1989, with 11 defense of the title behind him, Yuh would again face Demarco. This time Yuh was in his pomp, he was no longer a new champion but a clear top dog in the division and one of champions who had distinguished himself as a very, very hard man to keep up with. Yuh managed to keep the aggression and energy that had seen him win the title, but as he became more experienced he managed to become a bit smarter and more rounded. He was still ultra-aggressive, and incredibly exciting, but more polished than he once was.
Mario Alberto Demarco was a relative unknown outside of Latin American when he first challenged Yuh in 1986. In that bout he proved he was world class. He gave Yuh fits, matching the Korean in terms of output and aggression. It was a huge step up at the time for the Argentinian and he rose to the occasion, losing a very close and competitive bout. Following the loss to Yuh we saw Demarco return to obscure bouts back in Argentina, racking up 5 wins against low level opponents in his homeland. With those wins behind him he had built up some momentum, and was now getting a second shot at Yuh and the WBA Light Flyweight title.
The bout started not with a typical feeling out opening round, but the next round of their rivalry. It was slightly less active than some of the brilliant rounds of their first bout, but it certainly wasn't a quiet opening round. Demarco was pressing, as he had in the first bout, whilst Yuh was showing a respect of Demarco's strength, and used his footwork. With Yuh, being Yuh, it was clear that sooner or later this was going to become a total war and we saw glimpses of that about 2 minutes into the bout, as the tempo stepped up.
Yuh continued trying to box more an exchange less in round 2 but there were again glimpses of thrilling action when he did hold his feet, picked great shots and picked off Demarco as he came forward.
Round by round the action became more intense and it only took until round 3 for a war to break out, and boy did it break out in style as both began to unload leather on the inside. Yuh continued to try and box more at range than Demarco but was finding himself on the inside more and more often, and giving us thrilling exchanges as a result, with a long and thrilling back and forth in round for that had members of the crowd getting to their feet.
From there on the bout developed into a total war. Demarco often refusing to take a backwards step and Yuh letting his shots fly. This was high octane warfare between two men who were made to put on these types of bouts together.
We won't go through a round by round, leaving the fight to be enjoyed by your, but we will mention that this was actually Demarco's final professional bout whilst Yuh would fight on until the early 1990's, with his final bout coming in 1993. By the time he retired Yuh was already an Asian boxing legend, and would later be enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Today we delve into the Closet to pull out a classic that has long been over-looked, for far too long. It was a bout that brought excitement, a high level of activity, and styles that gelled well. Given their was some amazing fights right through the 1980's we under-stand why this one was over-looked but it's one that deserves a lot more attention than it seems to get. In fact it rarely ever gets mentioned online, despite being world title bout between heavy handed guys, and being a great, great fight to watch.
Takuya Muguruma (26-2-1, 20) vs Wilfredo Vazquez (26-3-1, 22)
Japan's Takuya Muguruma is one of the countries least well remembered champions. The man from Osaka won the WBA Bantamweight title in March 1987 but lost it less than 2 months later, losing a thrilling bout to Chan Young Park in 11 rounds. His short reign, added to the fact that he's an Osakan fighter fighting at Bantamweight and never fought outside of Asia, do hurt his profile in some ways. Despite the low profile internationally Muguruma knew how to fight. He was heavy handed and fought with an all out aggressive style. He was a marauding nightmare and his only clear loss in 29 bouts, up to this point, had been the loss to Park. During his career he had had built his name domestically on his Japanese title run before stopping Azael Moran for the vacant WBA Bantamweight title. Less than a year after losing his title he got a chance to reclaim the WBA Bantamweight title.
Opposite to Muguruma was Puerto Rican puncher Wilfredo Vazquez. Vazquez had come up shot in his first world bout, losing to Miguel Lora in 1986, but had then travelled to South Korea and dethroned Chan Young Park, the man who had beaten Muguruma. In his first defense of the title Vazquez would travel to Japan and take on Muguruma, giving the Japanese fighter a chance to recapture his title. Despite being a world champion at this point he was relatively unknown himself, and was a long way from becoming a 3-weight world champion. Better known for his other title reigns, that came later in his career, Vazquez was a big puncher, and he carried that power up to Featherweight with no issues. Now a days he is pretty well remembered, and his son would later win a world title, but at this point in time he was fairly unknown.
