American and English boxing writers spent Monday covering Tyson Fury's move to ESPN and Top Rank, for obvious reasons:
It means the top three heavyweights in the world are allied with three different platforms and a sequel involving two of 'em is imperiled -- although when Deontay Wilder manager Shelly Finkel says he doesn't know whether Showtime has the rights to a Wilder-Fury rematch, you have to assume that is less ignorance than evasion, and that sooner rather than later, the home of "Billions" and "About Billions" will be emptied of "Bronze."
In which case spare a thought for Showtime Sports honcho Stephen Espinoza, who's had to sell in Wilder a bizarrely bad hype-man -- one whose most notable press moment was his witless claim on radio he wanted one of his opponents to die at his hands.
(People also love copy about how much money everyone else accrues, no matter how monied they are themselves; so for those so inclined, I provide a single stat that's cute now and hopefully never Nostradamus-esque in the future: Fury is set to make $20 million per fight, or the amount of money his namesake Mike Tyson owed when he declared bankruptcy in 2003.)
But what if I told you while Arum solicited Fury's signature, a boxer actually did beat a man to death with his hands, one of them clutching a karaoke remote? And what if I told you the victim in this sensational case was himself a former sumo wrestler?
Let's head to the Far East -- so far we reach Western Japan -- the city of Oyabe in Toyama prefecture, to be precise -- a place whose main attraction to tourists is an outlet mall -- the region's version of Woodbury Commons.
It's May, 2010. This is the semi-windup -- eight rounds in the super-bantamweight division. We're gonna eye the 5'7" fighter in sequin-shimmery black trunks with silver trim -- whose insouciance -- dropped hands, up-jab, pot-shots, torso-twists as a form of defense -- recalls Naseem Hamed's.
And doesn't register as sinister -- just dumb, for now.
Meet Tomoaki Hashizume, a 21-year-old with an odd record of 12-2-2 -- odd because those two losses are split decisions -- which means four of his first 16 bouts, a quarter of his record, have ended in actual ties or near ones. He could be undefeated, had he engaged in a little less stylin' and profilin' and a little more actual work.
You will hear cheering in Japanese for the other combatant, in the red and black harlequin trunks, who's actually Argentinean but currently involved in a four fight swing through Japan and teamed up with a local coach. But more on him in a moment. Watch some.
Depending on how far in you went, you might have seen the injurious sequence at 2:19 -- when Hashizume dips to his right and the opponent throws the perfect counter left hook over Hashizume's bent side, a well-timed, tight, inner-pocket scythe -- the perfect check on the cocky Kansai man's wide movement.
Of course, this being boxing, the opponent is rewarded by an injury either to his hand or elbow -- either way, the pain forces him to shake out his arm before resuming. This isn't fair, but it's also entirely consistent with the pug's past and future. His perdition from day one.
Speedo-up, señores y señoritas -- we're entering esoterica, and we're ain't merely wading.
This is a Triple Lindy Dive.
The unnamed man in the ring in the red-and-black trunks?
He's Nestor "El Torito" Paniagua -- whose "little bull" nickname reflects not only his featherweight frame but his lineage -- he's the son of Nestor "Pototo" Paniagua, who competed from 1981-1998. "Pototo" is local slang for "cutie" (I've been informed) and is bestowed upon pets -- and if I seem uncertain, it's because this isn't the Latin America -- linguistically or culturally -- one normally encounters in boxing.
No, both father and son -- two pugs named Nestor Paniagua -- hail from Esperanza, which literally means "hope" and was founded as an agricultural colony in Argentina 160 years ago by 200 families from Western Europe (Switzerland, Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and Luxembourg).
This is dairy country -- the Wisconsin of Argentina -- and its language reflects its contrived, polyglot origins.
