We know all about Mexican Machismo, often giving us special all-Mexican bouts, but it appears that all-Japanese fights can give us something very similar. Today we look at one of those in the latest Closet Classic.
Takanori Hatakeyama (23-1-2, 18) vs Hiroyuki Sakamoto (35-4, 25)
In 1999 Takanori Hatakeyama retired from boxing following his his loss Lakva Sim, a loss that saw him lose the WBA Super Featherweight. That retirement didn't last long however and less than a year later Hatakeyama returned to the ring and stopped Gilberto Serrano to become a 2-weight champion, claiming the WBA Lightweight title with an 8th round win over Serrano. Prior to his retirement Hatakeyama had been one of the biggest names in Japanese boxing and had a reputation as a must watch fighter. His bouts provided a lot of action, and contests against Koji Arisawa, Yong Soo Choi and Lakva Sim were amazing bouts. After winning the WBA Lightweight title he made it clear he wanted to make his first defense against countryman Hiroyuki Sakamoto.
Whilst Hatakeyama was now a 2-weight world champion Sakamoto had come up short in 3 previously world title bouts, including a loss to the aforementioned Gilberto Serrano in a thrilling but short bout. He had become one of Japanese boxing's nearly men, and despite his set backs he had remained a popular fighter due to his will to win, his exciting contests and his heavy hands. He had twice dropped Serrano in their bout before facial damage saw him being stopped in what was a great bout. He was tough, vicious and, like Hatakeyama, he knew how to give fans the action and excitement they expected.
Fans had come into this expecting something special. On paper the men were made for each other. They were both aggressive, exciting fighters who loved to get in the ring and have a war. Those expectations were met from the opening seconds with the two men getting to it almost immediately and firing off heavy shots on the inside straight away. It seemed like, for once, it was Hatakeyama who was being forced to back up as Sakamoto unloaded huge hooks on the champion, before the champion fired back himself, in an opening round that needs to be seen to be believed. It left both men looking like they had swelling on their face, and that was just the first 3 minutes.
Having started at an exceptional pace it wasn't a surprise to see both men continue to let bombs go on each other. As with almost all Hatakeyama fights this was thrilling action and heavy bombs away stuff, with the two trading some brilliant leather on the inside. Regularly it looked like Sakamoto was the stronger, more imposing guy, determined to make the most of his 4th world title fight, but Hatakeyama was the more skilled, controlling the action better, despite seeming to be the smaller men.
As the bout went on the action continued to be fought at a high pace, but it seemed to be taking it's toll on the challenger, who struggled as the bout continued. Despite that he continued to come forward and kept trying. Even when he was shaken Sakamoto stood his ground and tried to fire off, continuing to give everything he had to try and take the title from his hugely popular foe.
This isn't the best of the great wars we've seen from Hatakeyama in this series, but it's yet another amazing bout from Hatakeyama, who admitted after the bout that Sakamoto's punches were the most intense he ever felt. This was brutal, brilliant and a bout that those who haven't seen really should make time for.
When certainly fighters get in the ring you tend to know you can expect something exciting. There are fighters who simply give us excitement by the bucket load, and others that don't. Today we feature a bout featuring someone we know always gave his all in the ring, in what was a short, but thrilling, brutal and bruising bout from the turn of the century. It was a bout that provided drama, excitement and, sadly, heartache for one of boxing's true good guys.
Hiroyuki Sakamoto (35-3, 25) vs Gilberto Serrano (18-4-1, 15)
Coming in to this Venezuelan fighter Gilberto Serrano was the WBA Lightweight champion, he had taken the title from Stefano Zoff in November 1999 and was looking to make his first defense 4 months later as he took on Hiroyuki Sakamoto. Prior to winning the title Serrano was a hard hitting fighter who had lost in his first world title fight, a war with Yong Soo Choi, but had moved up in weight and found success at 135lbs, busting Zoff's eye to the point where the Italian needed to be stopped. Despite being from Venezuela Serrano had been a genuine world traveller with bouts all over the place, including his title win in the US and his loss to Choi in Korea, though this was his first contest in Japan.
Whilst Serrano was the world champion he was travelling to the lions den to face off with the popular Hiroyuki Sakamoto, a popular Japanese fighter. Sakamoto had had a hard life, being abused as a child before moving into a children's home. He had lost his first two world title fights, including a split draw to Stevie Johnston, but had kept banging on the door, doing enough to get a third shot. In the ring he was a heavy handed, aggressive fighter and was dubbed the "Japanese Duran" for his aggressive style that always saw him bringing the pressure and making everything a war. He wasn't the most skilled but was tough, strong, powerful and very exciting to watch.
