A Matter of Centimeters

"...and then the bell rang, and the spar was over. I lasted the entire time against Miyata-kun!"

"That's wonderful Ippo." Her son had always been a very shy and polite boy, to see him this excited was very surprising. "What happened next?"

"Well, I introduced myself to the rest of the gym members and Coach told me to come by starting tomorrow. He said he was going to make me into a pro!"

"A professional boxer? You want to fight for a living? Ippo, you're not the kind of person that rough sports like that are made for."

"But! Mom! I can do it! I want to be a boxer! I want to stand up for myself in the ring." For a moment her son reminder her of his father. A look of passion and determination that was so similar to her Kazuo-kun that it was painful to see, yet she couldn't tear her eyes from the sight of that expression on her beloved son's face.

"Well...I suppose you can try it for a bit."

"Yes! ...But I'll be sure to keep on helping out with the fishing boat. I'll be sure to do my part!"

She had to chuckle at that last proclamation. Ippo was the most determined person she'd ever met, and that was more than just her motherly pride. The way he had sheepishly added that last part, as if he thought she might take offense at him living his own life.

"Ippo! Your mother is still young. I could handle the fishing all by myself if need be. If this is what you want to do, then don't let anything stop you."

A look she couldn't quite describe came over her son's face. Were those tears? Did this really mean that much to him?

"Uhm... Mom, can I ask you a strange question?"

"Stranger than 'Can I become a professional boxer?'"

"Yeah. Well, I was just wondering what you thought about..uhm...time travel."

"Time travel?"

"Suppose it was possible for you to go back in time. What would you think about that?"

"So I'd get to go back and see a younger me? I'd probably give her some advice I suppose."

"No, I mean what if you went back and you were there in your old body or younger body...Argh! It's like you have memories of having done everything before."

"So something like Deja-vu?"

"What's that?"

"It's a feeling of repetition, but I think I understand what you mean. In that case, if it was still me living my life I suppose it'd be a fantastic opportunity."

"An opportunity?"

"Of course! I'd get to watch you grow up, and see your father again."

"Do you think you'd be able to prevent his death?"

"Is that what this is about Ippo? Your father was a brave man, and prideful. He always did what he thought was right. He would've gone out to rescue Sakuma-san no matter what anyone could've said or done to try and stop him. That was the type of man he was."

"Oh, thanks mom."


Ippo laid down in his room thinking about the events of the day. Had he traveled back in time? He couldn't imagine how such a thing was even possible. Should he tell anyone? His mother had gotten the wrong idea when he'd asked her, but had provided some useful advice. There was no way he could ask Takamura, Aoki, or Kimura - even if they knew him they'd never believe such a story. No, they were out. Who else could he talk to? Coach Kamogawa? Even his sensei wouldn't be able to help him with this problem. One minute he was catching leaves after his loss to Date, and the next it was the promised day where he was showing his jabs to Takamura.

His mother had said it'd be an opportunity. An opportunity for what? To beat Date? Could the tree have a powerful spirit? One that had sensed his regret and had given him a second chance? A week ago he had said that even if spirits existed, such a feat was impossible. Now after experiencing it first hand he couldn't be sure. Still, if this was a opportunity granted to him by the gods then he had better not waste it. What should he do with this gift? After half an hour of brainstorming he'd written up a simple list of goals.

1. Defeat Date Eiji.
2. Make sure mom's ok.
3. Fight Miyata-kun in the Rookie tournament finals.
4. Ask Kumi-san out.

Ippo smiled as he looked at his list. Beating Date was the reason he was sent back. He would have to train hard and do exactly what the coach told him if he wanted to succeed.

Making sure mom was ok should be simple. She'd only collapsed from exhaustion last time because he'd been a bad son and hadn't been helping out enough. He might be able to get Umezawa-kun to help out like he did before...or will have done before. Thinking of the past/future made his head spin.

