As an adolescent in the 1980s watching boxing while growing up in the South Bronx, I was unable to watch fighters from Asia and Africa. Technology was barely at the VCR level. As I mentioned previously, I had to rely on the writings of legendary Japanese boxing scribe Joe Koizumi through his boxing coverage of Asia in the monthly Ring Magazine. Thanks to Joe, I was able to follow the mercurial career of both the greatest fighter born in Korea and the the 30th greatest fighter of the last 45 years, Jung Koo Chang.
In 1980, at the tender age of 17, Chang turned pro without any amateur boxing experience at all. In less than two years, the “Korean Hawk” with his swarming and aggressive style, won his first 18 fights. Two of these wins included a third round knockout of former world jr. flyweight champion Alfonso Lopez and a hard fought decision win over another former jr. flyweight champion Amado Ursua. This would culminate in Chang earning a shot at the WBC jr. flyweight champion, the great Panamanian stylist Hilario Zapata on September 18, 1982. In front of his South Korean fans in Jeonju, Chang applied tremendous pressure throughout the entire 15 rounds versus the future Hall of Famer Zapata. Despite being the aggressor and dictating the entire fight, Chang lost a questionable decision. Not to be discouraged, Chang went back to the drawing board. Two wins and six months later, he obtained a rematch with Zapata, which once again was held in South Korea.
On March 26, 1983, in front of a rabid Daejeon city crowd, Chang battered Zapata for three rounds until referee Rudy Ortega mercifully called a halt to the fight. At the tender age of 20, Chang had become the WBC jr. flyweight champion after boxing for just 30 months. He would then go on a never before seen before run by both a Korean and 108-pound fighter.
In the next five and a half years, Chang would successfully defend his world title 15 times, a then record for the 108-pound division. Unlike today’s WBC titleholders, Chang consistently defended his crown against the top WBC contenders. He engaged a future 108-pound world champion German Torres in an exciting trilogy of title fights, all won by Chang. He also twice stopped another future world champion in Hideyuki Ohashi. There was another impressive title defense by the “Korean Hawk” as he beat future world champion Sot Chitalada via 12 round decision while fighting the last six rounds with a massive cut on his head. Finally, in the fall of 1988, Chang retired as WBC jr. flyweight champion. It would be a short lived retirement for the then 25-year-old Korean legend.
Just a year after retiring, Chang was forced to make a ring comeback due to severe financial difficulty. Rumors were that he was fleeced of his fortune by his wife. After a decision win over journeyman Armando Velasquez, Chang signed to face Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalez on December 9, 1989 in Daegu, South Korea. Chang was only 26 at the time and his rabid Korean faithful expected a return to glory. It was the battle of the greatest jr. flyweight of the 80s against a fighter who would go on to become the greatest jr. flyweight of the 90s. Chang, to the shock of his hometown fans, took a one-sided beating as the undefeated “Chiquita” won a lopsided 12-round decision. Unable to retire because of his financial woes, Chang, despite being noticeably past his prime, continued fighting.
After a win against journeyman Ric Siodora, Chang moved up to 112 pounds to fight the WBC flyweight champion Chitalada on November 24, 1990. By this point in time, I had finally been able to get three VCR tapes consisting of eight of Chang’s title fights when he dominated the 108-pound division. One of them included his gutty 12-round decision over Chitalada in their first fight. In the rematch, it was more of the same as the 27-year-old Chang looked to be the more effective fighter in terms of dictating the fight. Unfortunately, the judges didn’t see it the same way. The champion from Thailand escaped with a narrow 12-round majority decision. The disputed decision would earn Chang a second shot at the WBC 112-pound fight six months later against the man who dethroned Chitalada, Muangchai Kittikasem.
In one of the greatest fights in the history of the 112-pound division, Chang knocked the WBC titleholder from Thailand down three times going into the 12th and final round. Unfortunately, Chang was an old 28-year-old fighter who had shot his load. A desperate Kittikasem caught Chang in the 12th round and had him badly hurt when referee Tony Perez stopped the fight with only 24 seconds left in the fight. A dejected Chang finally retired for good with a record of 38-4 with 17 knockouts. Three of those losses came in world title fights after his initial retirement.
Jung Koo Chang was an incredible whirlwind of a fighter. He was a smaller version of Aaron Pryor, which made his nickname the “Korean Hawk” apropos. He dominated the 108-pound division like no fighter ever had before him. He fought every viable WBC contender during his five-and-a-half year reign as champion. Even past his prime, Chang twice came within an eyelash of becoming a two-division champion. A once in a lifetime fighter, it is easy to see why he’s the 30th greatest fighter of the last 45 years.