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.
There are a bunch of fighters who have become favourites for this series and today we look at a brilliant bout featuring two heroes of the Closet Classic series, as we go back to the 1990's for an often ignored war between a brilliant Korean and a legendary Mongolian. Both of these men have featured in numerous Closet Classic articles are with good reason, they are great fun to watch!
Yong Soo Choi (21-2, 13) Vs Lakva Sim (5-0, 4)
In October 1995 Korean warrior Yong Soo Choi travelled to Argentina, where he stopped Victor Hugo Paz to become the WBA Super Featherweight champion. After wining the belt he defended it against Yamato Mitani, twice, and Orlando Soto. Although not the prettiest fighter from a technical point of the Choi was a bull like warrior, who was incredibly physical, let his hands go happily, and was essentially a war monger in the ring. It was rare for a Choi fight to be anything short of intense, and that was quickly making him a star in Korea. Coming into this bout he was riding a 15 fight unbeaten run, going on for close to 5 years.
Lakva Sim on the other hand was a brilliant Mongolian amateur who turned professional in December 1995 and was raced through the rankings. He had won a PABA Lightweight title on his debut, then dropped down in weight to claim the PABA Super Featherweight title just a few short weeks later. After just 5 bouts he was then given a shot at Choi and the WBA Super Featherweight title. By this point he had been a professional for around 14 months and had just 30 rounds of action to his name. His team, and the fighter himself, didn't fear anyone and Sim's amateur background, as well as impressive performances against the likes of Noree Jockygym, made it seem like he was already ready for a world title fight.
We knew, before the bout, that both guys were physically strong, powerful and aggressive. They weren't out and out brawlers, but were technically solid aggressive fighters who loved battling on the inside and had styles that would gel.
Straight from the off the two men managed to prove the pre-fight perceptions right as they went to war, fighting on the inside with bombs being exchanged almost immediately. Choi, the champion, was the more aggressive in the opening round but the stone faced challenger didn't take long to move through the gears himself and by the mid point of round 2 he was starting to tag the champion with more success.
From there on the bout took off and both men began to step it up, with round 3 being a sensational all out inside war between fighters willing to take a shot to land one. As we went through the fight the action swung one way, then the other, as the two continued to land heavy shots in an attempt to break the other down. Not only was this amazing to watch, but for the most part the inside action was allowed to continue and flow with out stoppages and clinches. This meant we had very little need for the referee, a young looking Tony Weeks in one of his first world title fights.
If you like two tough guys trying to bludgeoning each other with heavy shots up close in a phone booth war this is a must watch. It was brutal and less fighters would have been ruined by the type of punishment they took here. Brutal and brilliant violence.
Often in boxing if we see two men clash in a thriller we want an immediate rematch. Sadly quite often when we get them it's not quite as good the second time around. The punishment of their first bout, and experience of sharing the ring with their opponent, came make a rematch feel somewhat disappointing given how good the first was. Sure we get the odd bout where the sequel is just as good, it's rare for the sequel to be better than the first.
Today we look at rare bout where the rematch was probably better, and where the experience of the first bout between the two men was a positive. It allowed both fighters to tweak their game plans, but not negatively impact the bout, and like their first contest the two men took part in exhilarating war.
Yong Soo Choi (24-2-1, 14) vs Takanori Hatakeyama (21-0-1, 17) II
In 1997 Yong Soo Choi had travelled over to Japan to record his 6th defense of the WBA Super Featherweight title, fighting to a draw in a 12 round thriller with Takanori Hatakeyama. That was their first bout, and that was a strong contender for the 1997 Fight of the Year. It was a thriller, with the two men landing huge shots through out in what was an instant classic.
Following their first contender Choi had return to Korea and made his 7th defense of the title, stopping Gilberto Serrano in Seoul, in 9 rounds. That win over Serrano had seen Choi being behind on two of the score cards be he finally got to a tiring Serrano with some huge booming hooks. After dropping Serrano Choi knew he had his man there to take when the bout resumed and he quickly dropped him a second time. Despite the win the result really covered over what had been a rather poor performance from Choi, who had looked slower, older, and wilder than he had in previous fights. He had looked like someone who had lost something, though it was little surprise given the sheer number of wars he had been in during title reign.
Choi wasn't the only getting a win in after the first bout between the two men, with Hatakeyama scoring one of his career defining wins, a stoppage over Koji Arisawa in what has been dubbed "the biggest Japanese title fight". Whilst Choi had looked looked poor in his interim bout Hatakeyama had looked the opposite. He had looked like a man who had learned from 12 rounds with Choi and he really shone in his win over Arisawa, in what is a real must watch for fans of this series. Now aged 23 Hatakeyama had matured a bit more, physically, from their first bout and had knew he could go 12 with Choi, having done so in their first bout.
As anyone who saw their first will know, these two matched each other well. Both were tough guys, heavy handed, liked to let shots go and had staggering wills to win. Stylistically they were made for each other. Although Hatakeyama was just that little bit quicker Choi was physically more imposing and that made their first bout so compelling. It turned out their second bout would be just as good.
The first round wasn't as thrilling as it had been in their first bout. Hatakeyama seemingly aware that he could outbox Choi, if he stuck to a game that involved creating distance and using his speed. Of course trying to use his legs was always going to be a draining strategy, especially if he couldn't get Choi's respect. With that in mind he knew he'd have to hold his ground sometimes, and when he did the bout came alive, with the two men launching huge bombs at each other.
Despite the tweak to Hatakeyama's style it actually only helped the bout, as it limited the amount of time the two guys were too close, to work, and reduced the number of clinches.