He was going to have another spar with Miyata-kun, but he wanted to fight with him in the professional ring! Miyata might not even acknowledge his existence right now, but not getting knocked out in their first spar was a good thing right? It was shameful, but he'd spent that morning looking forward to the spar with Miyata rather than contemplate how he traveled in time. He'd have to make sure to thank Tree-sama properly.

What about Kumi-san? They had finally had a date, even if it was just her trying to cheer him up after his loss. If he didn't lose would she not call him? If he fought Miyata-kun instead of Mashiba-san what would Kumi-san think? Would she be happy that he hadn't fought her brother? Would she be unimpressed if he couldn't beat Mashiba-san? Fighting Miyata-kun would be like a dream, fighting Mashiba-san would be a nightmare. If he broke his hand would it even heal correctly again?

Plagued by thoughts of what could happen in the future, Ippo finally fell asleep.


The next day after school Ippo stopped by Tree-sama on the way to the gym. He set his backpack down and carefully took out the incense stick he had taken from home. After igniting the incense he placed the stick in the ground at Tree-sama's base. With a quick look around to make sure no one was approaching, Ippo clapped his hands to awaken Tree-sama then bowed to show his respect. He stayed bowed for a few minutes before he heard some voices approaching. Ippo quickly grabbed his pack and ran away before anyone could see what he'd been doing. A short time later Umezama and his two delinquent friends came walking down the road. When they smelled the incense they stopped and looked at the tree that someone had lit it under. With puzzled looks they proceeded on their way.

Ippo sprinted to the Kamogawa gym mortified that anyone might have seen him. Stopping outside he tried to calm his nerves, but he needed to make a good impression. If Kamogawa-sensei didn't accept him then his dreams would die right then and there. Following Coach's instructions was the only reason he had gotten as far as Date-san in the past...future. No time to think about things that would distract him from boxing! It was time for enthusiasm!

"GOOD DAY! THANK YOU FOR TAKING ME IN!"

Ippo was struck with a sudden sense that he had done this before. Deja-vu, that's what his mom called it right? The feeling was only compounded when he saw the coach grabbing at his chest.

*GON*

"You Moron! Think about the Boss' heart! He's old." Takamura's scolding accompanied his punch.

"Ugh.. Sorry!"

"You little punk... Don't just stand there, come down to the basement. We're starting!" Coach Kamogawa's stare was as familiar as it was terrifying.

Just like Ippo remembered happening before, his training started with jumping rope. This time he was going to do it right. This time he was going to do it quickly and he wasn't going to end up tangled in the rope on the gym floor. Less then a minute later, Ippo was extracting himself from the mess he had (once again) gotten himself into with the jumping rope. At least the coach hadn't yelled at him for moving too slowly...

*sigh* "Let's move on to mitt hitting. Learn how to at least jump rope! But do it on your own time!"

"Yes!"

Ippo put on his gloves and got in the ring while the coach scowled at him. Ippo jabbed at the mitt as soon as Kamogawa-sensei raised it.

*BAN*

That sound, that feeling, this was something he had missed.

"A punch that Takamura would notice. You really have a good one. Here, now some one-twos."

*BAN-BAN* *BAN-BAN* *BAN-BAN*

Ippo fell into the rhythm of punching again. His fists didn't feel as smooth as they once did. He would have to train his body to throw punches quicker and without thought. It felt good to be making progress towards his goals.

"Good. Good. With punches like these it'd be possible for you to take down Miyata"

"N-No. Miyata-kun would never be hit by punches this slow. I'm not fast enough yet."

"Heh. Give me five, no three months and I'll have you being able to fight at the same level as Miyata."

"A-another spar with Miyata-kun? I'd love to!" It was the second spar where he'd won which had prompted Miyata-kun to want to fight him in the pro ring. It was a spar he'd haft to win. Ippo noticed that the steady sound of Miyata hitting the speed bag had stopped. Looking over his shoulder he saw the older boy looking their way.

"Ah..Ah..W-what I meant to say..."

