After Makunouchi Ippo's defeat against the JBC featherweight champion Date Eiji, Ippo looks back on how he lost, regretting his actions. Wanting to move to the world stage to fight WBA champion Ricardo Martinez for a second time, Date relinquishes his title and the title is fought for by Sendō Takeshi and Alexander Volg Zangief. Ippo then has a comeback match against Ponchai Chuwatana, with Aoki Masaru and Kimura Tatsuya's comeback matches as undercards.
The morning after Ippo's first defeat against champion Date, Ippo reads the newspaper article on the match, remembering that he had beating Date and becoming champion as his goal, but could not take it. Ippo then discovers that Date relinquished the belt and that Sendō and Volg would be fighting for the title in two months. After Ippo goes to the doctor, he reveals the positive results to Kamogawa and Yagi, who becomes relieved hearing the good news. Kamogawa then orders Ippo to not come back to the the gym for three months in order for the damage from before and during his match against Date to heal. At his home, Ippo receives a call from Kumi who had heard about Ippo's loss. Kumi begins to tell Ippo something before Mashiba grabs the phone and calls him a pathetic loser. Kumi gets the phone back and asks Ippo to go out with her Sunday, which the now depressed Ippo accepts.
Ippo meets Kumi at the amusement park, and, after some rides, Kumi tells Ippo about how she never had a date due to the males that she was interested in would run from her brother. She then expresses how she wants to help her brother anyway possible which is why she became a nurse. The two then went to a scary-themed event. After Ippo ran away when he saw Mashiba scaring him, they go to a ride that goes up high. Ippo sees the Kōrakuen Hall, causing him to remember that he lost there. After seeing Kumi off, Ippo looks back at the Kōrakuen Hall, regretting losing, wishing he had won to make the people who cheered for him happy.
Ippo later goes to the gym and asks Takamura for a recording of his match against Date. When Ippo watches the recording at Takamura's place, he wonders how Date could stay standing after all of what Ippo hit him with. Ippo then notices how he himself went into the fight wanting a good match, while Date had eyes of determination, wanting to win no matter what vowing to himself that he would win. Ippo realises that it was almost and even fight, with the goal they brought into the ring being the greatest difference as he becomes disappointed in himself. When Ippo returns home, Hiroko tells Ippo how his face looks that of a man's, as when a man loses, he becomes disappointed, remembering how Ippo would come home from school and laughed it off when he got bullied, suspecting that he likes boxing. Ippo explains that the title match was his dream and he can not just laugh it off, expressing how disappointed he is and does not want to end the sport he started because he loved it like this. Hiroko reminisces on how Ippo is similar to his father.
JBC Featherweight Championship Decision Match - Sendō Takeshi VS. Alexander Volg Zangief
Two months later, Ippo arrives to the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium in Osaka where Sendō and Volg will be fighting for the JBC featherweight title. When Sendō's crowd outside the venue began messing with Ippo, Miyata arrives and stops them. Ippo is ecstatic to see Miyata as he has not seen him since he left Japan. Miyata claims that he came to see who will be the Japanese title holder and that he will be fighting in Japan next. When they arrive inside, Miyata asks for a prediction from Ippo, however he could not give one but predicts that there will not be a decision. Sendō and Volg enter the ring and the match begins.
In the first round, Sendō and Volg throw punches that barely misses each other until Volg hits Sendō. Volg launches a series of attacks that hit Sendō. When Sendō is pushed to the ropes, he throws a Smash. Sendō then lands more punches along with another Smash. With Sendō surprised that Volg can still stand, Volg hits Sendō with the White Fang. With both boxers standing after they took each other's technique, Ippo wonders why the two look like Date when he fought him. As the first round ends, Ippo realises that Sendō and Volg have the same eyes of determination as Date, not thinking of losing and only to win. In the corner, while Sendō is surprised that there is another man that can fight him like Ippo, Volg believes Sendō's punching power may be higher than Ippo's and is worried about falling to them, but is determined to win.