After a lengthy TV build up, which focused on Sakamoto's upbringing and hard luck story, we got to the ring. Given the styles and power of the two men it was clear we should expect something exciting, and that's exactly what we got.
After about 50 seconds of feeling each other out the bout caught fire and with one of the first clean shots that landed Serrano went down. The crowd went crazy and Sakamoto went into seek and destroy mode. Serrano, to his credit, got on the back foot, knowing about Sakamoto's power, and looked to fire off combinations at range. There was an immediate tenseness before Serrano suffered the second knockdown, just after the 2 minute mark. From there on the round was a war with Sakamoto looking to take Serrano down for the third time. Despite dominating the round Sakamoto was left with a gash under his left eye
Round 2 started hot, with Serrano looking to make up for the 10-7 opening stanza and Sakamoto looking to take out the champion, knowing the gash under his eye was going to be a ticking time bomb. As a result round 2 was another action packed one, but this time it was Serrano getting the best of it, and unleashing heavy shots to the head of Sakamoto. The challenger struggled with the foot work and movement of the champion and the shots coming his way had left both of his eyes swollen messes less than 2 minutes into round 2. From there on the drama intensified. Would Sakamoto's eyes hold out long enough for him land another bomb? Was he even able to see enough to even land a bomb? Could Serrano take bomb? The euphoria of the opening round knockdowns was instantly gone and Serrano was taking advantage of Sakamoto's injuries.
Sakamoto was near blind heading into round 3, but pressed forward regardless, hoping to chase down the heavy handed champion. Due to his pressure Sakamoto was left with a bloodied nose, his eyes swelling further, but his desire driving him on in search of the hail Mary he was beginning to need. He continued searching at the start of round 4, knowing that he needed something, and he needed it quickly as what was left of his sight was rapidly disappearing.
Whilst not an all out war, this is one that fans deserve to watch. The big shift in momentum from the opening round to the second, the heart and desire of Sakamoto, the power of both men, the sense that if Sakamoto landed clean he could change everything. An incredible display of will against skill.
We've looked at the 1960's, 70's and 80's and now we look at the 1990's as we continue to look at some under-rated fighters. The 1990's was an interesting decade, as the IBF and WBO world titles gave fighters more options than ever, but again we're only considering fighters who never won world titles.
This week we have fighters from South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Japan as we look at some of those fighters that are over-looked, having misleading records and are better than people realise!
To be considered for any decade a fighter might have either fought during 5 years of the relevant decade, just that decade, more than half of their career in that decade, or had most of their most notable bouts during that decade. As a result of those rules we will also only be considering their records for that decade.
Also just for clarity we are only considering Asian fighters for this series.
Where a fighter fights in multiple decades, they can be considered for multiple decades.
Also please note this isn't a comprehensive list of over-looked fighters from the decade and the list could have been much, much longer than it is and we may do a second volume in the future.
Jung Oh Park (Career tally 27-4-3 (20); record during the 1990's 13-2-2 (11))
Fans who have followed the sport since the 1990's will likely recognise the name Jung Oh Park. In 1995 he suffered a 4th round TKO loss to Ike Quartey in a WBA Welterweight title bout. That was a whooping for Park and sent him into retirement. Sadly that's pretty much the only bout Western fans will know him for, and the other 16 bouts he had during the decade won't get a second thought.
For us however Park needs to be measured on what he did do, which was dominate the Asian Welterweight scene through much of the 1990's.
Park was the Korean national champion and sported a 14-2-1 (9) record when we headed into the 90's. By the end of 1990 he had added the OPBF title, stopping Yong Bae Cho. From there he would make 13 successful defenses, including successful defenses against Jintoku Sato, who dominated the Japanese national scene, and Hiroyuki Yoshino. Not only did he have a lengthy run with the OPBF title but he was also thrilling to watch, with an exciting, aggressive style that really made some of his bouts brutal to watch.
Sadly by the time Park fought Quartey he had shown some serious signs of decline and had failed to win either of his 2 previous bouts. He was only 27 going into the Quartey bout but was an old 27 and had absolutely no answer to Quartey's jab. The gulf between Oriental level and world level was huge, but at Oriental level Park was king for the first half of the 1990's.
