The First Step Arc, also known as Champion Road Arc or The Two Swallows Arc, is the sixteenth story arc in the series and the second in the New Challenger Saga in the manga. In the anime, it is the fifteenth in the series and first in the New Challenger Saga.
As the annual Champion Carnival continues, Makunouchi Ippo has his first JBC featherweight title defence against the former JBC junior featherweight champion, Sanada Kazuki, who relinquished his title in order to move up a weight class.
Champion Carnival - JBC Junior Featherweight Title Match - Hayami Ryūichi VS. Kobashi Kenta
As part of the Champion Carnival, since the JBC junior featherweight champion relinquished his belt, the first ranker Hayami Ryūichi and second ranker Kobashi Kenta are to fight for the belt. Kimura gave Ippo a ticket to the title match as thanks for helping him earlier. In the seventh round of the title match, Kobashi attempts to attack Hayami, who's lefts are too fast to evade, however Hayami counters him. The seventh round then shortly ends. In the corner, Kobashi plans to not go for points, but to win by knockout as he remembers the feeling when he hit Ippo when he fought him in the East Japan Rookie King Tournament. Hayami vows to not underestimate Kobashi like he did with Ippo because he does not want all his hard work to go to waste. When the eighth round begins, Hayami pushes Kobashi to the ropes with fast punches until Kobashi lands a right on Hayami's face. Kobashi gets behind the stunned Hayami and attempts to hit Hayami again, but he gets hit by a counter. The two begin a hitting match with multiple exchanges until Kobashi lands a one-two on Hayami's jaw, knocking him down. Hayami's coach immediately throws the towel into the ring, remembering the fact that Hayami's jaw became his Achilles' heel after his match against Ippo, but Hayami never gave up despite knowing that. With the match over, Kobashi becomes the JBC junior featherweight champion.
Sanada Kazuki and Hama Dankichi
After watching Kobashi win, Ippo notices that Kumi was sitting next to him the whole time. Walking away from the Kōrakuen Hall, Ippo plans to use Kobashi's victory as a way to treat Kumi for dinner. However, their conversation gets interrupted by Ippo having to catch an elderly man who was about to fall off the stairs. The elderly man recognises Ippo as the champion and tells him the reason the junior featherweight champion relinquished his belt was so he could conquer another weight class. He then points his cane towards the man he claims will have Ippo's belt, Sanada Kazuki. Sanada quickly notices Ippo's personality is as modest outside the ring as he have heard and reminds him that Ippo is the champion while he is not. Before they could shake hands, the elderly man stops them, as he believes that enemies have no need for a mindless handshake. Sanada and the elderly man then leave, with Ippo thinking that he may meet Sanada again soon.
At the Kamogawa gym, Kamogawa gets a call from Nekota, telling him to open last month's Monthly Boxing Fan magazine that covered Sanada's last title defence. Kamogawa becomes shocked when he sees a familiar face in the audience, thankful of Nekota for letting him know. When Ippo sees the magazine, he recognises him as the elderly man that was with Sanada. Assuming that he picked up Sanada, Kamogawa tells Ippo that the man was supposed to be in Mexico and that he is known to turn anyone he teaches into world fighters. Kamogawa also reveals to Ippo that his name is Hama Dankichi and someone that both he and Nekota fought and won against during the post-WWII days. Kamogawa explains that Dankichi's Sunday punch was called the "Hien" and that Dankichi's weakness was his glass jaw broke after a lucky punch struck his jaw, breaking it in five pieces. Dankichi then enters the room and comments how he can still feel Kamogawa's punch that broke his jaw. Dankichi claims that his boxer took down the first ranker and will fight the champion, Ippo. Dankichi explains that it is not for revenge, but for their students to meet in the ring and for him and Kamogawa to continue their old rivalry. Before leaving, Dankichi reveals that Sanada has mastered the Hien and also a technique which he calls the "Tsubame Gaeshi."
Hien and Tsubame Gaeshi
At the Monthly Boxing Fan, when the reporters learn that Ippo's next match is against Sanada, they begin predicting who could win. At the Kamogawa gym, while trying to figure out the meaning of "Hien", Gotō, who is knowledgeable about WWII era planes, explains in detail about the Kawasaki Ki-61. Kimura predicts it is a punch that can defeat both in-fighters and out-boxers, which Kamogawa reveals that Kimura is correct and instructs Kimura on how it works so he can show ippo in a spar. When the spar begins, Kimura shows Ippo the Hien by changing the course of his lefts mid-launch, turning a jab into a hook. After the spar, Kamogawa gives a further explanation and claims that the Dempsey Roll is sealed due to the Hien. Ippo is then bothered about Sanada's right, which Kamogawa predicts that the Tsubame Gaeshi will be for Sanada's right and developed to beat Ippo, a close-ranged fighter right blow. At the Kinoshita Boxing Gym, Sanada knocks down a sparing partner after hitting him with a punch that slipped past his sparring partner's block. Dankichi and Sanada discuss how the Tsubame Gaeshi will be able to go through even Ippo's strong Peek-a-Boo Style guard. Later, after his and other reporter's failed attempt to talk to Sanada at the Kinoshita gym, Fujii went to the Kamogawa gym. There, Fujii notices that Ippo does not feel the pressure yet about boxers training just to pull him off the throne, with Ippo mentioning that he will still fight feeling like the challenger. When Takamura asks where Mari is, Fujii says that she went to the Imperial College of Medicine to interview Sanada.
