We continue this weekly series by looking at a Korean fighter who had a short career, spanning just 21 bouts over 9 years, but an interesting one featuring 12 total title bouts, including 9 at world level.
The fighter in question is Hi Yong Choi (19-2, 8). He was a former amateur standout before turning professional in 1987, and given the footage of him in action his style is very much the antithesis of an amateur standout. He wasn't a refined boxer, but more a brawler-come-Street fighter. Although not too well remembered now a days he was a 2-weight world champion who not only fought in Korea and Japan but also had a bout in the USA before retiring in the mid 1990's. He was fast tracked to the top and faced some top names, but never really looked like the type of fighter who could have much longevity based on his raw and highly physical style.
Despite his short career Choi made an impact on the sport, and now we get to bring you the 5 most significant wins for... Hi Yong Choi.
Sam Joong Lee (April 10th 1988)
After a very successful amateur career there was no need to hold Hi Yong Choi back and his team knew that. Instead of taking their time developing the youngster they pushed him hard and fast. Just 9 months after his debut they threw him in with Korean national champion Sam Joon Lee in a 12 round bout for the OPBF Minimumweighjt title. Up to this point Choi had only fought against novices, but stepped up here and shined, as he took a decision over the then 14-2 Lee. Whilst Choi's team had moved him quickly, matching him in a 10 rounder in just his third bout, this was really an impressive victory, this early in his career.
Bong Jun Kim I (February 2nd 1991)
Whilst Choi's team had managed to secure him an OPBF title fight very early they had to wait almost 3 years to get him a world title fight. That finally came in February 1991 when he took on fellow Korean Bong Jun Kim. Kim, the then WBA Minimumweight champion, was 23-5-3 and had been unbeaten in more than 3 yeas. He had claimed the WBA title in 1989 and had already notched 5 defenses of the title. Choi on the other hand was 9-0 but lacked a stand out win since winning the OPBF title. Despite the big step up in class Choi managed to over-come his fellow Korea with a hotly contest decision over 12 rounds. This win saw Choi becoming the first fighter from Hyundai promotions to become a world champion, beating the exciting Young Kyun Park by a few weeks.
Bong Jun Kim II (October 26th 1991)
Having made a relatively straight forward first defense against Filipino challenger Sugar Ray Mike in June 1991 Choi then returned to facing world class competition as he took on Bong Jun Kim in a rematch. Choi was giving Kim a chance to reclaim the title he had taken 8 months earlier, though it was a chance that Kim couldn't take. From the off it was clear that Choi, buoyed on by the title, was a better fighter than he had been in their first bout. Kim on the other hand looked like a man who was starting to show signs of being on the slide. What had been a close and competitive match up the first time around, was a clear decision for Choi the second time around. It's worth noting that after this Kim would go 1-3, suffering a TKO loss in his final bout in 1994 against Takashi Oba before hanging them up. This was the win that signified that Choi was a world champion, and hadn't just won the title by fluke.
Leo Gamez (February 4th 1995)
After scoring 2 more successful defenses Choi would make his international debut and lose the WBA Minimumweight title to Japan's popular Hideyuki Ohashi. Choi would then take more than a year away from the ring before returning in December 1993 having abandoned the Minimumweight division. In the fourth bout of his comeback he took on Venezuelan foe Leo Gamez, the then WBA Light Flyweight champion. Gamez was enjoying his second reign as a world champion, having previously held a Minimumweight title, and was well known in Korea following bouts against Bong Jun Kim, Myung Woo Yuh and Yong Kang Kim. Sadly for Gamez his experience in Korea wasn't enough to over-come the Korean, who looked really strong at Light Flyweight. The bout was marred by head clashes, and certainly wasn't a pretty fight, but the win did see Choi becoming a 2-weight world champion in just 19 fights. Warning for those about to watch, this it's a sloppy, gruelling, mauling mess of a fight. Entertaining in parts but a mess through out.
Keiji Yamaguchi (September 5th 1995)
Choi would return to the ring to defend the WBA Light Flyweight title, that he took from Gamez, 7 months after winning it. For the second time in his career he travelled overseas for the bout as he took on the then 18-0 Keiji Yamaguchi in his home of Osaka. Whilst Choi had failed on his first visit to Japan, losing to Ohashi in 1992, he faired better this time around winning a split decision over Yamaguchi. As with his bout against Gamez this wasn't the most pleasing fight to watch, but winning on foreign soil against an unbeaten challenger is never an easy task. What makes this win even more notable is that Yamaguchi would later go on to take the take title from the man who ended Choi's reign, Carlos Murillo.
Sadly after beating Yamaguchi Choi would lose the title on his US debut against the aforementioned Murillo, and then retire.
Whilst boxing is now on the horizon, with July looking likely to be when we see fights return to Japan, there is still no in ring action. With that in mind we're going to look back in to past and look at another bout we could have had in the world of Asian boxing! Today we look at a bout that would have been brutal, fantastic an all action. It's also one we don't really see mentioned despite the fact it could have taken place in the mid 1990's and it would have been fire!
