For this week's Closet Classic we reach back to 2007 for a real hidden gem of a war from Korakuen Hall. The bout features a Closet Classic series regular, in what was his career first title before going on to become a 2-time world champion, and a man who would come up short at world level just a few months after this bout. This is a big more of a hidden gem than some in the series but boy what a good one it is!
Kohei Kono (17-3, 7) vs Teppei Kikui (21-4, 4) III
Before we speak about the two fighters we'll begin by discussing the history between the two men. In 2003 a then 22 year old Kohei Kono had take a split decision over the then 24 year old Teppei Kikui. In 2005 Kikui got revenge, beating Kono with a close decision win of his own. In 2007 they clashed for the third, and final, time in what was a really hotly contested and personal bout between the two.
Just 9 months after beating Kono we had seen Kikui win the Japanese Super Flyweight title, beating Kuniyuki Aizawa. As the Japanese champion Kikui had made a single defense, dominating Masayuki Arinaga, and moved towards a world title fight. Entering this bout with Kono the talented and skilful Kikui wasn't just the Japanese national champion but also had top 10 rankings with the WBA and WBC. Although not a big puncher Kikui was a talented fighter who had rebuilt well from two losses in 1998 and had only been stopped once, way back in his 9th professional bout.
As anyone who follows this series will know, Kohei Kono made for fun fights. His battles were regularly great wars with the "Toughboy" being a very fan friendly warrior. Kono was incredibly tough yet basic fighter who got in the ring to fight. He wasn't the most polished or skilled fighter but made up for that through sheer bloody mindedness, will, toughness and world rate. Anyone who faced him knew they would be in for a hard night, and that would later lead him to becoming a 2-time WBA world champion. This was, however, his first title bout.
From the opening bell this was crazy. This wasn't "round 1" of a fight, but round 17 of their rivalry and Kono fought like he was desperate to take Kikui out straight away. Within 2 seconds it seemed like Kikui had been hurt and he was dropped within 15 seconds. Despite the champion being dropped he composed himself quickly and Kono was down himself seconds after the restart, albeit from a slip. Kikui realised he was in with a raging bull and tried to spoil, hold and slow down Kono, but was shake again in the middle of the round.
After a thrilling opening round it was clear that things couldn't continue at that tempo forever. No one told Kono however and he fought like a man possessed through round 2. He was a little bit more calm and composed than he had been in the first 3 minutes but was still forcing a high tempo on to the champion, who was using his feet smartly to create space. The space that Kikui created only ever acted as a chance to breath before Kono got close and forced a thrilling exchange between the two men.
Round after round Kono would race forward. For the most part he got the better of things, but he kept himself open, took some huge bombs from Kikui and certainly got punished for his aggression, needing to rely on his granite chin and incredible gas tank. Kikui might have been down early but he wasn't going to go away without a real fight.
If you like Kono fights, and this is his third in this series, you'll know what to expect here. If not, sit down, give yourself 50 minutes and enjoy a real hidden gem from 2007!
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