(Photo via NTV)
Though Mayweather-Mosley is undeniably THE big fight this weekend, there's another very meaningful fight taking place at 6am EDT on Friday morning from Tokyo. WBC 118-pound titlist Hozumi Hasegawa will defend his belt against WBO beltholder Fernando Montiel at the Nihon Budokan. (Montiel's belt is not recognized in Japan, and thus is not up for grabs.)
Hozumi Hasegawa v. Fernando Montiel - Bantamweights, 12 Rounds
Hasegawa (28-2, 12 KO) and Montiel (40-2-2, 30 KO) stepping into the ring together almost seems bizarre. It's so rare that a top-flight fighter who isn't from Thailand goes over to Japan to fight one of their reigning best that it still seems like the plug is going to be pulled on this fight any minute. (Knock on wood.)
It was on, reportedly. Then Bob Arum said it was off, because he had big plans for Montiel that had to do with Eric Morel, who "earned" a shot at Montiel with a very debatable victory over Gerry Penalosa in February. Or maybe Arum would have Montiel fight Jorge Arce, because people just can't get enough of watching Jorge Arce be thrashed by superior fighters in his young old age. For the record, as of now it appears Arce and Morel will fight in June. The winner (if it happens) probably will fight Montiel later this year, no matter what Montiel does against Hasegawa.
Give credit to Montiel. It seems like the 31-year-old Los Mochis product really, really wanted the fight with Hasegawa. No doubt the money is good. This should do a terrific house and very good TV ratings in Japan. But it seems like Montiel, after years of up-and-down performances, wants to knock the main man off his perch.
Hasegawa is indisputably regarded as the world's best bantamweight. Some wondered when this fight was first announced whether or not the Ring title could be put up for grabs, but Montiel is rated "just" No. 7 by The Ring, a ranking I feel is perfectly fair, personally. We have Montiel ranked seventh as well, behind Hasegawa, Yonnhy Perez, Anselmo Moreno, Joseph Agbeko, Nehomar Cermeno and Penalosa.
But it's not as though I can't see Fernando Montiel putting in an upset performance in this fight. I can. I can see it easily, in fact. Hasegawa is a very good fighter to be sure -- I have him ranked in the pound-for-pound top ten, as he's one of those guys who's gotten better and better as he closes in on 30 years of age. His KO rate is middling at best, but his last five fights, he has destroyed the opposition. Nobody has made it past the fourth round with him.
One of those victims was Alejandro Valdez. Hasegawa dispatched of him in two rounds. 11 months later, Valdez was putting a serious beating on Montiel in Mexico on a Top Rank show, and if it weren't for the officials "blowing" the call that night, Valdez would have won the fight in three rounds. He deserved to have his hand raised, but Montiel left with his belt. After that, Valdez gave Nehomar Cermeno a hell of a fight in December, losing when he was finally knocked out in the 11th round of a very entertaining brawl.
So Alejandro Valdez gave both Montiel and Cermeno all they could handle. And Hasegawa took him out in two?
Hasegawa's skeptics point to his somewhat empty record as a reason to doubt his greatness. It's valid enough. If you count Valdez, which is borderline, Hasegawa's really good win totals are still a little light. He has two victories over Veeraphol Sahaprom, who could sure as hell fight. He also beat Genaro Garcia back in 2006, the first of a string of losses for Garcia. Other than that, there are solid guys like Vusi Malinga and Simone Mauldrottu.
But if we're going to question Hasegawa's legitimacy, why not Montiel's? Montiel, too, has beaten many "good but nothing to get excited about"-type guys, like Luis Maldonado, Z Gorres, Luis Melendez, and so on. His best win is against either Gorres or Martin Castillo, the latter a dominant fourth-round knockout on the Pavlik-Taylor II undercard. Montiel's last fight, against a woefully undercooked Ciso Morales, was a farce, not that I'm blaming Montiel for that.
My point is simply that both guys can fight. When Montiel is on his game, which isn't every time out, he can be a wrecking machine. Hasegawa has recently become a knockout artist. This has all the makings of a big-time, fantastic fight.
Hasegawa's double-fisted attack of recent fights could spell doom for Montiel, but Montiel being the best opponent that Hasegawa has had since Sahaprom (four years and eight fights ago) could find Hasegawa overconfident in his abilities. Hasegawa's recent defenses have been impressive, but also have hand-picked and fairly soft, even with the Valdez blowout looking better now than it did then. Montiel is a challenge, at least on paper, and a legit contender at 118. He's experienced, he's heavy-handed, and he seems to be determined. There'd be no good reason for him to travel to Japan and fight Hasegawa if he wasn't coming to be the best he's ever been.
If Montiel is in good form, this is going to be a hell of a fight, and the upset becomes a real possibility. If he's not, Hasegawa will pummel him. Hasegawa is aggressive and a very good finisher, an accurate puncher even at his wildest who measures his shots very well. No matter which version of Montiel we get, though, I think Hasegawa will be too good for him. There is the chance that Hasegawa is overconfident, but he knows he's in with a better class of fighter than he has been recently, so I wouldn't count on that. Hasegawa UD-12
Toshiaki Nishioka v. Balweg Bangoyan - Junior Featherweights, 12 Rounds
Nishioka (35-4-3, 22 KO) puts his WBC 122-pound title on the line against Bangoyan (15-0, 6 KO), a 23-year-old Filipino who has not come close to fighting someone on Nishioka's level. Last year, Nishioka stopped Genarco Garcia (TKO-12), Jhonny Gonzalez (TKO-3) and Ivan Hernandez (RTD-3). Bangoyan may well have a future, but the future isn't now. Expect Nishioka to roll. In a way, this fight reminds me of the aforementioned Montiel-Morales fight. Nishioka TKO-5