One of the best things about Japanese boxing right now is the Featherweight division, which is red hot with talent, and has a brilliant variety of styles among it's top fighters. You have pure boxers, like Reiya Abe and Ryo Sagawa, you have warriors like Tsuyoshi Tameda and Daisuke Watanabe, you have boxer-punchers, like Hinata Maruta, and emerging prospects, like Jinki Maeda and Ryuto Owan. The division in Japan is bursting at the seams, even if international fans aren't really paying it much attention. Yet. It's inevitable that at least one of the top Japanese Featherweights will make a mark at the top level in the coming years, and it's a case of when, and not if, we see one of them fighting for, and potentially winning, a world title.
The division is set for another huge bout in Japan on May 21st as OPBF champion Satoshi Shimizu (9-1, 9) takes on WBO Asia Pacific champion Musashi Mori (12-0, 7), in a bout to unify the two regional titles in the division.
As with so many Featherweight bouts in Japan recently, the bout is not just a really good one, between two very solid fighters, but also a match up between two men who are very talented, and have very different styles. It's the mix of styles that makes such a compelling match up, and will see both men being forced to prove what they can do against a fighter who will ask them very serious questions.
Of the two men the more well known is Satoshi Shimizu, 2-time Olympian who won bronze at the 2012 London games, losing in the semi final to Luke Campbell. He had hoped to compete at the 2016 Olympics, but after failing to qualify turned professional, at the advanced age of 30. The idea, originally, was to fast track him. After all he had been a stellar amateur with 150 amateur wins, and an Olympic gold medal. The fast tracking worked well early on, and he won the OPBF Featherweight title in his 4th professional bout, just just 13 months after his debut and raced out to 8-0 (8) whilst beginning to edge towards a world ranking. And then he flirted with the Super Featherweight division and got badly beaten by Joe Noynay in 2019, with Shimizu then requiring a long break from the ring and staying out of action for a year, in part to his injuries and in part due to Covid19. When he finally got back in action last year, he was already 34 and the clock was ticking on his career.
Since turning profession in 2016 there have been some really obvious things about Shimizu that can't be denied. Firstly he's not actually a very good boxer. He's clumsy, he's slow, he's wide with his punches and he does almost everything wrong. There is nothing about him that screams "former amateur stand out". Secondly he punches like a mule. Shimizu is a horrible boxer, but a brutal puncher, and when he lands clean fighters feel it. In fact when he lands just glancing blows opponents feel it. Thirdly, he's awkward as all hell. He's rangy a 5'11", southpaw at Featherweight. Add that to his power and he is just a nightmare to fight, even with all his technical flaws. Sadly at 35 it's now or never for Shimizu, and it's hard to imagine him ever making good on the promise he had when he turned professional.
Aged just 21 Musashi Mori is at the opponent end of his career, though is already an established young fighter who is rapidly rising through the ranks, and moving towards a world title fight. Like Shimizu he debuted in 2016, though did so as a 17 year old, in a 4 rounder, without any hype or noise around him. The following year he went on to win the All Japan Rookie of the Year, beating Zirolian Riku in the All Japan final in what was Mori's Korakuen Hall debut, at Super Featherweight. Following that win big things were predicted of the youngster but a genuine scare against Allan Vallespin saw some doubt creep in about the youngster. Rather than question his potential he did something smart, and realised he wasn't a natural Super Featherweight, and dropped to Featherweight instead. Since moving down in weight he has really found himself scoring 2 wins against Richard Pumicpic, winning the WBO Asia Pacific title in the first of those, as well as notching notable defenses against Takuya Mizuno and Tsuyoshi Tameda. As well as his impressive resume for such a young novice he has also been working with the amazing Ismael Salas, who has really helped develop Mori's boxing ability, brain and style, developing him into an excellent young fighter.
In regards to how Mori fights, he's an intelligent boxer, with some snap on his shots. Over the last few years he has toned down his aggression, used his jab a lot more, and really developed in to one of the best counter punchers in Japan. He's accurate, has quick hands, very good footwork and seems comfortable on the inside as well as at mid-range. Defensively there is still work to do, but that has been the area where has really improved so much from his early days, and it's clear that Salas has taught him a lot about defense, and how to control range. Sadly for him he does lack in terms of 1-shot power and physicality, and it's clear that a lot of fighters at Featherweight could bully him around, but he has enough sting on his shots to get respect from opponents, and lands his shots very clean, often as counters with opponents walking on to them.
In terms of abilities, Mori is the much, much better boxer. He's more polished, he's smoother, he's lighter on his feet, he moves better, and his jab is significantly better. If this was all about boxing ability, and just boxing ability, Mori wouldn't have any problems winning. Of course boxing is so much more than just skills and when you carry dynamite in your hands, as Shimizu does, this care never going to be easy. Especially given the awkwardness, reach and size of Shimizu, and the way he throws from some truly angles that fighters can't really prepare for.
