A funny thing happened way back in 2005.
You see, I’ve been a fan of boxing ever since the first time I watched Rocky with my old man; but up until 2005, there were no active Asian, or more specifically; Japanese fighters that caught my interest as being noteworthy in the sport.
The simple fact of the matter is that boxing simply isn’t all that popular in Japan, nor do I believe the Japanese physiology is all that well-suited for the sport in the first place.
We’re short, we’ve got stubby limbs, we’ve got a reputation for being pillow-fisted, and we have a tendency to grope/fondle others in public.
Bullshit aside, a major factor in the stunted progress of Japanese boxing, is the simple fact that the country is an island nation.
Combine the insane travel arrangements required to put fights together on Japanese soil between a foreigner and a national, with the public’s general lack of interest in the sport; and you have an equation that results in Japanese fighters rarely having the opportunity to test their mettle against the world’s best, nor having the in-house competition available to them to prepare them for said contests.
Needless to say, most of what I read (I never got to see an Asian boxer on TV until Manny Pacquiao’s HBO debut) about Japanese fighters consisted of Ring Magazine articles about them getting flattened by Mexicans, or worse yet, beaten by their countrymen in boring 12 round jab-fests.
That all changed for me when I discovered the Kobe based bantamweight, Hozumi Hasegawa.
Hasegawa first caught my attention when he dethroned long-reigning bantamweight champion, Veeraphol Sahaprom.
To put things in perspective, Sahaprom had held the bantamweight title since 1998, not to mention had fought Toshiaki Nishioka 4 times prior to this, drawing and decisioning Nishioka on every occasion.
While the man had the kind of bloated record that only Thai fighters can produce in this day and age, few could argue that Sahaprom was a stiff challenge to any bantamweight of the time.
Seriously though, only a Thai could be so audacious as to defend his world title against debuting fighters, or worse yet, 0-1 fighters; on multiple occasions no less.
Hasegawa’s victory over Sahaprom would serve as the first of many happy moments I would be proud to witness as a half-Japanese boxing fan.
For the first time in my life, I had found a contemporary Japanese fighter that was not only winning consistently, but seemingly growing and improving with every bout.
The funny part was, aside from being left-handed, Hasegawa never really seemed all that different or special compared to other Japanese fighters.
For most of his career he was a defensive minded out-boxer with with quick yet economical hands, sharp straight punches, and a good eye for counter-punching.
He wasn’t a powerhouse, he wasn’t a physical specimen, he was just a good Japanese fighter that, for whatever reason; was on a helluva’ winning streak.
Following his victory over Sahaprom, Hasegawa would go on to win their rematch by TKO, as well as defend the bantamweight title more than any other Japanese fighter in history, all while amassing 7 KO’s, more than he had accrued in his entire career up until 2005.
Despite all of my apparent dick-sucking of Hasegawa, I feel it’s worth mentioning that there’s another little element to my hero worship of the man.
You see, way back when, my brother actually went to live in Kobe for a year.
While he was there, he joined a boxing gym headed by trainer Senrima Keitoku, the man who would one day go on to train Hozumi Hasegawa.
While it’s a loose connection at best, for whatever reason, it means something to me to know that the same goofy old Korean-Japanese that my brother told me used to cane fat kids in his gym, just happens to be same one that trained one of my personal sports heroes to world champion status.
Like I said, it’s hardly a connection, but to me it means something special.
Anyway, before I let things totally veer off into weird touchy/feely bullshit, I think it’s time we actually got down to addressing the subject heading of this post:
Coming into the bout, the 2 men represented the top-tier of the division.
While a bantamweight tournament is currently being hosted by Showtime, a tournament which both Donaire and Montiel were invited to participate in; both opted out in favor of fighting each other due to the general belief being that they were “above” the majority of the other participants in the first place.
It was one helluva’ big deal, and a bout that I was very much anticipating.
On paper, both fighters were quick-fisted and fleet of foot, with Donaire having a slight edge in both categories, while Montiel held the more intangible advantages of caginess, fundamentals, and; arguably, tenacity.
Perhaps the most attractive aspect of the bout however, was the fact that both fighters were known to possess extraordinarily heavy hands for their weights.
Maybe not Carlos Zarate “heavy,” but heavy nonetheless.
Despite all this, my interest in this bout came not as a result of their skill sets or attributes, but rather as a consequence of their previous in-ring achievements.
You see, Fernando Montiel actually fought Hozumi Hasegawa this past April.
While Hasegawa looked to be on the way to a comfortable points victory in the early goings, Montiel caught him on the point of the chin with a savage left hook.
Thoroughly knocked onto Queer Street, or rather; 2 blocks down the road onto the even queerer street that is “Queer Manor,” Hasegawa got hung up on the ropes and was brutalized for several seconds longer before the match was stopped, his titles were stripped from him, and his winning streak and reputation were sent down the shitter.
Despite how much I hate to watch it, here’s a clip:
Regardless of what Hasegawa’s gone on to accomplish, coming back to win a bout 2 weight classes North at featherweight and generally staying out of trouble; my heart sunk the day I saw the man utterly destroyed at the hands of Montiel.
While I would go on record saying I bore nothing but respect for Montiel, after all not that many Mexicans are willing to fly all the way out to Japan just to claim an alphabet title, I would be lying if I said I came into the Donaire/Montiel bout not hoping to see the man knocked silly.
Seriously, I wanted to see Montiel knocked the fuck out almost as much as I wanted to see Ricky Hatton get Pacquiao-ed in every fight he ever had.
Fortunately, tonight I had Nonito Donaire AKA “The Other Filipino” to sub in for tonight’s Pacquiao-ing of Montiel.
From the opening moments of the fight, it was quite clear that there was a palpable disparity in overall speed between Donaire and Montiel.
Both guys looked a little pensive, an expected consequence given both fighter’s punching power; however Montiel seemed almost too relaxed, holding his arms outstretched as if expecting to deflect the majority of the incoming punches.
Not exactly a sound tactic when the other guy is clearly the faster fighter.
Despite this, only about 2 punches of note were landed in the first round, a counter left hook to the chin, and a heavy body shot, both of which were landed, quite authoritatively I might add; by Donaire.
In 2nd (and final) round of the contest, Montiel rushed out the gate, landing a few decent shots here and there, and generally looking to set the pace of the fight.
Then, as if answering my prayers; Donaire flattened Montiel as I have seldom seem a fighter flattened.
Charging in and pressing the action, Montiel let loose with quick straight right hand, unaware of the monster left hook that Donaire had begun the process of uncorking just a millisecond earlier.
In short, Montiel landed his shot, and fairly cleanly at that; however in the process of doing so he overextended himself and quite literally ran chin-first into the sock full of quarters that is Nonito Donaire’s left fist.
Splayed out on the mat, eyes unseeing, and brain thoroughly checked at the front desk, Montiel rolled about like a turtle on it’s back, a very drunk and/or “special” turtle; for half of the referee’s count.
Why the ref even bothered to count, or allowed Montiel to continue, even if it was only for a few seconds; is beyond me.
Despite my feelings leading up to the bout consisting of wanting to see Montiel punished, and my hero avenged; I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Fernando Montiel…
For about 2 minutes.
Seriously though, he’s a terrific fighter, that sadly doesn’t (and probably won’t) receive the press or fanfare that he likely deserves, but tonight, Nonito “The Master of the Revenge KO” Donaire was by far the better man.
Anyway, thus was the tale of the Azn Badger’s boxing hero, Hozumi Hasegawa; and his vengeance by proxy via the fists of Nonito Donaire.
Thanks for reading, I know it was long; but hopefully it was worth the trouble!