Every so often a fight comes along that really surprises us in how action packed it is. It might be a sloppy mess of a fight, but it's still a watchable, almost fun, sloppy mess of a fight. Today we pick one of these from the Treasure Trove, and it's a really fun fight, that's much better on replay than we remember it being live.
Heuk San Lee (10-1-2, 5) vs Gyung Mo Yuh (5-6-3, 1)
Korean based Cameroonian born fighter Heuk San Lee, also known as Abdoulaye Assan, is a man we hope to cover in more detail in a total stand alone article one day. The former Cameroonian standout fled his homeland in 2015 and became a refugee in Korea, boxing to help secure his refugee status in the country. He managed to secure his status after a real battle outside of the ring and adopted the Lee Heuk San name. As part of his fight to become a refugee he essentially had to prove a number of things, such as his life being at risk if he went home and his ability in the ring. In 2017 he won a Korean 154lb title and continued the battle. At the start of 2019 he was 35 years old, 8-0-2 (3) but with a loss to In Duck Seo in March he lost his unbeaten record. He was hoping to end the year on a high as he attempted to capture a the KBF Korean title, taking on Gyung Mo Yuh for the vacant title.
As for Gyung Mo Yuh, he wasn't someone getting much attention at all. He had lost more than he had won, he was 33 and had shown almost no promise early in his career. In fact Yuh had started his career 0-4 way back in 2007, and was 1-5-2 after 8 bouts. He had, in fairness, turned things around going 4-1-1 in his previous 6, but was still mostly fighting at a low level, and lost to the only fighter of any note up to that point, losing a decision to Sung Jae Jo in January 2019. Also, rather notably, this was was going to be his 4th fight of 2019, and he had already fought 23 rounds before stepping in with Lee.
From the opening round it was clear we were set for something rather fun. About half way through the round Lee got Yuh in the corner and went to work on the Korean national, who showed some nice defense skills before turning the tables and taking the fight to Lee, bullying the Cameroonian on to the ropes, time and time again, unloading on him repeatedly. Everything he had taken in the corner was being repaid with interest. Round2 was similar, but Lee was now starting to make Yuh pay for his aggression, landing some clean counter shots.
Yuh wasn't going to be discouraged by the counters of Lee and kept the pressure going in round 3. By now the action was getting sloppier, but we were sold on what we were seeing. We were seeing hunger and will form Yuh, and skills from Lee. We were seeing one man determined to wear the other one out, even if it came at a cost and risked seeing Yuh empty his tank.
For those who like battles of attrition, high volume of heavy leather and don't mind sloppiness slipping in as the fighters tire then this is genuinely great. Even when it gets sloppy late on we still see a number of thrilling, toe to toe exchanges as both men unload.
This might not be the cleanest bout in history but it's a genuine hidden treasure from 2019, and a great example of what Korean boxing managed to deliver last year.
Every so often a division we don't tend to think of much in Asia delivers a fight of real value and excitement. Today we look at one such fight that took place at 154lbs in November 2019, and whilst it became a bit one sided by the end it was genuinely brilliant to watch live, with contrasting styles and an air of tenseness. This wasn't a Fight of the Year contender, don't get us wrong, but it was a genuine treasure hidden away just days before the WBSS Bantamweight final.
Hironobu Matsunaga (15-1, 9) vs Koki Koshikawa (9-1, 6)
In one corner was the once beaten Japanese Light Middleweight champion Hironobu Matsunaga. He had been riding a 9 fight unbeaten run since losing in the 2014 All Japan Rookie of the Year final, where he lost to Yuki Beppu. During that 9 fight winning run he had built his career really well with wins against the likes of Sanosuke Sasaki, Je Ni Ma, Koshinmaru Saito and Nobuyuki Shindo. He was an aggressive fighter who was physically strong, a bit limited defensively but pretty much an exciting bully in the ring, with a great engine and an under-rated jab.
Whilst Matsunaga had, arguably, over-achieved by winning a Japanese title having failed to even win Rookie of the Year Koki Koshikawa was seen as an under-achiever of sorts. He had been a solid amateur, and had been tipped for big things when he signed with the Celes Gym, but an early winning run was ended when he was clearly beaten in 2015 by Koshinmaru Saito. He had bounced back with 5 wins, including one over Daisuke Sakamoto in his final bout, but hadn't really impressed in the way many had anticipated.
