Sidney Boquiren recaps Monday's thrilling middleweight brawl from Japan. For more Japanese boxing updates, you can follow Sidney on twitter: RingwalkNippon@Twitter
Like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed in the final minutes of their rematch, by the end of the eighth round of Monday night’s Korakuen Hall main event, the combatants remained upright only on the strength of their pride and instincts. Technique and skill had long been replaced by the basic desire to win. Blood, trickling off the face of each fighter, sprayed about the ring as each man launched and absorbed haymaker after haymaker.
Though Makoto Fuchigami and Koji Sato will never be mistaken for the Japanese equivalents of Rocky II's fictional characters, the drama that unfolded in the clash between OPBF and Japanese middleweight champions was befitting of a motion picture.
Fuchigami, a wiry southpaw stylist that lulls opponents into a trance with his peculiar rhythm and pesky jab, was a clear underdog despite defending his national crown three times. Regional champ Sato had sat at the top of Japan’s 160lb hierarchy for the majority of the past five years. The lone blemish on his record was his failed world title challenge back in 2009. Owning the advantage in size, power and experience, and running on a streak of five KO victories, Sato was expected by many to cement his position as the man in the division in quick, violent fashion.
Though the smaller lefty seemed to baffle Sato for the first few minutes with his unorthodox style, the OPBF beltholder finally caught his prey late in the second frame. Just as Fuchigami attempted a right hook, the 31-year old Teiken product connected with a right hand, stopping the southpaw in his tracks. A follow-up left hook seemed to pull the carpet out from under Fuchigami as he slowly crumbled to the canvas.
Sato continued to inflict damage over the next few rounds, and though he still had difficulty timing Fuchigami’s shifty movement, the regional champ was clearly landing the harder blows. Several times the veteran had knocked the southpaw across the ring and forced him to the ropes. He scored a second knockdown at the end of round six, first buzzing Fuchigami with a roundhouse right and finishing him with a left hook. Though it seemed that the challenger was running on fumes and could go at any moment, Sato also enjoyed a comfortable lead in points should the fight last the distance.
The national champ, however, simply refused to quit. Just as gymmate Nihito Arakawa had done in his OPBF title bout back in October, when he was down hard early and appeared to have no chance to mount a comeback, every time Fuchigami was sent to the mat, he got up and went back to work. The stringy southpaw had tasted Sato’s power and knew he could withstand the punishment. Though the former world title challenger may have had every advantage on his side, Fuchigami believed his strategy would pay off if he could take the fight into the late rounds.
Fuchigami had planted the seeds of his strategy from the start, stabbing at Sato with his southpaw jab and occasionally coming over with the left hand. Just as vulnerable to the stick as he had been against Felix Sturm, Sato rarely avoided Fuchigami’s lead blow. The lefty also made it a point to regularly go to the body as he knew the OPBF champ had not gone beyond six rounds in his fights over the past two years. Fuchigami felt that if he could just survive the first half of the bout, pounding the body to drain Sato’s stamina would pay off eventually.
Cracks in Sato’s invincibility appeared late in the eighth, when Fuchigami rocked him with a right hook and a series of left hands. He followed that with a few blows downstairs, sapping the regional titleholder’s energy even further. Sato mustered the little he had remaining to charge forward, but there was clearly less power behind his punches. Fuchigami switched his arsenal to an overhand left, snapping Sato’s head back violently as they landed. In the waning moments of the frame, the national champ had reversed roles and had Sato reeling toward the ropes.
As the ninth proceeded, Fuchigami looked the fresher of the two, and decided that round was his opportunity to end matters. Sato, who had seemed unbeatable just a few rounds earlier, was reduced to a fatigued, powerless fighter. He found himself pinned up against the ropes and unable to fend off the southpaw’s swarming attack. Finally, at the 1:26 mark of the round, the referee stepped in to rescue the depleted champion.
While either man would have a difficult time competing against a true world class contender, the bout was a pleasant surprise and exciting slugfest. Add Fuchigami (18-6, 9KO) to the list of fighters that showed tremendous heart in overcoming long odds to beat a bigger, stronger opponent.
The win allowed him to unify the national and regional titles and makes a potential fight against 4-division Japanese champ Tadashi Yuba or a rematch with Sato all the more intriguing.
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