Ted Sares looks at the career of controversial, talented Masamori Tokuyama / Chang Soo Hong in his latest feature at Bad Left Hook.
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It's a shame for a Korean not to speak Korean fluently and so I have decided to dedicate myself to studying the Korean language after retirement...
My dream is to set up a ring on the 38th parallel and fight a title match there.
I received many threatening messages that hurt my feelings," he said. "But I also received many encouraging mails from fans. I just want to live as a Korean boxer in Japan.
This former WBC world super flyweight champion's ancestors are from a village in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. They were taken to Japan as forced laborers during Japan's colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula in the first half of the 20th century.
Tokuyama (Hong) flew under the radar because of his perceived pro-Pyongyang affiliation with North Korea. He was born in Japan and is a third generation Zainichi, just one of some 600,000 ethnic Koreans who reside in Japan. Koreans make up the largest ethnic minority group and most of the permanent foreign residents in the country. The majority of Koreans in Japan are known as Zainichi which is a Japanese word that means "staying in Japan." Zainichi Korean refers only to long term, permanent residents of Japan who have retained their South Korean nationalities.
Tokuyama used both his Japanese name (Masamori Tokuyama) and real name (Chang-soo Hong), while declaring that he was a Zainichi Korean. He often took political controversy inside the ring, carrying a North Korean flag in his entrances and wearing trunks labeled "One Korea." The shorts with an embroidered outline of the Korean peninsula became Hong's trademark, and fans were accustomed to his shouting of "Korea is one" after every bout. Adding fuel to his political leanings, he often used the North Korean national anthem as his entrance theme. Needless to say, such displays of ethnic pride did little for his career in South Korea.
However, in a stunning act of reversal in 2007 and reflecting the fact that deep down he really had little interest (or perhaps understanding) in the complex politics between South Korea and Stalinist North Korea, he changed his nationality to South Korean and is now studying the South Korean language in an attempt to shed any trace of a North Korean accent, a low-status marker that often holds back North Korean defectors.
His Ring Accomplishments
As for his great accomplishments in the ring, he won the WBC super flyweight title in August 2000 by beating then undefeated In-Joo Cho (18-0 coming in) and defended the title eight consecutive times before he was stopped by Japan's Katsushige Kwashima in June 2004. However, he avenged this defeat by beating Kwashima regaining his crown again in Japan. Curiously, his second win over In-Joo Cho was in Seoul, the only time he fought outside of Japan.
In February 2006, he retained the title with a unanimous decision over the very capable Jose Navarro (23-1 at the time). He relinquished his title after this fight and announced his retirement. But later, he said he would continue if he could fight Hozumi Hasegawa (then 19-2) for the WBC Bantamweight title. However, Hasegawa declined the challenge so Tokuyama, citing lack of motivation, remained retired. Finishing with a mark of 32-3-1.
A review of Masamori Tokuyama's opponents reveals some astonishing information. In addition to beating Katsushige Kawashima in two of three bouts, he also had wins over former world champion Dmitri "The Baby" Kirillov, former world champion Gerry "Fearless" Penalosa (twice), former world champion In-Joo Cho (twice), Pone Saengmorakot (19-1) for the vacant OPBF super flyweight title, and former world champion Hiroki Ioka. Some might say a case could be made for Hall of Fame induction, but then others might say that it would easier for a camel getting through the eye of a needle.
Hasegawa, meanwhile, remains WBC bantamweight title having defended his title nine straight times since winning it from Veeraphol Sahaprom in 2005.