With much of the boxing world’s focus on two interim WBA title bouts in Las Vegas this weekend, Friday night’s potential classic match up in Japan between WBC featherweight titleholder Hozumi Hasegawa and challenger Jhonny Gonzalez has fallen off the radar. However, make no mistake, this is a good, competitive matchup.
There are some striking similarities between these two elite featherweights. Both had reigns as bantamweight titleholders. Hasegawa’s was particularly impressive, as he capturing the WBC title from reigning seven-year champ Veeraphol Sahaprom in 2005 and held it until running into two Fernando Montiel left hooks, resulting in a fourth-round TKO loss, just one year ago.
Gonzalez also captured his bantamweight title from a Thai tough guy in 2005, capturing Ratanachai Singwanch’s WBO belt with a bloody seventh-round TKO. Gonzalez’ title reign also included a 2006 decision victory over Hasegawa conquerer Montiel, a bout in which Montiel seemed very reluctant to engage against his lankier foe.
Both fighters were very large, weight-drained bantamweights who moved up out of physical necessity. Hasegawa didn’t even bother to stop at 122 after losing to Montiel, immediately challenging for the vacant WBC featherweight title and coming out on top in a scintillating 12-round battle against Juan Carlos Burgos, just four months ago in his homeland of Japan.
Gonzalez's path to a featherweight title shot has been a more methodical and challenging path. The Hidalgo, Mexico native took a couple shots at 122-pound titles along the way. In his first shot, he had the great Israel Vasquez down on the canvas twice before succumbing in the 10th round. It is a little disconcerting that another Japanese southpaw, Toshiaki Nishioka (who also fights on Friday night's card in Japan) was able to go into Jhonny’s backyard in 2009 and essentially end the fight with one punch, but the current WBC super bantamweight titleholder hasn’t lost since 2004.
Now with the great trainer Nacho Beristain by his side for a handful of fights and the further move up to 126 pounds, the 29-year-old veteran appears to peaking, notably with an impressive sixth-round stoppage victory over a very tough and determined Jackson Asiku back in September. Gonazlez seemed a little sturdier with a better defense to add to his devastating offensive arsenal.
This looks like a tougher fight to pick than the 5-to-1 favorite the oddsmakers have made Hasegawa out of the gate. If Gonzalez has handled his long journey overseas well, he’s got a shot at the upset. The fight is unlikely to go the full 12 rounds with both fighters having fight altering hooks. It’s essentially Hasegawa’s southpaw right hook versus Gonzalez’s left hook and perhaps whoever lands it first wins the fight. This should be a fun one for the fans.