SAITAMA – Was it a one-night spectacle? Or was it a freak show?
The exhibition match between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and young Japanese kickboxer Tenshin Nasukawa ended up in a lopsided win by the American in Monday’s year-end event by Japanese mixed martial arts promoter Rizin.
“It’s all about entertainment,” Mayweather told the audience and media, repeating the line he had frequently used since arriving in Japan two days ahead of the event. “This don’t go on my record. This don’t go on Tenshin’s record. Tenshin’s still undefeated. I’m still undefeated. This is just an entertainment for the people.”
Mayweather may have used the word “entertainment,” but the retired boxer, who has a perfect 50-0 record, clinically destroyed Nasukawa with clinical precision during the bout, which he won when the referee stopped the fight with 49 seconds left in the opening round.
Mayweather, who referred to the fight as “sparring” and hinted in an Instagram post that he received $9 million for the appearance, didn’t break a sweat.
Mayweather didn’t just end the fight quickly, “Money” fought without even warming up, according to Rizin president Nobuyuki Sakakibara.
“I’d never seen someone go into his fight without warming up,” Sakakibara said after the event at Saitama Super Arena.
Looking at the difference between the two fighters in terms of size and how they squared off in the ring, it was perhaps an absurd matchup from the start.
After the fight, Nasukawa reflected on the significant size disadvantage he faced against Mayweather.
“I was thinking that maybe I would be able to do a little better than that,” said Nasukawa, who has a 28-0 record in kickboxing.
Asked if Mayweather’s blows were on a different level from those he’s taken from other fighters, Nasukawa said they were “totally different,” and that “I had never been hit with such strong punches before.”
After being knocked down three times in two minutes by the 41-year-old Mayweather, Nasukawa choked back tears during the post-match award ceremony and later as he walked back to the locker room.
The 20-year-old southpaw seemed to graze Mayweather’s face with a left early in the match. But that passing blow only seemed to light a fire in the American, who stopped smiling and put on a brutal clinic for the sold-out arena.
A few weeks before the event, Yuichi Kasai, a famous boxing trainer, said it would be a “victory” for Nasukawa if was able to make Mayweather take the fight even a little seriously. Yet his warning that Nasukawa not provoke Mayweather too early turned out by be prophetic.
Nasukawa held his head high after the fight, stating that he take the result as a challenge to grow as a professional fighter. He said he considered the opportunity to have seen Mayweather’s techniques up close as an asset.
“I’m the type of guy who never forgets what my opponents do against me,” Nasukawa said, referring to Mayweather’s dekes, jabs and positioning. “So I’ll absorb what he did to me and I’m going to use that against other fighters.”
Some observers voiced concern before and after the match, noting the risk to Nasukawa’s safety due to the difference in size between the two fighters.
To make up the gap, Nasukawa wore eight-ounce gloves while Mayweather’s weighed 10. But as seen in the ring, the handicap wasn’t an issue for the Las Vegas-based visitor.
Nasukawa, who admitted he would not have participated were it not for Mayweather’s presence, said he wasn’t able to move his body or feet in the way he wanted after the first knockdown. Nasukawa’s father and trainer, Hiroyuki, said his son’s eyes were “wandering,” according to Sakakibara.
Looking back, Sakakibara said Rizin should have asked Mayweather to wear heavier gloves, but stressed the organization’s desire to innovate and avoid stagnation as he rejected criticism of the fight.
Sakakibara insists his organization is not in the business of providing “more boring” pure sporting events, saying he would leave that to “other promoters.”
“Those who stick to weight classes and all that, they should watch boxing,” Sakakibara said. “We respect those sports. But we are trying to show something that’s outside of the box.”
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