"Good. You want to fight him again, but you'll have to learn this first." The Coach brought his right hand up in a punch from the ground, stopping right below Ippo's chin. "The uppercut. Your failure to hit Miyata wasn't because of your punches not being fast enough, it was because they were all straight forward blows. With your stamina, if you were able to attack from all directions: up, down, left and right... Then even an out-boxer like Miyata wouldn't be able to dodge and block them all. If you can get past his defense with even one blow, you can win."

"Yes! With your help I'll win!"

"Well said. Now lean forward, bend both your knees."

"Ok."

"Bring your fist to your gut, palm up! Then rise up and use the momentum to fling your body and your fist up! Now, try it!"

Ippo remembered his first lesson of how to throw an upper-cut. No one could explain things like his coach. Ippo went though the familiar motions, stepping in deep, rising up, and exploding with the punch.

*DAAAAN*

His fist hit the punching mitt squarely and threw the coach off-balance. The sound of the blow reverberated in the small underground area.

"Heh heh heh, A punch from 20 years ago. I can't believe you'd be capable of such a thing. Now go hit the heavy bag."

"Yes!"

After Ippo had gotten started on punching, Kamogawa went outside to the faucet. Taking off the punching mitt from his right hand he cringed away from the stinging sensation that spread across his palm.

"That kid has a good punch. Can I pick them or can I pick them. Ha ha ha ha ha!" There was only one person who could be that arrogant and annoying at the same time.

"Get back to your workout Takamura!" The mitt was a convenient missile to hurl at the boxer's head.


A week had passed since the brat that Takamura had found had joined the gym. The kid had potential. The more training he was given the more he wanted. Outside of the ring calling him timid would exaggerate his social skills, but if that first spar was anything to go by - his attitude in the ring wouldn't pose any problems. It was also amazing both how quickly he picked up the basic techniques he'd been shown, and how he was perfectly willing to practice them ad nauseam rather than ask to learn a new punch. Takamura had complained constantly about only learning a jab. Thankfully the brat didn't share his senpai's personality. If he had to deal with another pervert-king-delinquent on the same level as Takamura he'd go to his grave 10 years earlier, of that he was certain.

He was pretty sure Ippo was spending every free moment shadow boxing. When you looked at the brat you could practically see the opponent he was imagining he was fighting. Even more impressive it was obvious that his chosen shadow boxer was Miyata. The kid seemed to idolize the out-boxer. The shadow of Miyata that Ippo practiced against was even quicker and more adept at finding counter opportunities than the real Miyata. With a year or so experience he'd expect Miyata to be at the level Ippo was imagining. Having set himself such a high bar was doing wonders for his new rival as well. Miyata had been training extra hard this last week. That sparring session had galvanized them both. The gym hadn't felt this energized since Takamura's debut.


Nearly a month had passed since Ippo had started training at the gym again. It felt significantly easier this time. Miyata-kun's image was perfectly clear from the moment he started shadow-boxing. If only he could be as fast, cool, and confident as Miyata-kun. That wasn't his style though. The style that Coach had given him was to press forward. Use quick, sharp body blows, and to gradually increase the power of his punches when he had sealed his opponent's legs. Looking back at his fights it was the times that he had deviated from Kamogawa-sensei's advice that he'd had problems.

For the other goals he'd set for himself there had been no progress. Training to be capable of beating Date was taking up all of his free time. His mother had already taken the boat out without him five times. He couldn't let her burden herself, but he couldn't slack off on his training either. He knew where Kumi-san worked currently, but knowing she was there made it impossible for him to enter. With no ideas coming to him no matter how hard he thought, Ippo decided it was time to ask Kamogawa-sensei for advice. At least about training and working at the same time. It just wasn't possible to bring up Kumi-san in a conversation with anyone else.

It was a Saturday afternoon, so he'd gone to the gym after getting out of school at noon. Coach had just declared their mitt session over.

"Uhm... Coach?"

"What?"

"I-I have a problem, a-and I thought you might be able to help me."

"A problem? What is it?"

