When we talk about the best Flyweight bouts of the 1990's we have a lot of great bouts to pick from. Today we look at one of those as we bring you the latest in our Closet Classic Series and this is a sadly forgotten gem that ended in brutal fashion after what had been a hard, yet technical and punishing bout between a man seeking his 4th defense and a man looking to prove he belonged at world level.
Yuri Arbachakov (12-0, 11) vs Muangchai Kittikasem (20-1, 12)
Coming into the bout Thailand's Muangchai Kittikasem was the WBC Flyweight champion and a man who had recorded 3 defenses of the title. Although not a huge name in the west historically he was a excellent and gutsy fighter who had originally made his name at Light Flyweight, where he claimed the IBF title, before moving up in weight. Before moving up he had recorded 3 defenses of the IBF title, prior to losing the belt in 1990 to Michael Carbajal. The move up did him good and he would score 3 of his biggest victories at Flyweight. The first of those was his title win 1991, when he stopped Sot Chitalada, before following that up with a stoppage over Jung Koo Chang and a second win over Chitalada.
Although not the quickest, or the most skilled Kittikasem ticked a lot of boxed. He had under-rated speed, a good boxing brain solid power and an incredible will to win. He could be hurt, and could be dropped, but there was no disputing his hunger and desire and he had pulled out a win against Jung Koo Chang despite being dropped 3 times.
In the opposite corner was Japanese based Russian fighter Yuri Arbachakov, a fantastic amateur who had joined Kyoei and won his first 12 bouts without many issues. Those wins had included a 1990 win over Rolando Bohol, and a Japanese title win over Takahiro Mizuno. He had been tipped for big things when he turned professional and a world title was almost expected of him when he began his career given how good of an amateur he was. There was however no track record of Russian fighters making a mark on the professional ranks, and whilst he was a real talent, with incredibly heavy hands, there was also lots of questions still to be asked of him.
Prior to this bout Arbachakov had only heard the final bell once, and that was in a 10 round decision against the super durable Samanchai Chalermsri. Aside from that Arbachakov's longest bout was a 7th round TKO in his 4th professional bout, with none of the others going beyond round 5. He was destroying people, and sadly he wasn't facing stiff enough competition to really see what he was about. This however was going to be a bout where we found out if Arbachakov had what it took to be a star in the pros, or not.
In the opening round we saw technical stuff from both, Arbachakov was using his jab, controlling the distance and using his often under-rated movement to close the distance. Kittikasem on the other hand was being cautious, boxing off the backfoot and trying to see what the Russian had without taking much punishment. The tactics of the Thai saw him land some good counters through the opening round but right on the bell the power of Arbachakov dropped the Thai. The shot came as the bell was ringing and was waved off by the referee.
With Kittikasem feeling the power of the challenger at the end of round 1 he picked up his pace notably in round 2. The Thai was again on the back foot, but was a lot more willing to get off the ropes as Arbachakov continues to press in a very intelligent style. A right hand from the challenger with about 40 seconds of the round left instantly saw the tempo rise as we got some thrilling back and forth, but for the most part this was controlled, technical stuff.
We got more drama early in round 3 as Arbachakov was dropped. He seemed to be caught by surprise more than hurt but it was a cracking right hand that dropped him as he got a wake up call. Kittikasem wasn't here to just hand over his title. Soon afterwards the Thai was rocked from a couple of huge right hands and the bout got an injection of drama, then it got a larger shot as Kittikasem was dropped. The Thai was badly hurt but showed his grit to make his way through what had been a truly fantastic round.
With both men being down in round 3 it was clear both knew their opponent had the power to damage them. From here on the pace began to quicken, with Arbachakov showing what he could do with his movement and jab, and Kittikasem trying to to respond. The Thai would be rocked several times but fired back every time, giving the bout a sense of tension. The champion might have been behind, and taking some big shots, but he wasn't gone and he was dangerous.
As the bout unfolded the Thai began to find his range for shots, countering more successfully and even pressing forward himself at times. It was as if his game plan was based around coming on strong and take advantage of Arbachakov's lack of later round experience. This again felt like the bout was shifting momentum, with rounds 7 being a really good round and giving Kittikasem the belief that he could take the fight to the challenger.
We won't ruin the bout any further but this is worthy of your time, especially if you like technical boxing, with a sense of drama, heavy shots and momentum switches. It's not the most action packed bout ever, and it's not a slug fest, but it's a very clean, exciting bout, with the feeling that either man could take the other down at a moments notice.
Whilst not a war this is a very, very engaging bout, with serious tension through out.
Today we return to the 1990's for a memorable Closet Classic that won the Japanese fight of the year award, and saw a rivalry come to an end with two men clashing, years after they were originally supposed to face off. The bout pit the first true Russian professional boxing star against one of the man tipped to be a Japanese star, and the bout delivered an instant classic, that is now, more than 20 years on, still remembered well by Japanese fans from the era.
Yuri Arbachakov (22-0, 15) vs Puma Toguchi (18-2, 15)
In one corner was the then WBC Flyweight champion Yuri Arbachakov, a Russian born fighter who was based in Japan, where he had essentially been based his entire career. He was a technically brilliant boxer-puncher, combining sensational skills, polished in a long and successful amateur career, with naturally heavy hands, a solid chin and a totally relaxed in ring persona. He was one of two fighters from the former USSR that Kyoei had guided to a world title and wasn't looking to give it up, in fact this was his 9 defence since winning the belt in 1992.
Puma Toguchi, who actually fought under his birth name of Takato Toguchi for this particular bout, was regarded as one of 3 potential Japanese stars at the turn of the 1990's. He, along with Joichit Tatsuyoshi and Katsuya Onizuka, were seen as the trio to watch in Japan. Sadly Toguchi was, unlike the other two, very hard to handle and had had issues with his team in the early 1990's. Those issues had seen him lose the Japanese Flyweight title in 1991, cancelling a scheduled bout with Arbachakov as a result, and had seen him out of the ring for over 2 years as a result. Although a fantastic talent, with heavy hands he was seen as being a clear under-dog here.
With the issues of their cancelled 1991 fight acting as a back drop the two were expected to put on something special when they finally clashed on August 26th 1996. Rather than Toguchi defending the national title, as was the case when the bout was first supposed to take place, this was now a world title fight, and the two men fought as if the belt meant everything.
The first round was a quiet one, with both looking to see what the other hand. From there on however they both began to go through the gears, landing some huge shots, trading blows when they had to. Arbachakov, the better pure boxer, applied constant, heavy pressure, boxing well behind his jab, whilst Toguchi looked to find holes with counters, exploiting the text book approach of Arbachakov.
For those hoping for an all out war, this wasn't that. Instead it was a very well fought boxing contest, with both men having moments, and both fighting through adversity, with Arbachakov badly damaging his right hand which caused him serious issues the rest of his career.
Sadly after this bout neither man really had much success. Arbachakov, who wanted to retire after this win, fought on and suffered a loss to a man he had already beat, whilst Toguchi went 5-1 before retiring, and has suffered with Dementia Pugilistica in recent years.
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