Maruyama and Abe set to duel for last ticket to Tokyo 2020

In an unprecedented winner-takes-all bout on Sunday, world champions past and present will fight for the final place on Japan's Olympic team in the men's -66kg.

By Shintaro Kano ·

Coming up on Sunday (13 December) is a first in the long history of Japanese judo.

Tokyo's Kodokan Institute, the mecca of global judo, will see reigning world champion Maruyama Joshiro and former two-time champion Abe Hifumi lock horns in a one-off clash for the last spot on Japan's Tokyo 2020 Olympic team in the men's -66kg class.

Maruyama has had a minuscule edge over Abe in the past with four wins from seven career meetings, six of which went into extra time.

The match is too close to call and being billed like a heavyweight boxing bout in Japan due to its unique winner-takes-all importance.

In a statement issued by the All Japan Judo Federation, Maruyama said, "I am more than aware of the attention this match is getting.

"I know there are many people, especially in the medical community, struggling to cope with the coronavirus pandemic and realise they think this is no time for sports.

"However, all I can do is fight with appreciation for what they do and inspire them anyway I can, hopefully."

Abe is hoping to join younger sister Uta, the reigning two-time -52kg world champion, in the squad for Tokyo.

He sounds the more confident of the two, stating, "I have been preparing like for this match like I never have before.

"On the 13th, I will stick to the judo I know - ippon judo all the way - and I am going to qualify for the Olympics." - Abe Hifumi

The Kodokan will be sealed off on Sunday. Both judoka have been tested for COVID and will be isolated until the day of the match.

The rivalry between the pair intensified in November 2018 when Maruyama beat Abe, the then two-time defending world champion, in the Osaka Grand Slam final.

Maruyama then wrested the world title away from Abe at the 2019 World Championships in Tokyo.

Abe struck back at the Osaka Grand Slam that year and, with Maruyama out injured, won the Grand Slam Dusseldorf in February.

That made the selection process a headache for AJJF officials, especially given the absence of competitions against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.

But on Sunday, the world will find out which man will be standing on the mat of the Budokan for Japan next July.