Over the last few months we've been focusing on the lower weights in this series, with Light Flyweight, Flyweight and Bantamweight all being featured. Today however we go up the scales to Light Welterweight for a bout that has a scorecard that doesn't appear to make sense, and a bout that really shouldn't have gone the way it did. In fact we struggle to understand how the bout went to the guy it did. This is one of the many bouts where the result didn't match what we saw with our eyes.
Tsuyoshi Hamada (20-1-0-1, 19) Vs Ronnie Shields (25-4, 19)
It was December 1986, in one corner was WBC Light Welterweight champion Tsuyoshi Hamada, a hugely popular figure in Japan who had brutal power in in his punches and a real fan base. Although a devastating puncher he was technically quite crude, relying more on his ability to bang rather than box. He combined that power with high work rated, an under-rated defense and an ability to take a shot when he needed to. His only loss up to this point was an early career defeat more than 7 years earlier, in his third professional bout, and since then he had gone 18-0-0-1 (17) with only Jong Jong Pacquing managing to hear the final bell against him.
Hamada had won the belt around 4 months earlier, when he stopped Rene Arredondo and was now looking for his first defense. That first defense saw him face off with American challenger Ronnie Shields.
At the time Shields was a genuine contender level fighter, he wasn't unbeatable, but was a high capable fighter who had previously come up short in a world title bout, against Billy Costello, but had scored a number of solid wins, including decisions over Saoul Mamby and Joe Manley. Shields, who is now one of the top coaches in the US, was a talented boxer puncher. Maybe a little bit under genuine world class, but certainly knocking on the door. Sadly for him he had lost his previous bout, a decision to Frankie Warren, though did still get this call to travel to Tokyo to take on Hamada. He technically a very good boxer, with respectable power, good speed and although he excelled in no particular area he was good, to very good, in every area.
From the opening round it was clear Shields was in Japan to win and was using the tools he had learned in well over 200 amateur fights to try and take that victory. He boxed well, kept Hamada at range for the most part, tagged the local star with clean single shots to the head and made Hamada miss, a lot. The different in boxing IQ was clear with Shields looking like he took the opening round without too much doubt. Hamada came out for round 2 with more urgency, starting the round well, but the boxing skills and brain of Shields neutralised the threat quickly, creating space and making Hamada work hard to cut the range. Thankfully for Hamada he did still manage to have his moments, and did land a number of solid body shots.
Hamada had one of his biggest moments in round 3, but that wasn't enough to discourage Shields who came back at him. Despite Shield's valiant fight late in the round it seemed very much like a potential turning point in favour of Hamada with the local star starting to build some momentum. That momentum was short lived however and the following round he was deducted a point for low blows, the first of the bouts 2 deductions.
In the middle rounds Hamada would have moments, but he struggled to build anything consistent, and seemed to caught clean when he was coming in. Their was always a sense that his firepower would cause issues, but Shields took it well, neutralised on the back foot and seemed to out box Hamada, taking his power away well whilst landing his own solid shots.
The second deduction in the bout came in round 9, when Shields was himself deducted a point for pulling behind the head of the champion. It seemed a rather harsh deduction, with the referee possibly trying to help out the local, or maybe trying to apologise for the earlier deduction, which also seemed just a touch harsh. The deduction from Shields seemed to reinvigorate Hamada who got an extra burst of energy as he looked to secure a 10-8 rounds. That same energy was seen in the 10th round from Hamada, but it seemed like he struggled to maintain it in the championship rounds.
From the first round to the final bell Shields had used smart footwork, held when he needed to, spoiled up close and tried to keep the bout at range. Hamada on the other hand had been the aggressor, for the most part, but had had very mixed success. After 12 rounds we went to the score-cards. We were in Japan, so it wasn't going to be a surprise if the hard hitting local got the decision, and there was plenty of close rounds, but it seemed that Shields had done enough. Even on foreign soil.
After 12 rounds the scorecards came in, giving Hamada the split 116-111 and 111-108 in his favour whilst the third judge favoured Shields with a score of 115-113. The judges, or at least two of them had favoured the aggression and the pressure from Hamada over the smart, but sometimes ugly and frustrating, tactics of Shields.
Whilst we felt Shields should have got the win, it was a close fight, what we can't understand is the scorecard of James Jen Kin. It seems completely impossible to have turned in a score of 111-108 for the bout, in favour of Hamada. Even with the two deductions the closest to his card we can get is a 114-112 or 113-113. Now, around 25 years later, that scorecard stands out as a truly wrong score. Whether it was tallied wrong, the scorecard was filled in wrong, or something else was wrong. It seems almost as if it's missing something incredibly obvious.
This score isn't just on boxrec, where it could have been a type, but it reported widely in the Japanese press as well. The only way to get to that figure would have been for a host of 10-8 rounds, but it was hard to see any 10-8 rounds other than the two with deductions.
This isn't the most controversial decision of all time. It's one of those where the guy we felt deserved the win didn't get it. But that card of James Jen Kin. We really do not understand it at all.
Neither man really had much of a career after this bout. Hamada lost the title to Rene Arredondo in July 1987, before retiring and later becoming a key figure at Teiken and a TV commentator, among other things. Shields would fight 3 times, going 1-1-1, before retiring in 1988 and later becoming a genuinely brilliant trainer. His eye for talent is great and he has played a part in the creation of numerous world champions since hanging up the gloves himself.
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