"Well, my mom has a fishing company, and I always used to help her with taking the boat out. I was wondering if I could somehow combine working on the boat with training. I can't shadow-box 'cause it would upset the customers and scare away the fish. Are there any exercises I could do on a boat...without disturbing anyone else?" He felt silly asking the impossible, but the Coach was a genius. If there was a technique he could use, Kamogawa-sensei would know it.

"Hmmm... What do you do while on the boat? Do you just stand there, or do you drive, or something else?"

"I usually help adjust the sails and rigging, or help the customers with their equipment."

"And that isn't enough of a work out for you anymore. Then just make it more difficult. That job is why you have such great strength and stamina, so it isn't lacking as a training regime. You just need to make it more intense."

"More intense? Like going out on more trips?"

*DON*

"NO! That's not more intense, that's just doing it more often. You should wear leg-weights, or arm-weights, or wear a mask."

"A mask?"

"Yes. A mask will make breathing more difficult. It doesn't look like you're exercising on the boat, but your lungs and your heart are constantly in motion. Stifling your air supply will make both of them work even harder. Don't do it while performing your regular training, but those two things will increase the difficulty of any physical task. It won't be as good as shadow-boxing for improving your muscle-memory, but the results in your stamina and strength should make themselves known."

"That's amazing! I need to buy some leg and arm weights right now."

"Hold it. As long as your going to a sporting goods store get yourself some new boots also. The soles on your shoes are almost worn completely out."

"Yes Sir!"

Ippo was two blocks away from the gym when he realized that he didn't know what kind of weights to buy. How heavy should the be? He should've asked Coach. The gym was still close, it wouldn't take too long for him to go back. As he turned around he saw Miyata-kun coming down the street in his direction.


Miyata exited the gym intent on buying some new bandages for his hands. The old ones were looking threadbare and soon wouldn't cushion his knuckles like they should. Up ahead he saw Makunochi approaching. This might be a good time to get some answers.

"Miyata-kun!" Ippo waved at his rival.

"Makunochi"

"Could I ask where Miyata-kun was heading to?"

*sigh* "We're rivals. Shouldn't you be a bit less friendly with me?" Ippo's look of utter dejection that followed those words was enough to make Miyata re-consider them. "Fine. It's not like it's a secret or anything. I'm just heading down to the sporting goods store to get some new wraps."

"Oh! I was going to go there myself, but I needed to ask Coach what equipment I should get."

"Hn?"

"Well, he said to get some leg and arm weights, but I don't know how heavy of weights I should get."

"When you do weight training you always start with the smallest weight possible and gradually increase. That way if you go over you won't hurt yourself too badly. So start at 5kg and increase it from there. Wait at least a week in-between increments since it's not always obvious when you've pushed yourself too hard."

"Wow! Miyata-kun is so smart!"

"That's just common sense. If you'd done any weight training before you'd have known that. I've been meaning to ask you about that actually."

"Huh? You want to ask ME something? I know! Let's get some juice and drink while we talk!"

"Fine." Makunochi was difficult to figure out. Outside the gym he was very shy and friendly, a far cry from the deliquent that people would assume hung out with Takamura. Ippo handed him a grape juice can. "Thanks. So where did you start boxing?"

"At the gym. You were there." Ippo looked flustered and confused.

"The way you handled yourself in the ring wasn't like any new-comer I've ever seen. You were better than most rookies. I thought you just had fighting experience like Takamura or some of the other boxers, but you don't seem like the type."

"I.I..never boxed before I went to the Kamogawa Gym. I ran into Takamura a week before our first spar. He showed me his jab, how to throw a straight, and loaned me some tapes."

Ippo was fidgeting extensively now. There was no way he could ever been a bully. An obvious target though. "So you got into fights, but you were always the attacked?"

"No. Well, I mean, I kinda got picked on before, but I've never gotten into a fight outside the ring!" With those words Makunochi glared at him, as if daring Miyata to question the veracity of his statement.

"Then how are you in such good shape? If you don't know anything about lifting weights, or jump-roping, or running, or any other training regime, how are you so strong?"