When the second round begins, Volg dashes towards Sendō and successfully hits Sendō multiple times, pushing him into a corner. Sendō throws body blows, however it does not stop Volg's attack. Volg continues attacking Sendō in the corner until the end of the second round. In the corner, Sendō is frustrated about the gap in technique between him and Volg. Sendō continues to get beaten by Volg and have his face swollen up to round six. During round six, Volg downs Sendō with a right. As Volg walks to a neutral corner, Sendō witnesses Volg dragging his left foot. Feeling confident that his boxing is working against the former amateur world champion, Sendō gets up and ready to fight. Volg intends to finish the fight with a White Fang, however Sendō leans on the ropes and dodges it. The sixth round then ends. In the corner, Yanaoka instructs Sendō to not stand right in front of Volg and to mix feints. Sendō dismisses the idea, and is determined to fight him head on. Ramuda praises Volg's ability to stay calm while the body blows are affecting him and the crowd's cheering being against him. As Volg leaves the corner, Ramuda warns him that a boxers that ride on the cheering can help them during a pinch situation.
As round seven begins, Sendō lands body blows until Volg launches a left hook that hits Sendō's face. Volg launches a barrage of punches on Sendō's guard as Sendō waits for Volg to get closer. With Volg in range, Sendō successfully hits Volg's body. After an in-fight, Sendō throws a Smash, which Volg blocks, however due to his hurt foot, he loses his balance. Sendō switches to the Southpaw stance and unleashes a Smash with his right hand, knocking Volg down. After realising that he may get sent back to Russia if he loses twice in a row due to being an import boxer, Volg gets back up, wanting to fight Ippo again as he made him love boxing. As the match continues, Volg uses a clinch to stop Sendō's incoming barrage until the seventh round ends. In rounds eight and nine the two boxers have an intense hitting match. In the final tenth round, the boxers respectfully touch gloves as the round begins. With Volg in the lead in points, Sendō plans to win by knockout. During their hitting match, Volg loses his footing as he punched and falls with his knee on the canvas as Sendō misses his punch as well. The referee declares it as a down, with Volg and Ramuda trying to explain that Sendō's punch did not hit him as he clearly slipped. The referee does not listen however, and Volg gets up to continue the match. Volg desperately attacks Sendō to get back the two points that were taken away from the false down until the tenth round ended, taking the match into a decision. The victor and the holder of the JBC featherweight belt goes to Sendō.
Ramuda tries to challenge the referee's decision, believing Volg should have had a three point lead, disheartened with the fact that he made his boxer lose just because he is not in his home country. As Volg began to leave the ring, Sendō stops him and claims his rematch request will have the highest priority, as he does not feel like the winner looking at his condition. Upon seeing the match, Ippo decides to catch up to Miyata and Date, with the Japanese title as his first step, making his first objective to fight the new champion Sendō.
When Ippo returned to the Kamogawa gym, he hits the sandbag for the first time in a while, questioning himself if he should fight like he has been, wanting a technique like Sendō's right Smash or Date's Heart Break Shot. Kamogawa then hands Ippo the phone to talk to Fujii. Ippo discovers that the Otowa gym is cutting its contract with Volg's management and Volg is getting sent back to Russia in the evening. Ippo is shocked at the decision, but Kamogawa explains that gyms have their business too, importing a high-level boxer from overseas to upgrade their gym by raising their reputation, and when a boxer does not provide results, they get sent back. With Ippo disappointed by the event, Takamura hands Ippo money (from Aoki's wallet) for a taxi to the Narita Terminal 1 where Volg is being sent back by air travel.
Upon arrival to the Narita Terminal 1, Ippo meets Volg, who believes it is a world of results and his boxing did not work in the pro ring, however Ippo disagrees. Volg expresses his regrets as he brought his dreams to Japan, but could not do anything. He then thanks Ippo for teaching him the severity and fun in pro-boxing and will brag to his followers that he fought with a strong boxer named Ippo in Japan. Volg wishes for Ippo to become champion, not just in Japan, but on a greater scale. Before Volg leaves, he gives Ippo his boxing gloves and says his last Japanese word: "Sayonara," leaving Ippo in tears, vowing to never forget that he fought Volg.