We expect to see Mori showing a lot of respect to Shimizu early on. And we mean a lot of respect, but do so whilst picking and poking at Shimizu. Trying to rack up rounds without taking risks. As for Shimizu the key isn't to try and box, but to time Mori coming in, and tagging him before he can get to close. To have success Mori needs to work quickly, use his speed, and if he gets inside he needs to work up close, smothering the power of Shimizu in the process. If he can do that we'll see him chipping away at Shimizu round by round and establishing a clear lead on the scorecards.
Shimizu will always be dangerous, right through to the final bell, and he could turn the bout around at any moment, with a wild looping left hand, or wide right hook. That's a real danger that Mori will need to be wary of, even if he feels in control. If Mori can, however, avoid eating eating too many shots clean we see him taking a clear, and wide, decision over the 35 year old, unifying the two regional titles and establishing himself as one of the leading Japanese contenders at Featherweight, along with Hinata Maruta.
Prediction - UD12 Mori
After getting two great Japanese title fights in January, including a FOTY contender between Yusaku Kuga and Gakuya Furuhashi, we’ve come into February with high expectations of what to expect in bouts for the Japanese national title. With that said the next one we’re going to get looks like it could, potentially, be a special high level chess match as Japanese Featherweight champion Ryo Sagawa (10-1, 5) defends against mandatory challenger Hinata Maruta (10-1-1, 8), this coming Thursday.
Unlike the two Japanese title fights we got in Tokyo in January the view coming into this one isn’t that we’ll see a war but instead a sensationally high level contest, and one that will be more suited to the purists, rather than fans baying for blood. Despite that it’s one we’ve waited well over a year for!
The bout was originally announced to take place in early 2020, as part of the Champion Carnival. Sadly however Covid19 ruined those plans, and put the bout on hiatus, pushing it to 2021. In the interim Maruta sat out the year whilst Sagawa managed to make a voluntary defense against the gutsy Yuri Takemoto, who put up a game effort before being stopped in the 6th round. Despite the lengthy delay this is a bout that we suspect will be worth every day of the delay and should provide us something special.
For those who haven’t seen the men in action, they actually have quite a lot in common. Firstly both men are genuinely handsome young fighters, who don’t look like typical boxers, in fact both genuinely look like pretty boys. Despite that both are incredibly talented boxers, with excellent technical ability, great speed and under-rated power. They are also both flawed fighters, who appear to be improving from some early career hiccups.
The 26 year old Sagawa turned professional in 2016 after a very solid amateur career. He looked good in his debut, scoring a TKO win over Korean Ho Ya Kim, before suffering a TKO loss to Retsu Kosaka. The loss saw Sagawa being hurt as Kosaka made the most of Sagawa’s inexperience, and went on to force a stoppage soon afterwards. The bout exposed two issues with Sagawa. One was his chin, which was shaky but not glass, the other was his inexperience, and he looked very confused about how to react to being hurt. Thankfully since then he has improved so much, and has won 9 in a row. They have included a fight where he had to pull himself off the canvas to win, against Junki Sasaki, an excellent TKO win over former world title challenger Ryo Matsumoto, his international debut against Al Toyogon, his title winning performance against Reiya Abe and two subsequent title defenses.
In the ring Sagawa is a very, very tidy boxer. Offensively he’s very sharp and despite not being a puncher he has more than enough power to get respect from opponents, and he can hurt and stop fighters, as he did against Ryo Matsumoto and Yuri Takemoto. There’s no doubting his ability, and his adaptability, showing himself to not only be an excellent boxing, with textbooks skills, but also a very capable fighter when he needs to, as he did in the second half of his bout with Toyogon. Despite being incredibly talented, and very smooth, there are still worries about Sagawa’s chin and he has been stopped and dropped before. He’s not the easiest man to catch clean, but we do worry about what happens when he is caught. He has matured from his loss to Kosaka, but there will always be a worry about how well he takes a shot and whether he can pull it back together to take a victory, as he did against Sasaki.
Hinata Maruta turned professional in 2015, as a baby faced 18 year old, and looked set for huge things. As soon as he turned professional there was a lot of buzz and fuss about him, and it was proven to be warranted when he beat the then world ranked Jason Canoy on debut. He had been a stand out amateur and that amateur experience had seen him get rave reviews from those in Japan. Following his impressive debut he ran his record out to 5-0 (5), winning and defending the WBC Youth Bantamweight title and looking like a brilliant talent. He looked like a man with sensational skills, a crispness rarely seen of such a novice, speed, size, reach and incredible reactions. Sadly, though he stepped up too much too soon and in his 6th bout he lost a competitive decision to Hidenori Otake, in an OPBF title fight. Despite the loss Maruta’s stock remained high, given the huge step up and his performance. After a couple of wins he was held to a very debatable draw in the Philippines, against Ben Mananquil, before scoring a trio of solid Japanese domestic level wins.
