Introducing... Mikio Sakai
Japanese fighters in and around the Middleweight division don't typically get much attention, which is partly why Ryota Murata is such an oddity right now. That however doesn't take away from the fact that there really good bouts that take place in Japan at the weight, including some of the best Japanese bouts of the last few years. With that in mind today's "Introducing" looks at up coming debutant Mikio Sakai (0-0), a new signing for the Kadoebi gym and a new addition to the Japanese domestic Middleweight scene.
Currently the Kadoebi Gym has more than it's share of "bigger men" with a number of fighters from 140lbs upwards. For many in Japan from Light Welterweight upwards it's the gym is the best gym, able to offer the best sparring and the best environment to develop. It's got other Middleweights like Shoma Fukumoto and Koki Tyson to get fighters in with and it's got enough there to build a fighter from debut to champion. That's likely played a part in why Sakai has signed there, and why Sakai is going to be moved aggressively as a professional. It does, however, help that he was a very good amateur.
In the unpaid ranks Sakai went 44-22 (19) and competed in a variety of notable national tournaments. He would win the Japanese Interschool Meet in August 2011, a tournament that also saw Naoya Inoue and Ryo Matsumoto pick up wins, and would get into the business end of the 2012 and 2018 Japanese national championships. Although he never managed to go all the win and win national crown as a senior it was clear he had talent, power and skills.
Due to the way he continually fought in pretty notable competition it's not that difficult to see some footage of a younger Sakai fighting in the amateurs and his style, even as early as 2012, looked like it was suited more to the professional game than the amateurs. He was quick on his feet, skirted around the outside of the ring and looked land big right hands at range, with combinations on the inside. He would look to draw mistakes to counter with his hands a touch lower than they should be, but have the speed and reflexes to counter.
That style he showed early on has stayed with him into the later part of his amateur career, though it was polished and the wider hooks, thrown from out of range, have been curtailed, becoming much sharper. He's not looked destructive, in terms of 1-punch power, but he looked a sharp clean puncher with a good work rate. The one really issue however is that he often looked under-sized and that would have been a major problem on the international stage, with some amateur Middleweights being incredibly big guys.
As a professional we're expecting Sakai to be an aggressive boxer-puncher. The small gloves will help him when it comes to power, and his style looks pro-ready, with sharp shooting at range, good combinations on the inside and nice movement. At 26 he's coming into his physical peak, so maybe a little late to debut, but with Kadoebi behind him he will be moved quickly, if they feel confident in him.
Talking about Kadoebi's confidence in Sakai they are showing belief right out the blocks and when he debut's on August 23rd against Elfelos Vega (7-6, 5), who has gone the distance the distance with the likes of Takeshi Inoue and Charles Bellamy. This is a really tough debut, despite Vega's record, and a dominating win for Sakai would be a real statement of intent from the new pro, who may struggle a bit against someone as dangerous and tough as Vega this early in his career.
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