Mari meets Sanada inside the Imperial College of Medicine and asks why he started boxing even though he is top of his class in the college. Sanada explains how he became a boxer while he was going down the path of medicine and felt as if he could never stop boxing. Sanada's decision of going up a weight class to challenge Ippo was to challenge himself as the power difference isn't overcome so easily. He comments about ippo's hands possessing overwhelming power, however being a medical student, he describes his hands as having the knowledge that can repair or destroy a human body.
When Takamura, Kimura, and Aoki find out about Sanada being a son of a hospital director, they discuss how if Ippo loses, he may lose his belt and Kumi, due to her going for the doctor. Ippo mentions that Kumi is not his girlfriend so he would only be losing his belt, making Takamura angry that he does not think of her as his girlfriend still. Takamura, Kimura, and Aoki then tries to get Ippo to confess, with Ippo not wanting to. After much pressing, Ippo says he will do it under one condition. Ippo agrees to confess if he wins against three people in an arm wrestling match. An arm wrestling match is then held with Ippo against Aoki, Kimura, and then Gotō. Ippo easily defeats Kimura and Aoki, dislocating the latter's shoulder. Gotō was next, however Takamura knocked him out due to him knowing that Gotō would lose. Ippo tries to back out, but then he gets angry when he notices Takamura enjoying himself as he deceives Ippo. Not wanting to lose to people like them, Ippo gets ready for the arm wrestling match against Takamura. Though even at first, they cause the table to break and Takamura ends up the winner. With it being a promise, Ippo calls the Mashiba house and, when Kumi answers the phone, they agree to meet up later that night. Believing that Ippo may back out of the deal due to him requesting for them to not follow him, Takamura hands him a tape recorder to record when Ippo confesses to her and then return to his place so they can hear it.
Ippo meets up with Kumi at the Kahuna Pasta House where they eat dinner. When they leave, Wanpo greets them at the door, which Kumi comments how he has gotten big. It then begins to snow and they head to a park. Ippo attempts to confess his love to her, however he could not do it. Instead, he tells her about his match against Sanada, who Kumi mentions that the nurses at her hospital will be cheering for. Kumi becomes upset that Ippo does not seem to care that she cheers against him. Ippo then makes the situation worse by saying that it is not his right to ask for her to cheer for himself, nor her duty to cheer for him and that she can cheer for who she wants to cheer for. Kumi leaves, claiming that that is what she will do.
An emotionally defeated Ippo goes to Takamura's house where Takamura, Aoki, and Kimura receive the tape recording of the event. When they listen to the tape, they misinterpret heavy breathing and moans as something else, believing that Ippo went through with his confession and "became a man." When Ippo, Aoki, and Kimura left, Takamura listened to the tape further and discovers that Ippo did not confess and that he made Kumi run away. Later, at the Kamogawa gym, Aoki and Kimura assume Ippo's energy while hitting the sandbag was used to seduce Kumi, however they get hit by Takamura who reveals that he lost Kumi and all he has left is boxing.
Reunion of Old Rivals
With three weeks before the JBC featherweight title match, Fujii and Mari goes to the Kinoshita gym where they witness Sanada's first public sparring. Sanada faces against the third ranked junior lightweight boxer. Fujii and Mari watches as Sanada uses his Hien to hit his opponent and then back away when his sparring partner attacks. Fujii assumes Sanada just has great instincts, however Dankichi explains that it is not instinct, but palpation, with Sanada being able to determine the condition of his opponent's body just by the responses he receives from his punches. Before the next round begins, Sanada checks his pulse. The spar then ends in the following round when Sanada was about to use his Tsubame Gaeshi, much to Fujii's dismay. Fujii later reports to Kamogawa that Sanada is in top condition, however he could not see his Tsubame Gaeshi, but Kamogawa believes that to be for the best. Ippo comments that he will enter the ring as a challenger like always, and begins mitt training with Kamogawa. Fujii notices how Ippo's right guard is stronger than before, seeing that Kamogawa has also came prepared to go against Dankichi's teachings. Fujii believes that the trainers make the match even more exciting.
