When we think of the WBA and their propensity to give us "interim" champions alongside their "regular" we get genuinely annoyed. The idea behind "interim" titles do actually make sense, and if they were used as they are supposed to be used, we'd be happily in favour of them. Sadly the WBA have watered down the sport by having interim world champions, regular world champions and super champions in pretty much every division, without a need for them. If a champion is injured then, by all means, set up an interim champion with a unification bout when the champion is fit and healthy, but other than that there is no need for one.
The reason for us mentioning that is that today's Closet Classic is a great WBA Regular/interim title unification bout from 2007 and one of the rare times that we have seen the WBA titles being unified!
Yutaka Niida (20-1-3, 8) Vs Katsunari Takayama (18-2, 7)
In one corner was WBA "regular" Minimumweight champion Yutaka Niida, a very talented, but now often over-looked fighter from Yokohama. Niida was enjoying his second reign as the world champion, having beaten Noel Arambulet in 2004 to reclaim the title. Following his win over Arambulet for the title Niida had made 3 defenses and looked like he was rebuilding his career after a rather odd few years. Although not a puncher Niida was a talented, speedy and technical fighter, who was well schooled, knew his way around the ring and typically controlled the distance well. Sadly now-a-days Niida is best known for retiring after losing to Roman Gonzalez, but back in 2007 he was genuinely regarded as one of the best at 105lbs.
In recent years Katsunari Takayama has become known as one of the most exciting fighters in recent memory, and a real trail blazer for Japanese boxing. The "Lightning Kid" was a warrior. He was quick, light punching and always put on a show. He was certainly not a puncher, but he was intense, setting a high tempo and trying to our work and out fight opponents. Takayama was not only quick with his hands, but also his feet and was pretty much boxing's answer to the energiser bunny. Even back in 2007, when this bout took place, he was known for having great fan friendly bouts, though they were often closer than they needed to be. With Takayama's lack of power and warrior mentality often making things much tougher for him than they needed to be.
In September 2006 Niida was supposed to defend his title against Takayama, however a training injury forced a delay to the bout. Due to that injury the WBA had allowed Takayama to fight for the interim title, with Takayama beating Carlos Melo for the interim title in November 2006. When Niida was back to health we then, finally, saw the two men clash.
Given this bout was 7 months over-due, taking place in April 2007 and not September 2006, it quickly became clear that both men didn't want to take time getting to know each other. After around 15 seconds Takayama took the advantage, putting Niida on to the seat of his pants. Niida wasn't hurt but it was clear he wanted to get revenge for the knockdown, and from there we had a sensational bout in the making with both men happy to let their shots go.
Niida was the one pressing forward, for the most part, though Takayama was smartly nipping in and out, letting his hands go in flurries and making the most of his younger, fresher legs. He seemed fully aware that if he stood toe to toe he was going to be in trouble, though stood his ground often enough to give us some amazing exchanges.
For fans who like brawls this has enough brawling in it to be worthy of a watch, but it's not a slugfest, instead it's a brilliant technical war. It combines the volume of a brawl with sharp technical skills from both. The bout is full of action with technique, drama, controversy and competitiveness making it a brilliant contest from the the first bell to the very final seconds.
Back in February we sent our Patrons an email requesting suggestions for what bouts they'd like to see included in this series, and one of the responses was the 2008 WBA Minimumweight title bout between Yutaka Niida and Roman Gonzalez. So here's that bout now being covered.
Yutaka Niida (23-1-3, 9) vs Roman Gonzalez (20-0, 18)
Although somewhat forgotten by fans now a days Yutaka Niida was incredibly highly regarded back in the mid 00's. He was in the Ring Magazine top 10 from 2003, ending the year #5, to this bout. He had been ranked #1 by Ring in 2004, 2005 and 2007, and was #2 to Ivan Calderon in 2006. He was also a 2-time WBA champion, having first won the title in 2001, ending the second reign of veteran Chana Porpaoin, before reclaiming the title in in 2004, and avenging his sole loss to Noel Arambulet in the process.
Whilst Niida's first reign had been a short one, with Niida retiring as the champion, he had returned to the ring and come into this bout with 7 defenses of the WBA belt, including wins over Juan Jose Landaete, a then unbeaten Eriberto Gejon, OPBF champion Jae Won Kim and future multi-time world champion Katsunari Takayama. Those defenses put Niida 4th, at the time, for most defenses for a Japanese world champion.
At this point the then 21 year old Roman Gonzalez was a relative unknown outside of Nicaragua. This was only his third bout away from his homeland, with the two other two also taking place in Japan. On paper it was a massive step up for the youngster, who was highly regarded by those around him, but rather untested. Of course looking back with hindsight we now know that Gonzalez was one of the best fighters in recent memory, but at the time he really hadn't done anything to suggest he was going to be the star he has since become.
Up to this point Gonzalez's best win up to this point likely being a 10 round decision over 2-time Japanese title challenger Hiroshi Matsumoto, and that was one of two times he had been taken the distance. The step up from Matsumoto to Niida was seen as massive, and this was set, on paper, to be a massive test for Gonzalez.
Despite the bout being the first major bout of Gonzalez's career the future Nicaraguan great took control early, boxing aggressively from the early going. He was aggressive, boxing behind his jab, and backing up Niida, who was taking time to scout and see what Gonzalez was about. Fighting with a high guard Niida had moments in the opening round, but for the most part he was under pressure from the footwork of Gonzalez who burst into life a couple of times during the round.
The second round was much like the first, though things did seem to move up a gear with a few more exchanges as both became more willing to let shots go. Niida was still the more cautious, likely trying to take the steam out of Gonalez's pressure, and find angles to counter from. Whilst Gonalez was starting to get inside more, and force a response from the champion.
In round 3 things really began to move through the gears, with both men letting their leather fly on the inside, giving us some exhilarating exchanges. It was here we began to see the touches of genius that we would become accustomed to over the following decade from the little Nicaraguan master. It was also here where Niida began to try fighting back, showing the spirit of a champion, despite lacking the fire power needed to get Gonzalez's respect.
We won't ruin what happens after the third, but those that know anything about Gonzalez's career will know the rest. Regardless, enjoy the bout that helped establish the legend of "Chocolatito".
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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