Jong Kil Kim (Career tally 22-12-4 (14); record during the 1990's 14-6 (8))
The career of Jong Kil Kim is a genuine oddity, with a record that is baffling. He entered the 1990's with a record of 7-5-4 (6), with his final bout coming into the decade coming in December 1988. Not only that but his final 5 bouts of the 1980's had seen him go 0-2-3. It took until 1993 for him to re-appear in the sport but by the end of the decade he certainly made a mark, despite only adding 20 bouts to his record during the decade.
Between January 1993, when Kim returned to the ring, and the end of February 1995 he had gone 3-4 for the decade, with losses to Jong Hoon Yuh and Hiroyuki Sakamoto. Despite that poor start to the decade he would then go 12-2 with noteworthy wins over Jung Bum Kim, Jong Jong Pacquing, Jong Hoon Yuh and Hisao Arai. Not only did he score those 4 good wins but he also became a 2-time Korean Light Welterweight champion and the OPBF champion, losing the belt just days before the decade was over.
Interestingly 3 of Kim's 6 losses for the decade came against Jong Hoon Yuh, with him beating Yuh in their 4th meeting.
Despite having so many losses Yuh was a tough nut, he was never stopped, was in with some serious punchers and managed to have many of his best results the wrong side of 30. He was never a world beater, but he was a lot better than his record suggests, and his win over Pacquing was a brutal war for those interested in something to watch!
Faisol Akbar (Career tally 16-6-3 (3); record during the 1990's 14-5-2 (3))
We're going to preface this by stating that we don't think many Indonesian fighters have complete complete records. We think a lot of Indonesian fights are missing. With that said we can only go what boxrec report, unless another source is more complete, and we find it hard to not include Faisol Akbar based on his 19 recorded bouts for the decade.
Akbar's first recorded bout came in 1990, in fact his first 3 recorded bouts came in 1990, before he seemingly went off the radar. By 1993 he had apparently amassed a 16-3 (3) record when he fought to a draw with Korean Oh Kon Kim for the first time. The two would rematch later that year with Kim taking the win and the OPBF title.
Around 11 months after losing to Kim, Akbar resurfaced and fought to a split decision loss to Ronnie Magramo. Just a month later he recorded the first of two wins over future world champion Muhammad Rachman. In 1997 Akbar added another major win to his record as he beat Wandee Singwancha, to claim the IBF Inter-Continental Minimumweight title. That win lead to a 1998 show down with Zolani Petelo for the IBF world title, with Akbar losing a very close split decision in South Africa to the champion.
Whilst it's hard to know exactly what Akbar's record should be it's fair to say that wins over Rachman, twice and Wandee as well as a split decision loss to Petelo show his quality and he is very much an under-rated fighter. Reality is that he probably has twice as many fights unrecorded as his boxrec numbers suggest, and he clearly had a lot more talent than the numbers we have suggest.
Rey Paciones (Career tally 39-8-3 (11); record in the 1990's 14-5 (5))
We're bending the rules slightly here for Filipino Rey Paciones, who only fought until 1993, but what he did in those 3 years sees him included on the basis that his biggest fights came in the 1990's. It was a decade in which he lost more 25% of the bouts he was in, suffered 1 of his 2 career losses, but was an absolute nightmare to go up against. He could nick an upset when opponents over-looked him and could test real top quality fighters.
In 1990 Paciones went 5-0, including an upset win over Tacy Macalos, the following year he went the distance with Joichiro Tatsuyoshi, Yong Hoon Lee and Yasuei Yakushiji. In 1992 he picked up a notable win over Rolando Bohol and took Jung Il Byun the distance, not long before Byun won WBC Bantamweight title. Sadly though his career came to it's end in early 1993 when he was stopped, in the 12th round, by Rolando Pascua.
Few fans will remember Paciones, but his opponents will remember the tough Filipino fighter who really was a gatekeeper in the early part of the decade. From his 19 bouts in the decade he lost to 3 future world champions, one former world champion and beat beat 2 former world champions. A very notable and under-rated fighter from the early part of the 1990's.
Jess Maca (Career tally 48-23-6 (18); record during the 1990's 37-16-3 (16))
Filipino fighter Jess Maca is not a fighter with a record that would suggesting anything too exciting. This series however loves fighters like this, as Maca's record is so misleading it doesn't even tell a quarter of the story about the "Japanese Killer" who fought from 1990 to 2007.