The Others Progressing Forward
Later in Kōrakuen Hall, Miyata faces against the first ranker in the South Korea rankings, Li Chon Pir as his first opponent in Japan after returning from overseas. Fujii and the audience are amazed at Miyata's performance after returning to Japan, exceeding expectations. In the third round, Li attempts to stop Miyata's speed by pushing Miyata to the ropes with his body. Miyata then blocks Li's attacks and throws a counter to the body, knocking Li down and ending the match with Miyata's first win after returning from overseas.
Walking away from Kōrakuen Hall, Ippo meets Date, who comments on Miyata's match and reveals to Ippo that he will be fighting an American who is ranked fifth in the WBA, and if he wins he would be going after the world title. Date warns Ippo before leaving to not idle around too long by having no matches while everyone else is progressing, or he will be forgotten.
A Shadow Named Ponchai Chuwatana
When Ippo returns to the Kamogawa gym, Aoki and Kimura informs him that Yagi flew back to Japan with three opponents lined up for their come back matches, with Ippo, Aoki, and Kimura fighting in July. With no information on their opponents besides either being Thai or a Filipino, Takamura wonders who is going to be the main event. After the three drew straws, Aoki is decided to be the main event. Aoki excitedly calls Tomiko about it, however, as she tells everyone at the hospital about it, Kamogawa enters the gym and reveals the actual order being Aoki as the opener and Ippo as the main event. Ippo returns home and talks to Umezawa about how he only knows his record, that he is a Thai ranked third, and that his name is Ponchai Chuwatana. Ippo becomes disturbed that he does not know what Ponchai looks like.
At the Kamogawa gym, Kamogawa realises that Ippo is nervous by the lack of information on his opponent and tells him that the outcome of the match will depend on his scope of vision, the height of his eyes. Ippo begins training on his defence as instructed by Kamogawa, who noticed that Ippo has been taking too many punches. After a training session, Ippo explains to Takamura that Kamogawa is focusing on regaining his lost stamina from the break and strengthening his defence more. Takamura warns Ippo that if he loses, it would be the second loss in a row, making it possible that Ippo could be dropped out of the gym just like Volg and he would be far behind Date and Miyata. Ippo then realises that the "height of his eyes" that Kamogawa mentioned means his goal. Ippo and Takamura notices Kimura is fired up, which Kimura claims it is because Reiko told him that she would bring a friend and come support him. Aoki then enters the gym after telling Tomiko that he is in fact not the main event. The gym members are then shocked when Aoki reveals the frog-themed robe that she made for him. Aoki then runs while laughing from the gym when everyone lied and said that it looked good on him. At his house, Ippo looks at boxing magazines from two to three years ago about Ponchai, learning that most of his matches went to decision, showing that he stamina and toughness are extraordinary. He then notices that Ponchai won against Jimmy Sisphar, who almost defeated Miyata in Thailand. The next day, Ippo wakes up from a nightmare of him getting downed by Ponchai with Ippo unable to see Ponchai's face.
Ippo realises that one or two big punches nor rapid small punches would be able to stop Ponchai, but he then gets an idea that rapid fire heavy blows may work. At home after a training session, Ippo feels like he may get drained mentally and physically and unable to win. However, he does not want to go through being disappointed like he was when he lost to Date and vows to himself that he has to win. Later, while Ippo partakes in Kamogawa's mitt training session, Kamogawa collapses to the mat when he caught one of Ippo's punches with his mitt. He is taken to the Kawai Hospital where the doctor informs everyone that he fell because of overwork and to let him rest for two to three days. In the hospital, Kamogawa expresses his regret when he threw the towel during his match with Date. Ippo claims that he know that boxing is about hit before without getting hit and that he will strengthen his defence, however Kamogawa explains that it would spoil his strengths which is his offence. Kamogawa reveals that the training is a step towards a aggressive style, with the goal being hit before getting hit. As Ippo leaves the hospital, he realises the boxer and coach fight as one, where the boxer doesn't lose by himself, so Kamogawa is a frustrated as him.