Ippo continues sparring against Kimura, using his right hand to knock away Kimura's Hien and then step-in. While Sanada plays video games with Kinoshita's daughter, Kinoshita Tsugumi, Tsugumi calls him a doctor, but Sanada claims that he is not a real doctor yet despite clearing Tsugumi's cold. He wishes to become strong to give others courage, believing that his previous opponents were not able to let him test how strong he really is, however, he believes that Ippo will.
Nekota calls Kamogawa and Dankichi over to the Sugar Ray for a reunion. Kamogawa and Dankichi did not know they would meet each other there and begin to leave. Nekota then manages to get them to stay by Nekota making them feel bad as the three of them haven't talked together in decades. When a waitress asks Nekota how they met, he answers that they met as boxers and became best friends and rivals., meeting up often to talk about boxing. Nekota then expresses how he is looking forward to Ippo and Sanada fighting as he feels it is the same as watching Kamogawa and Dankichi fighting. Kamogawa asks why Dankichi came back to Japan. Dankichi reveals his thoughts about Japanese boxers not being the best in the world and when a Japanese went against a Mexican, his theory was proven. Kamogawa states that his boxer will prove that theory wrong one day. Dankichi thought the same and mentions a certain Mexican boxer with close to perfect offence and defence and over sixty wins, wanting a Japanese man to defeat him. Kamogawa realises that he is talking about the WBA featherweight champion Ricardo Martinez, with Dankichi claiming that as Ippo goes higher, that is the wall he has to run into eventually. Dankichi then sparks a challenge that if Kamogawa is too late to take Ippo to the world, his boxer will push them off and climb higher.
Champion Carnival - First Step - JBC Featherweight Title Match - Makunouchi Ippo VS. Sanada Kazuki
The day before their match, Ippo and Sanada meet and passes their weight check. When asked for the champion's comment for the match, Ippo, who forgot he was the champion, wishes to learn from the more experienced Sanada and to enter the ring with a challenger's standpoint. Sanada requests for Ippo to take more pride in wearing the champions belt that went from Date Eiji to Sendō Takeshi to him. The two then shake hands in good spirits. Walking away from the Kōrakuen Hall, Dankichi mentions that despite Sanada's thinking that he did not make it harder for Ippo with a lighthearted handshake, he unintentionally put pressure toward the champion by making him doubt his own strength. Sanada hopes that Ippo does not feel pressured as he wants to fight Ippo at his best as when he fought Sendō, otherwise he can not test his strength by advancing past the fear of Ippo's punches. As they walk away from the hall, Ippo claims that he noticed that Sanada's chest was twice as big from his junior featherweight days. Due to the pectorals being more developed which are used for inward punches, Ippo and Kamogawa assume that the Tsubame Gaeshi has something to do with hooks and uppercuts. Kamogawa then notices how Ippo has not changed, planning on entering the ring as the challenger.
When Ippo returns to the Makunouchi Fishing Boat, a group of the customers reveal a banner to use while cheering for Ippo. Umezawa then gives Ippo new red boxing shoes and trunks from him and Hiroko, with the trunks having twelve stars signalling the twelve knockouts Ippo achieved. That night, Ippo thinks about how he will never give up the belt that the people he respected so much put on. The next morning, before Ippo leaves for his match. he tells Umezawa he will win by knockout. Umezawa believes Ippo is pumped up, but Hiroko thinks otherwise as she knows that Ippo does not usually act that way, believing that he may lose. In Ippo's waiting room, Ippo is in unusually high spirits, while Sanada is also in his ideal condition. While Sanada arrives to the ring calmly, Ippo arrives to the ring nervously and feeling the pressure of his first title defence, as if it is his debut match. With the match about to start, Kamogawa instructs Ippo to avoid Sanada's first punch, then his body will loosen up and gain his own rhythm.
When the match begins, Ippo gets hit by a right straight that causes him to panic. Sanada takes advantage of the situation and attacks Ippo, forcing him onto the ropes and, with his palpation ability he attacks him for five seconds until Ippo recovers from Sanada's right. Ippo attempts to get into his rhythm and go towards Sanada, however he is hit by Sanada, who uses his Hien to change his jab into a hook. Ippo continues to have trouble getting close to Sanada due to his Hien, getting hit by the fast hitting technique until the round ends.
