On May 26th we'll see former world title challenger Masahiro Sakamoto (13-2, 9) return to the ring following his 2018 loss to IBF Flyweight king Moruti Mthalane. The 28 year old Osakan will be dropping down from world level, but will look to remain a title level fighter, and will be up against fellow Japanese fighter Yusuke Sakashita (17-8-3, 12) in a bout for the WBO Asia Pacific Flyweight title. A win for either man should secure them a WBO world ranking and potentially move them into the mix for a potential world title fight down the line.
The bout, as mentioned, will be Sakamoto's first since losing to Mthalane in an IBF title fight at the very end of 2018 That bout was Sakamoto's first shot at the big time, though he had had a decent career prior to fighting for a world title. He had won the Rookie of the Year in 2015, had given Sho Kimura problems in 2016 and won the WBO Asia Pacific title in 2017, stopping Kwanthai Sithmoreseng for the title. Sadly whilst he did win the regional title in 2017 he only defended it once, stopping veteran Pigmy Kokietgym in a less than taxing bout. He gave up the regional title to challenge Mthalane and will be looking to recapture it here, in what is set to be one of his toughest bouts.
Although Sakashita has more bouts to his name he is less notable than Sakamoto. He would struggle badly early in his career, falling to 2-2-1 after 5 bouts, though rebuilt by winning the 2011 Rookie of the Year. Some mixed success at domestic level eventually saw him getting a shot at Suguru Muranaka for the Japanese Flyweight title in 2014, and being knocked out by Muranaka, who landed a thunderbolt right hand to take out Sakashita in round 8. Since the loss to Muranaka Sakashita has been inconsistent to say the least, going 5-3-1, though is riding a 4 fight unbeaten rung including a TKO win last time out against former OPBF champion Keisuke Nakayama.
Whilst we did see Sakamoto look really limited against Mthalane one that we couldn't fault was his effort, his hunger and his drive. Technically he was poor, though in fairness Mthalane makes very good fighters look poor, but his work rate was impressive and his toughness also shone through. That will often be enough to win at this level, and we wouldn't be surprised to see him mixing at regional level for the rest of his career. It is worth noting however that Sakamoto is a smart guy and is, or at least was, studying at a high level suggesting he has an exit for the sport. Another damaging loss and it could well be the end of his career, walking away to participate in a safer occupation.
Sakamoto is open, aggressive, exciting and hard working. He's not got masses of power, he's not slick or particularly sharp, but at this type of level being able to bring a fight for 12 rounds is often enough.
Sakashita is also quite limited, but also makes for good fights. He's very much a a puncher, and in recent years has shown more and more belief in his power. He's never going to have the power to take him up to world level, but at domestic and regional level he hits hard enough really ask questions of opponents. Defensively he is open and he will take shots. He drops his guard a lot and is open to a good straight right hand, a solid left cross due to his defensive flaws. However he will also look to take opponents out and does have fun domestic fighters, win or lose.
When we have technically flawed but aggressive fighters facing off we do tend to expect fun action and we're expecting these two to put on a low key thriller. Both guys have edges they will look to make the most of, Sakamoto has the work rate and engine whilst Sakashita has the power. With that in mind we expect to see Sakamoto press the action, and eat counters as a result, but eventually break down Sakashita in the later rounds of a nail biting contest.
Peduction - Sakamoto TKO11
Over the past few weeks the Flyweight division has really been THE division to follow. Just a month ago we saw Akira Yaegashi sadly lose his WBC title to the sensational Roman Gonzalez, a day later we got to see Juan Francisco Estrada retain his unified crown with a sensational performance against Giovani Segura. Less than a week after those two bouts we saw IBF champion Amnat Ruenroeng narrowly retain his belt against the heavy handed McWilliams Arroyo.
Now we get to see Japanese domestic champion Suguru Muranaka (20-2-1, 6) defend his belt for the second time as he himself looks to make a mark on the world scene and work his way towards bigger and better fighters. Hoping to end Muranaka's reign will be 2011 Rookie of the Year Yusuke Sakashita (12-4-2, 7), a man looking to take a major step up and prove himself as yet another Flyweight to keep an eye on.
Of the two fighters it's certainly Sakashita with the most to gain and least to lose. After all going in to this fight he is ranked relatively low down the JBC rankings, he's risking nothing and most notably he has no one expecting him to win. In many ways this is a no-lose situation for the challenger who at just 23 has a lot of time to bounce back if he loses, and if he wins he announces himself as a seriously promising young man in boxing's most stacked division.
Sadly for Sakashita whilst there is little to lose there is also little chance of him upsetting the champion. So far in his career his crowning achievement is winning the Rookie of the Year back in 2011 with wins over the likes of Shigeki Oka and Isao Aoyama, neither of whom have really made a mark on the sport. since their losses to Sakashita. Against his more notable opponents he has lost with defeats coming to Kenichi Horikawa and Shohei Kikuzato among others.
Although far from a top tier fighter Sakashita will come into this bout with confidence, after all he has won his last 4 bouts. Those 4 wins have seen him gain some career momentum but have come at a moderately low level, especially compared to fighters like Muranaka.
Whilst Sakashita has little to lose Muranaka is risking a lot. Firstly, and most obviously, he has his title up for grabs though he will also be risking his hard earned world rankings. Although unknown outside of Japan Muranaka is ranked by all 4 of the major organisations and a route to a world title fight is clearly open for him when he feels ready. Considering what is on the line it's little wonder he is facing a weak foe here.
Going in to this bout Muranaka will be looking for his second defense of a title he won last year when he defeated Takuya Kogawa by split decision. His first defense came earlier this year, when he stopped Masayuki Kuroda, and it's fair to say that those two title bouts have proven that Muranaka is, at very worst, fringe world class. It's also worth noting that he is unbeaten in almost 8 years, and his two losses have both been split decisions.
Although not a puncher Muranaka has enough traits to make up for his lack of dynamite. He is as determined as they come, he throws a lot, he's tough, resilient, elusive when he needs to be and happy to take one to land one. It may not always be pretty to watch him but he is not an easy opponent for anyone bar the truly elite, in fact in many ways he is a stylistic nightmare for many fighters out there due to his sheer grittiness and determination as well as his fantastic work rate.
On what we've seen of both men this is a total mismatch. Sakashita is ranked outside of the top 10 by the JBC for the simple fact that he's nothing special. He's not a terrible fighter but he's also not a particularly good one and although he has a record that suggests he's a power puncher he is fortunate not to have faced many decent fighters. In this fight Sakashita will find out about "levels" and will realise, relatively quickly, that he's not on Muranaka's level. The champion may not have power but he has the skills and work rate to make lesser fighters feel the pace and that's what we imagine will happen here with Sakashita struggling through the middle rounds and probably suffering a stoppage towards the end of the bout after a gallant effort against a man in a different league to himself.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
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