There’s something about the lower weight divisions that make for stunning fights. Perhaps the lack of mainstream attention forces smaller fighters to fight that little bit harder for recognition. Perhaps, but it cannot be ignored that the best tend to fight one another more often in the lowest weight categories.
When Mexico’s Francisco Rodriguez Jr (16-2-1/11KO) and Japan’s Katsunari Takayama (27-7/10KO) met in Monterrey in August they did so to unify alphabet titles in a fight featuring two of the minimumweight division’s finest. What followed were twelve punishing, give-and-take rounds like none other in 2014.
2014 Fight of the Year: Francisco Rodriguez Jr UD12 Katsunari Takayama
Both men practically ran out at the sound of the opening bell. Immediately Takayama established himself as the boxer in this clash of styles, using non-stop footwork to get in and out of range. Rodriguez, meanwhile, bided his time, loading up on big shots.
In the early stanzas Takayama did most of his work in between the moment Rodriguez set up huge hooks and the moment those hooks landed. The Japanese was more focused on volume of scoring shots to head and body while Rodriguez began to land his harder punches with greater frequency in the second round.
Having stumbled on a Rodriguez left hook towards the end of the second, Takayama found himself on the seat of his pants in the third, courtesy of a Rodriguez left uppercut. Takayama refused to entertain notions of wilting in the face of Mexican heat, however, vivaciously returning fire.
By the end of the third Takayama had forgotten he was ever on the canvas, forcing Rodriguez on to the retreat with sheer force of will and drawing blood from the Mexican’s nose. Rodriguez gave a brief smile, a flicker of happiness amidst the violence. These were the first signs that a competitive fight was about to become a legendary battle.
Come the fourth and it seemed Rodriguez had finally received the memo regarding punch output. Ignoring power for the first time, he swarmed Takayama with volleys rather than single levellers in a first attempt to go punch for punch with his energetic, smaller foe. His resurgence was founded on disdain for what was coming back at him – Rodriguez had all but given up caring about Takayama’s punches.
The action continued apace, with Takayama’s output causing swelling on the face of Rodriguez, who continued unabated. By the ninth, Rodriguez had given up any pretence of wanting to box and may as well have asked for a phone booth to fight in.
Takayama was still landing, but he was finding it harder and harder to keep the hungry, young Mexican at bay. Rodriguez was urged on by an effervescent crowd while his cornermen wildly waved their towels in order to convey a constant need for urgency.
Takayama raced out at the start of the 10th, almost as if wanting to take Rodriguez by surprise, bundling him to the canvas. It was no knockdown, but Rodriguez nonetheless felt shamed, and responded by chasing Takayama around the ring for the next three minutes.
No letup was to be had through the 11th. Indeed, one woman in the crowd could be seen visibly wincing. Rodriguez was in the ascendancy with the end in sight, but both men refused to stop trading even as the final bell approached.
The final round was merciless. The two men planted their feet, grimaced and swung away with abandon. Rodriguez can only have been spurred on by the sight of Mexico’s greatest ever boxer – Julio Cesar Chavez – on his feet at ringside with his arms in the air and a huge grin on his face. The icon was pleased with his young countryman’s efforts.
With both fighters visibly drained the scorecards would be hard to hear. They always are when fights of this quality lack a more decisive conclusion. Scorecards are to great fights what penalty shoot-outs are to great soccer matches. One man had to lose, and it was decided that man would be Takayama. The judges’ scorecards read 116-111, 118-108 and 115-112, all in favour of Rodriguez, who wept whilst being lifted into the air by his team.
Rodriguez was fighting grown men professionally in his mid-teens and, now 21, he had won 2014’s best fight. Also establishing himself as one of the best fighters at minimumweight in the process, it is hard to determine at this point where his ceiling is.
In contrast, Takayama is a veteran of nearly a decade at the top of the sport. It remains to be seen how much losing such an epic contest takes out of him, but it must be said that if this fight turns out to be his last hurrah at boxing’s top tier, what a fight to bow out on.
In a close second place for this award, Robert Guerrero’s finer punch-picking (see main picture) earned him a decision win in a gruelling barnstormer against the ultra-aggressive Yoshihiro Kamegai.
Lucas Matthysse and John Molina shared two knockdowns apiece before Matthysse gradually ground Molina down to an 11th round stoppage in a brutal battle.
Terence Crawford knocked down Yuriorkis Gamboa thrice on route to a nine-round stoppage victory in a thrilling clash of unbeaten lightweights.