And yet, the Paniaguas have played a more familiar role in the fight world than this history would have you believe. The older of the two was an admittedly mediocre soccer player as a teen -- until he saw his first fight at 16. That led him to abandon footie and visit a nearby boxing gym, whose studs included this hairy-chested, '70s slugger who would've made a fine extra in "Boogie Nights":
In reality, that's Mario Matthysse, as in the father of renowned welterweight Lucas Matthysee, who lost to Pacquiao last July and was likely conceived by a mere glance of his father's eyes toward his mother, sometime around the taking of this most-interesting-man-in-the-world arms-up victory shot.
Stay with me.
Pototo Paniagua sees Mario Matthysse and decides he wants to be a boxer, too. But he's picked up the game late -- he'll later claim to have amassed an amateur record of 90-1, which I can't refute but hesitate to accept (maybe he faced some of the cattle). His professional career then took Pototo to historic Luna Park in the capital city of Buenos Aires, where middleweight champ of the world Carlos Monzon invited him to stay at his apartment so the kid could save money.
It's unclear whether Pototo actually took up Monzon on the offer -- he speaks repeatedly about having always been a loner and seems the kind of rural farmer who'd feel insulted by a city slicker's offer, however sincere. But Pototo and Monzon did go out together in Buenos Aires, bringing along a guitar to strum.
This is where things get somewhat weirder -- but I warned you. Pototo's progression in the pros can't even be called that -- he was a journeyman with a known (recall that word) record of 21-26-2 when he retired 20 years ago. Of those 21 wins, he won just two bouts by KO. He was knocked out nine times.
But that doesn't mean he didn't serve the sport.
What he did in the pros was establish a solid reputation for losing against fighters building resumes. His opponents had a collective 766 wins, against only 244 losses, when they faced him. Yeah, 766-244 -- the numbers boggle the mind -- as does Pototo's pivot following retirement. He used to play guitar while hanging about the rural gym in which he trained, and in the city, he strummed along, as aforementioned, with Carlos Monzon.
So Pototo, after putting the gloves down, picked up a guitar and started playing what his compatriots dubbed "cumbia" (but was distinctive from the genre of the same name in Colombia). The timing was fortunate: Cumbia regained popularity as the sound of lower-class dance halls in the early '90s -- and it had remained part of folkloric culture in the country's interior since the '60s.
Enter Pototo's act, called Nestor Luis y la Banda de los Pibes ("pibes" being another colloquialism, this one for "kids" or people who just manage to stay young -- and if I'm getting my santafesina Spanish wrong, lo siento, Argentina -- cry for me).
What does a boxer paid to lose sound like?
Like a legend, that's what:
So the voice you're hearing: that's Pototo's -- but wait, who's the fighter in the footage? It can't be Pototo -- he wasn't broadcast on TV that recently -- at least not as a boxer (his music, featured in a popular rural TV program, is constantly heard in his hometown on reruns).
You guessed it -- that's Pototo's son, "Torito" -- the Baby Bull I mentioned a bazillion words ago, the Argentinean fighter who wound up swinging through Japan for a four-bout tour, including one against a guy who committed murder in a karaoke room over the weekend.
So let's slow it down. Pototo's son decided to go into the family business of in-ring professional losing. I'm not saying he took dives -- given his competition, he didn't have to -- he was always facing a star. If you already know well how this process works (I hope there are matchmakers reading this, at least), you might be amazed at the extent of it in this singular case.
Torito Paniagua, of Esperanza, Argentina, (the farming colony of Hope) faced these future champs and challengers:
Anselmo Moreno (champ), Yuriorkis Gamboa (champ), William Gonzalez (lost a majority decision to champ King Kong Agbeko), Diego Oscar Silva (lost to champ Scott Quigg), Rey Vargas (a current super-bantamweight champ), Matias Rueda (lost to current featherweight champ Oscar Valdez).
Vargas fought just last weekend, and Valdez fought two weeks ago. They're young. Undefeated. In their primes.