Given the traits of the two men involved, Muguruma's in your face aggression and Vazquez's huge power and under-rated boxing skills, this had the potential to be very exciting and very explosive.
In the opening minute or so it looked like the boxing skills of Vazquez were going to be the key and he backed up Muguruma early on before the Japanese fighter turned things. For almost 40 seconds at the end of the round Vazquez was forced to fight off the ropes, with Muguruma pinning him there. Vazquez slipped, ducked and dived well, but the back and forth was intense. This wasn't typical opening round action, this was instead intense and thrilling.
Round 2 saw the hot action from the end of the opening round continued and Muguruma was forcing the pressure on to Vazquez, who again found himself pinned on the ropes. Once again the action was back and forth, with both fighting at an incredible pace up close. Muguruma didn't seem to care about Vazquez's reputation as a brutish puncher, and was instead the one taking the fight to him. The action got off the ropes early in round 3, but we again saw the man trading up close, and Muguruma seemed intend on forcing Vazquez back against the edges of the ring, pressing forward with with an intense will to win. Eventually the challenger backed the champion on to the ropes and the two began to unload in a thrilling back and forth once again.
As the bout went on Muguruma started to pay for his aggression, his face swelling badly, and Vazquez managed to begin boxing, moving and using his more accomplished skill set to take come back into the bout and force Muguruma backwards, turning the tables completely.
For those who like action, intensity, heart and desire this is a brilliant lost gem of a fight. It's one of those really amazing, yet over-looked bouts, that fans really owe themselves a chance to see. It really is an incredible bout and one that deserves so much more attention and fanfare than it gets. A true war fought at an incredible level with two men who matched each other wonderfully.
It's rare for a Japanese fighter to make a mark above 135lbs but in the 1980's the country had a couple of fighters that bucked that trend and made a mark a little higher up the scales than usual. One of those did so with power, being an aggressive, slightly crude, but thrilling and explosive fighter.
As we've said before in this series, when we see explosive and heavy handed fighters face off we can get some incredible bouts.Today's closet is one of those explosive bouts featuring the rare Japanese 140lb champion in a short, but very exciting brawl.
Tsuyoshi Hamada (21-1, 19) Vs Rene Arredondo (39-3, 34) II
The Japanese fighter in question was Tsuyoshi Hamada, who had won the Japanese and OPBF Lightweight titles before moving up in weight in 1986 to challenge Rene Arredondo for the WBC Light Welterweight title. The bout was a short lived one, with Hamada winning at 3:09 of round 1, knocking out Arredondo right on the 3:00 mark. The win had seen Hamada fulfil his potential and become only the second Japanese fighter to win a world title at 140lbs, following in the footsteps of Takeshi Fuji.
Although now known for his work on TV and as a major part of Teiken, Hamada really was a dangerous fighter blessed with freakish power. He had scored his first 17 wins by T/KO and had only gone the distance once in his first 19 bouts, which was his loss. We say 19 because he had also had a No Contest early in his career before winning his titles. He was a brutish puncher, who tried swarm opponents and cut the distance. He relied mostly on his physicality, his strength and his explosive power, as well as his aggressive foot work and power, to make up for being a relatively smaller Light Welterweight. Due to his power it that what he he hit he tended to destroy, as Arrdeondo found out in his their first bout. Following his title win he had defended the belt once, taking a razor thin win over Ronnie Shields, who he really struggled against. Now he was set to face Arredondo for the second time.
Rene Arrdeondo was a Mexican-American boxer-puncher who, like Hamada, had brutish power but was a much bigger man and a much more pure boxer. What he hit he tended to destroy, but unlike Hamada he set things up behind his boxing, not just his aggression. He was a long tall rangy fighter, who was blessed with heavy hands and had boxing in his veins, with with his older brother Ricardo being a success fighter himself. He had taken the WBC title in May 1986, when he stopped Lonnie Smith in 5 rounds, but had lost it in his first defense. To Hamada. Following the loss of the title he had bounced back with a single win, against talented veteran Saoul Mamby. Although not the best fighter out there Rene Arredondo was a danger man, and like Hamada he enjoyed a shoot out.
