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!
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