Ippo begins searching for a simultaneous attack and offence boxing style. He looks at videos of Mike Tyson, noting how Tyson gets quick knockouts while having a great defence by shaking his body while slowly approaching, bobbing his head making his opponents miss and then using the spring from bouncing back up to fire an attack. Ippo continues training with the help of Umezawa. With Kamogawa away from the gym, Takamura begins pulling pranks on Ippo, Aoki, and Kimura, including drawing on the match posters. When Kamogawa came back to the gym after being released from the hospital, Aoki, Kimura, and Ippo were overjoyed as Takamura looks down due to being unable to continue his antics.
The Road Back - Makunouchi Ippo VS. Ponchai Chuwatana
The day before the match, Ippo goes to the weigh-in session where he meets Ponchai for the first time. Ippo does a quick review with Umezawa on his opponent, which he is nervous about. Ippo then does one last training session before the match, with Umezawa noticing how Ippo's movements are different from before. When the day of Ippo, Aoki, and Kimura's comeback matches arrive, Aoki goes first, with his opponent being Snake Thomas. Aoki goes through the match with the feeling of having Tomiko to protect. Aoki then wins the match by knockout. Kimura walks to the ring to begin his match, however, along the way he sees Reiko with her boyfriend next to her. Kimura fights Pone Morocotte heartbroken, going down twice before knocking Pone out and winning the match. Ippo then walks to the ring for his match after five months, looking back at how much things have changed since his first loss. In the ring, Ippo is instructed to start with his left and observe Ponchai for the first round. With Ippo and Ponchai in the middle of the ring, the match begins.
When Ippo puts both fists forward to start the match, Ponchai knocks one of his fists back and throws a right which hits a surprised Ippo's guard. Ponchai then launches many attacks on Ippo's guard until Ippo dodges two big punches by weaving. Ippo then throws a one-two which pushes back Ponchai, who guarded the attack. Ponchai steps back from another attack from Ippo and attacks, with his punches missing the weaving Ippo who advances forward. Ippo makes Ponchai's guard break by throwing an uppercut, which he then follows with a right. However, Ponchai spins his neck with the punch, negating the damage. Takamura and Aoki realises that Ponchai is using the same technique as Date. Ippo gets pushed back to the centre on the ring while dodging Ponchai's attacks. Ippo stops stepping back, remembering that he fought back Date's neck spinning by throwing small and precise punches. As both boxers throw punches that miss in close range, Ippo sees an opening for a liver blow and hits Ponchai in the liver. With Ponchai's face uncovered, Ippo hits hi with a right uppercut. Ponchai immediately recovers and throws a right, barely grazing Ippo. Ippo notices that Ponchai's eyes show that he is determined not to lose. The gong to the end of the first round sounds, with Ippo leading in points 10-9. After Kamogawa gave Ippo advice, Ippo declared a victory in the next round by claiming that he will defeat him in the next round.
In the second round, when Ippo throws a left, Ponchai throws a right in an attempt to use a right Cross Counter, but Ippo dodges it. Ippo begins weaving his body as Ponchai attempts to land a clean hit. Yagi sees Ippo's motions and tells Kamogawa that he is worried that Ippo is nervous about Takamura telling him that he has to have an outstanding victory. Ippo eventually gets into the back and forth motion of a side way figure eight, throwing punches from side to side, successfully hitting Ponchai until he goes down. Kamogawa is in awe witnessing Ippo's attack, recognising it as the Jack Dempsey's Dempsey Roll. The referee then sees Ponchai unable to continue and ends the match, with Ippo winning his come back match.
Overjoyed in his victory, Kamogawa informs Ippo that he used the Dempsey Roll, with Ippo not knowing what a Dempsey Roll is. Ippo is then interviewed by the ring interviewer. When Ippo was asked what his next goal is, the crowd notices the champion Sendō in the crowd. Sendō walks up to the ring and signals for the microphone. Sendō expresses that he does not care about titles such as a "champion" and claims that he owes Ippo one, wanting to fight Ippo again. Ippo replies, accepting the rematch. Ippo then walks away from the ring, feeling thrilled to walk down the ring after winning.
|Road Back Arc|