The Surprising Story Behind His Appearance in “Hajime no Ippo
On November 27th, a bout to determine the challenger for the Japanese featherweight title will be held at Korakuen Hall. Daisuke Watanabe, who will be competing in this fight, has gained a new fan base by appearing in the popular manga “Hajime no Ippo”. For Watabe, who is aiming to become the Japanese champion, the 27th will be a touchstone.
A four-round boxer is granted a professional boxing C-class license, a six-round boxer becomes a B-class boxer, and an eight-round boxer or higher becomes an A-class boxer. the A-class boxer tournament has been held every year in each weight class since 1986. The winner of the tournament was Daisuke Watanabe, who won the featherweight division two years ago.
Two years ago, Daisuke Watanabe won the featherweight division of the 2019 tournament. Hajime no Ippo” has been serialized in “Shonen Magazine” since 1989, and volume 133 will be released on December 17, 2021. It is an extremely popular manga that has sold a total of 97 million copies. The protagonist, Ippo Makunouchi, is a former Japanese featherweight champion who specializes in in-fighting and has fought many great battles. He is so hard hit in every fight that he has retired from the sport and is now on the path to becoming a teacher.
The author, George Morikawa, was approached at a press conference in April 2019 when the “Hajime no Ippo 30th Anniversary Featherweight Tournament” was announced to offer a second prize to the tournament winner.
The bantamweight Class A tournament was to be called God’s Left, which was the catchphrase of former WBC lightweight champion Shinsuke Yamanaka, and the winner would receive a wristwatch as a supplementary prize from Yamanaka. A reporter asked me, “Is there no extra prize for featherweight? I told him that I hadn’t prepared anything. Then someone asked me, “How about having him appear in Ippo’s work?” The players got excited when they heard that.
I thought I said, “It’s difficult to do that because of the storyline,” but my voice was drowned out in the press conference. But my voice was drowned out at the press conference. The promoter said, ‘That sounds great! That’s why…. The players also wanted to participate! That’s the truth of the matter. I was wondering what I was supposed to do, even though the extra prize was decided by the flow of events…” (laughs) (Morikawa)
The Road to the Challenge
The tournament consisted of four Japanese players and one each from Korea, China, and the Philippines, for a total of seven players. All of them were fans of “Hajime no Ippo”.
Daisuke Watanabe, who has been a fan of “Hajime no Ippo” since his second year of junior high school, was ranked 6th in the Japanese featherweight division at the time. When he first encountered the manga, he was a member of the soccer team, but after entering Sapporo Technical High School, he joined the boxing club. He fought in the ring as an amateur until he graduated from Doto University, with a record of 40 wins (17 KOs) and 14 losses.
I was a goalkeeper from the second grade until I graduated from junior high school. I was selected for the city team, but I was 162 centimeters tall, so I thought there was no future for me even if I continued playing soccer. So I chose boxing because of Ippo, who I loved. His never-give-up mentality and the way he fights honestly have touched my heart many times. As for other characters, I like Volg Zangief, a boxer imported from Russia, and Jason Ozma, who competed with Ippo for the Rookie of the Year title. Their personalities are very appealing. I’m attracted to the fact that they live in a foreign country, Japan, and yet they are aiming for the top in boxing, and that they work hard for the people around them who support them.
His coach, who was an alumnus of Sapporo Technical High School and graduated from Kinki University, was a strict social studies teacher. When I entered the school, there were ten members of the boxing club in my grade, but by the time I became a junior, there were only four.
The training was hard for three years. Not only that, but they didn’t accept red marks in schoolwork either. It’s outrageous to think that boxing is the only thing you should be doing. I was taught that high school students should not neglect their studies, which is their main duty. He told me, “When you are having a hard time, take another step or two. It’s the same thing with your studies.’ I still remember those words.
While devoting himself to club activities, Watanabe also worked diligently on his schoolwork, and in his final year he was appointed captain. In his final year, he was named captain of the team and finished in the top eight at the Nara Inter High School.
I never thought I would finish boxing in high school,” he said. After graduation, I thought about getting a job and becoming a professional boxer like Ippo. However, my coach advised me to go to university if I could, so I decided to enter Doto University, which offered me a special scholarship for boxing.
