Whilst not the best division in the sport in recent years the Featherweight division has been a compelling weight class, with numerous compelling bouts below the world level and today we dig into the Treasure Trove to bring one such bout. It was a bout with lots of expectations in Japan and it exceeded all those expectations, giving us a genuinely thrilling action bout between a puncher and a boxer. The match up certainly didn't create much buzz in the west, but hardcore fans who did give the bout a watch managed to enjoy a compelling, exciting bout between two men with a point to prove and plenty of skills to show off.
Unlike some bouts in this series this match combines two of the things we love to see in a Treasure Trove bout. It has action, and it features a rising prospect, giving you two reasons to give the bout a watch!
Musashi Mori (11-0, 6) Vs Tsuyoshi Tameda (21-5-2, 19)
For this bout we rewind to November 28th 2020 for an Ohashi promoted event at Korakuen Hall. The card was littered with promising prospects but it was the main event that really had our attention and that was an WBO Asia Pacific title fight between unbeaten champion Musashi Mori and the heavy handed Tsuyoshi Tameda.
For fans who haven't followed the Japanese Featherweight scene in recent years it's fair to say neither of these men are household names in the west, yet both are talented and exciting fighters.
The more promising of the two going in was Mori, the 21 year old champion who had celebrated his birthday just a day before the bout. He had won the Rookie of the Year in 2017, aged just 18, and had won the WBO Asia Pacific title the following year, with a technical decision against the awkward Richard Pumicpic. Here he was seeking his third defense of the title and building on his impressive reputation as one of the brightest young talents in Japan. He had proven to be a skilled boxer with good speed, clever movement and was developing well under the guidance of Ismael Salas before the pandemic slowed his rise through the ranks. Despite the pandemic Mori and his team were looking to move him on to a world title fight as soon as they could, and he couldn’t afford a slip up here.
Tsuyoshi Tameda had one been groomed as a prospect himself, and had been guided early on by the legendary Kenji Yonekura, before the Yonekura gym closed its doors. He had been a professional since 2011 and despite being a crude fighter he was born with god given power. From 21 wins 19 were by stoppage and many of them were very early in bouts, with 13 wins inside 3 rounds. Whilst he had, regularly, beaten lower level fighters he had also proven what he could do with wins against decent fighters, like Takenori Ohashi, Mark Bernaldez, Retsu Kosaka, Tae Il Atsumi and Joe Tejones. He was regarded as a crude, but dangerous power puncher, and the type of fighter who could expose weaknesses with Mori, if the youngster had any issues with his chin or heart.
Interestingly both men were also being guided by former world champions. In charge of Mori's career was former WBC Bantamweight champion Yasuei Yakushiji whilst Tameda was being promoted by Hideyuki Ohashi, a former 2-time Minimumweight champion, who had taken over from Yonekura in regards to promoting Tameda.
On paper the bout had a lot to be excited about. A talented, fast rising youngster, looking to move his career forward up against a dynamite puncher looking to get his career back on track and claim his first title.
From the off Tameda’s intentions were clear as he raced at Mori and tried to behead him with a wild right hand. Mori, wisely, avoided the shot as Tameda stumbled to the canvas in a bizarre start. Despite the crude approach it was clear that Tameda was there looking for a stoppage and within 30 seconds Tameda had gotten close and we were getting a brawl. The style of fight was one that Tameda wanted, though Mori maintained his composure and fought fire with fire, landing several excellent counters. Through the round both men kept up an incredible pace, giving us a genuinely thrilling opening round.
The sensational pace from the opening round continued into round 2, though Tameda was slightly less reckless than he had been in the opening round. Mori again showed his composure, landed the more consistent shots overall but Tameda landed some brutal bombs on him and even seemed to make Mori stumble part way through the round with an uppercut. It was a fantastic round of two halves, with Mori impressing early on before Tameda roared back. After just 2 rounds it was clear we were getting something a little bit special and that continued into round 3, as Mori tried to get Tameda’s respect early on. For Mori it wasn’t his power that was key, but his consistency, his ability to land clean and his footwork, whilst Tameda’s power and work rate made him seem like he was only a few punches away from turning the tide. Although dangerous it was worth noting that Tameda was putting a lot of energy into everything he was doing, and he was taking some very clean body shots through the early rounds.
The fantastic action from the first 3 rounds went up another gear in round 4 as Tameda got close in the first minute and let rip with some huge shots. He failed to phase Mori, but it was clear that even his shots on the arms were damaging blows. Mori, smartly, began to hold, clinch and use negative tactics to neutralise some of the pressure, picking his moments to strike back well and showed some very nice footwork to create the space he needed to take some of the steam from Tameda’s pressure.
