One good thing about the lack of quality big name boxing match ups in 2014 — perhaps the only good thing about it — was that it meant we had to look to unorthodox and sometimes unfamiliar outlets for entertainment. And indeed, most of the best fights of the year came on networks many boxing fans don’t get, or involved fighters they were generally unfamiliar with, or came in fights that weren’t supposed to be competitive. None of that mattered to either Francisco Rodriguez, Jr. or Katsunari Takayama.
It didn’t matter that Rodriguez and Takayama fought in the least-cared-about division in boxing, strawweight, weighing in at an almost comical 105 lbs. The weight, or lack thereof, had no effect on the nuance of sport, the beloved style contrast pointed to by some as proof of the divine nature of pugilism. Rodriguez was like a man slashing through the jungle with a machete, enveloped by a cloud of stinging insects at all times. Takayama moved his hands and legs ceaselessly, but Rodriguez took his stings effortlessly. Even so, the million swats were enough to sometimes direct Rodriguez backward when Takayama rushed forth on the attack.
It didn’t matter that the bout was a unification, even if they tend to be rare in lower weight classes for a variety of reasons. The effort put forth by both men was world class, and did not need to be validated by belts or rankings. There were times where Rodriguez looked downright overwhelmed by Takayama’s output and never-ending smacks, but he did turn the tables on Takayama, unleashing a caffeinated assault of nonstop one-two’s, freezing Takayama up, repaying him for the annoyance.
But a serious change in output would have taxed Rodriguez prematurely, and he seemed to recognize that, and he settled back down quickly either out of caution, or exhaustion. Takayama used quick turns and artsy pivots to either lessen the impact of Rodriguez’s punches or avoid them entirely. His hands were nearly always moving, which meant that for Rodriguez, not getting hit wasn’t an option. He managed to rise above Takayama’s hum of activity, throwing weaker blows while his opponent was punching before opening up with harder shots, often when Takayama tried to bounce away
It didn’t matter that 2,000 miles away, Danny Garcia was getting more mainstream attention for trouncing huge underdog Rod Salka on Showtime. Rodriguez-Takayama operated below the conscious frequencies of your average boxing fan anyway. This fight needed no fabricated narrative, and no shadowy puppet master to praise in the post-fight interview. That would have been mere distraction. The sheer volume, will and fortitude that it took to counteract what Takayama was doing was incredible, and it sapped Rodriguez, even if he caught second and third winds from round to round. For his part, Takayama was nearly tireless.
When the bout ended, both of the small men had filled the large gap created by sub-par action in the rest of the sport. It added to the attention Roman Gonzalez, Juan Francisco Estrada, Naoya Inoue and Amnat Ruenroeng got on behalf of the lower weight classes in 2014, and was world class in the way that it showcased the best of both its participants.
In some other year, Rodriguez and Takayama might not have been able to wrangle a Fight of the Year award. They’re too small, they’re unknown, and they’re not American. In 2014, it didn’t matter.