Lee Groves

10: Greatest 122-pound title fights

10. Kiyoshi Hatanaka KO 8 Pedro Decima – February 3, 1991, Nagoya, Japan

The 27-year-old Decima was making the first defense of the WBC belt he won in brutal fashion from Paul Banke, whom he stopped in four rounds three months earlier. Hatanaka was seeking redemption because he failed in his first title shot against WBC super flyweight king Gilberto Roman 29 months ago in the same Rainbow Hall arena where he’d be challenging Decima.

Hatanaka found out just how tough that task would be during the early rounds. A perfectly delivered one-two drove Hatanaka to a knee late in round one and the defending titlist dominated the proceedings in rounds two and three by buckling the challenger’s knees. But Hatanaka instantly turned the fight in the fourth when a scorching right dumped Decima on his behind. Decima tried to fight his way out of the crisis but the challenger wasn’t fooled by the Argentine’s bravado. A pulverizing right to the jaw and a follow-up hook floored Decima a second time in the round and moments later three consecutive rights produced a third knockdown. Hatanaka thought he had won the title on the automatic three-knockdown rule and began celebrating, but for this fight the rule was waived. A right to the ear hammered the titleholder to the canvas for a fourth time, after which the bell saved him from further punishment.

Decima somehow found the energy to stage a rally in round five as his sharp counters swelled Hatanaka’s left eye and the frustrated Japanese deliberately butted Decima during one of the clinches. A tremendous left-right-left opened a cut over Hatanaka’s injured eye later in the round and Decima controlled round six with a startling display of boxing skill.

Hatanaka regained momentum in the seventh with a shotgun jab that scored knockdown number five against Decima, after which the South American fought back defiantly. Moments later the pair produced the most thrilling and extended exchange of the fight, defying the punishment they already had absorbed. The crisp and compelling action continued in the eighth as both got in their share of licks. But Hatanaka had the final word as he countered Decima’s overhand right with a beautifully timed jab that caused the titleholder to fall slowly backward to the floor. Decima arose from his sixth knockdown but didn’t react to the referee’s command to raise his gloves. His glassy stare prompted referee Jose Guadalupe Garcia to call off a most explosive contest.

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