Who Is Tenshin Nasukawa, the 20-Year-Old Rising Star Fighting Floyd Mayweather?

Steven Rondina@srondinaFeatured ColumnistNovember 5, 2018

SAITAMA, JAPAN - DECEMBER 29:  Tenshin Nasukawa of Japan enters the ring in the bout against Nikita Sapun of Ukraine during the RIZIN Fighting World GP 2016 second round at Saitama Super Arena on December 29, 2016 in Saitama, Japan.  (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images)
Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s return to the ring isn't a particularly big surprise.

For months now, the 41-year-old has been teasing a comeback of some sort. The only question, it seemed, was whether it would come opposite old rival Manny Pacquiao or against fast-rising UFC star Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Answers came Sunday night, though, and they left the combat sports world aghast. Appearing in Tokyo, Japan, alongside MMA promoter Nobuyuki Sakakibara and pro wrestling legend Nobuhiko Takada, Mayweather revealed he would return to the ring on December 31 in the legendary Saitama Super Arena.

His opponent? Kickboxer Tenshin Nasukawa.

A tidal wave of questions immediately washed over social media. Why is he fighting in Japan? What does this mean for Rizin Fighting Federation? What about Showtime? What rules will they be competing under? 

And, of course, who is Tenshin Nasukawa?

With most fight fans just now being introduced to the 20-year-old, it's worth taking a look at what made him a star overseas and what makes him an intriguing foil for Mayweather's return.


Combat sports are hot in Japan right now, and that's being felt on a global scale.

Naoya Inoue is sitting near the top of boxing pound-for-pound rankings. New Japan's Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada have sparked a massive boom in the independent pro wrestling scene. Kyoji Horiguchi has reestablished the country as a hotbed of elite-level MMA talent.

Japanese kickboxing and MMA have had a serious resurgence in recent years.
Japanese kickboxing and MMA have had a serious resurgence in recent years.Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

Presiding over the resurgence of kickboxing has been Nasukawa. 

From a young age, the striker has had just one goal: to bask in the ring's spotlight. "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 May. "I wanted to participate on that big stage ... there was no specific individual that inspired me. I was attracted to the stage."

Not only has Nasukawa achieved those goals—main-eventing shows in some of Japan's largest sports venues—he accomplished them as a teenager.

At just 13 years old Nasukawa was wowing fans at amateur kickboxing events, demonstrating a ferocity and technical prowess well beyond his years. At age 15 he went pro, spending his weekdays in high school classrooms and his Saturday nights in the ring. Juggling education with a full-time combat sports career is a daunting task, but Nasukawa managed to make it look easy, amassing a 25-0 record by the time he earned his diploma.

While that winning streak would have turned heads all on its own, Nasukawa didn't just rack up wins. More often than not, he absolutely dominated his opponents. "You could see the signs of a young star early ... he styled on guys," War Room MMA and Kickboxing coach Steven Wright told B/R. "He could beat you with clean kickboxing scores or take something he saw in a movie and perform it to perfection against an opponent."

To this point, jaw-dropping highlights have been all but guaranteed every time he makes the walk. Sniper-like punches. Flying knees. Wheel kicks. Techniques that don't even have names yet. Anytime, anywhere, Nasukawa is capable of ending an opponent's night with something they never saw coming.

Already established as a premier talent at 20 years old, there's no ceiling to his in-ring potential. That might just apply to his outside-the-ring star power, too, if he can put in a strong performance against Mayweather.


While his dark past will forever hang over any discussion of his legacy, there is no question Mayweather has been a model of success in boxing. At 50-0 in his career with wins over most of the recent greats in his weight class, he is firmly cemented as the top pugilist of this generation. Not only that, but he has achieved a degree of wealth unlike anything seen before in sports, earning well over $500 million almost entirely through his fight purses.

LAS VEGAS, NV - MAY 02:  Floyd Mayweather Jr. in the ring before taking on Manny Pacquiao in their welterweight unification championship bout on May 2, 2015 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

He's a combat sports institution at this point, standing as one of the biggest draws, biggest promoters and best boxers in the world, which makes his foray to Japan somewhat surprising.

As of this writing, there are few details on the actual fight between Mayweather and Nasukawa. Though the time and place are official, the rule set and weight class are complete mysteries to fans and fighters alike, making it tough to break this one down.

In a boxing match, Mayweather would likely have little difficulty dealing with Nasukawa, who has not yet fought under the Queensberry Rules. On the flip side, while Mayweather's size would be a real hurdle for Nasukawa, the karateka would hold a massive advantage in a kickboxing match, as he could throw a multitude of techniques that Mayweather has never had to deal with. 

Though an MMA bout can likely be ruled out, per ESPN's Ariel Helwani, Japan has hosted many contests with special, one-off rule sets. Stipulations ranging from barring specific techniques to unlimited rounds to changing sports mid-fight have popped up over the years. Theoretically, almost anything is possible, but with Rizin somewhat beholden to Mayweather, odds are that things will break in a favorable direction for The Money Team.

Still, Nasukawa seemed undeterred by this when speaking to the media, vowing to put a blemish on Mayweather's perfect record. "Nobody has defeated my opponent in the past and I would like to be the man who makes history," he said. "My punch can change history, and I can show that to you."

Regardless of what rules the bout is ultimately contested under, seeing a sensational talent like Nasukawa face an all-time great like Mayweather is a special treat. Couple that with Rizin's signature theatrics, and it's easy to look at this as one of the most intriguing fights of the year.

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