"Uhm...well, I help my mom with the fishing boat. I usually carry the ice packs, and working on the boat itself is a pretty tough job. My dad died while I was a little kid, so I've had to do all the tasks that involve brute strength, while my mom does the parts that need skill." Ippo chuckled at his self-depreciating comment, while he rubbed the back of his head with his right hand.

"So your dad died when you were a kid huh? The same thing happened to my mom."

"Your dad is your corner-man right? I've heard he was an ex-boxer."

"Yeah, my goal is to prove that my father's boxing style is the best. So I definitely won't lose to...what the?"

"What is it?" Ippo followed Miyata's gaze. They had covered a lot of ground, and were now in front of Tree-sama. Hammered into the dirt there was a sign that read "No Burning Incense on the Grass".


Coach had explained that their strategy for fighting Miyata-kun was to wait for him to tire out. The more Ippo thought about it, the less he liked it. He didn't want to question Coach, but that wasn't how he'd won the first time. If he remembered correctly, it was after he had told Kamogawa-sensei that he wanted to fight Miyata-kun head-on that they had changed their strategy. Questioning Coach was scary, and he had complete faith in his training, but fighting Miyata-kun man to man was what he really wanted.

"U-Uhm... Coach? About this strategy, it's kinda weak. Don't you think? I want to go out and fight."

"What? You punk! Are you saying you want to be hit with his counter?"

"I don't want to get hit by it, but I don't want to run from it either. I want to take Miyata-kun head on!"

"Arrogant Brat! Fine. If that's what you want, I'll drag you around until you can't take anymore. Crying won't get you out of it! You'll be running until either I'm satisfied or you're in the grave!"

"Yes Coach!"

Ippo ran after Kamogawa-sensei's scooter. For an hour the Coach had him running. They paused only for Ippo to run in zig-zags on the side of the road. After every pause Ippo would have to sprint to catch back up. When they had completed their circle and made it back to the gym, Ippo collapsed in the bathroom. He had barely finished heaving into the sink when Kamogawa-sensei dragged him back onto the road. Their second trip had taken almost twice as long. Ippo knew better than to complain, Coach knew exactly what he was doing. After re-hydrating himself, Ippo sat on the floor in the corner of the basement.

"If you allow Miyata to out-box you then you've lost before the match starts. I'm not giving you good footwork, I'm giving you a fast step-in. Only by dashing forward quickly can you close the distance between the two of you and get into close range where he won't be able to dodge."

*pant* *pant* "So.." *pant* "I'm going to rush in through his counter?" Even though the Coach was explaining things that Ippo had already been taught, his elderly trainer was full of knowledge. In a way getting a 'refresher' course on the basics was remarkably enlightening.

"Exactly! You dash in and change the hit point! If his arm doesn't extend all the way his punch won't be a full-strength. Stop the momentum before it reaches you. The power will be halved, and then you'll be at your range. To beat Miyata you'll need resilience and dash power. Now we're going to practice your resilience!"

"Yes!" This basic lesson. How could he have forgotten it so many times? It wouldn't be useful against either Sendou or Volg who were in-boxers like him. Okita, Saeki, and Hayami would all be perfect opponents to remember it for. Especially Okita, the strategy for him had been to rush in - taking a few hits in exchange for closing the gap between them. His corkscrew punch had made such a trade-off not work. Leaning into the corkscrew might even cause the punch to land before the twisting motion that it's power derived from finished. Then it would just be a regular punch. If Kamogawa-sensei had known about Okita's corkscrew before the match their strategy would have undoubtedly included changing the hit point.

The resilience training included head-stands - both straight up and with his head tilted - and arching backwards. He would form an upside-down 'U' on the ground, with his stomach facing the ceiling. Kamogawa-sensei would sit on his chest. His teacher didn't weight much, but supporting that weight in that position was tough. Gradually they increased the time he spent in the positions from 3 to 5 minutes. Every day he would run for hours, do resilience training for half an hour (though it felt like much, much longer), and practice mitt-hitting for another 2 hours. Ippo was glad that he was still in high-school. Classes were the only time apart from sleeping that he wasn't physically exerting himself.


