By Joe Koizumi
Hundred of boxing people today (Thursday) attended a funeral service of Masatate Tsuji, Japanese top ranked 105-pound contender, who passed away on Tuesday because of brain hemorrhage after his come-from-behind defeat in a national elimination bout with Yuji Kanemitsu in Tokyo, Japan, last Saturday. Tsuji, 30, had swept almost all rounds before he abruptly succumbed in the tenth and final session. He was the thirty-fifth ring victim since the Japan Boxing Commission (JBC) was established just prior to the first world title bout between Dado Marino and Yoshio Shirai in 1952. It was a horrible shock wave to the Japanese boxing fraternity.
Firstly, it was the very first ring death that happened in a title bout here in Japan.
Secondly, in such a country as Japan with very high safety standard featuring a 90-day suspension after a KO/TKO loss and a usually quick – if not called premature – stoppage, such a sad ring tragedy happened. Tsuji was very immediately carried to Jikei Medical University Hospital just after he was out of the ring on a stretcher.
Thirdly, no one was to blame in the tragic affair. Who could stop Tsuji fighting on after the ninth, lopsidedly winning on the tallies: 89-83 and 88-83 twice? Neither the referee nor his cornerman could halt the interim winner who might have become the new champion, if only standing in another round.
Tsuji, a boyish-looking shaven-skulled southpaw, was formerly an amateur boxer in Hosei University, and turned professional in the prestigious Teiken Gym in 2002. The late-bloomer recently scored an upset victory over ex-world challenger and ex-OPBF titlist Akira Yaegashi via majority nod last July to zoom up to be the top contender of the JBC. The busy-punching and fast-moving southpaw was given an opportunity to fight in a quest for the vacant national minimumweight belt lately vacated by the OPBF ruler Yasutaka Kuroki.
His opponent Kanemitsu looked less skillful, having blocked Tsuji’s fast combinations with the face, which was badly swollen as the contest progressed. He also sustained a gash at the right eyelid caused by Tsuji’s legal shots in the sixth, so seemed to have no chance to win in such one-sided proceedings.
Probably having punched out, Tsuji seemed heavily exhausted after the ninth (which he won with more accurate combinations) and returned to his corner staggeringly. Naturally, his cornerman desperately encouraged him, saying, “One more round, and you’ll become the champ.” Should you be the third man, could you call a halt to such a wide-winning contestant even if he looked very tired after the ninth?
It was never the JBC’s fault, nor the ref’s, nor the cornerman’s. If really so, sadly enough, the structure of the boxing game itself might be questioned in terms of the safety control. This reporter, never an abolitionist but a boxing-addict since his childhood, thus wondered the essence of boxing for the very first time in his life. Having watched boxing for more than fifty years, it was the most horrible and fearful impression since no one could stop such a lopsided interim winner going on into the final round. The safety control of boxing should be more studied, and then more improved so that such a ring tragedy will never happen again.
His clubmates carried the coffin to a funeral car, tears streaming down their cheeks. We sincerely mourn his passing from the bottom of our heart. May his soul rest in peace.