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.
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