Fukuhara sets sights on Takayama in WBO unification clash

fukuhara-finger2  By David Finger –

Anyone who saw Tatsuya Fukuhara’s gritty twelve round split decision victory over Moises Calleros February 26 would be forgiven if they assumed that the toughest part of being a world champion was now behind him. After all, his fight with Calleros was a fight of the year candidate and one of the grittiest brawls in recent memory. It was made all the more memorable considering it came in Fukuhara’s backyard, a city that had suffered one of the worst natural disasters in recent history when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated the city of Kumamoto. Fukuhara (19-4-6, 7 KOs) won the interim WBO mini flyweight and passed what was undoubtedly his toughest test to date. But for Fukuhara, it’s not about to get any easier.

He is now mandated to fight the WBO mini flyweight champion in recess: the cagy 33-year old Katsunari Takayama (31-8, 12 KOs). 

Takayama may not be old as Bernard Hopkins, but in a division that rarely sees careers that span over ten years Takayama has done the unthinkable: he has remained the top dog for the better part of a dozen years. After turning professional in 2000 Takayama won his first world title in 2005 and although he has dropped the title several times since then, he has nonetheless been a consistent powerhouse in the division, winning a version of the world title of six times since 2005.

It’s not an easy draw for your first title defense, but as Fukuhara showed us against Moises Calleros, he is more than up for the challenge.

Fukuhara took time to speak with the Fightnews after his victory with Moises Calleros, speaking about his new status as a world champion, his fight of the year with Moises Calleros, and what he sees the future holding for him.

Fightnews: Right off the bat let me say congratulations on your victory!

Fukyhara: Thank you.

Fightnews: How do you feel now that you are a champion holding that belt?

Fukuhara: It hasn’t quite sunk in yet.

Fightnews: Have you had a chance to talk to some of your fans here in Kumamoto since the fight?

Fukuhara: Just a little time to talk to both friends and family and they said that it was a good fight.

Fightnews: This was undoubtedly a very important fight for you but also for the city of Kumamoto, which suffered a tremendous earthquake last year that left many of its citizens, including you, homeless for a period of time. How did that inspire you during the fight, hearing your fans cheering you on and knowing how much this meant to Kumamoto?

Fukuhara: It was very important. I just felt there was so much support that no matter what happened in the ring I would never give up and I would keep fighting.

Fightnews: In the West there is a view of boxing in Japan that fans seldom get loud during a championship fight. This was clearly not the case with you during your fight with Calleros. How much of an inspiration was it hearing two thousand fans loudly chanting your name in between rounds?

Fukuhara: That’s why I was able to win.

Fightnews: In the middle rounds all three judges had Calleros winning the 4th, 5th, and 6th rounds. Did you feel like you were in trouble at that point?

Fukuhara: I couldn’t see (due to a cut inside his left eye) and Calleros was such a hard puncher. Because I couldn’t see I lost my sense of distance. I couldn’t calculate the distance. I felt a sense of danger that I might be losing the fight.

Fightnews: How did you turn it around from that point to come back and win the fight when it looked like the fight was going away from you?

Fukuhara: At that point Mr. Honda told me I needed to put my energy and dig deep down into my primal life energy if I wanted to win this fight. When I heard that I tapped into that energy and was able to turn it around.

Fightnews: I described Calleros as a “Mexican Tank” in my report. He seemed like he would not take a backward step for the better part of the fight until the eleventh round when it looked like you finally were able to get to him. In the twelfth I thought you did very well against Calleros and seemed to be in control in that final round. How did you feel knowing that the fight was so close in the final two rounds and that whoever won those rounds would probably win the fight? Did you think you needed to win the last round to win the fight and did you sense Calleros was in trouble in that round?

Fukuhara: I could tell that I hurt him with body shots in the eleventh round and so when I saw that it gave me more energy to attack him. So I kept the pressure on him in the last round knowing that it was the last round and that I could see that I hurt him. I kept the body attack on him.

Fightnews: Were you worried at the end of the fight when the first judge awarded the fight to Calleros?

Fukuhara: (Laughing) Yeah, I was worried.

Fightnews: In the second round Calleros hit you with a shot that looked like it hurt you. Did that shot hurt you and how did you come back from it?

Fukuhara: Yeah, it hurt me. It hurt me but it didn’t hurt me all the way to my legs because I ran a lot to prepare for this fight so I was able to hold on. I thought it really looked bad to the judges that I went down like that so I knew I had to get it back and I was able to land some blows.

Fightnews: This was one of the most exciting championship fights I’ve seen in some time. Did you expect this fight to be such a war and how do you feel knowing you had to dig deep to win this fight?

Fukuhara: I knew Calleros would come at me and wouldn’t back down so I was anticipating a hard contest.

Fightnews: What’s next for you?

Fukuhara: I’ll be fighting Katsunari Takayama to determine the unified WBO champion. If not I would like to fight one of the Japanese ranked fighters.