In the ring Maruta is one of the smoothest boxers in Japan, and unlike many Japanese fighters his style is very one inspired by the slick, slippery style that we see as being popular in the US. His defense is fantastic, as is his ability to box behind his jab, and his power is criminally under-rated. Sadly though for all the positives we can say about Maruta, and there is a lot we like about him, there is one major issue we have with him. That’s his work rate. Early in his career Maruta was happier to show what he could do, and showcase his skills, rather than let his hands go, and often seemed to stall in second and third gear. Thankfully that has been less frequent since his draw with Ben Mananquil, but there is always a risk that he will fall back into that pattern of simply “not doing enough”. If he can let his hands go more though he looks like a sure fire future world champion.
Coming into this one we really are expecting a very, very high level boxing contest, between two men who will be looking to out think each other, adapt to each other, and come back with plans A, B, C and D. This is one that we suspect will start as a boxing contest and we’ll see both men adapt as the bout goes on, moving from pure boxing to more of a fight. In theory that’s the type of bout which favour Sagawa, who has proven he can up the tempo and fight up close. Whilst it’s true that brawl could favour Sagawa we actually think that will be his undoing and his chin will get tagged by a counter from Maruta, who will then unload on a stunned Sagawa and force a stoppage to take the title.
Whilst we are predicting a stoppage for Maruta we really wouldn’t be surprised by any outcome here. It’s one of those bouts where anything is possible, and one of those bouts where both men will need to make continual changes to their tactics until the ending comes. It will be cerebral at times, exciting at others, and genuinely fantastic through out.
Prediction - TKO9 Maruta
If we're being honest it can be easy to hate on some weight divisions, and one of those that is an easy target is the Featherweight division, especially in 2020 when almost no big bouts took place in it. In a division that has the likes of Can Xu, Josh Warrington, Gary Russell Jr and Emanuel Navarrete there is the talent there for some phenomenal bouts but sadly we've not seem much at all worth being excited about. Fingers crossed 2021 will be a much, much better year for the division.
Thankfully whilst the division's biggest and brightest haven't given us much to talk about the division does still have some interesting action going on below the top level, and on November 23rd we get the chance to see one of the rising hopefuls of the division in action, as he takes on a serious puncher. The bout isn't set to get much international attention, but it should still deliver some action.
The bout in question will pit WBO Asia Pacific champion Musashi Mori (11-0, 6) against heavy handed challenger Tsuyoshi Tameda (21-5-2, 19), in one of the more interesting bouts the division has given us this year. On paper it might not look that interesting, but in reality the bout is a perfect mix of styles, and a serious test for a man who turns 21 the day before the fight.
The unbeaten champion is the big hope from the gym run by former WBC Bantamweight champion Yasuei Yakushiji, and has been guided brilliantly so far. He debuted aged 17 and won the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2017, the following year he won the WBO Asia Pacific title, narrowly over-coming Richard Pumicpic, and since then has been learning under the guidance of Ismael Salas. It's been under Salas' guidance that we've seen Mori build around his strength's and go from an aggressive fighter, to be a well balanced boxer, with a might better defense and understanding of the ring.
Under Salas we have seen Mori become a touch boring, dull and less exciting than he once was. On one hand that is disappointing, but it's clearly been a change that will increase Mori's in ring success and it's clear that he's not a much more polished boxer than he was. He's quick, sharp, moves around the ring well and has a razor like southpaw straight left hand. One thing we don't see from him often enough, for our liking, is a jab thrown with intent, but it is in his arsenal, as are short, crafty uppercuts to the body. Although he's technically very good we don't see the X-Factor with him at the moment. He's talented, but lacks that eye catching speed, good night power and we do query his physical maturity, with the youngster still looking like a body. In a year or two, when he build his man strength, that might change, but at the moment it very feels like he needs more time to develop and at 20 going on 21, talk of a world title fight is too soon in our eyes.
At one point Tsuyoshi Tameda looked like a star in the making, and was a stand-out, thrill a minute youngster. He turned professional in 2011, at the age of 17, and was one of the last students under the legendary eye of Kenji Yonekura. As a youngster he kicked off his career with 3 opening round KO's and looked like a destructive force. In just his 5th bout he fought to a draw with Masayuki Ito in the Rookie of the Year, before being beaten a fight later. Following his first loss Tameda went on a role and moved to 13-1-2 (11), including wins over future Japanese national champion Takenori Ohashi and Filipino fighter Mark Bernaldez. Then he lost to Simipiwe Vetyeka, losing a gruelling and 1-sided decision to the talent South African. Sadly Tameda has never really bounced back from that loss and has gone 8-3 since then with stoppage losses to the tricky Reiya Abe, the touted Hinata Maruta and the all action Jae Woo Lee. He's still shown rock hands, but those losses have shown that his chin is cracked, and that he can be stopped.
