By Cliff Rold
Once it happens, no matter what else goes right or wrong in a career, the crowd will never forget. Even more, even as times passes and the moment becomes memory, it’s always there in the back of the mind.
Each time a big shot lands, they’ll wonder if this is the time he’ll be knocked out again. He could be any number of fighters over the years. This weekend, despite an opponent stopped three times already himself, the he in question is Japan’s Hozumi Hasegawa.
Arguably the biggest boxing star in Japan, Hasegawa appeared poised to cross to the world stage in April 2011. Matched with WBO Bantamweight titlist Fernando Montiel, on his home turf, all Hasegawa had to do was win.
He did not.
Instead, a massive hook from Montiel began the end of Hasegawa’s impressive Bantamweight reign in round number four. Now, as was the case last April, he’s matched with a fighter of proven titlist credentials whose back is against the wall.
If Gonzalez lands, can Hasegawa overcome or does he fulfill the silent wonder behind the eyes of the crowd?
Let’s go to the report card.
Titles: WBC Featherweight (2010-Present, 1st Attempted Defense)
Previous Titles: WBC Bantamweight (2005-10, 10 Defenses)
Weight: 125.75 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 119.3 lbs.
Hails from: Kobe, Japan
Record: 29-3, 12 KO, 1 KOBY
BoxingScene Rank: #8 at Bantamweight
Record in Championship Fights: 12-1, 7 KO, 1 KOBY
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 1 (Veraphol Sahaprom)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 1 (Fernando Montiel)
Title/Previous Titles: WBO Bantamweight (2005-07, 3 Defenses)
Weight: 124.75 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 125.65 lbs.
Hails from: Mexico City, Mexico
Record: 47-7, 41 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #10 at Featherweight
Record in Major Title Fights: 4-3, 3 KO, 3 KOBY
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 6 (Adonis Rivas, Ratanachai Singawancha, Mark Johnson, Fernando Montiel, Irene Pacheco, Mauricio Pastrana)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 3 (Israel Vazquez, Gerry Penalosa, Toshiaki Nishioka)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Hasegawa A; Gonzalez B
Pre-Fight: Power – Hasegawa B; Gonzalez B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Hasegawa B; Gonzalez C+
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Hasegawa B+; Gonzalez B
A couple things stand out in Gonzalez’s favor right off the bat. He’s slightly taller and he’s faced the better opposition. Despite the lengthy Bantamweight title reign of Hasegawa, it is Gonzalez who has enters with the greater experience. While the versions of Johnson, Pastrana, and Pacheco had all seen better days, only Pastrana was truly without resource at the point when Gonzalez bested them.
In other words, it wasn’t what it might once have been to defeat them but it was still more than just picking up name padding on the resume.
He can also still punch. Gonzalez, who once had the awesome Israel Vazquez on the floor three times, carries heavy hands with skill that can be overlooked. His jab is consistent and long, opening room for the right, the left hook, and a nice left uppercut. If he can measure Hasegawa with the right shot, he can get the Japanese veteran in trouble.
Gonzalez has to catch Hasegawa first.
A knockout streak overt the second half of his Bantamweight title run was mis-leading, especially now that he is two divisions higher. Hasegawa may have more pop than his overall knockout percentage indicates, but his best work is based of tremendous handspeed and accuracy, particularly with a laser of a straight left. He is more hittable than he has to be because he likes to be close enough to work, but his head movement is good. He can box and win here, minimizing the risks.
Could the lure of the attempt at a knockout be too strong? If Hasegawa reads too much into Gonzalez’s record, it could be. Of Gonzalez’s three knockout losses, two have come against southpaws like Hasegawa. While both Penalosa and Nishioka have some pop, like Hasegawa neither was a knockout artist.
Arguments about the best fighter in Japan include Hasegawa and Nishioka in short order these days. The allure of trying to keep pace with a countryman can never be discounted. The motivation of besting a man who defeated the man who defeated you cannot either. Gonzalez’s win over Montiel five years ago won’t erase Hasegawa’s loss, but it could ease the sting.
While viewers wonder if his chin will be dented again, Hasegawa can be expected to react with confidence here. In winning a vacant belt at 126 lb. in his last outing, Hasegawa faced a younger, larger man in Juan Carlos Burgos. Burgos carries a punch. The seventh round was particularly harrowing, Hasegawa rocked but surviving en route to a decision win in an excellent fight. If Gonzalez gets in trouble, will he react the same?
Or will past failures haunt him should trouble arise again?
As part of a tremendous tripleheader in Japan on Friday, Hasegawa headlines on a show that also features Nishioka and 130 lb. titlist Takahiro Ahoy. Hasegawa’s will be the marquee match as he seeks to make it two straight since the Montiel disappointment.
This fight should be worth the price of the tickets. Gonzalez, win or lose, often winds up being part of memorable boxing moments. Hasegawa remains one of the most watchable fighters in the sport.
The reason for that is Hasegawa’s speed and it is a strong advantage here. Gonzalez has the proverbial puncher’s chance, maybe even more than that, but he is unlikely to be able to outbox Hasegawa and Gonzalez lacks the singular explosiveness of someone like Montiel. Catching Hasegawa blind will take a lot of luck.
The safer bet is for Hasegawa to increase his Featherweight bona fides with a stoppage in the final third or a clear decision victory in an intense affair.
Report Card Picks 2010: 8-1
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]