It was not the headline bout in San Antonio, but fans who watched Japanese warrior Nihito Arakawa square off with Omar Figueroa Jr. in San Antonio Saturday night saw a fight they will never forget.
This fight was for the interim lightweight belt, and Figueroa was awarded a one-sided and unanimous decision. The judges scored this fight 118-108, 119-107 and 118-108, but this battle was not about the measurables and the standard "who won, who lost" questions.
Instead, this was a battle of wills the likes of which are rarely seen. From the beginning, it was apparent that the undefeated Figueroa (22-0-1) was the bigger and stronger man who had a significant edge in power.
Arakawa (24-3-1) was overmatched.
He clearly did not have the ability to trade punches with Figueroa because he was going to get hit with too many hard shots and get hurt badly. However, while Arakawa probably could have avoided some punishment with side-to-side movement and by adding some defense, he was committed to going forward and pressing the attack.
The result was one of the most courageous and action-packed fights in recent memory. Figueroa was the more skilled and better fighter, but it was Arakawa's heart that made the fight.
It goes 12! Arakawa big finish but I have Figueroa winning 116-110. WHAT A FIGHT!!!! I am in awe of the heart both of them showed tonight— Dan Rafael (@danrafaelespn) July 28, 2013
Figueroa was able to knock down Arakawa twice in the fight—once in the second round and again in the sixth. However, while Figueroa seemed to draw energy from his knockdowns, those combinations turned Arakawa into a fighting machine.
Figueroa would deliver his punches from brutal angles, and they were seemingly all connecting to Arakawa's face and upper body. But while he absorbed these brutal punches, Arakawa kept winging punches of his own.
Many of Arakawa's punches could not approach the force of Figueroa's shots, but they were landing right on the button. Arakawa was actually throwing more punches than Figueroa, and his left hook was his most effective punch.
Forward, forward, forward, Arakawa kept marching. As he did, he was taking vicious punches. But he was throwing non-stop punches of his own.
Both fighters suffered hideous damage in this fight. Arakawa had swelling around his left eye that was about the size of a tennis ball. Figueroa suffered a cut on the bridge of his nose that was the result of an accidental head-butt that came early in the fight. After that head-butt, many of Arakawa's punches went right to the bridge of Figueroa's nose.
Those injuries were badges of courage.
The numbers themselves have turned this fight into an instant classic. Figueroa threw 942 punches in 12 rounds and he landed 480, according to Showtime's punch stats. The irrepressible Arakawa threw an amazing 1,170 punches and landed 280 of them.
Both fighters were respectful of each other during and after the fight. They routinely touched gloves at the end of rounds, and there was the head nod of respect as they would pass each other and return to their corners.
Arakawa praised Figueroa's strength and power, telling the Showtime audience (through a translator) that he gave everything he had but that his opponent was the stronger man.
Figueroa praised Arakawa as well for giving him the kind of fight he had wanted. "Great fight, man," Figueroa said as he hugged his rival. "Nothing but respect, dude."
That's what this fight was all about. Non-stop punching from both men with not a hint of defense or a desire to back up to avoid a punch.
Both men were in brilliant shape, and they were willing to test each other with their best for 12 rounds. It was the best the sport has to offer and a brilliant reminder of how special boxing can be in a given moment.
Save it in the time capsule and just call it the fight of the year.