"My Punch Is Dynamite!"

No.

"Bun. Bun. Bun."

No!

"Knockout For Anyone!"

NO!

That song. He'd forgotten it, but Takamura's personal fight song coming from the hallway to the showers. It was about to happen! He should have made certain not to shower at the same time as Takamura. Now the pervert-king was going to harass him, and then he was going to pull down his towel in front of everyone! He had to get out. Out of the showers before Takamura came through the doorway. Ippo sprinted.

"Hey Ippo! You shouldn't run on the wet floor. You might"

*CRASH!*

"Whoa everyone. Looks like Ippo's a heavyweight! Showing it off for us like that! You arrogant punk!"

Ippo cried silent tears as he lay on the floor, exposed to his gym-mates while Takamura laughed at him. Perhaps if he asked really nicely Tree-sama would let him redo today also.


Two months had passed and the brat had made tremendous progress. It was really surprising how he had taken to the training. He hadn't complained a single time, even when it was obvious he was on his last legs. Something seemed to drive him forward. Takamura did have a good talent for brining in skilled fighters. Aoki and Kimura weren't championship level yet, but the potential was there. The kid's talent blew them all away. Every lesson he picked up on the first time. He was a natural genius like Miyata, the two would make perfect rivals.

In the basement ring the two boxers squared off. Takamura was going to officiate. He was even wearing a white button down shirt and a bow tie. Where had he gotten that get up? In the corner there were some reporters that were there to get a story on Miyata since he was about to turn pro. They couldn't of picked a more opportune time, the match was going to be interesting. Kamogawa was glad the kid had demanded to face Miyata's counter head on. That was the way of the samurai, it was the way of a boxer. It also gave him a better chance at winning, but he couldn't ask a beginner to take that kind of risk on his own.

"The rules are the same as before: 4 rounds, 3 knockdowns, no headgear, 8 once gloves." Takamura was really into playing ref. "Both of you fight like it's a real match."

Ippo made his way back to the corner. He looked ready for the fight, but it was the corner-man's duty to provide him support.

"You can do it kid! Show him the results of these last 3 months!"

"Yes!"

He was completely relaxed. The kid was a natural.

"All right! Seconds out!"

*tick* *tick* *tick* *GON!*

The bell rang and the fight was underway. Ippo dashed toward his opponent. Left jab followed left jab, but Miyata weaved and back-peddled avoiding every punch. Makunochi didn't relent. Every time Miyata changed directions, Ippo moved with him. It was as if he knew exactly where Miyata was planning on retreating to before the out-boxer did.

Soon Miyata was caught in Ippo's reach. Miyata's guard was basic, both hands in front of his face. It would protect him from jabs, but the short upper he had drilled into the kid would tear it apart. Ippo started the movement for that exact blow, but as soon as he did Miyata threw a right cross. Miyata's speed was greater; his punch would land first - a clean counter. Ippo suddenly stopped his punch and ducked! The surprised look on Miyata's face as his hook flew over Ippo's head was quickly obscured from view by Ippo's gloves. A left jab, then a right straight, and Miyata was down. Kamogawa could attest to the power behind those punches, but it was still surprising that Miyata had been knocked down with only two.

"DOWN! Neutral Corner!" Takamura quickly stepped in. Thankfully he wasn't as surprised as everyone else in the basement.

"One!"

"Two!"

"Three!"

"Four!"

"Five!"

"Six!"

"Seven!"

"Eight!

"N..."

"Uhg.." Miyata had thrown off the surprise that had stunned him and everyone else in the audience. "I'm all right. I can continue." He took his fighting stance.

"Ichirou! Damage?" His father asked.

"I'm fine. I just just took a one-two to the face and loss my balance."

"Fight!"

Ippo advanced on Miyata. Another left was followed by a right straight, but this time Miyata was ready for it. He ducked under Ippo's right and delivered a straight right of his own. A counter. His fist stopped when it connected with Ippo's face, rather than following through his punch was completely absorbed. The kid had leaned into it. Once again Miyata's surprised face was hit with Ippo's gloved fist. The sound was impressive, but not as impressive as the sight of Miyata actually bouncing off the canvas by the strength of the punch.