In the opening round we saw an aggressive Hamada trying to blow away Arredondo as he had in their first bout. The Mexican managed to do well to avoid the bombs from Hamada, for the most part, but did take a huge shot about a minute into the bout. It was following that that Arredondo himself started to settle, and get behind his own shots at range, even rocking Hamada and putting the champion on the back foot. Given how the first bout went, and with Hamada being rocked early on, it was clear both men had the power to hurt the other. Hamada was rocked again in the opening round, as the round came to an end.
Arredondo had learned from their first clash, but there was still a feeling this could go off the charts at any moment. There was a tension, and early in round 2 that tension rose as Hamada stumbled backwards across the ring. He recovered quickly and pressed forward, trying to land, but struggling against the taller man. In the final minute of round 2 Hamada finally got to Arredondo and it was clear that he believed his power would be too much for the challenger. Hamada would also hurt his man in round 3 as the tension kept rising.
We'll leave the rest of the bout for you to enjoy, and it really is enjoyable. Unlike many closet classics this wasn't an all out war, but it was still a must watch bout. It was exciting, dramatic, had a raucous crowd, it was competitive, explosive and felt like it could end at any moment. There weren't big lulls in the action and what we got always left us feeling like the bout was about to end. This was tense, exciting and saw both men landing some huge blows as the bout went on.
Usually in this series we try to sell a fight to you based on it's intense action, it's drama, it's excitement and the momentum shifts. Today we're not doing that. We're not going to lie. Today's closet classic isn't about action and excitement, but instead it's about watching a master of his art showing what sublime skills, ring craft an under-standing can do. It's a bout from 1996 that saw one of Japan's most under-rated and highly skilled world champions show what he could do against a very aggressive and heavy handed challenger. It was a showcase in counter punching, distance control and boxing IQ.
Hiroshi Kawashima (18-2-1, 13) vs Cecilio Espino (33-4-1, 28)
Now a days people don't really discuss Hiroshi Kawashima, the former WBC Super Flyweight champion. Back in the mid 1990's however he was one of Japan's most notable world champions of the time. He lacked the flair and excitement of many contemporaries, such as Joichiro Tatsuyoshi, Katsuya Onizuka and Takanori Hatakeyama, but he did what none of them could. He gave boxing lessons in the ring. He educated fans and opponents, showing ring craft that we rarely see from world class Japanese fighters. He did that in such an impressive fashion that the Japanese media began to call him "Untouchable". Whilst that was a bit too much he was one of the greatest defensive minds in Japanese boxing. Unlike many defensive fighters though he was able apt at letting his hands go, and when he made opponents miss he liked to make them pay. He was, for all intents a fun, defense first, boxer. He often stood just outside the pocket, drew leads and punished them. He defense first for a good reason, he had a very shaky chin and was stopped in 2 of his first 6 bouts. He changed his style and went on to have great success.
In his 5th defense Kawashima took on the dangerous Cecilio Espino. . Espino was dubbed "El Torito", the Bull, due to his aggressive mentality, freakish strength and heavy hands. He wasn't the most skilled boxer out there, but was all about pressing forward, pushing opponents back, trapping them, and going to town. He wasn't world class, but he was a genuine contender and had a style that could make Kawashima look bad. Espino threw a lot of leather, all with bad intent, he came forward relentlessly, and he could take a shot. Up to this point he had only been stopped once in 38 bouts, and that was to the hard hitting Miguel Martinez back in 1991, a man who had later challenged Pichit Sithbanprachan in Thailand.
Kawashima was expected to win, with some ease, but with Espino's aggression and Kawashima's questionable chin this had the chance to go horribly wrong for Kawashima. Or it could be a chance for the genius and skills of Kawashima to really shine against an opponent he could make look absolutely amateurish.
From the opening round it was clear Espino hadn't travelled to lose, as the two men scouted the other behind their jab. For those who haven't seen Kawashima before they will quickly note how slippery he is on his feet, how he uses his jab to control the distance and has a style that looks more American than Japanese. That was something Kenji Yonekura developed with him to try and make up for the chin issues. Despite the defensive skills though it's also clear he doesn't want too much space. He's happier when there's some distance, but not too much, and by the end of the first round you can already see him finding range for his left hand...and being tagged by a right late on.
From then on we begin to see boxing against brawling, with Espino refusing to ever slow down, and continually pressing, pushing and pressuring Kawashima who mixed things up nicely and showed some touches of pure genius along the way. He drew leads from Espino, he slipped and narrowly avoided shots, rode them when he needed to, and countered perfectly. Espino refused to accept defeat, and even after taking one clean he shook it off and came forward.