Maca began his career without doing too much of note but did was incredibly busy in the early part of the decade and had 23 fights to his name by the end of 1992. They had included a decision loss to future Flyweight world champion Chatchai Sasakul and going 1-1 with Nolito Cabato. As the decade went on he began to rack up bouts against more and more notable fighters, losing decisions to Saen Sor Ploenchit, Gerry Penalosa and In Jin Chi in 1993. A loss to Daorung Chuwatana in 1994 was another decision against the tough Maca, who went the distance with Chi again in 1995 and Daorung in 1996. He would twice see the final bell against Samson Dutch Boy Gym and also against Veeraphpl Sahaphom.
Of course going the distance with world class fighters was only part of Maca's 1990's. In 1997 he beat the then 11-0-1 Masahiko Nakamura in Japan, returning to the Land of the Rising Sun to do the double over Nakamura in 1998, to claim the OPBF Bantamweight title. With the OPBF title around his waist he went on a run of victories in Japan against Setsuo Segawa, Shigeru Nakazato, Shin Yamato and Taiji Okamoto. By the end of the decade he was riding a 9 fight unbeaten run into the new millennium.
Yes Maca was no world beater, but he was a tricky out for anyone, and in fact it took until 2003 for him to lose the OPBF title, losing it to Hozumi Hasegawa. He was a nightmare and a genuinely over-looked fighter.
Dan Nietes (Career tally 27-10-1 (17); record during the 1990's 24-10-1 (16))
Donnie Neites is a Filipino legend and one of the top Filipino names of recent years. Along with Nonito Donaire and Manny Pacquiao, he has been one of the faces of Filipino boxing. Donnie's uncle, Dan Nietes, on the other hand is an often over-looked fighter who only ever managed to win a GAB title during his career. Despite the lack of wider success he was criminally under-rated between 1989, when he began his career, and 1995, when he had his final bout.
Nietes entered the decade with a 3-0 record and would compete in 35 bouts during the 1990's. These included decision losses to Pichit Sithbanprachan, in which he dropped the then 14-0 Pichit who had recently won the IBF Flyweight title, Saen Sor Ploenchit, and a split decision loss to Samson Dutch Boy Gym.
He's not as notable as Paciones and Maca, not by any stretch, but with losses in 10 of his 35 bouts it's worth considering who he fought, and tough tests he gave guys like Pichit and Saen Sor. Sadly he lacks in terms of notable wins, but was certainly not an easy out in the early to mid 1990's.
Thanomsak Sithbaobay (Career tally 56-6 (33); record during the 1990's 29-5 (20))
Coming through the Super Flyweight scene at the same time that Khaosai Galaxy was dominating the picture Thanomsak Sithbaobay was expected to be the heir apparently for the Thai's. Sadly however Thanomsak failed to win a world title, due in part to some questionable scoring and a real lack of good fortune.
Thanomsak headed into the 1990's with a 27-1 (13) record, with his only loss coming in by split decision to Kenji Matsumura in 1987. He had momentum coming into the decade and a feared reputation. Sadly though he would suffer his second professional loss before the end of 1990 as he lost a close decision at Bantamweight to Luisito Espinosa. He bounced back from that defeat and got a shot at his more natural weight, Super Flyweight. He travelled to Japan for that bout and lost a very controversial decision to the hugely Katsuya Oniuka, in a contest for the WBA Super Flyweight title that Galaxy had previously held. Many, including some in Japan, felt the Thai had been robbed and in 1993 he got another bout with Galaxy. Again he was denied with some questionable scorecards in favour of the Japanese star.
Following Thanomsak's second loss to Onizuka he reeled off 12 straight wins, including a TKO win over Rolando Pascua, before being stopped by future world champion Sirimongkol Singwancha. The bout ruined Thanomsak who wouldn't fight for 2 years, then returned in 1998 and was stopped by Tetsutora Senrima in 1998.
Although perhaps not quite as good as some once though Thanomsak was incredibly unfortunate in both of the bouts against Onizuka and really should have been a champion. Whilst he did get 3 title shots, and was fairly beaten in the first, 2 of them could easily have gone his way. A genuinely unfortunate fighter who deserves to be remembered much more than he is.
Yamato Mitani (12-4, 9)
It's fair to say that Yamato Mitani may be the toughest guy on this list, even if he wasn't the best. The Japanese Super Featherweight fought from 1993 to 1998 and despite suffering 4 losses in 16 bouts has one of the many misleading records we see when looking at under-rated fighters. He was a former Japanese champion, 2-time OPBF champion and was only ever beaten by 2 men, more about that in a few moments.
