When was the last time you saw such a frenzy?
Even though there were still more than seven hours to go before the main card match between Tenshin Nasukawa and Takeru Segawa, the Tokyo Dome which is the venue for “THE MATCH 2022,” was packed with martial arts fans to the point where there was no room to stand. Tickets were sold out soon after they went on sale, and although we had heard rumors that there were almost no invited guests except for the ringside entertainers, it was still a big surprise that the venue was filled from the first match.
The reason was that most of the 15 kickboxing bouts were lightweight bouts, with no clashes between heavyweight fighters expected to produce spectacular KO scenes or so-called “colorful” fights, making for a card that was very much to the liking of the general public. The reason for this was that the card was very much to the liking of the martial arts experts.
In the end, 56,399 people attended the kickboxing event, which is not a major sport. In addition, more than 500,000 people paid to watch the PPV on Abema TV. As a result of Fuji Television’s withdrawal from terrestrial broadcasting, there was an unexpected ripple effect of a new way of viewing martial arts gaining popularity.
Not since the late 1990s had there been such an outpouring of enthusiasm for Japanese martial arts, such as for “2002 K-1 Premium Dynamite!!”.
Of course, it is the cohesive power of the two main fighters that has created this phenomenon. The three-weight K-1 champion, Takeru Segawa, and the undefeated kickboxer, Tenshin Nasukawa, who has been fighting mainly in RISE and RIZIN, were long expected to fight each other, but it was thought that they would never meet. Everyone had been eagerly awaiting the climactic match between these two fighters.
The 30-year-old Takeru has 41 fights, 40 wins (24 KOs), and one loss. On the other hand, Tenshin, now 23 years old, has won all 46 of his fights (32 KOs).
The only similarity between the two fighters is their record, and their personalities and fighting styles are in stark contrast. After the long entrance of the two fighters, they had a face-off in the ring, where Tenshin was shaking his body slightly while Takeru was staring at Tenshin. It was truly stillness and movement.
And even after the bell rang, the stance remained the same.
Tenshin took the lead. The southpaw Tenshin effectively used his right jab as if he was diving from a distance and connected with his footwork. Tenshin faced Takeru on his sticky legs, and Tenshin kept his guard up, looking for an opportunity to take the fight to the ground.
Tenshin, who took the initiative with one-twos and flying knee kicks, hit a left counter to Takeru’s jaw with 10 seconds left in the first round and took him down.
In a three-minute, three-round fight, one down is fatal. With nothing left to fight for, Tenshin moved forward in the second round. However, the fight was stopped due to an accidental bumping where Takeru’s head hit the right eye area of Tenshin. After that, Tenshin kept outboxing and clinched the onslaught by Takeru, who was trying to close in on Tenshin.
With nothing left to fight for, Tenshin grinned and went unguarded in the third round, provoking Takeru, but Tenshin did not take advantage of the challenge and calmly dealt with the situation. All that remained was to use the time to finish the fight.
The decision by the five judges was 5-0 in favor of Tenshin. From the side of Takeru, it was a complete defeat, but it would be churlish to complain about the content of the match. The match of the century took place without foul play, and the winner was clearly decided. That alone was enough to fill the hearts of everyone.
Even the expressions on their faces after the match were in stark contrast. When asked how he felt about the match, Takeru suddenly choked up and wiped away tears.
“I am truly grateful to the people who worked to make this match happen, to those who supported me, and to my opponent, Tenshin. I am truly sorry to the fans who believed in me, to the K-1 fighters, to the team members at my gym, and to those people at…”
The loser, as if trying to squeeze out words of gratitude and apology, continued, “That’s all,” and ended the press conference, leaving the venue limping on his right leg.
The winner, on the other hand, was quite innocent, and talked in a light-hearted manner.
“I was seriously thinking of dying if I really lost,” he said. “I made a video and said, ‘This is my suicide note. I always thought that today would be the last day of my life. (With the victory,) I can finally face the next day. I am happy. I’m really happy. I am happy from the bottom of my heart. I feel liberated. I feel like it’s all over. (About the gondola ride) It was so sparkling, like the night sky in reverse. Whenever I look up, there are stars. It was like looking at the stars from the sky. It was like I was the earth.”
Reporting and writing： Yuji Yanagawa Photographs by： Takeshi Maruyama