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Aussie Title Bids Part II: Lionel Rose vs Fighting Harada

Lionel Rose vs Masahiko Harada
Publish Date: 06/12/2017
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster
Rose jabs the shorter Harada

The Manny Pacquaio vs Jeff Horn bout sees a popular champion in Pacquiao place his title on the line against an unknown Australian contender. Australia has a rich boxing history, with many great fighters such as Jack Johnson, Archie Moore, Sam Langford and Emile Griffith having fought in Australia during their rise to the top. Throughout boxing history, similar matches have been made where popular world champions have defended their titles against Australian boxers, who were heavy underdogs as they were yet to make their mark on the world scene.

Lionel Rose vs Masahiko Harada

Japan’s legendary two-weight champion Masahiko “Fighting” Harada made the fifth defence of his world bantamweight championship against unheralded 19 year-old Aboriginal Australian Lionel Rose. The bout took place on the 27th of February, 1968, in Tokyo, Japan, where Harada was born and had lived his whole life. Harada had taken the title from the legendary, undefeated, Brazilian champion Eder Jofre in 1965 by split decision, that fight also taking place in Tokyo. Harada won the rematch as well and while both fights were close, there was less controversy in the rematch than the first contest. Jofre initially retired after the rematch but made a comeback three years later and retired with the WBC featherweight title after dethroning Jose Legra in 1973.

Prior to his reign as bantamweight king, Harada was briefly the world’s flyweight champion after he knocked out Pone Kingpetch of Thailand in 1962. He lost a rematch to Kingpetch three months later by majority decision (one of only three bouts Harada fought outside of his native Japan in a 62 fight professional career). Harada defended his bantamweight title three other times outside of the rematch with Jofre, beating previous Jofre challengers Joe Medel and Bernado Caraballo, as well as Commonwealth champion Alan Rudkin, all by clean, unanimous decision.

Lionel Rose was born in the small Victorian town of Warragul in Victoria but relocated to the Melbourne suburb of Essendon to train with trainer Jack Rennie. Rose turned pro at the age of 16 and by 18 was Australian bantamweight champion with a decision win over Noel Kunde in 1968. His fight in December of 1967 with former flyweight world title challenger Rocky Gattellari gave Rose national attention. Gattellari immigrated to Australia from Italy when he was young and learnt to fight after being picked on in school because of his Italian heritage. Rocky represented Australia in the 1960 Olympics but lost in his second bout to the eventual gold medalist Gyula Torok.

Gattellari turned pro the following year, winning the Australian title in just his fifth fight. He built a huge following in Sydney, particularly among Italian-Australians who loved him. Gattellari’s cocky style in the ring also upset other fans, who came along hoping to see him get beaten, which added to Rocky’s drawing ability. In 1965, Gattellari signed to fight Italian Salvatore Burruni for the world flyweight championship. Burruni had taken the championship from Kingpetch in 1965, but was stripped of his WBA title for failing to meet their number one contender. The fight took place in Sydney and Gattellari, who had broken his hand in training for the bout, fought bravely but eventually was worn down and stopped in the 13th round.

Moving up to the bantamweight division, Gattellari scored five wins to earn himself a shot against Lionel Rose for the Australian title in what was one of the biggest domestic fights in Australian boxing history. 12,000 spectators were on hand at Sydney Stadium, with many more watching as the fight was one of the first to be nationally televised, as the 19 year-old Rose handed Gattellari a frightful beating. Gattellari took heavy punishment but somehow stayed on his feet until the 13th round, when he was dropped twice, the second time for the count. Referee, former Australian lightweight and welterweight champion Vic Patrick, was heavily criticised for not stopping the bout sooner as Gattellari slipped into a coma after the contest. After three nights in St Vincent’s Hospital, Gattellari recovered and was released but his days as a contender were over.

This set up the title fight between Harada and Rose, who arrived in Tokyo on February 14 for the February 27 fight. Rose would be paid $7,500 for the bout while the champion took home almost ten times the challenger’s purse. Some pre-fight mind games unfolded as Harada’s younger brother, Ushiwakamaru Harada, himself a professional fighter, infiltrated the Rose camp as a sparring partner and sparred a couple of rounds with the Australian. The mind games failed to work as Rose easily outboxed the younger Harada.

In front of 10,000 hometown fans Harada wasted no time, immediately charging across the ring at Rose, almost catching him in his own corner, and unloading a combination as Rose spun off the ropes. Rose regained his balance and began making Harada miss, looking to land counters. Harada continued being the aggressor but Rose was far more accurate and effective, smothering the champion’s attacks or evading them as well as landing sharp punches with both hands. A three punch combination backed Harada up with 30 seconds remaining in the first round and seemed to gain Harada’s respect.

