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
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 month of May is set to be a genuinely insane one, with notable fights on an almost daily basis. This isn't a top heavy month, but is a very consistent and packed month. One of the first major bouts of note will see Hinata Maruta (8-1-1, 7) take on Coach Hiroto (13-2-2, 4). The talented Maruta will be looking to build on a career best win, stopping Tsuyoshi Tameda back in December, whilst Hiroto will be seeking redemption after a being kicked out of the Kadoebi gym for failing to make weight, which also cost him a bout against Shohei Omori.
For those who haven't followed Maruta's career you've missed out on following a sensationally talented youngster. The fighter from the Morioka Gym turned professional with huge expectations on his shoulders, beating the then world ranked Jason Canoy on debut. He would quickly win a WBC Youth title but his career faltered in 2017, when he lost a decision to Hidenori Otake and then took another a hit with an unfortunate draw in the Philippines against Ben Mananquil. Those set backs have slowed his ascent, but Decembers win over Tameda saw Maruta fighting as a Featherweight and looking like the fighter many knew he could be.
In the ring the 22 Maruta is a slick, sharp punching, hard hitting boxer-puncher. He can fight on the back foot or the front foot, has freakish dimensions and great technical ability, with heavy hands. What has been a problem however is his work rate, and his urgency. Too often he has looked like a man happy to have rounds, rather than a fighter who wants to move through the gears and make a statement. He did however show more urgency last time out, and it was great to see him go for the finish against Tameda, adding spite to his technical ability, speed and physical traits.
Hiroto is only 28 but made his debit almost a decade ago. Sadly things have been stop-start from him, with 14 fights prior to 2012, before almost 5 years out of the ring. He's fought 3 times since his return in 2017, but has now been out of the ring for over a year, with his last bout being an 8 round draw against Ryo Hino in January 2018. The reason for that long break was him failing to make weight for the aforementioned bout with Omori, that lead to him essentially being turfed out of the Kadoebi gym back in March 2018. He has now transferred to a new gym, but the inactivity won't have helped him leading into what is one of his biggest bouts to date.
Despite not being the most well known fighter Hiroto has faced a small who's who of Japanese boxing. he's shared the ring with Takenori Ohashi, Shingo Wake, Takafumi Nakajima, Gakuya Furuhashi and Ryo Hino. Through his career he has proven to be a capable fighter, but not and extraordinary one. He's not amazingly quick, slick, heavy handed or explosive. He's a solid all round, but nothing amazing, and with both of his losses coming by stoppage he's also not a fighter boasting an iron chin.
Whilst we have been disappointed by Maruta at times we do feel that as he matures we'll begin to see more spite, more urgency and more fire in his punching. When that happens we're expecting to see him really shine, and we suspect that's going to be exactly what he does here. Hiroto is a decent enough test for Maruta, at this stage, but we're expecting the young prospect to do everything to impress, and to move towards a title fight.
Our prediction here is a stoppage win for Maruta, in round 5 or 6.
Every so often there's a bout with no title and no status attached to it that just stands out as a special type of bout. On December 3rd we get one of those as two youngsters clash in a truly excellent match up. That bout sees the highly regarded Hinata Maruta (7-1-1, 6) take on the hard hitting Tsuyoshi Tameda (18-3-2, 16) in a 10 round Featherweight clash, in what is nothing short of an amazing bout on paper.
Maruta was the highly regarded wunderkind, who was supposed to put the Morioka boxing gym on the map. He looked sensational early on, beating Jason Canoy on debut and winning the WBC Youth Bantamweight title in his third bout. There was touches of genius in his early performances, but he would come up short as he took on the then OPBF Super Bantamweight champion Hidenori Otake, losing a clear but competitive decision to the veteran. He bounced back from his sole loss with a couple of easy wins before being held to a controversial split decision draw in the Philippines against Ben Mananquil, in a bout that Maruta deserved to get the win from.
In the ring Maruta is a natural talent. He may not have had the recent big wins his talent deserves but he is a special fighter to watch. Everything he does in the ring looks fluid, natural and smooth. He's quick, he moves well, he takes a shot well, he has under-rated stamina and a really high boxing IQ. Sometimes however he can be seen to be lazy, waiting too long to strike, and hoping that an opponent makes a mistake, rather than forcing the fight. That's doubled by the fact that when he does force things he can look clumsy, and it doesn't seem like he's as sharp when he's the aggressor as he is when he's the one fighting on the counter. He also, maybe, lacks in terms of experience and maturity, and despite an incredible talent, hasn't quite put things together yet to put on an amazing performance on a regular basis.