We'll not try and pretend this was action packed, though it was certainly an exciting bout, and a real example of how defensive fights can be fun to watch. It was a show case of boxing, and was yet still really fun. There always a worry that, sooner or later, Espino would land clean, especially given the aggression he was showing, and that added to the tension of what was a very entertaining bout.
If you're a fan of technical artistry and boxing ring craft this is well worth a watch. Don't think, just because we've told you Kawashima smart defensive boxer that this is dull it certainly isn't!
Every so often we end up with a bout that really deserves a lot more attention than it gets, and today we look at one of those bouts. In fact we look at a bout that helped boost the career of one of the most exciting men of the 1990's, and was a bout that saw East and West collide as a Japanese world champion faced an Irish challenger in what was a great battle in Nagoya.
Yasuei Yakushiji (24-2-1, 16) Vs Wayne McCullough (16-0, 13)
Japanese fighter Yasuei Yakushiji was a major player in the Bantamweight scene in the early 1990's. He had won the WBC Bantamweight title in 1993 when he was a replacement for Joichiro Tatsuyoshi, and beat Korean Jung Il Byun. The decision over Byun was regarded as a robbery, even in Japan, leading to a rematch in July 1994, which Yakushiji won by 11th round TKO. That lead to a bout between Yakushiji and Tatsuyoshi, which was a massive fight in 1994. Yakushiji narrowly over-came the hugely popular Tatsuyoshi to record his third defense, and unify the WBC and WBC "interim" titles. An close decision win over Cuauhtemoc Gomez followed for his 4th title defense before he took on unbeaten Irishman Wayne McCullough. By this point Takushiji was getting a reputation for getting the nod in close decisions. It was clear he was a talented, tough, fit, hungry fighter, but also a very flawed one who relied on his toughness and stamina, and not his skills.
In 1992 Wayne McCullough had represented Ireland at the Olmpics, and had won an Olmypic silver medal. Followinf that he turned professional, doing so in Las Vegas, and had won his first 16 bouts, including a solid win over former Tatsuyoshi opponent Victor Rabanales. In the ring McCullough was a talented boxer, as had been seen from his performance in the Olmypics, and had adapted quickly to the professional scene. He had proven himself to be a solid puncher, with an amazing engine and a sensational chin. It was always going to take a top level fighter to beat him due to his work rate and toughness, and it was hard to think of many fighters who match him punch for punch. On paper this was a step up from the fighters he had been facing in the professional ranks, it was also seen as a big chance for him to make a name for himself. Sadly though he knew he was up against it with the fight coming in Nagoya, where Yakushiji was a star.
Given both guys could take a shot, both could fight at a solid pace and both had respectable power this looked good on paper. Even if we were expecting potentially dodgy scorecards it still looked like we were going to get something very special.
Straight from the off this was starting fast with McCullough fighting like a man who knew he had to impress the judges and make every round clear. Yakushuji on the other hand tried to respond to the high tempo that McCullough was setting, and as a result we had some brilliant back and forth through the opening round. This wasn't crude brawling but was aggressive, exciting and thrilling boxing. Things were, for the most part, being thrown properly, jabs were being used to set up other shots and the pace of everything looked like it was being shown in fast forward. This looked less like a real life fight and more like a fight from a movie.
Of course after 2 fast rounds at an insane pace we would have expected the action to slow down, and whilst it did it wasn't the typical "slow down" that we would expect and it was still a high tempo war. Round after round, after round, we just waited for a man to make a mistake as the other looked to unload, giving us some absolutely insane exchanges. For the most part it was the challenger coming forward and letting his shots to go and Yakushiji trying to use his feet, but when they both let their hands go we were getting sparks of something truly fantastic with both desperate to land the last blow in an exchange.
For those who haven't seen this this is really worth a watch. A brilliant yet forgot instant classic between two men who had styles and hunger that made for something fantastic!
Following this bout Yakushiji would retire whilst McCullough would go on to have an excellent career, marred by a long battle out of the ring with the BBBofC regarding a brain scan. He would later release his autobiography "Pocket Rocket: Don't Quit" which is an interesting and insightful read and become a trainer. Yakushiji on the other hand opened up a gym in Japan.
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