Round two was all Rose as he stayed off the ropes, controlled the distance the contest was fought at and made Harada pay every time he tried to close the distance, especially with the left hook, which Rose landed cleanly a number of times. Harada fought back in rounds three and four, using his jab to close the distance on his fleet-footed opponent, where he scored to the body with both hands. Rose had his moments, landing with counter right hands at the end of the third and early in the fourth that snapped Harada’s head back but was briefly stunned himself late in the fourth when Harada drove him into the ropes with two right hands. Rose fired back and the two traded hard body shots in centre ring. Rose looked to steal the fourth with hard left hooks but Harada backed him into the ropes with another hard right hand and had worked himself back into the fight.

Rounds five through eight were all Rose as Harada’s early aggression had worked against him in the middle rounds and his pace slowed dramatically. When Harada did close the distance, Rose got the better of the exchanges landing hard left hooks to the head and whipping in right hands to the body. Rose, who was warned in rounds two and three for hitting with an open glove, was deducted a point for a further infraction in the seventh but pulled further ahead in round nine when he put Harada down at the end of the round with a counter right hand, before tripping over the champion’s feet. Harada was up at the count of two but had fallen a long way behind on the cards heading into round ten.

The tenth was the closest round since round four. Harada worked his way inside more but Rose landed several hard punches on the inside and his footwork still confused the bantamweight champion. Rose showed his first signs of fatigue in round eleven but still had success from range but Harada was beginning to claw his way back into the fight and seemed to be the fresher of the two heading towards the championship rounds. Harada opened round twelve with a huge right hand but Rose stood his ground and returned fire with two hard left hooks to the top of Harada’s head. Using his jab and footwork again, Rose was back in control in the second half of the round but took another heavy right at the bell.

Round 13 was fought in the trenches and Harada got the better of it as Rose’s punch output dropped off. Rose did land an eye catching jab-right cross-left hook combination that snapped Harada’s head back but was otherwise outworked in the round and was barely holding on to his early lead. A right hand to the chin hurt Harada early in the fourteenth and Rose continued to back the champion up for the remainder of the round. Sensing he needed a knockout to retain his title, Harada stormed out for the final round and took the fight to Rose for the final three minutes. Rose never looked in any serious trouble and landed hard punches of his own and although he was thoroughly outworked in the round, it appeared as though he had done enough to cause the upset.

Rose’s trainer Jack Rennie was worried about the officiating because there were three Japanese judges and a Japanese referee in a fight with a popular Japanese champion in Japan. The judges, by margins of one, two and three points, scored the fight unanimously for Rose. In the euphoria in the Australian corner, Rose was tackled to the floor by his trainer. Rose became only the 2nd Australian to win universal recognition as a world boxing champion and the first Aboriginal to fight for or win a boxing world championship.

Harada was gracious in defeat, congratulating the new champion in the ring. It would be Harada’s last fight at the bantamweight limit. A string of four wins from five bouts gave Harada a shot at another Australian, Johnny Famechon, for the WBC featherweight title in 1969. Harada, fighting for the first time outside of Japan since the loss to Kingpetch, lost a controversial decision to the Australian titleholder when referee Willie Pep, former world featherweight champion, scored a narrow victory for Famechon in a bout that many felt Harada won. A rematch took place six months later in Tokyo and Famechon knocked Harada out, and through the ropes, in the fourteenth round of what turned out to be Harada’s last professional bout.

Harada, gracious in defeat

Rose returned to Tokyo for his first defence, taking on undefeated Olympic gold medallist Takao Sakurai and retaining his title by majority decision. A non-title bout with former Harada victim Joe Medel saw Rose make his US debut, rising from the canvas in round six courtesy of a Medel right hand. Rose won a close decision at The Forum in Inglewood, California, a popular venue for Mexican fighters in the 1960’s.

Rose returned to Inglewood for his next defence against top contender Chucho Castillo from Mexico. Rose built an early lead but survived some shaky moments in the later rounds when he was knocked down in the tenth round and had to fight off a barrage of shots from Castillo in rounds eleven and twelve. A fourteenth round rally from Rose, combined with his early lead, helped Rose retain his title on a narrow split decision. The crowd didn’t agree with the decision and threw glass bottles into the ring and set a number of fires in the stadium during the rest of the fight card. Police were unable to control the crowd and the rest of the card was abandoned.

A hometown defence against Commonwealth champion Alan Rudkin at Melbourne’s Festival Hall drew a huge home crowd to see Rose make the last successful defence of his crown with a split decision win. Rose returned to Inglewood to meet Ruben Olivares from Mexico, who sported a record of 52 wins, no losses and one draw with 50 wins coming by way of knockout. Rose fought gamely but had no answer for the relentless Mexican’s pressure and hard combinations and Rose was knocked out in the fifth round. Rose fought on but didn’t have the same success in the higher weight classes. He fought one more world title fight, losing a 15-round decision in Japan against Hiroshi Kobayashi for the WBC junior lightweight title before retiring in 1976.

Video: Lionel Rose vs Fighting Harada 27.2.1968 - WBC & WBA World Bantamweight Championship

Lionel Rose vs Fighting Harada 27.2.1968 – WBC & WBA World Bantamweight Championship


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