Now at the age of 27 there are real question marks about just what Tameda has left. Technically he's never been the best, despite being guided first by Yonekura and now by Hideyuki Ohashi. He has always been fun, a devastating puncher, and a real danger man, but has always struggled against fighters that can take his blows and those that can counter him. He makes a lot of mistakes, and gives opponents lots of chances to tag him, but if he lands he can take fighters out, as we saw in stunning fashion Takenori Ohashi.
For this bout we are really interested in several things. Firstly can Tameda land on Mori? And if so can Mori take the power of Tameda? We know Tameda can struggle to land on fighters but when he lands he does tend to chake them up and if Mori is caught clean by a right hand, even once, it will be very interesting to see how he responds. Secondly can Mori get Tameda's respect? If not is he capable of playing keep away for 12 rounds? Tameda does seem like he's somewhat damaged compared to the fighter he once was, but with Mori not having stand out power there's a chance his shots bounce off Tameda as the challenger comes forward.
We suspect the movement, skills, speed and timing of Mori will be the difference. We expect to see the youngster take a shot or two, but not cleanly and not solidly enough to really test his chin, and when he is tagged he'll tie up or get out of dodge. But there will always be that danger of him eating one and coming undone. Tameda will always try, and will always feel he had the power to turn things around, but we feel that after 7 or 8 rounds his steam will run out and Mori will ease over the finish line for a clear decision.
Prediction - UD12 Mori
Earlier this year the Champion Carnival bouts were announced and there was a number of those that really caught our eye and got us excited. One of those was a Featherweight title bout that would have seen talented youngster Hinata Maruta get his first shot at a domestic title. Sadly due to the on going situation the 2020 Champion Carnival has not gone the way many of us had hoped when the bouts were announced, and we've only had a few of those bouts actually take place, and it's unclear if, or when the others will happen.
With Maruta not having his shot at champion Ryo Sagawa (9-1, 4) this year, we have seen Sagawa turn his attention else where. Instead of being made to face his mandatory challenger he will actually be in the ring on August 13th to defend his title against Yuri Takemoto (8-1-1, 4). On paper this looks a decent bout, but in reality it's unlikely to live up the expectations we had for Sagawa Vs Maruta.
Saying that however, what do we really expect here?
Although not yet a name on an international level Sagawa is a highly skilled fighter who has been on a tear recently. Before turning professional he was a successful amateur who turned professional in 2016 and was tipped for success. Sadly however he was upset in his second professional bout, when he was stopped in 2 rounds by Retsu Kosaka. The loss was a major set back, but one that Sagawa quickly bounced back from and he has now won 8 in a row. Not only has he been scoring wins but he has been scoring notable ones, beating the likes of Junki Sasaki, Ryo Matsumoto, Shingo Kawamura, Reiya Abe and Ryo Hino.
Watching Sagawa we get the chance to see a fantastic boxer-puncher. He looks really well polished, with fluid movement, and makes boxing look easy. He makes the sport look effortless at times, and like a man who was born to be in the ring. He's light on his feet, quick with his hands and able to both box on the move, or apply pressure and fight. Sadly however there are real question marks over his chin. The loss to Kosaka to showed his chin was questionable and he was also dropped in his win over Junki Sasaki. It seems if there is a flaw to target as an opponent it is Sagawa's chin.
Whilst Sagawa has proven himself as one of the best in Japan in recent years the same can't be said of Takemoto, who is taking a huge step up in class.
The 24 year old challenger made his debut back in 2017 and, like Sagawa, lost his second bout. Unlike Sagawa however his loss was a close decision loss to Kensuke Nakamura. The youngster then fought to a draw with Tomoya Kishine, but has since reeled off 8 wins. The most notable of those was in December 2018 when he beat Hikari Mineta to be crowned the All Japan Rookie of the Year, in what was a huge win for him.
In his Rookie of the Year win Takemoto looked talented, promising and heavy handed, dropping Mineta 3 times in the opening round. Sadly however he seemed like a work in progress, and struggled to have success outside of that first round, with Mineta looking the more talented and rounded fighter. He seemed like he had some raw talent, but certainly needed a lot of work to reach the higher levels of the sport.
Sadly since winning Rookie of the Year Takemoto hasn't really impressed. He's picked up 3 wins but they included a against the hapless Kiki Marciano and a technical decision against Yoshiyuki Takabayashi. They have done little to prepare him for a title fight in a talent laden division in Japan. If anything this shot feels like it's coming far, far too early for him and whilst he may become a legitimate domestic contender one day he's not there yet.
