PORTLAOISE’S TJ DOHENY has become only the second ever fighter from Ireland or the UK to win a world title on Japanese soil after a sensational victory over IBF champion Ryosuke Iwasa in Tokyo.
After 12 enthralling rounds, Doheny was awarded a unanimous decision in Iwasa’s backyard on somewhat controversial scores of 115-113, 116-112 and 117-112, joining Wayne McCullough as one of two men from these shores to have had their hands raised in the Land of the Rising Sun.
The shell-shocked Doheny, a former Irish amateur standout who emigrated to Australia after missing out on the Beijing Olympics in 2008, sunk to the canvas in celebration of his remarkable achievement upon hearing his name at the end of the judges’ scores, which were read aloud in Japanese.
The new IBF kingpin [20-0, 14KOs] becomes Ireland’s third reigning boxing world champion alongside Katie Taylor and Ryan Burnett.
‘The Power’ isn’t yet a household name in Ireland but the noise which greeted his procession to the ring might have suggested otherwise to the locals: a chorus of ‘Olé Olé’ from the 160-or-so Irish fans was as hair-raising as the tricolour was conspicuous as Doheny bounded toward centre-stage.
In a cultural twist, Amhrán na bFhiann was played after the Japanese anthem. Doheny, despite walking to the ring first as the challenger, was introduced to the 2,000-strong crowd after the champion in another deviation from European and American boxing norms.
There was nothing ‘ordinary’ about the 36 minutes of action which followed, either, and even Doheny will likely admit that the two scores of 116-112 and 117-112 were a bit weird given this was a watertight battle in the home of the champion.
It was Iwasa who got off the mark early with a solid straight right, but Doheny replied with a nice body-head combination. He followed that up with a nice overhand left of his own before Iwasa took control of the remainder of the opening round.
A cut, crucially under Doheny’s right eye and not above it, might have been caused by a clash of heads, but there was no doubting the legitimacy of the Iwasa right hand which shook Doheny in his boots and forced ‘The Power’ to clinch.
The pair exchanged straights to start the second. Doheny exploded a left uppercut through Iwasa’s guard drawing gasps from a Tokyo faithful more than aware that their man’s two defeats had both arrived at the hands of southpaws. The Laois man likely levelled the scorecards with more solid work to close out the stanza, but suffered another cut – this time beneath his left eye – seconds before the bell.
Doheny started a pick-’em third frame the stronger, a crisp right hand finding Iwasa’s jaw straight off the bat. A solid left to the body was followed by a nice flurry with a minute remaining but the champion stung Doheny to the rib cage with what was his first effort in anger of the round. Still, if you discounted the fact that Japan is usually where world title dreams go to die, round 3 should have been another one in the bank for ‘The Power’ from Portlaoise.
His confidence conspicuously imbued, Doheny began pressing the issue more to start the fourth. He took one on the kisser for his troubles, but Iwasa did little more than smother the challenger’s work in a verse rubber-stamped by a sharp Doheny left at the finish.
Jabs were exchanged to begin the fifth but Iwasa clipped the more compact Doheny with a right hook to the head soon afterwards. The rangy Japanese stylist then began targeting Doheny’s body to some effect, and surely took the most definitive round since the opener.
Doheny exploded back into life on the action’s resumption, marching Iwasa backwards with an eight or nine-punch fusillade to both body and head. Iwasa returned serve in the final 30 seconds, unloading four on the visitor against the ropes. Doheny, though, finished the stronger with a straight left over the top and a body attack which was partially deflected by the Japanese man.
Two thudding Doheny left hands momentarily staggered Iwasa as we entered round 7, and he followed them up with three more in a frame where the champion remained gun-shy on the backfoot throughout.
Iwasa upped the ante to start 8, though, crashing a left hook into Doheny’s rib cage before landing a nice two-punch combo to the head. In what was, by comparison, a timid round, Doheny spread his arms and cheekily demanded more of the man stood opposite him before finishing with some tidy work. The eighth belonged to the lankier Japanese man, however.
Such were the ebbs and flows of this one, it was almost inevitable that Doheny came out for nine and stamped some momentary authority, his left hand again potent. Iwasa’s retort to a clever jab-right-hand deuce was a concrete right of his own which drew wild cheers from the natives.
There was a lot of grappling in the 10th as both men fatigued slightly, their swings a touch more laboured. Iwasa found the mark with a wide right hook and took the round with flurries to Doheny’s body and bloodied head toward the close.
Back came Doheny in the first of two championship rounds but Iwasa weathered an early attack and landed a right which left Doheny plainly dazed, drawing the crowd to its feet. With Doheny now looking exhausted and Iwasa smelling blood, the champion detonated a huge straight left which bowed the Irishman’s head before the penultimate bell.
Given his environs, Doheny might have felt the fight was slipping away, and duly poured it out in the 12th and final round. He roughed Iwasa up on the inside and flung with fury. The tinge of desperation likely compromised some of his work, but he took the closing entry clearly.
The final bell of an excellent bout was met with rapturous applause by both sets of supporters. Doheny was lifted skywards by his team while a nervy-looking Iwasa took to his stool to warm down.
Given all three scores were read before a fighter’s name was mentioned, even those among us who wouldn’t necessarily be fluent in Japanese were aware that a unanimous decision pended. Doheny was as stunned as anyone to hear his name on the end of them, and was soon swarmed by his maniacally celebrating team.
The Japanese were stunned to silence; Iwasa slipped out of the ring and exited stage left without protestation but was evidently devastated.
Though some American ESPN+ viewers were seemingly appalled by the scores – two of which, again, were certainly wide – this was an extremely even fight with a round or two in it either way, and no more.
Per Compubox’s punch stats, Doheny landed 159 punches to Iwasa’s 143, throwing over 100 more. The home fighter found a home for 105 power shots to the Portlaoise man’s 97.
In victory, Doheny becomes the first fighter from this island since the great Jimmy McLarnin in 1933 to become a world champion without having ever fought on home soil.
Doheny – Ireland’s 21st ever boxing world champion – might never fight here, but the IBF World super-bantamweight belt will be making its way home to Portlaoise before long.