Whilst this series has had it's share of big fights and big name fighters we also want to shine a light on the lesser known fights and fighters and for today's Closet Classic we certainly go into the lesser known action for a Japanese A Class tournament final from 1986. Neither of the men involved is well known now, more than 35 years on, but together they made for a brilliant tournament final in a bout that saw to men landing bombs.
Kenji Iizumi (11-1, 9) vs Masahiro Takagi (19-6-3, 9)
In the blue corner was 19 year old Kenji Iizumi. Iizumi had debuted in 1984 and despite a loss in his second bout had proven to be an aggressive, exciting fighter with a a fast starting mentality. From his first 12 bouts he had scored 9 stoppages, with 4 coming in the first round and 7 coming in the first 4 rounds. They had included a notable win over a then 7-0 Mark Horikoshi, who would later become a Japanese champion, and a win over Speedy Kikuchi, avenging his sole professional defeat.
Coming in to the bout Masahiro Takagi was a 26 year old who had challenged for the Japanese Featherweight title just over 2 years earlier, when he lost a decision to Eijiro Kuruma. Although less explosive and exciting than Iizumi he was certainly more experienced, and had proven to be a tough guy, who had only been stopped once, in his third bout, maturing from there and becoming a Japanese level title contender.
As well as being an A class tournament final the bout essentially served as a Japanese title eliminator, meaning there was a lot at stake here, and the two fighters knew it. Despite that it wasn't a bout hindered by pressure. Instead it was a bout that turned into a thriller.
From the off the hard hitting left was pressing Takagi and applying pressure, but Takagi, to credit, was managing to use his feet well to avoid a war from the very sadly. The pressure from Iizumi kept building though and after around 2 minutes of the opening round he was starting to make Takagi work harder to create space. It wasn't the most thrilling of opening rounds but set the stage well, with Iizumi's pressure and aggression going up against Takagi's movement and footwork.
Through round 2 we began to see the pace picking up, with Iizumi getting closer, and Takagi needing to respond to the pressure more. The go to gameplan of Izumi was to hold, but that only bought him a second or two of respite and Iizumi wasn't going to be discouraged that easily. By the end of round 2 we were starting to get a war as Iizumi's pressure began to get it's desired effect.
The exciting ending to round 2 set the stage for what we would get in round 3, as the two men began to exchange heavy leather. Takagi, realising he was going to need to respond, began to land some heavy hooks, but failed to dissuade Iizumi who kept marching forward. This ended up giving us the early stages of a thrilling war, with Iizumi relentlessly pursuing Takagi.
As we headed in to round 4 it was starting to feel like we were about to get something very, very special and it would just take Takagi to play his part for the fight to deliver. Part way through the round he was put down, and it was then clear he would have to turn things around, and quickly as Iizumi began to hunt a finish. To his credit Takagi saw out the storm through the rest of the round, but by now it was clear he needed to change his gameplan. He needed to respond and did so in round 5, loading up on his own shots and countering the aggressive Iizumi with some very solid head shots.
We'll leave the bout at this point, so you all get the chance to witness some of the drama unfolding but this is real fun. The style and aggression of Iizumi making the fight, the heart and toughness of Takagi keeping him in it, the atmosphere of the intimate Korakuen Hall adding to things. This isn't one of the all time great bouts, but is still a hidden gem of aggression will power, power against toughness.
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