There are certain fighters that we always looked forward to seeing, knowing that they consistently delivered great bouts. When we got two of those matched up together we knew to expect something special and in 2018 we got something just like that when, one August evening, we had a massively over-looked All Japanese thriller at Korakuen Hall.
Akira Yaegashi (26-6, 14) Vs Hirofumi Mukai (16-5-3, 6)
In one corner was former 3-weight world champion Akira Yaegashi, a man that had a cult following in the West and a huge fan base in Japan. Yaegashi had given us so many thrilling fighters though his career that we knew if he was in the ring we were in for something exciting. His bouts with the likes of Pornsawan Porpramook and Kazuto Ioka had been absolute thrillers and even Yaegashi's "duller" bouts were more exciting than the most exciting bouts of many other fighters. Come 2018 Yaegashi was clearly not the fighter he had once been, but was still on the hunt for one more world title fight, in the hope of becoming a 4-weight champion.
In the opposite corner to Yaegashi was former amateur standout Hirofumi Mukai, who had twice challenged for world titles in Thailand. Mukai had once shown a lot of promise, and had beaten Sonny Boy Jaro very early in his career, but by 2018 his career was really not going upwards. Instead he was relying more on his heart and toughness than the skills he'd developed as an amateur. That gritty determination had seen him put on an instant classic in 2017, with Rex Tso, and after 3 easy wins he then took on Yaegashi in a bout that was a must win for both.
The loser of this was going to be in their 30's and really would have a lot of rebuilding to do. Both had suffered numerous losses, by stoppage, and both were starting to take a lot of accumulated punishment. In their prime Yaegashi would have been expected to over-come even the best Mukai, but at 35 years old, and just 15 months removed from an opening round loss to Milan Melindo it was unclear what either man had left in the tank.
What we ended up getting was the sight of two men fighting for their careers. Two men putting it all on the line and two men who knew what the bout meant. This wasn't a fight where either man was going to keep something in reserve, but instead a bout where they both had to big deep, and both took serious punishment.
Early on Mukai tried to establish range, behind his footwork, reach and southpaw stance. Yaegashi wasn't having it and was repeatedly marching forward, looking to get inside and draw Mukai into a war. By the round of round 2 Yaegashi was getting closer and closer to getting Mukai to respond up close and it seemed a matter of time before the touch paper was going to be lit and begin to see both firing...and that was done in round 3, as Mukai realised Yaegashi wasn't going to back off. From there on we began to see a classic unfold in front of our eyes.
The bout reached its peak in round 6, a true round of the year contender, with both men being badly damaged and shaken during 3 punishing minutes that saw fans wonder how much the two could take. Yet the bout went on.
This might not have had a world title on the line, but it had two men willing to give their all, and two men who really did everything they could in a legitimate modern day closet classic.
Whilst we describe ourselves as boxing fans we all love seeing fighters who come to fight, rather than "box". They tend to be the guys, and girls, who make for great fights, dramatic contests, action brawls and in ring wars. They aren't always the most skilled people in the sport, but they constantly provide the most entertainment and are the people we would describe as being must watch. If you want to attract new fans into the sport you're always best off showing them fighters to begin with, rather than boxers. Today we delve into the closet to bring you a fight featuring one of Hong Kong's greatest fighters in a modern day Closet Classic.
Rex Tso (20-0, 12) vs Hirofumi Mukai (13-4-3, 3)
The Hong Kong fighter in question is Rex Tso, who consistently provided action and was the face of the Hong Kong scene thanks to his combination of thrilling in ring style, toughness, energy and charisma. The "Wonder Boy" was never the most polished of fighters, or the biggest of punchers, but what he was was a thrill a minute warrior who provided several FOTY contenders in a short but memorable career. Sadly he decided to go back to the amateurs when on the verge of a world title fight, though there is still some hope he return to the professional ranks one day.
The opponent for Tso in this particularly bout was Japan's Hirofumi Mukai. The talented Mukai was much more polished than Tso, and was a very talented amateur, but after turning professional he struggled to adapt to the professional scene. His lack of power was always an issue, and instead of being a dangerous guy in the ring he was often relying more on his heart and determination rather than his power. He would twice fight for world titles, facing Pongsaklek Wonjongkam and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, and prove his toughness, but he never looked like a world champion in the making. The best he managed was winning the WBO Asia Pacific Super Flyweight title, twice.
With Tso in action we knew to tune in and expect fireworks. Those fires were set off almost immediately with Tso pressing the fight and trying to drag Tso into a war. Mukai tried to avoid it but the pressure of Tso just built and built, forcing Mukai to fight back. A head clash part way through the first round saw Mukai suffer a cut over his left eye and be taken to the doctor in the first round, and he was dropped in round 2.
It was after that knockdown that the pace increased, with Mukai changing tactics. Rather than trying to avoid a fight, something that hadn't worked in the first round a bit, he decided to fight fire with fire. This gave us some crazy, wild and truly sensational action as both fighters tried to break the heart of the other. It was Tso's power against Mukai's toughness, Tso's front foot aggression against Mukai's blistering combinations and counters. This was all action, with both fighters throwing long flurries, trading combinations and putting on a show for the fans.
Tso and Mukai may never have hit the heights they had hoped for, but with this bout they gave us something that really hit the spot!
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