Every fight tells a story. The more complex the tale, the more interesting each round becomes, a new chapter that propels the riveting narrative. Sometimes, as with Hozumi Hasegawa vs Hugo Ruiz this fall, the story mirrors the hero’s entire career arc. And even more rarely, an individual round reflects that story in microcosm, like a Russian nesting doll. That’s what we got in round 9 of Hasegawa vs Ruiz.
Here’s the big story of Hasegawa: Before his 2010 showdown with Fernando Montiel, Hasegawa, at that point a 10-year pro, rapidly became a darling for a U.S. boxing press hunting for hidden gems among the lighter weight classes in foreign locales. Hasegawa’s smooth boxing skills and five-fight knockout streak made it all look so easy — here we had a pound-for-pound talent, they said, even for some writers a top-5 pound-for-pound talent. Montiel brought it all crashing down with a swift, sudden stoppage victory over the Japanese bantamweight. Hasegawa would win his next fight, at featherweight, restoring some of his luster against Juan Carlos Burgos before another stoppage loss to Jhonny Gonzalez. He spent the years after rebuilding, mixing in a loss to Kiko Martinez.
Here’s the smaller story of Hasegawa vs Ruiz: Down another weight class, to junior featherweight, the 35-year-old Hasegawa came in the underdog to the younger, taller Ruiz. From the start, not unlike in the formidable performances that made Hasegawa a sensation earlier in his career, the old man was winning. The judges’ scorecards through eight rounds put Hasegawa ahead. Slight spoiler alert: Hasegawa eventually won, completing his career comeback. But, like the period of his fight life that saw his esteem plummet, Hasegawa would stumble first.
And here’s the smallest story of them all, the reason we’re here: Hasegawa vs Ruiz, 9th round. This should, by now, be familiar — Hasegawa began it well, riding a wave of cheers as the announcers read the judges’ scorecards at the arena in Osaka. For a minute and a half, he was in control. Then Ruiz cracked him with a bullwhip right hand and sneaky left uppercut. Hasegawa stutter-stepped. He tried to clinch; Ruiz wouldn’t let him. Backed against the ropes, with no other options and unconsciousness creeping up like the Grim Reaper, Hasegawa decided, guess I’ll just trade punches like I was choreographed for a pastiche of boxing like “Rocky,” rather than a real-life prizefighter. And what the hell. It actually worked. What’s more, it was fucking amazing to watch. Back in charge, Hasegawa got to the end of the round, which would be Ruiz’s last.
Ruiz would quit on his stool before the 10th. His corner would cite “nose pain,” according to one write-up, and trouble breathing. No one could be blamed for thinking the 9th round might have taken a mental toll on Ruiz, too. Here the younger man had an aging fighter rocked in the late rounds, and the maniac decided to swap haymakers to make Ruiz back away.
The 9th round put Hasegawa back on top in more ways than one. His 13-year-old son, also bigger than his pop, lifted him in celebration. This month, Hasegawa retired, apparently figuring that the summit’s a good place to call it a day.
It’s a good story, at every level. But even if you didn’t have that context,Hozumi Hasegawa vs Hugo Ruiz’s 9th round was a thrilling few minutes of boxing that stands on its own. Behold for yourself: The Queensberry Rules’ 2016 Round of the Year.
(Photo of Hozumi Hasegawa landing a left on Hugo Ruiz, via)