Every so often we end up with a bout that really deserves a lot more attention than it gets, and today we look at one of those bouts. In fact we look at a bout that helped boost the career of one of the most exciting men of the 1990's, and was a bout that saw East and West collide as a Japanese world champion faced an Irish challenger in what was a great battle in Nagoya.
Yasuei Yakushiji (24-2-1, 16) Vs Wayne McCullough (16-0, 13)
Japanese fighter Yasuei Yakushiji was a major player in the Bantamweight scene in the early 1990's. He had won the WBC Bantamweight title in 1993 when he was a replacement for Joichiro Tatsuyoshi, and beat Korean Jung Il Byun. The decision over Byun was regarded as a robbery, even in Japan, leading to a rematch in July 1994, which Yakushiji won by 11th round TKO. That lead to a bout between Yakushiji and Tatsuyoshi, which was a massive fight in 1994. Yakushiji narrowly over-came the hugely popular Tatsuyoshi to record his third defense, and unify the WBC and WBC "interim" titles. An close decision win over Cuauhtemoc Gomez followed for his 4th title defense before he took on unbeaten Irishman Wayne McCullough. By this point Takushiji was getting a reputation for getting the nod in close decisions. It was clear he was a talented, tough, fit, hungry fighter, but also a very flawed one who relied on his toughness and stamina, and not his skills.
In 1992 Wayne McCullough had represented Ireland at the Olmpics, and had won an Olmypic silver medal. Followinf that he turned professional, doing so in Las Vegas, and had won his first 16 bouts, including a solid win over former Tatsuyoshi opponent Victor Rabanales. In the ring McCullough was a talented boxer, as had been seen from his performance in the Olmypics, and had adapted quickly to the professional scene. He had proven himself to be a solid puncher, with an amazing engine and a sensational chin. It was always going to take a top level fighter to beat him due to his work rate and toughness, and it was hard to think of many fighters who match him punch for punch. On paper this was a step up from the fighters he had been facing in the professional ranks, it was also seen as a big chance for him to make a name for himself. Sadly though he knew he was up against it with the fight coming in Nagoya, where Yakushiji was a star.
Given both guys could take a shot, both could fight at a solid pace and both had respectable power this looked good on paper. Even if we were expecting potentially dodgy scorecards it still looked like we were going to get something very special.
Straight from the off this was starting fast with McCullough fighting like a man who knew he had to impress the judges and make every round clear. Yakushuji on the other hand tried to respond to the high tempo that McCullough was setting, and as a result we had some brilliant back and forth through the opening round. This wasn't crude brawling but was aggressive, exciting and thrilling boxing. Things were, for the most part, being thrown properly, jabs were being used to set up other shots and the pace of everything looked like it was being shown in fast forward. This looked less like a real life fight and more like a fight from a movie.
Of course after 2 fast rounds at an insane pace we would have expected the action to slow down, and whilst it did it wasn't the typical "slow down" that we would expect and it was still a high tempo war. Round after round, after round, we just waited for a man to make a mistake as the other looked to unload, giving us some absolutely insane exchanges. For the most part it was the challenger coming forward and letting his shots to go and Yakushiji trying to use his feet, but when they both let their hands go we were getting sparks of something truly fantastic with both desperate to land the last blow in an exchange.
For those who haven't seen this this is really worth a watch. A brilliant yet forgot instant classic between two men who had styles and hunger that made for something fantastic!
Following this bout Yakushiji would retire whilst McCullough would go on to have an excellent career, marred by a long battle out of the ring with the BBBofC regarding a brain scan. He would later release his autobiography "Pocket Rocket: Don't Quit" which is an interesting and insightful read and become a trainer. Yakushiji on the other hand opened up a gym in Japan.
This weekly feature is one of our favourites to do, and is a great chance to rewatch some amazing bouts from the past. This week we go back to 1994 for an instant classic, and one of the most watched all-Japan bouts in history. It's a bout that was a product of the WBC having an interim champion and a real champion unifying the titles, and was something that exceeded the high expectations that many in Japan had for the bout, and was a massive ratings success across various Japanese regions.
Yasuei Yakushiji (22-2-1, 16) Vs Joichiro Tatsuyoshi (10-1-1, 8)
In one corner was WBC "regular" Bantamweight champion Yasuei Yakushiji, a star in the Chukyo region where the bout was held. Yakushiji had suffered 2 losses early in his career, when he started 2-2, but had gone 20-0-1 following that run. He had claimed the WBC title in December 1993 when he beat Korean Jung-Il Byun, and had defended the belt twice, including stopping Byun in a rematch. Although not a name that was known on the wider boxing world, he was a solid and well respected Japanese fighter who had made his name as the star fighter of the Matsuda gym.
Interestingly Yakushiji got his opportunity at Byun due to stepping in as a substitute for Jocihiro Tatsuyoshi, who had had to cancel a bout due to an eye injury.
Whilst Tatsuyoshi had missed out on a bout with Byun he was actually the interim champion, having won that title back in July 1993 when he beat Victor Rabanales in their second clash. Sadly it was that bout that saw Tatsuyoshi suffer his eye injury and take almost a year away from the ring. Despite the lengthy break from the ring he was still a Japanese boxing megastar, and just 5 months prior to facing Yakushiji he had made his US debut, stopping Josefino Suarez on an Elorde card in Hawaii. Enigmatic, with an exciting and unique style, Tatsuyoshi was the Japanese megastar of his era.
The bout, held in Nagoya, saw Yakushiji get home advantage but even as the away fighter Tatsuyoshi had a huge fan base at the Rainbow Hall, with fans from Osaka following their hero across the country as well as local fans who were fans of the style and personality of the Osakan.
From the opening round it was clear that Tatsuyoshi was going to be on the outside, fighting behind a very busy jab and on his toes. He was the quicker, more agile man and the one with the smarter feet. Yakushiji on the other hand was going to have to press the fight, and take shots to get at "Joe of Naniwa".
By round 2 Yakushiji was starting to find his own range as the bout moved from first gear, into second gear and the action began to pick up. From there on things just got better and better as the two men really began to get the best out of each other in a brilliant, thrilling, technical and highly competitive back and forth. It wasn't a brawl with wild and reckless bombs in the early stages, but was a brilliant technical war, with both men using their jabs to unlock the bigger artillery in their arsenals. Even when the pattern changed, and Yakushiji got on the back foot things were still real technical exciting.
In the middle round the action heated up further, we again weren't seeing brawling, as such, but very technically correct and exciting action. Punches were at mid-to-close range, they were traded back and forth and they were clean shots. Very rarely did we see the two men falling into each other, or being forced into a clinch as they responded with shots when they were tagged, rather than smothering.
We won't ruin the bout totally, but if you like excellent, high level, aggressive boxing, this is a special fight, with an excellent atmosphere, and was the first time, in history two Japanese fighters fought to unify world titles, the WBC "regular" and WBC "interim" titles. The fact this was such a fantastic bout makes it a genuine must watch, for every fight fan!
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