Having been made thread water for months and months, years worth of ambitions came together this morning in Tokyo for Portlaoise’s TJ Doheny.
The midlands boxer gave it everything to outwork and dethrone reigning champion Ryosuke Iwasa to become just the second ever Irish or U.K. boxer to win a world title in Japan after Belfast’s Wayne McCullough over twenty years ago.
Doheny gave a determined display, winning a lot of early rounds, withstanding a strong second half from Iwasa, and pulling out an inspiring final round to win a unanimous decision where few other away boxers have.
A loud pocket of Irish and Australian fans took up residence in the famous Korakuen Hall and certainly made themselves heard within the atmospheric arena, with Doheny entering the ring to a chorus of ‘Olé, Olé, Olé’.
The red belt at 122lbs has been something of a hot potato since Belfast’s Carl Frampton vacated in 2016. Staying in Japan the past two years, Jonathan Guzman won the vacant strap in an upset versus Shungo Wake before being upset himself by Yukinori Oguni – who was then upset by Iwasa!
The rangey Kashiwa fighter managed to get through his first defence back in May, a soft voluntary against Ernesto Saulong, but Doheny looked to pose a completely different type of test.
A fellow southpaw, Doheny was looking to make it a hat-trick of lefty losses for Iwasa who had been previously stopped by former bantamweight #1 Shinsuke Yamanaka in a Japanese title fight before being stopped by Bristol’s Lee Haskins.
Both these defeats played out at 118lbs and, while Doheny is a small super bantamweight, the gameplan looked to be to bully the Japanese stylist.
‘The Power’ entered in good form having scored a dominant career-best win over Mike Tawatchi in Thailand back in December before keeping busy with a win over the faded Mike Oliver in March in Boston.
Born in Laois but living in Sydney, the well-travelled Doheny had been training in Boston with Hector Bermudez for the fight in Tokyo.
No stone had, apparently, been left unturned for the 31-year-old who looked in supreme shape at yesterday’s weigh-in and had rehydrated almost a full ten pounds for the IBF check-weight 24 hours later.
Iwasa began the fight itself looking to keep his distance, throwing straight shots as Doheny tried to raid in and out before he was caught twice – first by a head that opened a cut under his right eye and then with his hands down by a swinging counter that sent him stumbling back in the closing moments of a far from perfect opener.
Without panicking, Doheny came back with solid left hands in the second, first coming in and then walking Iwasa on to a lovely shot that stiffened the champion’s legs.
Doheny, cut under the left eye in the second, began to mix in heavy right hooks to the body in the third before stepping up the workrate and throwing combinations. Iwasa responded by Doheny finished the stronger with a big left over the top in the final 10.
The fourth was a cagier affair but it was Doheny, rather than Iwasa, dictating the pace and being the busier.
‘Eagle Eye’ Iwasa enjoyed a much better fifth, sinking in heavy shots as he looked o have found his rhythmn. Doheny, however, remained a live dog and again landed a big left in the closing seconds of the stanza.
Doheny stormed back in the sixth, ripping to the body of Iwasa and momentarily staggering the Asian – who then responded himself, retaking control and pouring it on in the closing 30 with an uppercut followed by a long left that knocked the head back of the Irishman.
The landed punch stats at halfway saw them separated by just one, 46 to 45, in favour of Iwasa but the marauding Doheny had thrown some 60 more – and the stats would swing in his favour as the fight entered its second half. Doheny again made a strong start, with a short left troubling Iwasa before he jumped in with more scoring backhands in what was a confidence-boosting three minutes.
A scrappier eighth, Doheny’s workrate exceeded that of the champion who was digging in but being outworked by the man three years his senior.
The pace dropped further in the ninth but the quality improved, with Doheny looking to time big left hands and certainly landing the greater number of eye-catching shots.
Into the tenth, it was scrappy as both looked for a final push to claim a fight in the balance. Choruses of ‘TJ, TJ, TJ’ rang out around the hall but the slightly cleaner work of Iwasa won out over the energy of Doheny.
Doheny looked to be tiring as the fight entered its championship round and Iwasa enjoyed one of his best rounds of the fight, hurting Doheny at one stage who wrestled him to the ground. Doheny was not giving up, however, and elected to trade withe the reinvigorated Japanese fighter, being hurt again.
Exhausted heading back to the corner, Doheny needed a major final round and he delivered it. However, it was Iwasa who began the sharper, rattling off shots. Doheny, though, continued to bull foward and took over the closer, winging in hooks as the champion looked to hold.
Both celebrated at the bell, Doheny moreso, but there was no consensus as we went to the cards.
While ESPN’s Teddy Atlas had scored the bout 116-113 in favour of Iwasa, Irish-Boxing.com and, more importantly, the judges had Doheny the victor with a unanimous verdict of 117-112, 116-112, and 115-113.
Irish-Boxing.com scored the bout 115-113 in favour of Doheny.
With the announcement coming, obviously, in Japanese, there was confusion over the scores – until ‘T.J. Doheny!’ was suddenly called out and there was elation among the Irish-Australian-American team as this little island had its twenty-first world champion crowned.
The magnificent win sees Doheny improve his record, now the longest current undefeated streak in Irish boxing, to 20(14)-0. The shocked Iwasa, who left the ring hastily after the decision, drops to 25(16)-3(2).
Doheny, who has never fought in Ireland like our greatest ever Jimmy McLarnin, is now in the frame for a massive unification with the winner of WBO champion Isaac Dogboe’s defence next week versus Hidenori Otake – although a rematch with Iwasa may be called for by all involved.