I decided to enter Doto University because they offered me a special scholarship for boxing.
Compared to my high school days, the club was much looser; there were only four seniors, two of whom I had fought in high school and won. I recorded videos of fights and sparring sessions, and got into the habit of thinking about boxing on my own. Of course, I also learned by watching videos of famous fighters frequently. I used the boxing of Vasyl Lomachenko, who won three weight classes from featherweight, and Guillermo Rigondeaux, who won two weight classes, super bantam and bantam, as reference.
In his junior and senior years, he participated in the National Athletic Meet and the All Japan Championships, where his best finish was eighth in the bantamweight division.
I want to test myself as a professional.”
While living at university, his desire to test himself as a professional became stronger. He had a chance to meet Daisuke Naito, a former world champion from his hometown, and when he asked for advice, he was told that Watanabe Gym was the place to be. Ryoichi Taguchi, who had fought Naoya Inoue for the Japanese title, and many others were in the crowd.
I participated in the Tokyo National Athletic Meet in my senior year of college, and the trainer at Watanabe Gym saw me and said, ‘That’s good. I moved to Tokyo at the end of March 2014 and started preparing for my debut fight while living in a dormitory.
I practiced while working part-time as a window washer in a high-rise building. My immediate task was to get used to the heat of Tokyo and to build up the stamina to be able to fight as a professional.
On November 7 of the same year, he made his professional debut in the 56kg weight class, winning by TKO in the 4th round. In his second fight, he won by TKO after his opponent threw in the towel from his corner in the second round.
But I lost two in a row from there. In the third fight, I was leading by a full mark until the fourth round, when I got tired and got hit with a left hook that put me down and I lost by KO. It was the first time I had ever been down, so I was in a hurry, and as soon as I stood up, I was wobbling on my feet, so the referee stopped the fight.
In my fourth fight, I got lost in the fight and lost the points and lost the decision.”
After the two losses, Watabe took a fresh look at his boxing.
After the two losses, Watabe reexamined his boxing. “If I use my legs and get into a rhythm, I can distract my opponent and make use of my strengths. But if I keep doing that, I get tired. So, to avoid getting tired, I trained myself to dodge punches with my bodywork, instead of just using my legs to dodge their attacks.
I also worked on my stamina, sparring for eight rounds over and over again, followed by sandbagging and mitt training. I also increased the number of times I ran and dashed. The harder I pushed myself, the more mentally stable I became.
At that time, he received an offer from Kawasaki Shinden Gym, “Is there anyone who can fight with our Takeya Furuhashi? I had nothing to lose.
I thought, “I have nothing to lose, and this is my chance to move up. Furuhashi had already fought for the Japanese Super Bantamweight title, and I thought, “Okay, I’ll do it! I thought.
I would set the tone of the fight and do my own boxing. I don’t try to match my opponent. I focused on those two points. In the first round, I landed a left hook and scored a point. But in the third round, I got hit with a left hook and fractured the orbital floor in my right eye. It looked like my opponent was doubled over. Anyway, it was painful. I felt like the fight should be over right now.
Then, during the interval, the trainer said to me, “You want to lose again? After I managed to finish the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds, he told me to use my legs more, and I did, and I still had some energy left. After eight rounds of self-discipline, I was the winner by a 3-0 decision.”
In his first main event…
With the win over Furuhashi, Watabe is now ranked #7 in Japan. Despite the damage, he was able to step up his game by beating the top fighters in the country. From there, he won four in a row, and as a prelude to challenging for the Japanese title, he was set to fight in his hometown of Sapporo. It was his first main event.
But Watabe was the loser in just 40 seconds in front of his family, friends, and former mentor. He was hit with a right hook and lost by KO.
In fact, it was getting tough for me to get down to 55.3kg, the limit for the super bantamweight division. On top of that, I caught a cold. …… I was really disappointed to lose like that in my hometown, and I couldn’t do anything for about three weeks.
