For this week’s Treasure Trove article we thought we’d go back to early 2020, a time before empty venues, and crowd less boxing, but . A time when the world was a different place and when it seemed like we were set for a brilliant year of fights. The fight in question was a match up that was easy to overlook internationally, but saw a Japanese fighter take on a Filipino in a contest that delivered sensational action and seemed like a platform for the winner to move on to bigger and better things. Sadly, however, the Pandemic essentially saw the winner left on the side for the rest of the year, and unable to build on the momentum from this barn burner.
Kento Hatanaka (10-0, 9) vs Roland Jay Biendima (15-5-1, 8)
The bout in question was a WBC Youth title fight that took place at the Aioi Hall in Kariya. It pitted two youngsters against each other, and delivered something genuinely thrilling, even if the result was never really in doubt.
Heading into the bout 21 year old Japanese fighter Kento Hatanaka was the WBC Youth Flyweight champion and was a second generation fighter, following in the footsteps of his father and former world champion Kiyoshi Hatanaka. Through his first 10 bouts he had quickly become a fan favourite with an exciting and explosive style that made for fun fights. He had also shown enough vulnerabilities to look beatable. With his power he always looked dangerous and his offense was always great to see but his defense was a major issue, and he had been dropped just 1 fight earlier by Jaysever Abcede. He was also very willing to go to war with opponents, as he had in his first defense of the WBC Youth title against Songsaeng Phoyaem in 2019.
His opponent was 23 year old Filipino challenger Roland Jay Biendima, a less well known fighter but a promising one himself. Coming in to this he had won 2 in a row, but was 3-3 in his previous 6 and had never won a bout on foreign soil. That sounds bad, but he was unlucky in a previous visit to Japan, losing a razor thin decision to Taiyo Inoue, and had lasted 9 rounds with Wulan Tuolehazi, who fought for a world title at the end of 2019. On paper there wasn’t much on his record to get too excited about, though he had run future world title challenger Samuel Salva close very early in his career, and had proven to be tough, with his only stoppage loss in 21 bouts coming to Tuolehazi.
On paper this looked like an easy second defense for Hatanaka against a tough, but limited, challenger. In reality however this ended up being anything other than easy for the unbeaten “Prince” Hatanaka.
The bout started quickly, with Hatanaka trying to establish his jab and use his explosive speed to keep Biendima at range. The Filipino, for the most part, took shots on the gloves whilst occasionally swinging for the moon. The opening round went pretty much as perfectly for Hatanaka as he could have hoped for and the pre-fight conception of this being an easy win for the Japanese local looked right. In round 2 however we began to see Biendima come to life, taking more chances and was being punished for his ambition. The fight was starting to warm up nicely, and the Filipino was the one starting to press the action, coming forward, and trying to turn the bout into a fight. His uncultured approach wasn’t netting him sustained success, but was starting to make things more exciting.
The pressure and work rate of the Filipino was making the fight exciting and in round 3 saw him have some major success as he left Hatanaka with a bloodied nose. The pressure of the Filipino saw him getting inside and the two men began to trade uppercuts, with Biendima getting the fight he wanted. That continued in round 4, when he began to land uppercuts with alarming regularity. The smooth movement, speed and explosiveness of Hatanaka was unable to shine as he was being cramped for space, limited in where he could go, and unable to force Biendima to respect him. For fans watching things were getting exciting, quickly, and for Hatanaka’s team things were getting just a touch nervous. He was fighting his opponent’s fight far too often. Whilst he was having success, this was not the type of fight he would have been wanting and not the type of fight that suited him against a less skilled, but gritty challenger.
Through middle rounds we continued to see the two men trading big headshots, trying to take each other out. The results of the headshots saw Hatanaka’s face being bloody and swollen as he continued to exchange shots up close, far too often. Biendima was taking the cleaner punches, being punished time and time again by the classier shots of Hatanaka, but wasn’t showing the damage in the same way as the local hero. In fact if anything the facial damage of Hatanaka was adding extra tension to a hotly competitive fight, with not just his nose bleeding, but also a nasty cut forming around his left eye.
As rounds went by it seemed to become harder and harder to score. A number of rounds were incredibly close, and could have gone either way. It felt like Hatanaka would get them, given he was pretty much fighting at home, but he was being pushed all the way and the blood and cuts were certainly making it look like he was coming off worse. He looked the more talented, but it became a case of will Vs skill and Biendima’s will was giving Hatanaka’s skill all it could handle.
The action never really slowed down in the later stages, as the two men looked to state a case for them deserving the win. Both had to battle like stubborn bulls at times, whilst the fight captivated with a mix of fantastic action and drama.
This wasn’t an all out war, at high intensity, but it was a captivating back and forth battle. A really, really good fight, and a bit of a forgotten gem. Sadly however it was marred by very wide scorecards in what felt like a clear but very competitive, bout. The judges barely gave Biendima anything, despite his effort and successes through the contest.
Sadly the Pandemic saw Hatanaka sit on the sidelines for the rest of 2020 after this contest whilst Biendima was out of the ring for 10 months, before returning in December and being stopped, in a round, by the world ranked Christian Araneta.
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.