The bout began with Koshikawa pressing forward, using his jab to apply pressure to the champion. It was a confident and competent start from Koshikawa who seemed to momentarily wobble Matsunaga late in the opening round, before being clocked hard himself moments later.
The second round saw the challenger again coming forward in the early going but less than a minute into the round we started to see more pressure being applied by the champion, who was finally finding his groove. It wasn't consistent success for the champion, but there was more moments for him, and he had began to back up Koshikawa, who continued to have moments.
The last 30 seconds of round 2 were genuinely brilliant and saw the bout move up a gear as both men began to unload huge shots on each other. From there on the bout took a real thrilling feel and things began to get brutal with Koshikawa getting cut early in round 3, and bombs going back and forth through the round.
If you missed this one it's worthy of a watch, especially given the current lack of live boxing.
Earlier in this series we looked at Yuki Nagano's Japanese Welterweight title win, which saw him stopping Ryota Yada in Osaka in April 2019. Around 5 months later he had a home coming defense, as he returned to Tokyo to defend the belt against 35 year old veteran Makoto Kawasaki. For Nagano this was his first defense, whilst Kawasaki was almost certainly going into the bout knowing a loss would be the end of his career.
Yuki Nagano (16-2, 12) vs Makoto Kawasaki (11-7-1, 2)
As mentioned Yuki Nagano was making his first defense of the Japanese Welterweight title. The 30 year old from the Teiken Gym had lost 2 of his first 4 bouts, but was almost 6 years removed from his previous loss and had won 14 bouts in a row. Those had seen him win the 2015 All Japan Rookie of the Year and score victories over Yuki Beppu and Ryota Yada. Nagano had proven that he was heavy handed and a relatively smart southpaw boxer-puncher. Rather than wading forward he laid traps, moved backwards and lined up his straight left hand, boxing to set up his power shots rather than forcing them.
As for Makoto Kawasaki he had managed to score a draw against Koki Tyson on his debut, in 2012, but struggled to make an impact on the sport. He had been beaten by the likes of Hironobu Matsuaga, Noriaki Sato and Ryota Yada. Despite the set backs Kawasaki continued trying and had come into this bout on the back of wins over the big punching Kentaro Endo and the experienced Yuichi Ideta. It seemed, coming in, that Kawasaki knew he needed to win. He wasn't going to get another chance. Sadly though everything was stacked against him. He lacked power, he was 35, he was going up against a new champion with momentum behind him and despite being tough there was few backing him for the upset.
To his credit Kawasaki went into the ring not caring what others thought. He was there to win, and quickly landed some eye catching blows, including a solid body shot about 15 seconds in. It was clear that whilst Kawasaki was cautious of the power of Nagano he wasn't afraid of it, and was happy to press the champion, something he did with genuine success. About 80 seconds into the round he seemed to shake Nagano, following up with combination, and he was the one making a fight of things. Nagano had success but it was a round to the challenger, who seemed to end the round finding range for several big right hands.
We won't ruin anything but the first round, but this was a short and dramatic little fight, well worthy of a watch.
Earlier in this series we looked at a Japanese Midddleweight title bout, and amazingly the men involved in that would later go on to have a second thriller a few months later, giving us more amazing rounds of their rivalry. Unlike their first bout, which ended in a draw, the rematch left us with no questions as to who was the better man. Whilst we had a conclusive ending this time, it doesn't take away from the fact we ended up with another cracker.
Kazuto Takesako (10-0-1, 10) vs Shuji Kato (10-1-2, 6) II
In March 2019 Kazuto Takesako saw his perfect stoppage run come to an end, as he was held to a draw by Shuji Kato in a mandatory Japanese title fight. For Takesako it was a successful defense, his second, but was a less than impressive performance. He had struggled mightily with the southpaw jab, the movement and the relaxed defense of Kato. The challenger exceeded expectations in not only taking the power of the champion but also landing plenty of leather of his own.
After 10 rounds both men had felt like they had deserved the win. Just 5 months later we saw them go again.
