Following weeks of disappointment, boxing received the fight it needed (if not deserved) last Tuesday in Japan, writes Elliot Worsell
SOMETIMES, much like experiencing the kindness of strangers when you’re feeling at your lowest, a fight comes along that reminds you of why you bother watching the sport of boxing in the first place. It happens, usually, exactly when it is needed and, if not quite restoring your faith in a sport too dishonest to ever again trust, it does at least have some kind of cleansing effect.
The latest example of this phenomenon was Tuesday’s (November 1) light-flyweight fight at Japan’s Saitama Super Arena between Kenshiro Teraji and Hiroto Kyoguchi, which, following a series of fight cancellations, a performance-enhancing drug scandal, and egos running wild, arrived just in the nick of time.
Not only important in a competition sense, the all-Japanese fight between Teraji, 20-1 (12), and Kyoguchi, 16-1 (11), then exceeded everybody’s expectations, producing both one of the best rounds of the year (the fifth) and one of the best finishes of the year (secured by Teraji in the seventh). It was a fight so thrilling, in fact, and so hard-fought, it almost seemed a shame that boxing, as a sport, was the one to benefit from it. For boxing has done absolutely nothing to deserve a fight as good as Teraji vs. Kyoguchi this calendar year. Nor does it deserve fighters like Teraji, the WBC belt-holder going in, and Kyoguchi, the WBA belt-holder, giving every ounce themselves – blood, sweat and tears – when they receive from it so little in return.
Still, this is the sport they – and we – have chosen and we must accept the small victories when they come our way. Tuesday’s fight, make no mistake, was certainly one of those. It was a small victory produced by two small fighters and will, one hopes, live longer in the memory than the shenanigans that have further blackened the sport in recent times.
Because, as far as action goes, there could be no better demonstration of boxing’s beauty than Teraji vs. Kyoguchi. Down to business from the first bell, it was Teraji who settled the quicker, pot-shotting Kyoguchi with sharp right hands and countering him whenever he leaned forward from a crouch. His style was the more relaxed and fluid of the two and he used it to good effect, switching his attacks from head to body and landing one excellent right hand to the midriff in particular.
Kyoguchi, meanwhile, the tighter fighter, both in terms of output and defence, had to bide his time in round one, exploding only in the final minute when two right hands caused his corner to celebrate.
As if in sync, both boxers then upped the tempo in the second round, trading straight punches from the outset. Of the two, Teraji’s punches would usually get there quicker, of course, what with him possessing the faster hands and feet, but Kyoguchi still showed no signs of being dispirited. A good body puncher, he targeted Teraji’s body for the first time in round two and also increased his overall work rate with a minute left to run in the round. Yet that, while necessary, only created more openings for Teraji, who proceeded to spike Kyoguchi with his jab, over and over again.
In the third, Teraji took to setting traps and countering well with his right cross and also landed a fine right uppercut to Kyoguchi’s body. This then led to a straight right upstairs and a further flurry of shots, all of which started to move Kyoguchi.
That said, it was the jab that truly separated them, with Teraji’s the more varied and Kyoguchi’s often non-existent. This jab of Teraji’s would establish the room for the right cross to follow, as well as pave the way for a couple of left hooks in round four, which, again, moved Kyoguchi upon landing.
He didn’t seem hurt at this stage, but Kyoguchi, when under attack, could do no more than bob and weave and try coming back with a punch of his own. Too slow to land much of what he threw, it wasn’t until there were 30 seconds remaining in the fourth that Kyoguchi finally made some sort of breakthrough. Doing so with a right hand, which snapped Teraji’s head back, he all of a sudden had his buoyant opponent on the retreat, the sight of which gave Kyoguchi confidence.
It was after that the fifth came along and Kyoguchi, despite the good work he managed in the final knockings of the fourth, found his punch resistance had deserted him following a hard right hand from Teraji. That was the shot that sent Kyoguchi to the canvas, less than a minute into the round, and it was there he intelligently stayed on his knees until satisfied his head had cleared.
At that point, with two minutes left in the round, it was hard to see how he would survive, particularly given the manner in which Teraji attacked him on the restart. Nonstop, vicious, and merciless, Teraji went about his wounded opponent as though it were the final round and not the fifth and, such was the ferocity of the assault, the concern now was that he might punch himself out.
This appeared to be a concern justified as well when, with 30 seconds to go, a left uppercut and right hand from Kyoguchi stopped Teraji in his tracks. A potential game-changer, the two shots had brought Kyoguchi right back into the fight and he then poured it on Teraji, going on to land a big left hook which forced Teraji to the ropes.
Suddenly, despite seconds ago being in charge, Teraji appeared disorganised, confused, and perhaps even hurt. One thing’s for sure, he was certainly tired. So too was Kyoguchi, by the way, who, just before the bell, ended up tangling with his opponent and falling to the canvas alongside him.
A fitting end to one of the best rounds of the year, if the fifth was pure chaos, the sixth was a return to common sense (with both starting steadier) and the return of Teraji’s jab. As a choice, this ended up being a pivotal one, for it set up the right cross with which Teraji buckled Kyoguchi’s legs just 30 seconds into round seven and it also then helped set up the right cross he landed on Kyoguchi’s forehead later on in the round, which ultimately scrambled Kyoguchi’s senses, sent him slumping to the ropes, and finished the fight (the referee not even administering a count), this purest of fights.