Through the middle portion of the fight we began to see Tameda slowing down and Mori creating space to work with on a regular basis. The younger man seemed to have taken much of the sting from Tameda’s pressure and continued to pick some brilliant counter shots. Tameda was still there, and still coming forward, but his work rate and intensity seemed to drop off, making it easier and easier for Mori to control the range and tempo. Despite that Tameda was certainly not done, and he kept trying, kept coming forward and kept looking to try and break down Mori.
With the pace slowing Mori was able to control much of the second half of the fight, boxing well and using his footwork, movement and boxing brain to rack up the rounds, and take a grip on the contest. Tameda, still as hungry as ever, refused to just accept a decision loss, but things were certainly going Mori’s way in the second half of the fight and the momentum was with the champion as we went towards the championship rounds, despite a determined effort from Tameda.
After having had 10 great rounds we went into round 11. It seemed like Tameda should be in the lead, but neither man had been down and both looked lively as we entered the penultimate round of the bout. Both had taken the best the other had to offer and both were still up and still fighting. The intensity might have dropped but the action was still fantastic throughout. Sadly though part way through the round a headclash left Tameda with a brutal cut above his right eye. The cut wasn’t the end of the bout, but seemed to take his concentration and Mori began to pour it on, backing Tameda in to the corner and forcing the referee to step in, waving off the bout and saving Tameda. Although the cut wasn’t the end, it was the start of the end and Tameda never looked quite right after suffering the cut.
Although not regarded as a Fight of the Year candidate, this was certainly an exciting, high tempo war, with a mix of skills, aggression, power shots, counter punching and excitement. Even the clear rounds, either way, still had moments for the other guy and the bout was certainly one of the most fan friendly WBO Asia Pacific title bouts we had in 2020.
A real must watch for fans wanting to enjoy the best hidden gems of 2020.
One of the rather unique features of Japanese boxing is it's tournaments. Be it a small title tournament, the Rookie of the Year, C Class tournament or some other themed tournaments. One of the more interesting tournaments that we saw begin in 2019, and will end later this year, is the Hajime No Ippo 30th Anniversary tournament. The tournament is a 7 man international Featherweight tournament, featuring 4 Japanese fighters, and one fight from China, the Philippines and South Korea. Today's Treasure trove sees us take the best of the quarter-final bouts from the tournament, and share it with those that may have missed it the first time around!
Tsuyoshi Tameda (21-4-2, 19) vs Jae Woo Lee (6-2, 5)
Going into this it was the quarter-final that we expected the least from. On paper it was the biggest mismatch, but yet it delivered the best bout, by far.
Japan's Tsuyoshi Tameda is a fighter that had been on the radar for a few years. He had competed in the 2011 Rookie of the Year, as a teenager, and had gone on a tear from 2012 to 2016 with wins against the likes of Hero Tito, Takenori Ohashi, Mark Bernaldez. Although his winning run had come to an end in 2016, it had only ended when he lost a decision to Simpiwe Vetyeka. Following the loss to Vetyeka Tameda had gone 8-2 (8), with his only losses coming to the brilliant pairing of Reiya Abe and Hinata Maruta, whilst he had won the Japanese Youth Featherweight title and stopped the likes of Tae Il Atsumi and Joe Tejones.
With 8 fights to his name Jae Woo Lee was a bit of an unknown coming into this bout. He had never previously fought outside of Korea and had suffered 2 losses in 8 bouts. However going through his record there were some interesting take aways. Both of his losses had come in his first 3 bouts, his only win to come on the score cards had come against a natural Welterweight and he had shown a real will to win in his previous bout, pulling out a come from behind KO to claim the KBM Featherweight title. Despite his record showing some signs that he could be a banana skin, he hadn't fought in well over a year following an injury, and he had never previously fought outside of Korea.
Within seconds of the opening bell we seemed to be in for something special as the two men quickly found their range, and it turned out their range was the same. This resulted in both being very happy at mid to close range and both had similar game plans. Take the other man out! Less than half way through the opening round Tameda began to unload on Lee, who responded soon afterwards, and then we started to see a sensational back and forth war. This was perfect two way action between two punchers who believed they had the power and toughness to out last the other in a war.
Round 1 was incredible, but round 2 was even better, the movement of both began to vanish and it was even more a case of toe-to-toe warfare. Hookers and uppercuts were the order of the day, jabs were almost banned.
It wasn't the prettiest of stuff but this was brutal, this was damaging, and this was Asian machismo on full show. This was the gem of the Hajime No Ippo tournament!
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.