Got to the airport with no problems, checked in, boarded the plane and off we went to Japan.
20 hours later and we arrived in Japan’s Narita airport. We were stopped by security as he wanted to look through our bags. He was very interested in the kick pads. At first I thought he was going to cut them open as he got a pen and tried to prise them apart at the seam. But after a while he just looked at us and threw some punches in the air and pointed at us with a smile and let us go. After we got through passport control we waited to be picked up.
A middle aged man arrived, bowed in typical Japanese fashion and shook our hands. He took my suitcase and signalled us to follow him.
He didn’t speak much English and our Japanese was none existent so the conversation was minimal.
After a 2 hour drive we finally arrived at the place I was going to be weighed in. A man in his mid 20’s came out of a building to greet us. This was Toshiki who we’d spoken so much to on the phone.
The street that we were stood in was very busy. Some were dressed in quirky fashion, while others were in full suits. With all the books that I’d read on Japan the first thing that came to mind was that the guys in suits were Yakuza (Japanese mafia).
We headed into the building to get weighed in. Toshiki was getting the full low down on how we missed our original flight.
I jumped on the scales. The last thing I wanted was to go and lose weight now but It was something I was expecting. I always cut weight at the last minute as I only drop about 2kg from my walk around weight.
I weighed 55kg bang on. Guess the constant throwing up helped in one way then! I was glad I didn’t have lose any more after that journey.
After the weigh in we headed to the hotel to rest up. Me and Steve decided to have a little look around the area to get some food.
For those of you who have ever played any of the Yakuza games on the Playstation this is exactly what the place was like. Narrow streets with neon signs everywhere, hostess bars and women seemed to be on every corner.
The men in suits were just standing around talking amongst the other Japanese, the women seeing off the man they had just kept company with while the male hostesses were doing the same with their female clientele.
The Japanese men in suits didn’t bat an eyelid at us as we passed by but the African men that were stood near them constantly hounded us to go into the bars.
The one guy walked with us for about 10 minutes trying to get us into the place he worked for. Finally we got rid of him but only to be jump on by another. This went on for about 20 minutes ,we’d get rid of one just to be hounded by another. One of them actually said I should go back to my own country; which really tickled me as he was an African in Japan.
We eventually got some food (a not so healthy McDonalds) and headed back to the hotel to sleep, it was now 1am which was 4pm back in the U.K.
I slept straight through till 2.30pm; 5.30am back home. I could have slept longer, I was knackered but we were getting picked up at 3.30pm to head to the arena.
I met Steve down in the lobby for breakfast. We were running a little late so all we managed to grab was another McDonalds as it was just down the road.
I was so tired, the last thing I wanted to do was to have a fight but as we got back to the hotel the other western fighters were in the lobby waiting to be taken to the venue. There was a young dutch lad from Mike’s Gym and a French guy that I hadn’t heard of.
The mini bus arrived so I quickly i had to run upstairs to grab my things.
We weren’t in the bus long before we arrived at the Korakuen Hall.
It was a strange building, the way you got to the hall made it feel like a block of flats. You had to take a very small lift to the appropriate floor (I can’t remember what floor it was) as there were different businesses on each floor.
We got out of the lift and felt like we’d walked in to the 70s. It was very dated but you could feel the history. Korakuen Hall is one of Tokyo’s biggest attractions and has hosted many professional wrestling, boxing and kickboxing events over the years. Many of my heroes have fought here such as Dekkers, Hippolyte, Kaman etc.
The whole entrance from the lift to the arena was filled with fight posters from the past along with forth coming events.
I picked up a few programs and posters of the event for memorabilia for myself before I actually walked in to the hall and saw what it was like.
Again it seemed very old fashioned almost like my old school gymnasium, only difference was there was a boxing ring in the middle and some tiered seating. It was a small place, possibly holding only around 1800 people in total.
There were some girls in the ring practicing their routine for the evenings event. I watched for a while until I was told to head to back to where the changing rooms were.
