Bantamweight Unification Bout on April 30
On April 30 in Tokyo, WBC Champion Hozumi Hasegawa makes his 12th title defense against WBO Champion Fernando Montiel. This is a hardcore fan’s delight. Enthusiasts of the lighter weight classes eagerly await this bout, which represents the most significant bantamweight fight in recent memory.
Let’s break down why these are such great fighters:
Hozumi Hasegawa is 29. He began his career at 3-2 and has since gone 25-0. He defeated long-reigning Thai Veeraphol Sahaprom for the title and beat him again in the rematch. Hasegawa was the only man to defeat Sahaprom from 1996-2008. He has 11 defenses under his belt. Most remarkable, however, is his recent power surge. After beginning his career at 23-2 (7 KOs), he has scored 5 straight knockout defenses. For a fighter fans once expected to go 12 rounds, it has been shocking to see him take only 10 rounds to beat his last 5 challengers, who had cumulatively only been stopped three times before.
Fernando Montiel is 31 with a pro career dating back to 1996. He is one of the more underrated fighters of recent years, having distinguished himself as a world-class practitioner for almost a decade. He is super-classy in the ring—a real technician who can also bang. His only two losses were by majority and split decision. The still-green Montiel was out-slicked by Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson in ’03 and lost to Jhonny Gonzalez in a jump to bantamweight in ’06.
Montiel seems more prepared to take on the best bantamweights in the world now than when he stepped up to fight Gonzalez several years ago. Gonzalez, one of the bigger-framed bantamweights, was on quite a roll back then and seemed much bigger than Montiel in the ring that night. This will be his fifth straight fight at 118 and Montiel has grown into this weight more naturally than in ’06. But the 5’4” former WBO flyweight titlist will still be the smaller man in the ring on April 30, giving away a couple inches in height and reach to the Japanese star.
Hasegawa has the better record at bantamweight. Montiel’s record was built at 115 and he has yet to defeat a truly high-quality opponent at this weight. He has, however, shown good power against the foes he has faced recently. After the Gonzalez fight, some felt Montiel might have already reached the apex in his career, but he has experienced a nice little renaissance in the last few years. There is an air of renewal in his boxing and it has shown lately in his performances.
Hasegawa vs. Montiel Preview
This is a career-defining fight for both men. When looking back on their careers, the winner of this fight will be able to point to this as a particular high point in his career. This is a difficult fight to size up, though. Sometimes, the records of fighters show opponents of similar styles that can serve as a guide to how a fight will play out, but not here. Hasegawa has never fought a clever and hard-hitting technician like Montiel, while Fernando has never faced a flashy, lightning-quick fighter capable of turning your lights off with one punch like HH can.
Both fighters are very rugged so I don’t expect them to cave from the punches that have been flattening their recent opponents. Montiel is even slicker than he is given credit for, able to control distance and gauge where he should be positioned at all times. Those veteran moves will serve him well. Hasegawa’s opponents have not been hard for him to find and I expect him to find Montiel a more difficult proposition. Hasegawa doesn’t rely on his power, though. He operates at a fast clip and fights with an abundance of “want to.” His fighting spirit is remarkable, as he really looks like he enjoys what he is doing.
Hasegawa vs. Montiel Prediction
I picture a tense, scientific, and fast-paced battle. I think Hasegawa will use his length with Montiel generally in the role of the pursuer. Montiel will get off to a quick start and dump the champion in the second round with a left hook for a flash knockdown. Hasegawa will increase his focus and begin to increase his output, managing to time Montiel with enough straight lefts from the southpaw stance to keep him honest. After eight rounds, it will be even.
Montiel will step up his aggression. The pace over the last four rounds will be bristling as both men struggle to nose ahead. Hasegawa will time Montiel coming in with his patented quick-trigger left that will force Montiel to regroup. Montiel, clever as always, will still manage to snake in enough shots to keep it close, doing the more proletariat work with Hasegawa’s work being more eye-catching.
Prediction: Theoretically, the site of this fight could help Hasegawa. He will at least enjoy the comfort of fighting at home. Whether he is extended more favorable scoring conditions is another matter. I expect Montiel to earn the Japanese crowd’s respect and be treated fairly on the scorecards. In a razor-close fight, I sense Hasegawa will edge home the winner by close unanimous decision in a fight that elevates the status of both men.
The fight will be good enough to warrant a rematch. Maybe they can do it again, this time closer to Montiel’s stomping grounds.
Pick: Hozumi Hasegawa by unanimous decision.