This time Takesako knew what to expect from the slippery Kato, he knew he had to find a way around the jab of the challenger and that he needed to find a way to neutralise the southpaw stance of Kato. As for Kato he knew he had to do more, and make sure the judges didn't have any questions as to who deserved the win.
The opening round was very much round 11 of their rivalry, rather than round 1 of fight 2. Just like their first fight Takesako was on the offensive, backing up Kato who tried to slip and slide, use the ring and his jab. Unlike the early staged of fight 1 Takesako was having success very early and was forcing his fight on to Kato, with the pressure having success early on. Kato was able to soak it up, and landed some meaty blows of his own, but it was clear, this wasn't a normal opening round.
If the opening round was round 11 of their rivalry then round 2 of this bout was certainly round 12, with the round being violent from the off. It was clear Takesako wanted to get revenge for being taken the distance and he was unleashing massive power shots. Kato was taking them, and landing some solid counters, but was clear having his toughness tested early. If he could see out the early storm then there was a chance he could get to Takesako late, especially with the way the champion was throwing everything with bad intentions, and leaving himself open for counters.
We won't ruin any more of the fight, but lets just say this is brutal, this is exciting and this is a bout that mean so much to both men following their draw. Neither man was in the ring to lose, and both had to dig deep with both men landing some very heavy leather as they both began to slow. A genuinely punishing battle for both men!
For today's Treasure Trove we get to relive a fight that promise a lot, as the Japanese Welterweight title was on the line. The bout won't go down as the best Welterweight bout in Japan in 2019, but it's certainly a good one, and one well worthy of a watch, especially if you missed it first time around.
Ryota Yada (18-4, 15) vs Yuki Nagano (15-2, 11)
It's fair to say that Ryota Yada had one of the best bouts of 2019, his sensational war with Yuki Beppu, it's worth noting that that wasn't his only bout from the year. Another came several months early with Yada, the then Japanese Welterweight champion, faced off with mandatory challenger Yuki Nagano. On paper this looked like a fantastic match up, and whilst it didn't have the high drama and intense ups and downs of the bout between Yada and Beppu it certainly is worth a watch.
Yada, for those who aren't aware, is a boxer puncher from Osaka, he's not the most talented, but as we saw with his bout against Beppu he's heavy handed, tough, takes a good shot and is an aggressive fight. Technically he's basic, but he's strong, powerful, comes forward and makes fighters pay. When he lands opponents know it. He had held the title for just over a year, beating Toshio Arikawa for it in April 2018, and was looking to make his third defense as he went into his first mandatory title defense. On paper he was probably the slight favourite. Not only was Yada the champion, but he was also fighting at home, in Osaka, with Green Tsuda, his promoter, in charge of the event. It's also worth noting that despite having 4 losses on his record he had won 15 of his previous 16 bouts, after a 3-3 start, with the sole loss coming in a regional title fight.
Yuki Nagano on the other hand was a Teiken fighter, coming from Tokyo to fight in the lion's den. He had earned this title fight with a win over Yuki Beppu in 2018, as part of the 2019 version of the Champion Carnival, and had been riding on a solid unbeaten run of his own coming in with 13 wins in a row, including notable ones against Riku Nagahama and Yuki Beppu. Nagano, like Yada, wasn't the best boxer out there. He was, however, a crafty boxer-puncher, fighting out of the southpaw stance and blessed with concussive power. He was less powerful, less heavy handed and less physically imposing than Yada, but more rounded as a fighter, and certainly better at using an opponents aggression against them.
From the off it seemed clear that both men believed they had the power to take the other out, but they also knew they had to be cautious, as their opponent could also bang. This saw almost a tense stand off, with Yada being the one who was mostly coming forward, but doing so in a way that made it clear he didn't want to take a clean left from Nagano. Nagano, who did have moments on the front foot, was looking to line up the left time and time again.
As the fight went on we saw Yada becoming more aggressive, pressing more, trying to close the distance and press the challenger into a mistake. Nagano was however soaking up the pressure well and tagging the champion with solid lefts.
In the middle rounds the fight started to warm up nicely, with both taking a growing number of clean shots and from there on it felt like the fight could be over at any moments.
For those expecting an all out war, like Yada's bout with Beppu, this isn't that, this is more technical, and strangely more tense, but is a compelling watch. Especially if you don't know the result!
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.