Saturday, June 22, 2024  |



Best I Faced: Masamori Tokuyama

Photo courtesy of Masamori Tokuyama
Fighters Network

For much of the first half of the 2000s, Masamori Tokuyama was the WBC junior bantamweight titleholder and widely recognized as the premier 115-pound fighter on the planet, with eight successful defenses against top opposition.

Tokuyama (A.K.A Changsoo Hong) was born in Tokyo on September 17, 1974. His father owned a karate hall, which gave him a direct avenue into combat sports during his elementary and junior high years. When he was 15 years old, however, he entered senior high school and came across a boxing club.

“My brothers did karate and they had bigger bodies than me,” Tokuyama told through interpreter Tomoyuki Kataoka. “I thought that I could not overcome my brothers because of this but if I did boxing, I might be able to. Once I went to a training ring at school, I was fascinated by (the) exciting atmosphere and senior students breaking sweat. I made up my mind to join the boxing club.”

Although Tokuyama enjoyed a normal childhood, his Korean origins provided several personal and social issues that he had to overcome.

“I could not officially join amateur boxing games in Japan when I was a high school student,” he said. “At that time my school was banned because it was not a normal Japanese school.

“After becoming a professional boxer, I was defamed and slandered on the internet because of my origin. It hurt me mentally. (However) not only many Japanese people, but also many Korean/Japanese people sent me fan letters to cheer me up. That support revitalized me.”

Tokuyama had a short and undistinguished amateur career, going 12-5 (2 knockouts).

He graduated from high school and initially worked a day job but once he realized his heart was in boxing, he resigned and committed himself to the sport by moving to the city of Osaka in order to join a boxing gym.

A month after his 20th birthday, Tokuyama made his professional debut. He went on to win his first 11 fights, before dropping a 10-round decision to the vastly more experienced former strawweight titlist Manny Melchor in the fall of 1996.

The following year, he drew with Nolito Cabayo in a Japanese national flyweight title bout and dropped a technical decision in a rematch.

Tokuyama moved up to 115 pounds and quickly found his stride. After winning four fights, one against former titlist Hiroka Ioka, he defeated Pone Saengmorakot on points to win a regional belt.

Tokuyama won 11 world title fights

After one defense, he was given the opportunity to fight for the WBC title against In Joo Cho. After 12 rounds, Tokuyama received the nod by wide decision which, he acknowledges, was the proudest moment of his boxing career.

“After the bout with Cho, I was convinced that I won but I was anxious (about) the decision,” he said proudly. “However, when I was announced as a winner, I felt that all my efforts and strong training prior to the bout was rewarded in the form of the victory.”

As well as knocking out Cho in a rematch staged in South Korea, he twice outpointed the talented former titlist Gerry Penalosa, before setting his sights on popular Japanese standout Katsushige Kawashima. He won that fight on points but was shockingly floored three times in their rematch. The contest was halted at 1:47 of the opening round.

The pair would meet in a rubber match 13 months later. This time, Tokuyama rolled back the years to outpoint his adversary. Looking back, he feels that this win was hugely significant and a career-best victory.

“I lost against him in the previous bout and trained hard,” he said. “Until they announced it was a unanimous decision, I was anxious whether I would be able to win. I felt a big feeling of accomplishment.”

He fought just once more, turning back the challenge of 2000 U.S Olympic representative Jose Navarro in February 2006, before deciding to retire due to lack of motivation. He exited with a record of 32-3-1 (8 knockouts).

“I had done enough as a professional boxer,” he admitted. “I made four mandatory defenses during my reign as WBC world champion and fought with many boxers, including ex-top amateurs.

“In addition, doing boxing for a long time gives (the) body lots of damage. Therefore, in order to start a good secondary life after my retirement, I decided to stop prior to burning out physically.”

Tokuyama (right) with Hozumi Hasegawa.

Looking back, there is only one challenge Tokuyama would have liked, “It would have been better for me to meet with (three-weight world titleholder) Hozumi Hasegawa,” he said, before acknowledging. “At that time, he was regarded as the best boxer in Japan.”

Since retiring, Tokuyama has made something of a pilgrimage to his ancestral home of Korea to learn the language. During his time there, he encountered former opponent Cho, in what proved to be a powerful meeting.

Tokuyama explained, “Cho said that his loss against me was a big shame to him and he had not been able to sleep well after the fight since he was an elite amateur (who) had made consecutive (world title) defenses. He had never lost, been dropped to the canvas and knocked unconscious in his career prior to the fight with me.

“However, he also said to me that he was very proud of fighting with me. (That) I had done my best as a world champion with Korean origin and also sometimes (supported) the unification of North and South Korea into ‘One Korea’.”

Tokuyama, now 42, lives in Osaka and is married with two children. He owns a Korean Barbecue restaurant in the Tsuruhashi region of Osaka called Marutoku. However, he will be moving on from the restaurant in search of new challenges soon. He is a motorbike enthusiast and rides a Harley-Davidson Fat Boy, which he rode through Italy, as well as Route 66 in the U.S., with his father.

Tokuyama kindly spoke to about the best he faced in 10 key categories.


Dmitry Kirillov: Frankly speaking, the best jabber is me. I am convinced that my left jabs are the best. With the jab, I had always managed to prevail over any boxer. However, if I picked from my opponents, Dmitry Kirillov is the best. He had faster speed, however, he could not prevent me from going forward. He was not so powerful.


Gerry Penalosa: He was small, however, had a long reach. I could not land my punches against him if he guarded his face.


Katsushige Kawashima: Even if I landed my hard jabs, he continued going forward to hit me.


Kirillov: Kirillov hit me with his fast and beautiful straight punches in accordance with his amateur experience.


In Joo Cho: I am convinced that I had the fastest feet, however, In Joo Cho is second best. He was a top-level amateur. He had long (arms) and very fast feet, and (furthermore), he had a deep insight. Cho fought with Penalosa and won by out-boxing (him), and after the bout, Penalosa made comments to the press that Cho had not boxed but ran a marathon.


Jose Navarro: He knew very well how to keep a safe distance and (maintain) appropriate range to land punches. In addition, if he experienced a feint, he (was) never trapped by the same kind of feint again. Navarro made comments to the press on his loss against Katsushige Kawashima that (he) was convinced he beat (him). However, Navarro was perfectly beaten by Tokuyama, and therefore, if Tokuyama continued reigning as WBC champion, (he) would aim at one of the other world titles.


Kawashima: His power and force were enormous and difficult to compare with any other boxer I faced.


Akihiko Nago: In the fight, I was dropped for the first time in my professional career in the sixth round by his left hook. At that time, I lost my memory until the end of the bout. I managed to fight only on my fighting instinct.


Navarro: He was a southpaw boxer and had great and beautiful skill in accordance with his amateur career. He was good at throwing punches in combinations (three or four consecutive punches), even if he fought with any boxer with good defense just like me.


Penalosa: My face was swollen by him in our two bouts, though his face was also swollen by my punches. He was good at changing pace between offense and defense, and therefore, they were close bouts. He was stalking me with his horrible eyes just like a killer. I always felt that he was very hungry.

Tomoyuki Kataoka helped co-ordinate and translate this feature. appreciates his assistance.

Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him on Twitter @AnsonWainwright



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