The Japanese Featherweight scene in the 1990's is really over-looked now a days. The fighters weren't the best in the world, but a number of them fought in world title bouts during an era where they all seemed to be in some great fights. In recent weeks we've included bouts featuring some of those fighters in this series, and today we include another such fight, this time with two of them facing off. This isn't an out an out war, like some bouts in this series, but it's still a very, very good fight from two men who matched up well and left a lot of themselves in the ring.
Warning, this one is a bit bloody, but bloody good as well
Koji Matsumoto (15-3-1, 7) vs Nobutoshi Hiranaka (12-0, 8)
Now a days Koji Matsumoto is regarded as one of the best trainers in Japan, working at the Ohashi gym where he helped mould the careers of fighters like Akira Yaegashi and Ayaka Miyao. Back in the 1990's he was a genuinely good fighter himself. As a fighter he challenged 3 times for a world title, and gave Yong Soo Choi fits in a very close and competitive bout in 1997. As well as his world title bouts he would also go on to have 3 reigns as the Japanese Featherweight champion. He was a talented southpaw boxer, who was gutsy, a smart mover, and had under-rated sting on his shots. He wasn't a power puncher, but he hit the target clean. He entered 1994 as the Japanese Featherweight champion and was looking to extend a reign that had began back in February 1992.
In the opposite corner was Nobutoshi Hiranaka, the younger brother of former 140lb world champion Akinobu. Like his older sibling Hiranaka was a heavy handed puncher and won a staggering 74% of his amateur bouts by stoppage. That power had carried over to the professional ranks, where he scored 8 stoppages in his first 12 bouts. Whilst his competition wasn't the best early on it was clear he was a brutish puncher and matched that power with an ability to take a shot. Despite being heavy handed he was also a capable boxer, making him more of a boxer-puncher than just a physically imposing banger. His style was aggressive and exciting and it matched up well with his power at domestic level. Having won his first 12 bouts he was now getting his first title bout, and was taking on a very solid champion with world level experience.
The opening round saw the two southpaws try to get a read on each other, but within 30 seconds the bout was had warmed up nicely. They two weren't being over-wreckless, but they were both being aggressive, trading punches in some nice exchanges before getting back behind their jabs and seeing that the other had. It was clear that Matsumoto was the fighter happier with moving, whilst the moustached Hiranaka was the fighter with more pop in his shots and more belief in his power. Despite that belief he was cut around the right eye in the opening round, from a clash of heads. That cut happening so early could have stopped the fight, but instead it went on. Boy did that cut change the graphics of the fight and give Matsumoto a target to work on.
The second round saw both men putting their foot on the gas a little more. This was most notable when Matsumoto got Hiranaka on the ropes and worked away on the challenger with some eye catching blows. Despite good moments from Matsumoto it again seemed like Hiranaka was the more dangerous fighter and his blows seemed to have more on them on a punch by punch basis than Matsumoto's.
By round 4 Hiranaka's shorts had began to look discoloured as the claret ran from his cut. Despite that the two men fought up close through the round, giving us a genuinely incredibly 3 minutes of action, with big shots up close. Unlike many we see now the action wasn't being halted when the men worked up close but was instead mostly exciting, mauling with both men letting their hands go, a lot.
Round by round the blood ran from Hiranaka's cut, and began to not just cover his shots but also that of Matsumoto, and left some small puddles on the ring canvas. It wasn't a total blood bath, but it was getting visibly messy due to the blood. Despite that neither man slowed down, with both desperate for the victory, and the title. This genuinely lead to some amazing moments late on, which we won't ruin any further.
Whilst this isn't one of the more well known war from Japanese boxing history it is a bout that is well worthy of a watch. A proper, gruelling, bloody, war.
We often hear fans complain about the "super" and "junior" weight classes, but in reality a number of those have been undeniable positives for the sport. One of the best examples of that is the consistently fantastic Super Featherweight division. Whilst the division is a "super" division, and not one of the original weight classes, it has been around since the 1920's and is a division that has had so many amazing champions over the years and given us so many great fights that we really need to give the powers that be credit for creating the division.
As may have guessed, today's closet classic looks at one of those great Super Featherweight bouts, as we head back to 1997 for a gem from Korea.
Yong Soo Choi (22-2, 13) vs Koji Matsumoto (24-4-1, 13)
In one corner was a Closet Classic regular, Yong Soo Choi. The teak tough Korean was in so many amazing fights through his career that we do a mini series on just great fights, and it's longer than some careers! Despite the dodgy mullet the Korean was tough, exciting, set a high work rate and made up some technicaly limitations by simply being so damn strong and rugged. His wars with Lakva Sim and Takanori Hatakeyama are certainly proof of how entertaining he is and we get more proof. Enterting the bout Choi had made 4 defenses of the WBA Super Featherweight title, and whilst he had looked impressive as a warrior he had shown technical flaws through out his bouts. This time around he was up against someone who wasn't going to fight his fight with him, like Sim and Yamato Mitani had, but instead was going to use technical skills to try and neutralise him, and out score him.
Southpaw challenger Koji Matsumoto, who is now a trainer at the Ohashi Gym, had come up short in a previous world bout against Korean Young Kyun Park. Against Park a 22 year old Matsumoto had been out classed and then stopped in 11 rounds. He had been gutsy but the fight come far too early in his career. Following that loss he had rebuilt, winning 10 of his subsequent 11 bouts, and scored 9 T/KO's. Now he was in his mid 20's, he was a man, and he had proven himself as an excellent regional level fighter with an OPBF title win. This time he was ready for a world title shot and was fighting a less skills fighter, albeit a champion with an iron jaw, irresistible work rate and incredible will to win.
Unlike some of Choi's other great bouts this wasn't an all out battle of wills from the off. Instead it was an exciting and compelling chess match.
Early on Matsumoto boxed on the move, using his feet well and looking to lure Choi in for counters. Choi, being Choi, kept walking forward, clearly under the belief that if Young Kyun Park could break down Matsumoto so could he. This wasn't the same inexperienced Matsumoto who had lost to Park, and instead of being out worked and out muscled Matusmoto landed some gorgeous combinations, clinched when he needed to and smartly circled to prevent Choi from setting his feet. It was a smart gameplan but one that clearly needed a lot of energy and focus from the challenger.
Although Matsumoto used his feet he never ran from Choi, instead circling closely, stopping Choi from letting loose, whilst getting his own quick combinations off in eye catching fashion. It was a brilliant gameplan from the Yonekura gym for their man.
Of course Choi was never one to give up and given his will to win was incredible. Despite being in a hole early to the boxing skills of the challenger Choi began to claw back the bout in the middle rounds. His power shots and physical strength playing a key role in dragging Matsumoto into his fight. This was where the bout went from chess match to war and where Choi began to shine, landing some huge bombs on the challenger, who took them and fired back. The clever combinations and movement from Matsumoto were fading, as he tried to smother Choi, and take his power away that way.
At times this was messy, at times this ugly, but it always compelling, with some amazing back and forth action, it was always intense and it always felt like Matsumoto's chin would fail him under the growing pressure of Choi's attack.
Whilst it's not the best Choi bout it is still a great fight and one of the many forgetten gems from the history of the Super Featherweight division.
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