It turns out the revolution might not be televised. At least when it comes to international combat sports.
On Sunday, June 19, a sold out crowd packed the Tokyo Dome to watch “The Match,” a cross-promotional kickboxing event that pitted Tenshin Nasukawa and Takeru Segawa against each other for the very first — and probably only — time.
It was a groundbreaking moment for the sport and the biggest event in Japanese combat sports in at least a generation. And almost no one outside of the 56,399 fans inside the Tokyo Dome had the chance to see this clash between the two biggest and brightest stars in kickboxing. With no domestic television deal and no international pay-per-view options, you really did have to be there.
We might not have been able to see The Match live, but there’s a very good chance that we’ll be seeing its impact for years to come.
So let’s take a look at the fighters, the match, and what it might mean for the future of combat sports.
Who is Tenshin Nasukawa?
Nasukawa is a kickboxer and MMA fighter originally from Chiba Prefecture, Japan. He’s currently undefeated in both disciplines, with a 42-0 professional record in kickboxing (30 wins via knockout) and a 4-0 record in MMA (2 wins by KO and 1 by submission). He’s held multiple titles in promotions like ISKA, RISE, and Rizin. Nasukawa also had an exhibition boxing match against Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2018. While it wasn’t as impressive or victorious as his other combat endeavours, it did succeed in earning him more international attention.
Nasukawa began training in martial arts when he was five. His father signed the family up for karate lessons because he was interesting in their potential psychological benefits. But the young Tenshin soon saw other possibilities in his work. He loved the spectacle of the big MMA and kickboxing promotions in Japan at the time, and he wanted to be a part of it.
“I practiced karate until I was in sixth grade. I was winning competitions at a national level, but at the same time, there were the big shows like K-1 and Pride,” he told Bleacher Report in a 2018 interview. “I wanted to participate on that big stage…there was no specific individual that inspired me. I was attracted to the stage.”
Nasukawa turned pro while still in high school and has been building bigger and bigger stages for himself ever since.
Who is Takeru Segawa?
Segawa is a kickboxer originally from Tottori Prefecture, Japan. He has a black belt in Shin Karate and has held titles in multiple weight divisions in the K-1 promotion. His professional kickboxing record is 44-3. Twenty-four of those wins were knockouts. So was one of those losses.
Segawa was also drawn to the showmanship and spectacle of martial arts and combat sports as a child, although his focus was slightly different than Nasukawa’s. According to a 2021 profile for The Fight Site, Segawa grew up on a mix of pro wrestling and kickboxing events. After watching the late great Andreas “Andy” Hug win the K-1 Grand Prix in 1996, he told his parents that he wanted to take karate lessons.
After being expelled from high school, Segawa sold his belongings and went to Thailand to pursue kickboxing training. He made his professional debut in the summer of 2009 and won by unanimous decision. In 2011, he started fighting — and mostly winning — in the Krush promotion. In 2015, he began his ascent to the top of K-1.
How did The Match get booked?
Nasukawa and Segawa first hinted at wanting to face each other back in 2015, but significant political issues stood in the way of making this dream match a reality. Their respective promotions, Rizin and K-1, weren’t on the best of terms. Some combat experts referred to the rift between them as a “cold war.” And neither side seemed in a hurry to end it.
The two continued to exchange provocations occasionally, though. And recently something happened to finally warm things up between their companies. Nasukawa announced that he was planning to transition to boxing full-time. If there was ever going to be a dream kickboxing match between the pair, it would have to be before he made the leap.
On April 1 of this year, K-1 officially announced that the match would be happening on June 19 at the Tokyo Dome. “The Match” as it soon came to be known would be a co-production between K-1 Rise and Rizin, and feature a number of fighters from each organization, culminating in three rounds of three minutes between Japan’s biggest combat stars.
Things didn’t go 100% smoothly with the end of the cold war. Undefined issues led to the show losing its domestic TV contract, and a PPV option for viewers outside of Japan never materialized. But what The Match lost in potential eyeballs it more than made up for in mystique. And demand for tickets and PPV buys at home. The Tokyo Dome sold out with an estimated $25 million USD gate, and the domestic PPV did record numbers. So did a free broadcast on the TV streaming service Abema the next day.
What is the legacy of The Match 2022?
Reactions to the bout itself seem mixed. Although the complains aren’t about the performances of either fighter, but the structure of the match. If anything, the complaints are a backhanded compliment. People wanted to see more.
But three rounds was what the promotions were able to agree upon, so fans were treated to nine minutes total of classic combat between two of the best to do it. In the end, Nasukawa walked away with a unanimous decision.
As cheesy as it sounds, though, it’s possible that both young men earned an important victory that day. As children, they were able to witness the glory days of Japanese combat sports. As they grew into dominant fighters though those massive productions became a thing of the past. With their collective efforts, they were able to become the driving force — and the stars — of the kind show they’ve both dreamed about for so long.
“All that I can think about right now is to become the winner of a big fight that not only all Japanese fans want to see, but all international fans want to see,” Nasukawa told the Bleacher Report four years ago. “The winner of big dream fights that all people want to see.”