As the bout went on the action got more and more violent, with round 8 being absolutely sensational, and one of the best rounds of 1998. And that wasn't even the end as the two men continued chip away at each other and knock absolute lumps out of each other.
We won't ruin how this ends, but like their first bout, if you've never seen it you owe yourself the opportunity to watch this thrilling, punishing and hotly contest war between two men who were just amazingly well matched and made for absolute barn burners!
When you get two exciting, tough fighters you tend to expect an expect an exciting fight. Today we look at one such bout as one of the most exciting Korean's of the 90's took on one of the most exciting Japanese fighters of the same time in their first, of two, sensational bouts the men had. Sadly we sit here in 2020 and neither of the men involved are remembered as big names internationally, but both are still significant in boxing in their homelands. Thankfully being able to talk about a fight like this gives us a rare opportunity to shine a light on both men.
Yong Soo Choi (23-2, 13) vs Takanori Hatakeyama (20-0, 16) I
Korean warrior Yong Soo Choi was a fantastic action fight, who was limited, but aggressive, tough and heavy handed. He had claimed the WBA Super Featherweight title in October 1995, when he stopped Victor Hugo Paz. As a champion he was known for having exciting wars, with two all out thrillers against Yamati Mitani and a war with Lakva Sim. By the time we got to October 1997 he had notched 5 defenses and was already established as the sort of fighter who provided fantastic action, no matter who he was up against. Whilst he could put on a thriller with anyone his most exiting fights came against fellow tough guys, who liked to fight with high volume of power shots.
In October 1997 Choi clashed with unbeaten Japanese star Takanori Hatakeyama, a huge popular fighter who's style was some was similar in some ways to Choi's. Although less experienced tan the champion the 22 year old Japanese fighter, did look like the more technically rounded fighter though he was certainly the one stepping up in class and in what was his first world title fight. With a 20-0 record at the time his biggest achievement coming into the fight was an OPBF title reign, despite that he seemed to be developing in to a real star, with an aggressive style and brutal punching power. Given his age he was developing, getting stronger and hadn't had the damaging wars Choi had had.
From the first round it was clear we were set for something special as the two men kept meeting and unloading power shots in some thrilling exchanges. This wasn't the typical feeling out round of a world title bout, but the start of a war between two huge punching, two guys, each trying to out man the other. Choi was the more aggressive, pushing the action, and relying more on his pressure, Hatakeyama the one more willing to give ground, use his feet and create space, but time and time again the two men just met head on.
Round by round the action grew, along with some swelling around the challenger's face, a result of the power shots he was being caught by. Despite being the younger, fresher man it was Hatakeyama who was showing signs of damage whilst the rocked faced Choi never showed any damage, despite taking share of clean shots.
The exchanges up close became more and more frequent as the bout went on, with Hatakeyama's legs slowing due to the tempo of the war. The bout began to slow later on, with the exchanges being less frequent, but when they happened they were just as brutal with holes in the defenses of both men becoming wider and more open.
If you've not seen this one you owe yourself the 50 minutes or so it takes to watch two men beat the snot out of each other in a genuine 1997 Fight of the Year contender. This is brutal, explosive, competitive, damaging and chapter 1 of a 2 chapter series between men, who were very hard to split across their two fights.
When we talk about great rivalries we often talk we tend to talk about trilogies, and we've had some amazing ones over the years. Today we have a look at the second bout in one of the most action packed trilogies in Asian boxing history, and amazingly all 3 bouts took place in a little over 24 months. Sadly we've been unable to hunt down the first part of the trilogy but given how good bouts 2 and 3, which were both world title fights, were we can only assume the first was every bit as rough, violent and entertaining as the rematches.
Yong Soo Choi (18-2, 12) vs Yamato Mitani (7-1, 6) II
Korean fighter Yong Soo Choi is a fighter with a remarkable career that ran from 1990 to 2017, thanks to a short comeback that included 2 fights when he was in his mid 40's. He suffered 2 early career defeats but went on a lengthy unbeaten run. That run saw him score notable wins, including a win over Yamato Mitani in the first bout between the two men 1994, and a huge TKO win over Victor Hugo Paz, in Argentina to become the WBA Super Featherweight champion. In his first defense of the the title he returned to Japan to give Mitani the first of their two rematches.
For those who have never seen Choi before he was one of those rare fighters who was simply made for TV. He was aggressive, tough, strong and threw a lot of punches. He was technically quite limited, and could be out boxed, but he always seemed to make fights into a war, which made him such a must watch fighter.
Mitani on the other hand was a former amateur standout, a multi-time national amateur champion with over 100 amateur bouts. He was tipped for big things, despite a loss to Choi in his 5th professional bout. Following his loss to Choi he had gone on to win the Japanese and OPBF Super Featherweight titles to earn his second bout with Choi, Like the Korea Mitani was a made for TV fighter. Technically he was really good, but all too often made things tricky for himself with rough house tactics and willingness to ignore his smart movement and footwork. He was, in some ways, comparable to Arturo Gatti in that he had bouts he could have made a lot easier for himself, had his brain managed to over-rule his heart. Though had he managed to think his way to wins he'd be less well remembered by fans today.
In their first bout Choi had taken a decision over Mitani and it was clear that Mitani wanted to avenge that loss here, and not only equal the score but also take the title form Choi. What we ended up getting was a rough, exciting, battle between two rugged and tough guys that seemed all too happy to wage war at close quarters, banging in punchers, clashing heads and trying to outman each other.
Despite often lacking in terms of refined technique the bout was an all out war between two incredibly tough guys and even the dirty tactics, of both, seemed to lend it's self more to the excitement and action, rather than taking anything from the bout. It seemed less like the two fouling to just foul but instead bending the rules in their desire to win.
This is tough one to score but an easy one to enjoy.
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