I still felt exhausted but I just kept telling myself I’ll be fine once I’m in the ring and the adrenaline kicks in.
We went down some stairs at the back of the hall and down a narrow corridor which was packed with officials and fighters running around getting ready for their bouts.
It was so hot and stuffy in there which was a huge difference to outside as Japan’s weather in November isn’t that much different to the UK’s.
Our changing room was tiny and cramped especially as it had me, Steve, the French fighter his trainer, the Dutch lad and Mike. Those of you who have met Mike or seen him know he’s not a small guy.
We had a small TV in the room which enabled us to watch the fights as we got ready.
The regulations in Japan are very strict. Many of you will have seen or have had your hands wrapped the Thai way. Which is where you tape the hand first making a large pad on your knuckles, wrap the hand in bandage before taping it up again.
Well this was not allowed and you have someone stand over you and watch how you wrap your hands making sure it’s done in accordance with their rules.
You have to have you hands wrapped similar to boxing where no tape is allowed over the knuckles. This didn’t bother me as i’ve wrapped my hands like that for years since all my hand troubles.
Some people seem to think the Thai method makes you punch harder. I’m not saying one way is better than the other but it’s not how hard your hand is that ko’s people, it’s the follow through of the punch that does. So the main concern for wrapping your hand is making sure your hand is protected.
Also in Japan you are only allowed Vaseline on your face, no oil or any other slippery substance anywhere else on your body (incase you don’t know this isn’t some crazy fetish, it’s to help blows slip off their target).
I was the first of the international bouts. I had the gloves brought to me, they were 6oz. I hadn’t fought in 6oz since I was in Thailand some years back. I put them on and it was like I had a pair of oven mitts on.
They even had a guy to watch how we tied the gloves up. Normally, I push the padding closer to the front of the glove giving my hand more protection but the Japanese guy told us off for trying to do that. All we could do was a simple bow and one strap of tape to ensure it didn’t come undone.
I have to say that when I started hitting the pads to warm up, my hands felt super fast in these 6oz gloves.
Everything runs like clock work in Japan, if they give you a time they mean that time. I was told i’d be fighting at 6.15pm and by 6.10pm I was stood by the entrance of the hall waiting for my name to be called out.
The crowd in Japan is very different to anywhere that I have fought. It’s deadly silent!every now again you may get a gasp or a cheer when a good strike lands but then it’s back to silence as they seem to be analysing what’s going on.
Shota stood across the ring from me, he was slightly shorter but stockier. Not once did he look at me as the MC read out our stats. We were called to the centre of the ring, the ref’s english was none existent. He simply signalled to me no elbows and no two handed clinch.
We were sent back to our corners to await the sound of the first bell.
“Ok, time to wake up I told myself.”
The bell sounded and round one commenced.
I fired a heavy right body kick, there was a huge slap which echoed around the silent arena. The crowd came to life with a huge gasp….then it fell silent again.
Shota danced around a while as I stalked him round the ring. I felt in control landing some great kicks until Shota fired a great boxing combination. That damn southpaw cross came straight through the middle and connected hard.
Everything went black and it felt like I was looking through two pin holes. I have no idea if the crowd was making any noises at this point as my hearing had gone muffled. If you’ve every played Fight Night Round 3 on the Xbox 360 then the sound is pretty spot on when you’re about to get knocked out.
Instead of being clever and moving off to clear my head I thought frig you I can punch hard too, so I just fired back. We were in a bit of a slugfest but I was coming off worse.
We ended up in the clinch, to be honest I wasn’t sure what I could or couldn’t do so I just held. The rules for K-1 say you can hold with one arm and work your knees but you can’t hold with two hands. The referee separated us and signalled the fight to continue.
Shota threw a front teep to my face which landed on top of my shoulder, I held it there and kicked him to the floor. I was told off for doing this as in K-1 you can not hold a kick.