What we're expecting to see here is Sagawa to out box, out punch and out think Takemoto. Takemoto is certainly dangerous if he lands, especially given what we know about Sagawa's chin, but it's hard to see him landing clean with any regularity. Instead we're expecting Sagawa will tag him at will, break him down and then stop him in the middle rounds. Afterwards it will like a mismatch, and in reality it's hard to see the bout being anything but an easy defense for the talented champion.
We do understand that the sport isn't running as freely in the country as we'd like but it's hard to get too excited here in a bout that we can't help but think is far too much, far too soon for Takemoto.
Prediction - Sagawa TKO 6
As part of an Ohashi card on July 16th we'll see OPBF Featherweight champion Satoshi Shimizu (8-1, 8) defending his title against former Japanese Youth champion Kyohei Tonomoto (9-2-1, 4). On paper this doesn't look the best of bouts, but there is a lot that makes this bout really interesting, and something that could be, potentially, a slippery match up for the defending champion.
The 34 year old Shimizu turned professional in 2016, with many thinking he turned pro far too late to make the most of his ability. Prior to that he had been a very successful amateur, fighting at 2-Olympics and winning bronze at the 2012 Olympics in London. Had he turned professional then we would likely be talking about Shimizu having made an impact at world level. Sadly he wanted to battle for a place at the 2016 Olympics, falling short and turning professional afterwards.
In the ring Shimizu is a crude, but awkward, gangly southpaw puncher. Despite a very strong amateur background he's very unorthodox and throws shots from weird angles, often with his chin exposed. Typically he's gotten away with it in the professional ranks due to his freakish power and absolutely bizarre dimensions for a Featherweight. Last time out however he was punished with Joe Noynay stopping him in 6 rounds in a Super Featherweight bout. That loss not only scuppered Shimizu's unbeaten record but also left him injured and requiring a lengthy break from the ring to recover. As a result Shimizu is now 11 months removed from his last bout and 18 months removed from his last win, which was also his last defense of the OPBF Featherweight title.
With the inactivity, injuries, age, and potentially low confidence Shimizu may well be there for the taking.
In Tonomoto we have a challenger who is just starting to come into his physical prime. He turns 25 in July and appears to finally have some momentum in his career. He made his debut in 2013, reached the All Japan Rookie of the Year final in 2014, losing to Reiya Abe, and then vanished from the sport in late 2015 for over 3 years. Since returning to boxing in December 2018 Tonomoto has gone unbeaten in 3 fights, including winning the Japanese Youth Featherweight title in May 2019, and defending it 7 months later.
Sadly footage of Tonomoto is relatively scarce, though in his Japanese Youth title win he did show a lot to like. He moved around the ring well, was accurate and smartly neutralised Hikaru Matsuoka early on before finding his range and boxing well behind his clean and effective jab. It wasn't the most exciting or explosive of performances but it was a smart and efficient stuff from the youngster who was well deserving of the win. He looked like he had the ability to go further in the sport than the Japanese Youth title, but also looked like there was areas holding him back, including his lack of power and lack of intensity.
We do believe this is the perfect time to face Shimizu. If he was in with a dangerous fighter, someone with some bang, or a high work rate, he could be in a lot of trouble. In reality however he's in with a light puncher who he should, really, be able to walk through.
We suspect Shimizu will start slowly, ease his way into the bout, and then begin to step up on the gas in the middle rounds and break down the game challenger. Tonomoto will be there to win, but will, sadly, lack the ability, strength and power to cope with the champion.
Prediction - TKO6 Shimizu
On December 14th in the City Sogo Gym in Kishiwada fans will see Japanese Youth Featherweight champion Kyohei Tonomoto (9-2, 4) make his first defense, as he takes on Ryotaro Motohashi (9-1, 2) in a very interesting looking match up. The bout isn't one that will get headline treatment, but is an evenly matched contest between two men who are both still in the formative years of their career and both promise a lot going forward.
The champion won the belt back in May, when he defeated previous champion Hikaru Matsuoka in Hyogo, with a majority decision. The win was, by far, the biggest win of Tonomoto's career and saw him show the early potential we had seen in 2014, when he lost in the All Japan Rookie of the Year final to Reiya Abe. Sadly for Tonomoto his career lost a lot of steam in 2015, and despite his talent he didn't fight for over 3 years, before resurfacing in 2018 with a win over a Thai novice. Given his inactivity the win over Matsuoka was a huge surprise, though a very legit win at this level.
Although Tonomoto doesn't do anything amazingly eye catching he does the basics really well. He's a solid technical boxer who moves well, controls distance well and really does love doubling up his accurate jab, controlling the tempo well with it. He's busy, accurate and very relaxed in the ring, though does look like he perhaps lacks in the physical side of things and if someone tries to bully him it does appear that he might struggle to force them to back off.