I thought about it a lot, but the conclusion I came to was, “I can’t finish like this. I was not even ranked in Japan, so I asked the chairman, “I’m going to eat the top rankers! I asked the chairman for a match against Reiya Abe, and it was decided. At the time, he was ranked #2 in Japan, #7 in OPBF, and #11 in IBF. People were afraid of him because of his southpaw background and skill level, so it was hard to get a fight. I wanted to fight a southpaw who was a top ranked fighter and who would take the fight right away. I’ve fought a lot of southpaws in my amateur career, so I’m good at it, and I wanted a fight with a strong fighter to get back on top.”
On March 2, 2018, in his tenth professional fight in the ring, Watabe tried to dive under Abe’s jab and fight at mid-range, but couldn’t quite get into his pocket and lost the decision.
And so to the “One Step Tournament”.
With four wins and two draws, he entered the “Hajime no Ippo 30th Anniversary Featherweight Tournament.
I wasn’t sure for a moment if I would enter the tournament or not. I’m only aiming for the Japanese featherweight title. If only no-ranked fighters entered the tournament, I would not be able to challenge for the title. Even if I can fight the top rankers, if I lose, I lose my chance. But it was a time when I couldn’t find another opponent, so I decided to do it because the timing was right and I could have three fights in the tournament. From then on, all I could think about was winning.
In the first round, an accidental bout left his opponent injured and unable to continue, and after four rounds of scoring, Watanabe advanced to the next round.
In the second round, I tried to kill his fast and heavy jab and avoid his left hook. In the final, I used my legs to land a straight right hand. In the final, I used my legs and hit him with a straight right hand. I could feel my growth in the One Step Tournament.
George Morikawa, who witnessed Watabe’s three fights, said.
I watched all the fights, and all the fights in the featherweight tournament were great, so I felt like I had to thank him.
I have known Daisuke Watanabe for a long time, and I felt he was a good boxer with a good punch. However, there were times when he chased his opponent like a wild boar and ended up being ducked. He’s very similar to Ippo. I have talked to him several times, and I have the impression that he is a kind boy. I could see the similarities between him and Ippo in such a way.
I think this Ippo tournament has made him grow a skin or two. He fought a completely different type of fighter, and I’m sure he gained a lot of confidence from winning that fight.
As a “bonus” for winning the tournament, Watabe’s appearance in “Hajime no Ippo” appeared in the March 17, 2021 issue of Shonen Magazine.
It was published in the March 17, 2021 issue of Shonen Magazine. “Since I fought for my life and won, I can’t just appear as a passerby, can I? I had to give him a proper name and a line. I also thought about …… showing him as an opponent of Manabu Itagaki, who is Ippo’s junior. In any case, since I was going to portray him as a character, at first I thought it would be a bit daunting, but I was so excited by the fierce battle after fierce battle that I seriously contemplated it while watching the tournament.
Watabe spent his days restlessly thinking about the fact that he would be appearing in a work that he has loved reading for almost 16 years. I looked up when Shonen Magazine would be delivered to my local convenience store and when it would be in the stores, and I bought it first thing. I bought one to read, three to keep unopened, and five copies of the 132nd volume, which was released on September 17, 2021.
I’m so happy. An enlarged copy of the magazine is displayed in front of the student entrance of Sapporo Technical High School, my alma mater, saying, ‘Daisuke Watanabe, who graduated in 2010, was featured in the magazine. My brother also promoted it on social media. I couldn’t lose because I was treated like this.
Click here to purchase volume 132 of “The First Step
The fight on November 27th is a return match against Reiya Abe, who suffered a bitter defeat in March 2018. Watanabe, who is currently ranked No. 1 in the Japanese featherweight division, and Abe, who is ranked No. 2, will face off in a match to determine the challenger for the same title.
Last time, I fought at his distance. I should have taken another half step or one step forward. I’m not going to wait for him, but I’m going to box him. And when I get close, I’m practicing to be able to connect with combinations, not just single shots. Of course, I will win.
Morikawa also said, “I thought Daisuke would win.
I think Daisuke will win, so I’m looking forward to watching. I think Daisuke will win, and I’m looking forward to seeing it. His four losses came at a time when he was not yet a complete boxer. Don’t worry about it, it’s just the beginning.”
What kind of fight will Watabe show? Will he be able to win the Japanese title like Ippo did?
Reporting and writing： Soichi Hayashi