Today's Closet Classic looks at a fantastic bout from the summer of 1991 as a local star in Nagoya clashed with an under-rated Mexican great, who's longevity was staggering given his style and the nature of his fights. At the time it was regarded as one of the best fights to take place in Asia during the 1990's and now, almost 30 years on, it's still a bout that shows just how brilliant the sport can be. This is thrilling, action packed, dramatic and a testament of the will from the two men involved in what is a truly sensational contest.
Kiyoshi Hatanaka (22-1-1, 15) Vs Daniel Zaragoza (41-5-1, 22)
Japan's Kiyoshi Hatanaka is best known by modern day fans as a promoter, promoting Kosei Tanaka and Hatanaka's own son Kento Hatanaka who are both amazingly good fighters to watch. In the 1980's and 1990's however he was a world class fighter himself. In 1988 he had challenged Gilberto Roman for the WBC Super Flyweight title before reassessing his career, moving up in weight and beginning a charge on the Super Bantamweight division. In 1991, aged 23, Hatanaka beat Pedro Decima to claim the WBC Super Bantamweight title and 4 months later he was defending the belt against Daniel Zaragoza. Hatanaka was a solid punching fighter, who was technically a bit crude, but tough, rugged, came to fight and had genuinely found himself becoming a better fight at Super Bantamweight than he had been at Super Flyweight. Sadly the Decima win aside there was little on his record to get too excited about, but he had a big following in Nagoya where he was a local hero.
Daniel Zaragoza was already a veteran by 1991 with close to 50 fights on his record. He had had been the WBC Bantamweight in 1985 before moving up to Super Bantamweight and winning the WBC title in 1988. He lost the belt in 1990, to Paul Banke, but then travelled to face Hatanaka in an attempt to reclaim the title. By this point Zaragoza was 33 years old but the Mexican southpaw really didn't look it in terms of his fighting style. He was a timeless wonder, who was beating father time and competing at the highest level in the sport, something he managed to do until he was close to 40. Although not the most powerful, the quickest, or the heaviest handed fighter Zaragoza was an exciting and crafty veteran. He knew how to fight and was quick enough and powerful enough to get the respect of his opponents, that was seen in Asia just a few years earlier when he had waged war with Seung Hoon Lee, in an exciting 12 round draw.
After a delayed start, for the referee to kick some things out of the ring, pausing everything for quite a while, we finally got going and immediately this picked up with Hatanaka on the offensive, setting a high work rate and taking the fight to the 33 year old Mexican. The game plan seemed clean, he was Hatanaka was going to try and either take Zaragoza out early, or set a work rate the Mexican couldn't match. Zaragoza wasn't new to the sport though and tried to use his tools and experience to neutralise the aggression of Hatanaka. It was a risky strategy, especially on Hatanaka's turf, but it was also a smart one, especially in the opening round.
Hatanaka remained on the front foot in round 2, but by now Zaragoza was starting to use his ring craft more effectively, creating space and punishing the Japanese local for coming forward. Zaragoza was laying traps, changing the dynamic of the fight, and although still the more negative of the two men was was being smart. He was starting to show what a solid amateur career and a good boxing brain could do.
No matter how smart and craft Zaragiza was he still struggled to totally thwart the aggressive pressure of Hatanaka, who continued to come forward, fighting like a man who had total belief that his youth and energy would be enough, and that he would, sooner or later, drag Zaragoza into a war. We saw glimpses of that round by round, but Zaragoza stuck with his game plan, and showed his composure.
As we moved into the second half of the fight however things were turning slightly, and the exchanges were becoming more frequent, the action slowly gearing up, shifting through he gears. Hatanaka was needing to fire off more, knowing he was in a hole, and by round 8 we were getting an all out war, with Zaragoza's legs slowing and the Mexican needing to fight hard off the ropes. The bout had began to change, develop and becoming a sensational battle.
What started slowly warmed wonderfully, becoming something super special. This isn't one of the more well remembered bouts of the 1990's, but it should be. This second half of this is amazing to watch, but the full fight tells a really complete story, with momentum shifts, action, intensity and desire. We see hunger, we see skills, we see violence, and we see something fantastic unfolding in front of our eyes. It might start slowly but keep with it, and you will be seriously rewarded as a viewer!
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