The 23 year old Motohashi is a really obscure Japanese fighters, even for us, and the Kyoto based Osakan born youngster has managed to remain under the radar after his debut in September 2015. That was despite getting relatively far in the 2017 Rookie of the Year. He was sadly unable to compete in the West Japan final, which ended his tournament just a fight from the All Japan final. Sadly this is only his third bout since his Rookie tournament came to an end, and it's hard to be too confident in him given how little we've managed to see.
Despite all the footage of Japanese boxing being available Motohashi is a bit of an enigma with the only fan cam footage being available of him, and strangely Boxing Raise have seemingly mislabeled a fight that is supposed to feature him but is actually a Koki Tyson fight. From what little footage there is of him, which is admittedly from 2017, he looks rather slow and although more physical than Tonomoto he looks clumsier, and the sort of fighter who, at time, was happier to engage in close combat. The footage of him is so old that it's hard to read much into, but it was certainly fun to see and he did look like he could be in some very fun bouts if matched right.
Making a prediction on such little footage of one of the fighters can be tricky, but from what we have seen this does look like a stylistically straight forward bout for Tonomoto, who should be too sharp, too accurate and too busy. Motohashi will likely have moments when he does get up close, but overall we think those moments might be often enough for the challenger to bully the champion or rack up the rounds.
If Motohashi had scored a stoppage or two in his last 5 bouts we may have been convinced that his gruelling style would break down Tonomoto, but his lack of power suggests that won't be the case.
Prediction - UD8 Tonomoto
One of the contenders for Japanese domestic fighter of the year in 2019 is Japanese Featherweight champion Ryo Sagawa (8-1, 4), who has continued to build his reputation after a very good 2018. On December 12th Sagawa returns to the ring and looks to score his first defense, as he takes on mandatory challenger Ryo Hino (13-1-2, 8).
Sagawa turned pro in 2016, following a good amateur career, and despite losing in his second bout has really come along at an alarming pace. In 2018 he scored notable wins over Junki Sasaki, Ryo Matsumoto and Shingo Kawamura before travelling to the Philippines earlier this year and beating Toyogon before winning the Japanese title with a win over Reiya Abe. Given the quality of his last 4 wins it's clear he has incredible momentum and potential, and at only 25 years old the future is very, very bright for Sagawa.
For those who haven't seen him Sagawa can can box and brawl. At his best he's an excellent outside boxer with a sharp jab, great combinations and some lovely footwork. When he needs to get inside he can, and we saw that to great effect in his win over Toyogon, where he put his foot on the gas, got inside and out fought Toyogon when the judges made it clear they weren't going to credit his boxing. It was a smart change in tactic from a smart fighter. For all his talent Sagawa does have some issues, and his chin doesn't match his talent. He doesn't go down every time he's touched, even though he has been down a few times already, but tries to fight back when hurt and that has got him in trouble. He's similar to Amir Khan in that way, and it's obvious when he's hurt. That is something that can be a big problem for him as he steps up through the levels.
Whilst Sagawa had been in great form with very solid wins it's felt like Hino has been treading water since a 2017 win over Sho Nakazawa, and essentially wasting some of his best years. Now aged 29 Hino really hasn't put his name in the mix through level of competition but more from how the division it's self has been sorted out. We've seen Taiki Minamoto move up in weight, Sagawa beat Abe, Musashi Mori go the WBO Asia Pacific route, Takenori Ohashi lose in an eliminator, and Hinata Maruta is now waiting in the wings for a title fight at the 2020 Champion Carnival. The division has been tidying it's self up whilst Hino has been biding his time.
Although Hino's competition hasn't been impressing us, with his last 2 wins coming against Tasuku Suwa and Toshizane Kinoda, he is a genuinely skilled fighter and he's shown he's got very good tools in his kit. He's a tall rangy southpaw with a busy jab and good control of distance. He upset Nakazawa by simply keeping Nakazawa at the end of his jab, and stopping Nakazawa from setting himself, boxing on the back foot and picking his spots whilst luring Nakazawa in. It wasn't an exciting tactic, but it was an effective one, and saw him out boxing a then promising young hopeful.
Whilst Hino is better than his competition suggests this is a massive step up in class and Sagawa really is a very, very good fighter. Hino's southpaw jab might have success early on, but as he bout wears on it'll leave him open to Sagawa's straight right hand, and more notably if Sagawa does fall behind we see the champion speeding up his feet and applying more intense pressure, the same pressure he used against Toyogon. Although Hino's record suggests he's a big of a puncher the reality is that he doesn't hit all that hard, and we don't see Sagawa's chin having many questions asked of it here.
Prediction - UD10 Sagawa
The EDION Arena Osaka is a busy venue on December 8th hosting 2 shows, with a combined 3 title bouts. On the second of those cards we'll see Shinsei gym promoting a low key card that really is all about it's main event, the only non-4 rounder on the show. That main event will see fast rising youngster Musashi Mori (10-0, 6) defending his WBO Asia Pacific Featherweight title against once beaten puncher Takuya Mizuno (17-1-1, 14), in what looks like a mouth watering match up between talented young men.