Up until this point I had no idea how much of a different sport Muay Thai and K1 were. Normally with someone punching so much at me I would have elbowed as they came in but this was not allowed. Having weapons taken away from you which you use regularly without thinking is very difficult, also the pace is immensely different. K-1 is a fight from the word go which is why I can see how it’s taken off so well in the west.
Round two started with both of us going hell for leather. I felt like I was picking my shots a little better this round, still not winning but I was in the fight. When ever I threw a right body kick Shota responded with his left. So after I kicked I stopped putting my leg down and left it up in a block position which meant Shota couldn’t land his counter.
Shota came in with some big punches so I grabbed him to slow him down. I was told off by the Ref for holding, I acknowledged I wasn’t sticking to their rules and touched Shota’s glove before we continued.
I tried to slow him down with heavy body kicks as he pressed forwards punching. Again I clinched him to stop his onslaught, this time I threw him to the floor I knew I’d get told off but I wanted a break.
After this point I was kind of turning the fight around. For a brief moment my stuff was landing and his wasn’t.
We ended up in the clinch and I tied him, landing a few big knees.
This time the ref told me he would deduct a point off me if we clinched again.
I touched Shota’s glove and we continued with the bout. Almost instantly he landed a heavy front kick to my face, how the round continued changed massively from here. The kick had dazed me hard and Takiya jumped on me like a tramp on chips. A jumping knee to my face landed followed by punch after punch. Like a dick I tried to trade with him again. I landed my own knee to the head but I was very much coming off second in every exchange. The bell sounded, that was the end of the round.
All I told myself was ‘ok it’s the final round (K1 is only three rounds), all I have to do is last three minutes’.
Round three started the same as the second with Shota coming at me and instead of me moving off I stood and traded.
Another big front kick to my face landed but this time it put me down.
I guess my illness the week building up to the fight along with the 10hr wait in Manchester airport and then the final long 22hr journey the day before the fight finally took it’s toll in that last round.
I stood up and took the eight count.
Shota came for the kill after a blistering onslaught of punches he landed a big jumping knee to my face.
The only way I can describe the pain is that it felt like a sharp line that went through my face from one cheek to the other and down I went again.
I sat up by about the count of three, my face was in agony. My confidence and desire had all gone at this point, in my mind I’d been through far too much. This was the very start of the round, there’s no way I could survive the rest with my face feeling like this.
The referee waved the fight off once he saw I was making no attempt to stand up. I was in in a mix of emotions, one I was devastated that i’d taken such a pounding but on the other hand I was grateful that the whole ordeal was over. From start to finish it had just been one horrendous experience.
Everything before this seemed to be telling me that I shouldn’t have gone through with the fight, especially as I had planned on fighting again three weeks later on the kings birthday celebration in Bangkok (You can read about here). Looking back I wish I had just concentrated on that one but this was a confirmed bout and I’ve never pulled out of a scheduled fight.
I sat in our changing room looking rather like John Merrick (The Elephant man), feeling very sorry for myself, when a Japanese guy came in. “You are like Jean Charles Skarbowsky, next time come back and fight Muay Thai. I think will be better for you” he said. Skarbowsky is one of the top western fighters ever in my opinion so this was a nice touch to a very crappy journey.
Shota came in not long after looking as fresh as he did at the start. He asked to have a photo with me and said “I see you on homepage” and smiled. I assumed he meant my website.
All the western fighters lost and the only guy who went the distance was the young Dutch lad from Mike’s gym. These two kept snikkering about how my face looked when we were taken out for a meal later so they aren’t going to be on my Christmas list!
The very next day me and Steve got to enjoy Tokyo as we went sight seeing around the city. We checked out a few shrines, even stumbled across a wedding at one of them which was great to see. We also went to the top of the Tokyo Tower and seeing the city from that height was amazing.
Tokyo is a very interesting city and I do really intend on going back and spending a few days there so I can enjoy it properly.
It would be interesting to hear of any other similar experiences people have had or any experience of competing in Japan. I believe every fight, win or lose is a learning process and this is certainly one that i won’t be forgetting in a hurry.