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.
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)
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