Mori really burst on to the scene very quickly. After debuting in December 2016 he would go on to claim the 2017 Rookie of the Year, stopping the big puncher Zirolian Riku in the final. By the end of 2018 he had notched wins over Allen Vallespin and Richard Pumicpic, with the win over Pumicpic netting him his WBO Asia Pacific title, and a defense against Pumicpic in a rematch earlier this year showed that he really is a fighter still learning. Talking about learning Mori has began linking up with Ismael Salas, who trained him for his last fight, and real changes were made in how the youngster tames his aggression and boxes more smartly.
With Salas again behind him Mori is expected to make his second defense here against Mizuno, and continue to build on the skills, power and speed he has shown. The one real notable flaw early on was his defense, but that now appears to be getting corrected, and although their are a lot of areas for Salas to tweak with his new charge Mori looks like the type of youngster with the foundations in place to go a very, very long way.
At 24 years old Mizuno is a mature man, whilst Mori is still only 20, and with 19 fights already under bis belt since his debut more than 6 years ago, he is a man who is very much the more experienced fighter. Notably he has had more soft touches than Mori, but he has also scored a number of solid wins, such as a victory in July over Roli Gasca and a 2017 over Yuki Iriguchi. Like Mori he made his mark quite young, and reached the West Japan Rookie of the Year final in 2015, though lost to Tenta Kiyose in what is his only defeat to date.
Watch Mizuno it seems like he is someone who has the tools to go far, but is missing the mentor that Mori has. Mizuno has power, work rate and desire, but needs to be polished, a lot. During his 19 fights he has had 5 that have ended by majority decision or split decision, going 3-1-1 in those 5 bouts, and it very much feels like he needs to be shown how to use his power better and how to control fights more. He has always struggled when he's been unable to beat opponents with his power, and that needs to be sorted out sooner rather than later.
Sadly for Mizuno we see his biggest strength, his power, also being his weakest point. If that power can't take his opponent out he really doesn't look good. Mori looks like he can take a shot if he needs to, and can also avoid shots. His defense was his weakness but with Salas working on Mori's technical skills we suspect his defense will be tighter here than ever before. Mori is likely to need to stay on point, but we suspect he'll box smart, temper that aggression further and take a wide decision against the dangerous but flawed Mizuno.
Prediction - UD12 Mori
On October 26th at the Korakuen Hall we'll get a host of Japanese title eliminators, included in those is an excellent Featherweight bout between rising youngster Hinata Maruta (9-1-1, 7) and former Japanese champion Takenori Ohashi (17-5-2, 11), who will be clashing to decide who challenges for the title next year at during the Champion Carnival.
Of the two men it's certainly Maruta who is the more talented and has the more upside. He's a 22 year old who turned professional with a lot of expectation on his shoulders. The expectation hasn't been fulfilled yet, but he has shown a lot of ability and already holds notable wins against the likes of Jason Canoy, Wilbert Berondo, Joe Tejones, Tsuyoshi Tameda and Coach Hiroto. His one loss came in an OPBF title fight to Hidenori Otake, in a bout that came a little bit too early, whilst his draw was a controversial one in the Philippines against Ben Mananquil.
In the ring Maruta is a real talent, and is incredibly skilled. He's a long, lean fighter, with nasty power in his shots, fantastic speed and a developing professional style. Early in his career there was question marks about his in ring mentality, often waiting too long and being a touch lazy, not getting on the front foot enough or letting his hands go. More recently he has been letting shots go, using his jab to keep opponents at range and showing an extra gear to his in ring work. There is still a slightly over cautious approach to what he does, but it is changing and he has shown an ability to force the fight more than reacting to it. Naturally he's a counter punching outside fighter, waiting for mistakes, but there is a fighter in there, even if it's not been on show often enough. If, or when, he unlocks his aggressive side he will be a very hard man to beat.
At 30 years old Ohashi is pretty much in the "must win" stage of his career. He is, as mentioned, a former Japanese champion though won the title in a weird circumstances after Kosuke Saka misheard the bell and got knocked out back in 2017. In his first defense Ohashi was given a genuine beating by Taiki Minamoto, and stopped whilst well down on the cards. Since then he has picked up a couple of wins, but looked poor in both performance, especially last time out when he was being outboxed by Shun Wakabayashi, before scoring one of the best KO's of 2019.
In the ring Ohashi is slow, cumbersome and deliberate. He can be hit, he can be out boxed, and he's really basic. He does however have a real equaliser in his mitts and his punching power makes him a genuine danger, to the very end of the bout. His KO of Wakabayashi completely bailed him out against a fighter who showed an easy way to beat him. Box, move, use your feet and keep it simple. If you can avoid the power of Ohashi you can beat him.
