By Joe Koizumi
Photos: Naoki Fukuda
Mexican star Fernando Montiel (41-2-2, 31 KOs), 118, astoundingly captured the WBC bantamweight throne as he came back from a losing pace, abruptly exploded vicious left hooks and badly hurt defending champ Hozumi Hasegawa (28-3, 12 KOs), 117.75, a Japanese hero making his eleventh defense, to cause the referee’s intervention at 2:59 of the fourth round on Friday in Tokyo, Japan.
Hasegawa, a Japanese southpaw, was dominating the proceedings thanks to his advantageous speed, as shown by the official tallies: Duane Ford (US) 30-27, Steve Morrow (US) and Daniel Van de Wiele (Belgium) both 29-28, all for the WBC champ. Positively stalking the retreating Montiel, Hasegawa might become a little too careless to avert the Mexican’s compact but effective countering left hooks. Hasegawa’s legs looked gone, as he momentarily became stationary with his back to the ropes, while Montiel kept raining a fusillade of punches to the groggy Japanese. The ref Laurence Cole declared a halt to save Hasegawa from further punishment just a second remaining in the fatal fourth.
It was a very shocking outcome for the capacity crowd of some 15,000 at the Nihon Budokan (Japanese Martial Arts Hall) where many historically great fights previously took place. It was Hasegawa himself that dethroned Veeraphol Nakhornluang-Promotion, then legendary Thai champ making his fifteenth defense, via upset unanimous verdict at the same venue five years ago. The Hall, however, witnessed Hasegawa’s long reign terminate after ten defenses (with his last five within a short distance) by Montiel’s coup-de-grace.
Despite our national hero’s sad defeat, it was a beautifully technical fight with speed, power and skills shown by the WBC champ (Hasegawa) and the WBO titlist (Montiel). Every second of their encounter attracted the sizzling audience without doubt.
Montiel, three-class WBO champ in the flyweight through bantamweight categories, displayed his ring-craft from the outset, averting Hasegawa’s opening rallies. The Japanese lefty started so positively that he connected with southpaw left-right combinations to the shifty and speedy Mexican, winning a point in the first round. As reported, Hasegawa looked sharp enough to outspeed Montiel, shorter by two inches, and occasionally landed long lefts to the stomach.
The second seemed a difficult round to score, as Hasegawa maintained the pressure with busy jabs and quick one-two combos, while Montiel sometimes attempted to connect with short counters to the aggressive Japanese. Montiel, moving to-and-fro, cleverly slipped and ducked against Hasegawa’s faster punches in southpaw stance.
Having defeated three Mexican challengers such as Geraldo Martinez (TKO7), Genaro Garcia (W12) and Alejandro Valdez (TKO2) during his reign, Hasegawa might think he had mastered how to cope with Mexican hombres. But Montiel wasn’t quite different from those victims, since he was a thinking boxer, trickily feinting and drawing for counters. Hasegawa might believed that he would outspeed and outleg the Mexican Cochulito (small wolf), as he actually averted Montiel’s abrupt shots from bizarre angles.
We hadn’t expected the dream fight of the WBC and WBO champs would finish so quickly. Montiel might quickly solve Hasegawa’s moving-in-and-out footwork, as he began to occasionally catch the target, though the Japanese shoved them off or blocked them with gloves well. A trick happened with only ten seconds left in the fatal session. Just after Hasegawa missed a big shot, Montiel accurately caught the WBC ruler’s chin with a well-timed countering short left hook. Hasegawa lost his equilibrium. Another left hook, very strong and accurate with good follow-through, penetrated the button of Hasegawa, who was staggering to the ropes. It was such a heavy, effective and powerful left hook.
Hasegawa almost hung himself with his left arm to the ropes—just like Max Schmeling against Joe Louis in their rematch at the Yankee Stadium in 1938. Hurriedly jumping in, Montiel bounced the face off with a half-hook-half-uppercut left with precision. The Mexican small wolf so beautifully connected with all accurate punches to the face that the third man Cole didn’t bother to intervene. Hasegawa showed a gesture to protest against the stoppage, but his eyes were dazed and his legs were gone.
It is true that there are some Hasegawa adherents that insist that the ex-champ would have been able to go on with the ref’s generosity to allow him to fight a second more to have a narrow escape for the next round. This observer, however, imagines that even if Hasegawa should continue fighting in the fifth, since he was seriously hurt in the closing seconds of the previous session, he wouldn’t have been able to turn the tide only to hit the deck under Montiel’s surge. In this regard, it might be a good stoppage.
Reviewing the Japanese fistic history, there were some examples like this result that a Mexican challenger dramatically dethroned a Japanese defending champion. In 1971, Ricardo Arredondo wrested the WBC 130-pound throne by dispatching defending titlist Yoshiaki Numata in ten turbulent rounds. Clemente Sanchez, in 1973, shocked our fraternity with an unexpected knockout of the WBC feather ruler Kuniaki Shibata (who had captured the belt by upsetting Vicente Saldivar in Tijuana, Mexico). Miguel Canto, in 1975, dethroned WBC flyweight defending titlist Shoji Oguma via hairline decision. In 1981, unheralded Pedro Flores captured the WBA 108-pound belt by disposing of previously unbeaten champ Yoko Gushiken in twelve upset rounds. Let’s stop recollecting the nightmares for our old fans. It just happened again.
It was also reminiscent of the legendary Wilfredo Gomez-Carlos Zarate affair back in Puerto Rico in 1978. Zarate was an aggressor, while Gomez was circling and averting Zarate’s opening attacks. All of a sudden, Gomez’s looping left hook caught the Mexican pride to deck him and the Bazooka impressively halted Zarate in the fifth round. Hasegawa, of course judging from the result, might be overconfident and careless due to his reportedly excellent condition, superior physique, plus a good start in the first three rounds. The 29-year-old Japanese looked much sharper than he had recently demolished five challengers in a row. A trainer of Hasegawa camp said, “Hasegawa had maintained his excellent condition through his training, so he might have been a little overconfident.”
When this reporter entered the winner’s dressing room, they were watching the replay of the dramatic fight on television. His promoter Fernando Beltran, father Manuel “Cochul” Montiel who fought in 1970’s, brothers Pedro and Eduardo, and many of TV Azteca and periodistas (journalist) were jubilantly analyzing why Cochulito could thus decisively defeated the Japanese pride. What a left hook! If not this reporter might describe it as if it looked like a Rocky Marciano’s against Jersey Joe Walcott. Hasegawa’s neck was almost torn by the left hook of the small 118-pounder.
Defeat is defeat. We must congratulate the Mexican winner Montiel. We simply admit Cochulito was a great victor tonight. The dethroned and dejected ex-champ Hasegawa gloomily said in the dressing room, “I wish to stay in the bantam division to look for a rematch with Montiel.” If so, if really so, we may look forward to watching the small giant Fernando “Cochulito” Montiel again here in the future.