In December 2019 we "introduced" Japanese Middleweight hopeful Mikio Sakai (then 1-0, now 3-0), who was preparing for his second professional bout as he was just days away from a contest against the hard hitting Ran Tomomatsu. Since then we have followed Sakai's career with interest and, as we write this on the run up to Christmas, Sakai's career really has progressed, despite questions still needing to be answered from him.
Before we have a look at where Sakai stands now, lets quickly remind ourselves why we were excited about Sakai in the first place.
Sakai had been a very solid amateur, running up a 44-22 (19) amateur record and winning a number of titles, whilst also featuring in the well regarded university competitions. Fighting as Middleweight as a professional he was a bigger man, for Japan, and had the excellent Kadoebi team behind him. Essentially he ticked a lot of boxes and had us very intrigued before his professional debut.
On debut Sakai easily beat the heavy handed Elfelos Vega with a 6 record decision. The performance wasn't the most exciting, but it was calculated, smart, intelligent and showed what Sakai could do in the ring. He moved well, had nice hand speed, and knew how to box. He seemed to lack power, and aggression, but certainly showed a lot to like on his debut.
In his second bout Sakai showed ambition, being matched with Tonomatsu, and once again showed off great skills, a fantastic boxing brain, good speed and movement. Though did lack power, and struggled to get Tonomatsu's respect. Due to his lack of power he never seemed to be able to hurt Tonomatsu, but used his movement well to keep Tonomatsu off balance and unable to set off his big shots. It was smart, and it was enough for Sakai to secure a majority decision.
Sakai returned for his third professional bout earlier this month, taking on limited veteran Toshihiro Kai on December 14th, in a bout that was streamed live on Boxing Raise. That bout was Sakai's first 8 rounder and he once again showed the same tools in his arsenal that we had seen from him in his first two bouts. He once again showed lovely hand speed, great foot work, nice movement and a lot of skills that were impressive, especially for a 2-0 prospect. Sadly though he could finish off Kai, who was hurt in a number of rounds, and had to settle for another decision win, this time an 8 round decision. The performance was a solid one, and actually saw Sakai being more aggressive than usual, but the result wasn't what he would have wanted, and we kept help but feel he went out expecting a stoppage.
So far for Sakai we have been impressed, he is clear a very skilled fighter and someone we expect will be fighting in Japanese Middleweight title bouts in the near future. Sadly however we do wonder whether he has the physical tools to match up with his skills. He's undeniably a talent, and few Japanese fighters at 160lbs are as skilled and talented as he it. But stood at less than 6' and without fighting changing power we do wonder if he's perhaps too small and too weak, physically, to impose himself on the best domestic fighters at 160lbs. If he is, then he will have to put in a lot of extra effort and energy to have success, and every bout against a stronger, tougher fighter will be a big ask for him.
We're going to look forward to seeing what Sakai can offer in 2021, and we suspect he will take huge strides towards a Japanese title fight, and hopefully will add a more physicality and power to his game. He's a talent, but we do still have very serious reservations about how far he can go.
This is just an opinion, maaaan! It's easy to share our opinions, and that's what you'll find here, some random opinion pieces