Given the styles of the two men involved this really doesn't look like it will be competitive. We suspect that Maruta will be too quick, too smart, too sharp and too good. As long as he can avoid the right hand of Ohashi he should make this look very, very easy. On paper it would be his biggest win, but we wouldn't be surprised if it was also one of his easiest, and will look like a sparring session almost.
Prediction - Maruta UD8
The Japanese scene at Featherweight is a really interesting one, despite the hard hitting Taiki Minamoto has abandoned the division due to struggles making weight. this coming Friday we see just how interesting the division is as we get a mouth watering bout to crown a new Japanese champion. The match up question sees former Minamoto foe Reiya Abe (19-2-1, 9) and the criminally under-rated Ryo Sagawa (7-1, 4). Whilst fans who don't follow the Japanese scene won't be hugely impressed by the fighters on paper, this is one of the most interesting match ups currently on schedule, and it to be something very interesting.
Of the two men it's Abe who is probably the more well known, though it's certainly not clear cut. He's world ranked by the IBF and WBC and is a 26 year old who has gone through things the hard way, learning on the job and doing so without any substantial amateur background. He debuted at the age of 20 and was narrowly beaten in his second bout, back in 2013, before rebuilding to take the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2014. A loss in 2015 to Shingo Kusano could have been a major set back but instead appeared to be little more than a blip as he has since gone 11-0-1. That 12 fight unbeaten run really has been credible to say the least with victories over Ryo Hino, Hikaru Marugame, Tsuyoshi Tameda, Joe Noynay, Satoshi Hosono and Daisuke Sugita, as well as revenge over Kusano. The only mark on his record since that second loss was a majority draw with Minamoto back in May, in what was a thrilling contest for the title.
Although less well known Sagawa has really made a name for himself, at least regionally, in the last 18 months or so. He turned professional with pretty expectations on his shoulders following an impressive 62-22 record in the unpaid ranks. He looked really good on his debut, stopping Ho Ya Kim, but then suffered a stoppage loss to Retsu Kosaka just 5 months later. The loss to Kosaka left many wondering whether Sagawa could take a shot, and whilst clearly very skilled the issues with his durability were expected to hold him back. It wasn't like he had been taken out with one shot, but had been hurt and instead of holding he just fell apart, lost his shape and was eventually stopped. Since then however he has gone 6-0 (3) and scored noteworthy wins over the likes of Junki Saski, Ryo Matsumoto, Shingo Kawamura and, most recently, Al Toyogon.
Whilst both have some clear similarities, being under-rated in good form, holding wins over a former world title challenger and losing their second bout, the two men are stylistically quite different. Yet both would be described as technically solid boxers.
Abe is a tricky countering punching southpaw, who uses his jab well, sits back, controls range and fires in booming left hands. He has often been perhaps a touch on the safe side, but he knows how to turn up the tempo and go for the finish. He's not the most exciting of fighters, not even close, but is one of the smartest boxers in Japan and has a an excellent ring IQ. Last time out, against Minamoto, he was dropped twice, but seemed to win to take the vast majority of rounds. The trouble for Abe isn't his chin but is his work rate, and there are times when he simply doesn't do enough, and waits for his opponent to make the first move, rather than drawing a mistake.
Sagawa on the other hand is more of offensively mined boxer, who can box on the back foot when he needs to. He has the typical crispness we've seen time and time again from fighters who have come from the Japanese amateur scene, and he is a lovely puncher, with crisp combinations and great accuracy. When he needs to press forward he can turn into a pressure fighter, as we saw against Toyogon when he had to be more aggressive to get the judges on side. The big worry for him is his chin, and not only was he down against Kosaka but also Sasaki and he's been shaken in several bouts, leaving us to really wonder about his durability going forward.
With both men being excellent boxers, though having contrasting styles, we're expecting a really tactical and smart fight between the two men. Abe will try to draw Sagawa in, countering with the left and picking his moments to up the tempo in the hope of rocking, and then stopping, Sagawa. Sagawa on the other hand will look to avoid the left, but still be pretty aggressive, and we're expecting to see him switching between head and body with raiding attacks then smothering any return fire.
We feel the difference between the two men is the durability, and even when Abe was down against Minamoto he was up and didn't look like he was going to be stopped. Sagawa certainly has the power, especially with body shots, to questions of his durability but we suspect the under-rated power of Abe, and his countering punching skills, will eventually crack Sagawa. When that happens we'll see Abe go for the finish and take out Sagawa.
Prediction - Abe TKO9
Having canned the old "Full Schedule" of Asianboxing we have instead decided to concentrate more on the major bouts. This section, the "Preview" section will look at major bouts involving OPBF and national titles. Hopefully leading to a more informative style for, you the reader.