"DOWN! Neutal Corner!"

"Gah!" Ippo might have withstood Miyata's best punch, but it still looked like it had hurt him.

"One!"

"Two!"

"Three!"

"Four!"

"Five!" Miyata had managed to pull himself to his feet and resumed his fighting stance.

"Can you go on?" Miyata nodded in response.

"Go for it!" He couldn't help but cheer for the brat. Victory over Miyata was only one punch away. "Now's the time for the long upper! One more down an you win!"

"Fight!"

Ippo charged toward Miyata again. A left jab was blocked, and a right straight was dodged. Miyata had been sliding to his left before the straight, but his dodge stopped his movement. The kid was preventing him from getting distance! With his escape blocked, the out-boxer threw another right hook. Ippo ducked underneath it, and began the motion for a right long upper. Suddenly he stopped, shifted his weight and began to push off with his left leg instead. He was throwing a long upper with his left? It was then that the coach saw that Miyata's left had begun to raise up. Was he going to counter? Did the kid see it?

All these thoughts were soon swept away by the sight of Miyata's right hand coming down from above. He had switched up his counter in response to Ippo's change! Now it was with his dominate hand too! The combined force of Ippo's upward's movement and Miyata's downward punch was more than sufficient to knock Ippo off his feet.

"One!"

"Two!" This wasn't a counter that had half of it's power stripped away. This one had the full strength of both boxers behind it.

"Three!"

"Four!" Countering the long upper. To think that such a thing was possible. The kid was tough, but could he stand after a hit like that?

"Five!"

"Six!" Ippo had grabbed the ropes and was pulling himself up, when his strength gave out and he tumbled back to the mat.

"Seven!"

"Eight!" His feet were under his body again. He was still conscious, still trying to stand.

"Nine!"

"HAAA!" With a final push Ippo regained his feet, and put his hands up in his fighting pose.

"Can you continue." Takamura only got a nod in reply.

Miyata's surprise was plain to see. He knew the strength of that punch better than anyone - aside from Ippo. Neither boxer seemed to be in any shape to press the attack however. Miyata looked like he was having trouble standing, and Ippo looked worse. Then Ippo took a step towards Miyata. Then another. Then another. He was moving slowly - only one step every two seconds or so, but he was still pressing forward! What spirit! The kid was something else! A forth step, then a fifth. Two more steps and they'd be within each other's reach again. Could either of them throw a live punch right now?

*GON*GON*GON*

The bell rang and round one was finished.


Ippo sat in the corner while Kamogawa-sensei gave him water and words of encouragement. It was going almost exactly like it had the first time. Throwing a left instead of a right long upper seemed like a good idea at the time, but now it seemed foolish. If Miyata-kun could counter a right long upper, he could easily counter a left. The truth was that any punch he threw Miyata-kun would counter. Now what?

"All right! Seconds Out! Round 2. Begin!"

Ippo rushed forward. Miyata-kun would try to clinch him this round and recover his stamina. The first time a standing upper had nicked Miyata's chin, but could he manage to hit so precisely on purpose? He had to finish things this round, before Miyata-kun got his legs back. A left jab, another jab, then Miyata's arms were around him preventing him from getting the rotation required for a punch. It was happening again. Miyata-kun was a few centimeters away, but there was no way for him to reach.

"Break it up!"

Takamura broke the clinch, but Miyata immediately re-established it. The two boxers were at a stale-mate, but with Miyata recovering strength with each passing second.

*DOF!*

Miyata shuddered.

*DOF!*

Miyata staggered back, hunched over grasping his stomach. 10 centimeters. That was all Ippo needed. It was the punch they had practiced for Date. Even without training, the principles were the same. Pull back, tense up, and release! With the clinch broken there was room to step forward with his left foot. The right straight that followed knocked Miyata-kun down. Takamura ran over to check on him, then he waved his hands.

"Knock-out! Makunochi is the winner!"