When the second round begins, Ippo attempts to take the pace by dashing towards Sanada immediately and start his Dempsey Roll motion. Sanada stops the Dempsey Roll motion by pushing his body onto Ippo's. Ippo continues to be unable to get close to Sanada because of the Hien. He then gets pushed back onto the ropes by Sanada's rapid punches, guarding against them waiting for a moment to strike back. Sanada's rhythm changes, and Ippo guards against a right uppercut. Ippo then prepares to guard against a second right uppercut, however, the uppercut goes through Ippo's stiff Peek-a-Boo style block and hits him. Realising that the double right uppercut is the Tsubame Gaeshi, Ippo retaliates and hits Sanada's guard with a right that causes damage to Sanada and makes him fly back to the other side of the ring. Sanada escapes from Ippo's follow-up attack at the ropes by using his Hien and begins hitting Ippo on the ropes with the Hien. With Ippo on the ropes guarding against the Hien, Sanada launches his Tsubame Gaeshi, with the second hit going through Ippo's guard again, causing Ippo to go down and become unconscious. Ippo, after hearing Kamogawa in his unconsciousness wanting him to come back to him as he knows how to beat the Tsubame Gaeshi, Ippo gets up, wanting to go back to Kamogawa. The second round shortly ends after Ippo gets up. In his corner, Kamogawa is unable to tell Ippo how to beat the Tsubame Gaeshi, however as Ippo left for the third round, Kamogawa told him to remember what Kobashi Kenta did that gave him trouble in the match.
In the third round, not wanting to let Ippo recover, Sanada rushes towards him and uses the Hien. Ippo blocks the Hien and gets his guard hit by the first uppercut of the Tsubame Gaeshi. Ippo then successfully blocks the second sideways uppercut with the Cross-Arm Block, remembering that Kobashi used the Cross-Arm Block against him. With the block, Ippo advances toward Sanada, guarding his lefts. After Ippo gets into close range after getting hit by Sanada's left and right hooks in the process. Ippo hits Sanada with a liver blow and the two begin an in-fight due to Sanada being unable to escape. Ippo wins the in-fight as Sanada goes down. While downed, Sanada checks the damage on his body and estimates when parts of his body will recover. After the check-up, Sanada gets up and clinches when Ippo gets close, not wanting to fight close ranged as his eyes have not fully recovered. When the clinch breaks, Ippo begins losing balance as Sanada punched his head during the clinch that shook his superior canal in his inner ear. When Ippo's balance comes back, Ippo pushes forward against Sanada's Hien as they begin to weaken. Ippo gets to Sanada's chest right before the gong sounds, ending the third round.
As the fourth round begins, as instructed by Dankichi, Sanada gets into an in-fighter's range and gets close to Ippo while blocking and dodging punches, delivering body blows at vital points, making Ippo's face blue due to cyanosis. As Ippo begins to lose balance from the body blows, Sanada uses his Tsubame Gaeshi, but Ippo blocks the second uppercut by putting one of his hands between the attack and his jaw, still causing damage. As Samada continues his attack, he notices Ippo is at his limit and throws a right, making Ippo start to fall. Ippo barely manages to stop his fall by hanging onto the ropes. Ippo's light returns to his eyes and he releases a punch that misses as the fourth round ends. Dankichi recalls the days of fighting Kamogawa and how he felt defeated and inferior, believing to have returned the feelings back to him. Before Ippo heads out for the fifth round, he receives a slap on the back by Kamogawa as a request.
To Sanada's shock, Ippo dashes towards him as the fifth round begins and relentlessly attacks Sanada. Ippo then prepares to do his last attack as he does the Dempsey Roll motion, however, Sanada pushes his body onto Ippo's, stopping it. Ippo lands a liver blow as Sanada stepped in as he predicted Sanada would step-in to stop the motion. Ippo then hits Sanada with a Gazelle Punch. Continuing his knockout pattern he used against Sendō, Ippo uses his Dempsey Roll on Sanada until Ippo ran out of energy. Ippo attempts to hit Sanada, who withstood all of Ippo's punches, however, Ippo's right barely grazed Sanada's cheek. Sanada launches a finishing right, falling down from the momentum and missing Ippo, causing a down. The referee then signals the end to the match, with Ippo winning his first title defence.
With the help of his cornermen, Ippo walks away from the ring and goes to his changing room in the hall. Sanada, satisfied after lasting through the Dempsey Roll, decides to retire and focus on his medical career. Mari urgently informs Sanada that Ippo went to sleep and started snoring. Seeing this as a dangerous symptom, Sanada goes to Ippo's changing room and checks on him. Sanada concludes that it is a sound sleep caused by fatigue, recommending that they get a CT scan to be sure. Everyone in the room notices how Ippo is holding onto his JBC belt tightly, believing that no one would be able to pry it out of his hands.
Two days later, Umezawa declines interviews over the phone as they call, wanting Ippo to rest. Ippo becomes bored as he fishes with Wanpo until Kumi approaches him. Kumi congratulates Ippo on his victory and explains that she came to watch the match and was alone in the crowd, cheering for Ippo. Kamogawa and Nekota see Dankichi off at the Narita Terminal 1. Kamogawa and Dankichi express their comments about the match and Dankichi leaves for the United States of America, saying that they will meet in the ring again one day.
|First Step Arc|