By Joe Koizumi
Photos by Naoki Fukuda
Perennial contender Ryuichi Funai (27-7, 18 KOs), 115, finally wrested the Japanese super-flyweight belt when he kept battering IBF#14 defending champ Kenta Nakagawa (13-3-1, 9 KOs), 115, and impressively finished him at 2:59 of the seventh round on Wednesday in Tokyo, Japan. Can you believe their personal episode? A couple of high school classmates were avid boxing fans, and produced a boxing club in school together. Both entered paid ranks after their amateur experiences with Nakagawa belonging to Ray Sports Gym and Funai to Watanabe Gym in 2004. Twelve years passed and they, already 31, finally came to square off with the national belt on the line.
Funai’s career wasn’t so brilliant as he suffered a seventh-round TKO at the hand of future WBC bantam ruler Shinsuke Yamanaka in an eight-round bout in 2009, failed to win the OPBF 118-pound title via ninth-round TKO by Rolly Matsushita Lunas in 2012 and couldn’t wrest the Japanese 115-pound belt via majority nod to world-rated Sho Ishida last April. Nakagawa, a hard-punching southpaw, had a hiatus for six years after his third pro bout in 2005 and came back to ring action in 2011. Neither of them was Yamanaka or Inoue, but they diligently kept fighting to stay in the national ratings.
As Sho Ishida, the conqueror of Funai, renounced his national belt, there happened an elimination bout for the vacant championship with Nakagawa emerging victorious over Hayato Kimura last October. For the newly crowned Nakagawa, it’s a mandatory defense with his most intimate friend for fifteen years—Funai.
Nakagawa was a prefight favorite thanks to his hard-hitting ability with which he had been unbeaten for five years, decking ten wins including eight stoppages.
From the start the perennial challenger Funai was aggressive, throwing short but effective combinations and shaking up the champ in round two. The lefty champ fought back hard in the third, winning a point with southpaw lefts to the face. The tide busily turned and Funai took back the initiative in the fourth. After the fifth, the JBC’s open scoring system announced the interim tallies: 49-46 twice for the challenger and 48-47 for the champ.
Funai, in round six, furiously turned loose, pinning the champ with a flurry of punches to the neutral corner with the champ absorbing much punishment. The seventh witnessed Funai batter the southpaw champ so effectively that he finally dropped him with a solid right to the button. Nakagawa, a handsome lefthander, attempted to regain his feet and resume fighting, but his knees miserably buckled as if his body was a melting wax figure. A towel came fluttering in from the corner to save the loser from further damage. The JBC rules say a towel-tossing during the referee’s counting should have the result registered as KO.
Prior to the dramatic finish, Funai was leading on points with 59-55 twice and another tally was 57-57. The referee was Katsuhiko Nakamura.
In the dressing room they embraced each other, saying ”It’s our greatest experience to be able to fight in the professional ring—with the national title at stake—because we started boxing together in the same school. We came up to here by encouraging each other.” What a beautiful story!
Promoter: Flash Akabane Promotions.
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