They dined on Torito, his father's romantic tunes playing elsewhere in the world, their historical involvement with Monzon and Matthysse notwithstanding. But Torito, pictured below, did win his match the night he threw the crisp counter hook in Oyabe, Japan.
That bout was already nearly a decade ago -- not even a footnote in boxing's long historical ledger. In fact -- and I hate to stop a man from making money -- Torito is such a peripheral figure that he's now fighting off the radar of the establishment completely, in boxing's shadow (yes, even a sport seemingly devoid of all light can get darker).
According to the editors at Boxrec, Torito hasn't entered the ring since 2016 -- a good thing, as he turns 40 years old this year. Except that Torito has been competing in little wars in his hometown -- sanctioned by a bizarre local authority calling itself the "World Pugilism Commission." Last May, in a bout you won't see in any mainstream record books, Torito won that sham group's vacant featherweight world title by beating a Brazilian named Cid Edson Bispo Ribeiro, who turns 45 tomorrow (Wednesday).
Pototo -- paid loser and lyrical performer -- hugged his son after the decision was announced. And maybe that's karmically right -- maybe their manner of acquiring a win, the fact their title is not one, is well-deserved considering all the painful nights father and son accepted for the sake of a paycheck. At the end of 2018, Torito posted on Facebook this illustration of himself and the logo of the phony sanctioning body (okay, they're all phony, but the four acknowledged authorities at least do a better job pretending to be meritocratic):
The caption Torito added (in Spanish): "Anyone can be a chapter, but not all can make history."
Which brings us, after an indulgent detour into time and space that might interest me alone, to our Japanese boxer-turned-killer, 橋 詰 知 明 -- Tomoaki Hashizume, whom Torito actually defeated in Japan, and whose Twitter account, nine years later, has been the main source of images since he allegedly beat a sumo wrestler to death in a karaoke joint with just his hands and a remote control (called a "rimokon" in Japan, incidentally) over the weekend, while Tyson Fury was merely signing a contract.
Both stories are worth covering -- one conveys a sense of life at the top (and we know Fury worked hard to reach it) -- while the other reminds us of who's sacrificed along the way -- minor leaguers without a chance, whose genes doomed 'em from the jump.
Not that Hashizume's alleged beat-down in a Matsubara City club of Sosuke Asada, 40, should be chalked up to sporting failure or depression related to head trauma. The latter could be the case -- not that it would exonerate him. Actually, all three of his losses being by split decision, Hashizume can boast of a decent, swift, successful pro run that saw him eat few shots, relatively speaking.
There's something perverse in the fact that Asada, the victim, is the guy who died of a brain bleed.
As to the rationale, Hashizume, now 30, has told police only that he was drunk at the club and doesn't remember the assault, but he's innocent (he allegedly also broke the nose of a friend of the sumo wrestler's). Obviously, there was a dispute -- news reports say Hashizume objected to the sound coming from the karaoke machine.
During his '90s run in the third-tier of sumo, 6' 0" Asada competed in more than 250 matches, and at one point weighed 290 lbs. His attacker competed at 122.
As Carlos Ghosn has learned the hard way, the Japanese justice system doesn't presume a suspect's innocence in any meaningful fashion and prides itself repugnantly on a 99 percent conviction rate -- which all but proves, statistically, Japan engages in the jailing of innocents daily.
Tomoaki Hashizume doesn't appear to fit that category, though tabloid fare in Japan often takes melodramatic turns.
Which returns us to that one clip of Hashizume boxing. A fan of his posted this 2010 footage on YouTube three years after the bout. The person who posted the clip -- whose handle is "Golden Boy Gym" -- wrote a long message five years ago that ended (in Japanese) with this disappointed query: "What are you doing now, Hashizume? I wanted you to be more active as a talented player."
Last night, following his arrest, some Japanese online surfer added the first comment to the page since:
The fan running the account quickly deleted the comment but not before I saw it and copied it down:
"Tomoaki Hashizume has become a murderer."