When certainly fighters get in the ring you tend to know you can expect something exciting. There are fighters who simply give us excitement by the bucket load, and others that don't. Today we feature a bout featuring someone we know always gave his all in the ring, in what was a short, but thrilling, brutal and bruising bout from the turn of the century. It was a bout that provided drama, excitement and, sadly, heartache for one of boxing's true good guys.
Hiroyuki Sakamoto (35-3, 25) vs Gilberto Serrano (18-4-1, 15)
Coming in to this Venezuelan fighter Gilberto Serrano was the WBA Lightweight champion, he had taken the title from Stefano Zoff in November 1999 and was looking to make his first defense 4 months later as he took on Hiroyuki Sakamoto. Prior to winning the title Serrano was a hard hitting fighter who had lost in his first world title fight, a war with Yong Soo Choi, but had moved up in weight and found success at 135lbs, busting Zoff's eye to the point where the Italian needed to be stopped. Despite being from Venezuela Serrano had been a genuine world traveller with bouts all over the place, including his title win in the US and his loss to Choi in Korea, though this was his first contest in Japan.
Whilst Serrano was the world champion he was travelling to the lions den to face off with the popular Hiroyuki Sakamoto, a popular Japanese fighter. Sakamoto had had a hard life, being abused as a child before moving into a children's home. He had lost his first two world title fights, including a split draw to Stevie Johnston, but had kept banging on the door, doing enough to get a third shot. In the ring he was a heavy handed, aggressive fighter and was dubbed the "Japanese Duran" for his aggressive style that always saw him bringing the pressure and making everything a war. He wasn't the most skilled but was tough, strong, powerful and very exciting to watch.
After a lengthy TV build up, which focused on Sakamoto's upbringing and hard luck story, we got to the ring. Given the styles and power of the two men it was clear we should expect something exciting, and that's exactly what we got.
After about 50 seconds of feeling each other out the bout caught fire and with one of the first clean shots that landed Serrano went down. The crowd went crazy and Sakamoto went into seek and destroy mode. Serrano, to his credit, got on the back foot, knowing about Sakamoto's power, and looked to fire off combinations at range. There was an immediate tenseness before Serrano suffered the second knockdown, just after the 2 minute mark. From there on the round was a war with Sakamoto looking to take Serrano down for the third time. Despite dominating the round Sakamoto was left with a gash under his left eye
Round 2 started hot, with Serrano looking to make up for the 10-7 opening stanza and Sakamoto looking to take out the champion, knowing the gash under his eye was going to be a ticking time bomb. As a result round 2 was another action packed one, but this time it was Serrano getting the best of it, and unleashing heavy shots to the head of Sakamoto. The challenger struggled with the foot work and movement of the champion and the shots coming his way had left both of his eyes swollen messes less than 2 minutes into round 2. From there on the drama intensified. Would Sakamoto's eyes hold out long enough for him land another bomb? Was he even able to see enough to even land a bomb? Could Serrano take bomb? The euphoria of the opening round knockdowns was instantly gone and Serrano was taking advantage of Sakamoto's injuries.
Sakamoto was near blind heading into round 3, but pressed forward regardless, hoping to chase down the heavy handed champion. Due to his pressure Sakamoto was left with a bloodied nose, his eyes swelling further, but his desire driving him on in search of the hail Mary he was beginning to need. He continued searching at the start of round 4, knowing that he needed something, and he needed it quickly as what was left of his sight was rapidly disappearing.
Whilst not an all out war, this is one that fans deserve to watch. The big shift in momentum from the opening round to the second, the heart and desire of Sakamoto, the power of both men, the sense that if Sakamoto landed clean he could change everything. An incredible display of will against skill.
When we have some free time we're hoping to add a series of fun articles to the site. Hopefully these will be enjoyable little short features