When it comes to working up a solid case of national hysteria, few people can match the Japanese. Their latest object of affection is a cocky little fellow named Masahiko (Fighting) Harada, who won the flyweight championship in 1962, lost it and then rewon the hearts of his countrymen by taking the bantamweight title with a brutal split decision from Eder Jofre of Brazil. Wham! In a country that has never had many champions, Fighting Harada—and boxing—were the rage, so much so that fighters like Featherweight Mitsunori Seki, who is scheduled to meet Vicente Saldivar of Mexico for the title this month, now get the huzzahs usually reserved for sumo wrestlers and baseball stars.

Winning a championship is one thing. But, according to SI Tokyo Correspondent Frank Iwama, it is the way Harada goes at it that makes him so popular. His is a style loosely described as "frantic windmill," and it is calculated to turn the most ordinary fight into a hair-raising affair. Moreover, Harada made it to the top the hard way. As a boy he considered a plate of boiled bamboo shoots a big meal, and even after winning admittance to the Sasazaki Boxing Club (one of 119 in Japan, each of which handles about 100 fighters) life was not easy. The clubs house, feed and clothe their fighters, but only a few members ever make more than $15 a bout. The determined Harada toted bales of rice for local merchants to supplement his income, grew stronger and now, at 23, is Worth at least $50,000, which is rich by Japanese fighters' standards.

Harada, who won his flyweight title from Thailand's Pone Kingpetch only to lose it back, ate himself into the bigger bantam class, where he became champion in 1965. He defended his title twice and claimed he felt more comfortable. He was, of course, forgetting José Medel of Mexico, whose wicked counterpunch had earlier proved the antidote for Harada's rush-and-flurry tactics. In 1964 Medel handed Harada his head—and his only knockout in a 45-bout career (Harada has lost two by decision). This month, with Harada's bantam championship at stake a third time, the two met again at Nagoya—and did Harada change his style? He did not; he exaggerated it, throwing more punches than seemed possible. From the start, Harada swarmed his opponent with such fury that the Mexican was forced to spend the evening covering up. Medel got away from his buzzing tormentor to stagger him once in the 10th, but after that it was all Harada, bantam champion and honored toast of the ecstatic Japanese.

PHOTOT. TANUMAHarada (far left), doing road work with clubmates in Tokyo, trains long hours to compensate for lusty eating habits.
PHOTOT. TANUMACatching Harada's punches, even in a sparring round, takes some doing, but his ingenious trainer has the answer—a pair of catcher's mitts. PHOTOT. TANUMAAs Japan's leading world champion, Harada gets favored treatment—a long, relaxing massage on a luxurious "futon" while he watches TV. PHOTOT. TANUMAAs a boy Masahiko rushed all over Tokyo hoisting bales of rice to make a meager living. He does it here to win publicity for a former boss. PHOTOT. TANUMAWinner and still a world champion, triumphant Fighting Harada is hoisted aloft by his handlers for ringsiders and all of Japan to admire.