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.
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