WBC World Champ Fights for One Korea From Northern Slant

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WBC World Champ Fights for One Korea From Northern Slant

When Hong Chang-soo upset the then-unbeaten South Korean Cho In-joo to win the World Boxing Council (WBC) super flyweight title in Osaka, Japan, last August, the first words out of the new champion's mouth were not, "I'm going to Disneyland."

Instead, Hong, a Korean-Japanese, cried, "Korea is one! Korea is one!" with the mostly ethnic Korean crowd and waved the flags of both North Korea and the Korean Peninsula. He also led a rendition of the North Korean song "We Want Unification."

Better known to boxing fans by his Japanese name Masamori Tokuyama, Hong, 27, is using the promise of Korean reunification as a motivating factor to reach the heights of his profession. So far, it's worked like a charm.

He is also hoping his newfound fame and his desire for Korean unification will spur more exchanges between the two Koreas. After winning the fight, he spoke of staging a match in the U.N. truce village of Panmunjom, situated along the heavily guarded border that divides the two Koreas.

Hong (23-2-1) is eyeing a rematch on May 20 with Cho (18-1) either in Pyongyang or in South Korea. If the two do fight in the North, it will be the first world championship match hosted by the Stalinist nation and is expected to lead to more inter-Korean sports exchanges.

Proving his victory was no fluke, Hong beat WBC fifth-ranked contender Akihito Nago last December in a unanimous decision in the first defense of his world title.

Though the boxer says he hopes for peace between the Koreas, his loyalty lies with the North. He holds neither South nor North Korean nationality; he is classified as a citizen of "Chosun," or the single Korea that existed before 1948.

Hong is a member of Chochongryeon, a pro-North Korea organization of ethnic Korean residents in Japan. Thus, the North was quick to embrace Hong as its newest favorite son.

Last September, he received from the North's Supreme People's Assembly the title of "The People's Athlete," the highest sports honor in the Stalinist nation.

Though taken aback by his yellow-colored hair, the North Korean people have showered Hong with praise and admiration since his win. He has emerged as a hero and helped to spur a boxing boom in the North, said the Chosun Shinbo, the official newspaper of Chochongryun.

His prowess in the ring shone early as he won the Tokyo high school boxing bantamweight championship. After graduation, he planned to work for his father's industrial waste management business but the call of the ring beckoned.

He went to Osaka alone to train and made his professional debut in 1994. Two years later, he claimed his first major title by taking the flyweight division of the All-Japan Professional Boxing Championships. In 1998, he catapulted himself to No. 1 in Japan with a fifth-round technical knockout of former world champion Hiroki Ioka.

A year later, he won the vacant Oriental and Pacific Boxing Federation super flyweight title with a 12-round split decision over Thailand's Pone Saengmorakot.

by D. Peter Kim

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