Mitani had turned professional after going 91-13 in the amateurs. The expectancy was huge for him, and he had signed a monster contract when he turned professional with Misako boxing gym, who had made sure his fights were going to be shown on Fuji TV. Not only did he had a TV deal early on and a notable Japanese promoter but was also matched up with former world champion Tadashi Mihara. Everything seemed to be behind Mitani being a star.
Unfortunately for Mitani he found a true nemesis and lost his 5th bout to future world champion champion Yong Soo Choi. He also lost his 9th and 11th bout, both of which were WBA Super Featherweight bouts and both were razor thin decisions to Yong Soo Choi. Within 11 bouts Mitani was 8-3 (7) and had lost a trio of bouts to one of the toughest and roughest fighters of his era. Whilst they were certainly setbacks he certainly achieved a decent amount to. He won the Japanese Super Featherweight title, beating Toshikazu Suzuki, stopped Noree Jockygym for the OPBF Bantamweight title and would later stop Joselito Rivera to reclaim the OPBF title. As well as his 2 OPBF title reigns he also score a notable win over Nobutoshi Hiranaka before losing his final bout to Kengo Nagashima, the second man to beat him.
On face value a 12-4 record doesn't look great, but losing 3 razor close fights to Yong Soo Choi really does put into some perspective that he was a lot better than his record indicates. He was rough, tough, heavy handed, and very fun to watch.
Hitoshi Kamiyama (Career tally 32-2-1 (20); record during the 1990's 19-1 (13))
We suspect some fans may recognise Hitoshi Kamiyama's name, and will be aware that he fought for the WBA Light Middleweight title in 1992, when he lost to Julio Cesar Vasquez in Argentina. That is probably the most some fans know about Kamiyama, but he ruled the Japanese scene with an iron fist. Despite not being world class.
Kamiyama had entered the decade with a 13-1-1 (7) record and the Japanese Light Middleweight champion. When he retired in 1995 he had avenged the one domestic loss, and draw, that he had had from the 1980's and had kept a hold of the Japanese title. In fact he had scored 17 defenses of the Japanese title during the 1990's. That alone would still be a Japanese for the weight class, and that was in just over 5 years of the decade.
Whilt the names Kamiyama beat aren't well known internationally they included Pat Lawlor, probably the most famous, Hiroyuki Yoshino, who had marked up Kamiyama's record in the 1980's with the draw and loss, and Akira Ohigashi, who would later win the title and run up 10 defenses of his own.
Whilst Kamiyama never made a mark at world level he simply dominated domestically to the point where the title was around his waist from January 1989 to his retirement in 1995. Yes he lost his biggest bout, quickly, but he ruled the roost at home
Hiroyuki Sakamoto (Career tally 39-7-1 (29); record in the 1990's 34-3 (25))
One of boxing's true "hard luck" stories is Hiroyuki Sakamoto. Sakamoto was neglected as a child, went into foster care and in recent years has become one of the real good guys of sport, helping kids in the position he was once in. His most notable bouts did come in the 2000's, including losses to Gilberto Serrano and Takanori Hatakeyama, but his work in the 1990's certainly made up the bulk of his career, with 37 of his 47 pro bouts taking place in the 90's.
Sakamoto debuted in 1991, won the Rookie of the Year in 1992, won the Japanese Lightweight in 1993 with a win over Rick Yoshimura, and was unbeaten until 1995, when he was out pointed by Juan Martin Coggi. He rebounded quickly and would defeat Jeff Mayweather just 6 months after losing to Coggi, with the win over Mayweather coming in what was Sakamoto's sole US bout. Sakamoto would add to accolades in 1996, when he won the OPBF Lightweight title
Sadly for Sakamoto he would go on to lose in would title bouts in 1997, to Stevie Johnston, and 1998, to Cesar Bazan losing both bouts by decision.
Despite losing his two biggest bouts of the decade Sakamoto did score noteworthy wins against Rick Yoshimura, Hiromu Kuwata, Jeff Mayweather, Roger Borreros, and Prawet Singwancha before the decade came to a close. Sadly an over-looked fighter, with great will power, heavy hands, a steely determination and a great story.
Sakamoto is someone who under-rated in the 1990's but has used boxing to be a platform for bigger things, and deserves, rightfully, to be included in any list of boxing good guy's, as well as this list of under-rated fighters from the 1990's.
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