Saman Sorjaturong Vs Hi Yong Choi
We know the Light Flyweight division doesn't get the love it deserves, but over the years the division has given us some legendary fighters, some amazing fights and some fantastic "ones we missed". A great example of one we missed would have seen Thai Saman Sorjaturong take on Korean Hi Yong Choi in what would have been an instant epic. It wouldn't have been pretty, it wouldn't have been clean, but it would have been thrill a minute stuff between two men who knew how to go to war.
If we're being honest the window for this would be from around late 1993 to early 1996, which is a pretty good window of time. The bout would have been especially notable in late 1995 or early 1996 when between them the due held 3 of the 4 major world titles. Not only meaning this would be a sensational war to enjoy, but would have also seen the IBF, WBA and WBC titles all end up around the wait of one man, at least for a while.
The time window of late '95/early '96 would also come when both men were red hot. Saman had just beaten Humberto Gonzalez in an epic in July, with that bout later being deemed the Fight of the Year, whilst Choi had become a 2-weight champion early in 1995, and had managed to fit in his first defense in September that year. There's a very clear, but short lived, time frame for this one to have been staged and to have been something incredibly special.
We suspect hardcore fans will be more familiar with Saman Sorjaturong than Hi Yong Choi. The Thai had turned professional in 1989 and had fought in his first world title bout in 1993, losing to Ricardo Lopez. He rebuilt from that loss to get a fight with "Chiquito" Gonzalez in 1995, in what turned out to be a sensational war that saw both men being dropped, multiple times. That win netted Saman the WBC and IBF Light Flyweight titles. His reign with the IBF title was short, but he would hold the WBC title until 1999, losing it to Yo Sam Choi in Seoul in his 11th defense. Despite being a little man Saman was heavy handed, scoring stoppages in over 60% of his career bouts. Although not the most polished fighter Saman was dangerous, with capable skills, heavy hands, smart footwork. He was an exciting boxer-fighter, who could be dragged into a war, very easily, though was at his best with his jab flowing and a bit of space between himself and his opponent.
Hi Yong Choi on the other hand was as crude, rough, tough and clumsy as they come. He had first made his name at in the amateurs before mounting a charge at Minimumweight. In 1991 he claimed the WBA Minimumweight title, beating Bong Jun Kim, and defended it 4 times before losing to Hideyuki Ohashi. A move up in weight followed, in 1995, and Choi would become a 2-weight champion by beating Leo Gamez in an extraordinary battle of machismo. That was an ugly, messy scrap for the ages that some will love, and some will absolutely hate. He defended that belt once, against Keiji Yamaguchi, before losing the belt in the US to Carlos Murillo and retiring.
Interestingly both men managed to defend a world title against Yuichi Hosono, who Choi stopped in 10 rounds in 1992 and Saman stopped in 4 rounds in 1995.
How would we see it playing out?
In terms of pure boxing ability Saman was levels ahead of the Thai, despite the fact Choi was a solid amateur. Saman was much, much better on his feet, he knew how to create distance and how to fight smartly. He also, however, had a questionable chin. He had great heart, but the knockdowns to Gonzalez do show a flaw, and he was stopped in 4 of his 8 losses, though 3 of those did come at the end of his career.
Choi was so crude, but came with such raw energy and anger. Choi just came forward, fighting as if every second of every fight needed to be fought with intensity. He would have to walk through some huge shots to get close to Saman, but walk through them he would do. Rightly or wrongly. The Korean was not only tough but he was also quite liberal when it came to using us head, and we suspect that could be a problem here, especially with Saman backing off whilst Choi marches forward.
We would expect to see Saman picking his moments, slamming his heavy jab into Choi's face and following up with well timed right hands, to head and body. He wouldn't, however, discourage the Korean who would repeatedly walk forward, looking for a fight. As we get into the later rounds and Saman begins to tire Choi will look to grind down Saman with some incredibly fun to watch offensive charges.
We don't imagine Choi's offense would be polished enough to over-come a prime Saman, but Saman would know he's been in a fight by the end of it.
Would history of been changed?
Well actually yes, yes it could have been! The winner of this could have been the first Asian fighter to have won 3 different world titles at once. The IBF wasn't recognised in Korea at the time, and so if Choi won his reign would have been a mega short one but it would have been an historic moment. We had to wait for Gennady Golovkin to unify Middleweight titles before an Asian fighter managed to hold 3 world titles at once.
We probably wouldn't have seen Choi facing Murillo in his US debut, so the WBA Light Flyweight title history would have been very different, and there's a good chance Murillo and Keiji Yamaguchi would never have been world champions.
Given that Saman vacated the IBF title soon after he won it, and the IBF's status in Korea in the mid 1990's, we suspect that the IBF title history would be very similar to what it was, and the WBC title would likely have ended up with Yo Sam Choi, who eventually dethroned Saman.
For Saman a win here would have enhanced his reputation and helped make him stand out for more than just the Gonzalez fight. It would have been a legitimate world level title defense, and unification. And we believe he would have won. However had Choi won there's a good chance he'd have had a bigger fight, rather than the Murillo fight, though his days as a world level fighter at Light Flyweight always seemed limited.
As fans this would have been a messy epic, and both fighters would have come out with damage, so maybe it was best for both that we never got to see them fight, but it really would have been a damn fun battle!
This is just an opinion, maaaan! It's easy to share our opinions, and that's what you'll find here, some random opinion pieces