Whilst Maruta is a boxer-puncher we would describe Tameda as being more a pure puncher. The Ohashi gym fighter was one of the last notable men from the Yonekura gym, before it closed in 2017, and whilst there he proved himself a really heavy handed boxer-puncher, scoring notable wins over the likes of Takenori Ohashi, Mark Bernaldez and Retsu Kosaka. He's also got an early career draw with Masayuki Ito, from the 2011 Rookie of the Year. With 3 losses to his name it'd be easier to cast him aside but those losses include a narrow Rookie of the Year loss, a defeat to Simpiwe Vetyeka and one to Reiya Abe, who is the only man to stop Tameda. As well as being heavy handed he's also tough, with the Abe stoppage coming from accumulation. Those losses really show the level he can fight out, but since being Kosaka for a Japanese Youth title he has been matched very softly.
Although blessed with power Tameda is actually a solid boxer. He's a tad slow, defensively a little open but other wise technically pretty solid. He has shown a problem when up against a fighter who gives him angles, a sharp jab and movement, but if a fighter stands in front of him he is incredible dangerous. He's also got a good engine and can mentally break fighters, if they give him half a chance to just apply constant pressure. If a fighter feels they can out box him they will have to do for a prolonged period, and not just a few rounds. That is where he could be at his most dangerous here, if Maruta slows down at some point in the second half of the fight.
We have a puncher against an incredibly slick fighter. If Maruta fights to his potential he should take the win here, possibly even by breaking down Tameda in the later rounds, but he will have to box smartly for 10 rounds and avoid being caught by one of Tameda's bombs. We suspect Maruta can, and will, come out on top, but he will have to be smart and really make Tameda pay for his mistakes.
In recent years Japanese prospects have been fast tracked with alarming regularity. It's become almost the done thing in Japan, with promoters knowing that if a fighter can fight against good fighter's there no point in keep them busy and padding their records for years. The latest Japanese youngster to be headed on the fast track to the top is Hinata Maruta (5-0, 4), who was long tipped to be a star for the Morioka gym. This coming Friday Maruta will take a huge step up in class and look to prove that he belongs to be regarded as the next in the line of super talents, like Naoya Inoue and Kosei Tanaka, as he takes on OPBF Super Bantamweight champion Hidenori Otake (29-2-3, 13).
Of the two men it's probably Otake who is better known. He is a former Japanese national champion, the current OPBF champion and a former world title challenger, who showed his toughness in a wide loss to the then WBA champion Scott Quigg in the UK. Aged 36 he is in the twilight of his career, but has looked good recently whilst running up a 7 fight winning run, following the loss to Quigg. Those wins have included his OPBF title victory over Jelbirt Gomera and a stoppage win over Kinshiro Usui in his first defense.
At his best Otake was a teak tough fighter who was insanely tough and had incredible energy. He's now likely on the slide, but still appears to be incredibly tough, and know how to bring the relentless assault that can cause fighters to mentally crumble. Over 12 rounds very few fighters will look to have a toe-to-toe war with him. On the other hand Otake is technically flawed, crude around the edges. He's not a very accurate fighter, or a very heavy handed one, but he's very physically strong and fighters to his strengths, making fights a trench war and simply breaking down opponents with his relentlessness.
It should be noted that some cracks have appeared in Otake's toughness recently. He was cut a few fights back by the little known Alexander Espinoza, and he also struggled with Gomera, who has subsequently lost two more bouts. The Japanese warrior does like to set his feet before throwing, and against a mover, or a fighter with high ring IQ he can have his flaws taken advantage of.
Whilst Otake is probably the better known it's fair to say that fans in Japan do see Maruta as a star of the future. He's a handsome and fresh faced youngster, who has the looks to become a crossover star, he has the frame to move through a number of weights and more importantly he has the skills to go to the top. Aged 20 he is a prodigious talent, but one who has been known about long before his professional debut, with a solid amateur background and a team who regularly take him over to the US for training camps, building on his skills and experiences. Although still a boxing baby he won the WBC Youth Bantamweight title, and defended it twice, whilst also making a statement on debut by beating the then world ranked Jason Canoy.
In the ring Maruta is a slick, boxer-mover who has solid power, enough so to drop the teak tough Jason Canoy, one of the best jabs in the sport, a lovely ability to switch between head and body, good footwork and a very high ring IQ. He has been shown to turn off at time, but it often seems like he's doing so to get more experience and learn more about the sport and his opponents, rather than truly switching off. As a result he has lost a few rounds, but never come close to losing a fight.
One place where Maruta is perhaps a little “weak” is his experience. He has only had 26 professional rounds, compared to Otake's 219, but as mentioned he has held a number of training camps in the US, and that has seen him take part in long sessions, and share the ring with a number of other styles. Those training camps will help him fight over the longer distance, but we're still interested in how he will fair in the later rounds, especially with Otake's relentless forward march. Interestingly he has already been chin checked, taking some bombs from Canoy, and appears to have a very sturdy chin, but hasn't been tagged when he's tired yet.
We have seen Murata answer more questions in his first 5 bouts than most fighters, but it's clear that this bout has been made to allow him to prove even more. It's a chance for him to prove his stamina, and to prove his power, if he stops Otake it would be a huge statement, whilst a decision win would “just” be a big statement. This is certainly dangerous match making, but that seems to be the way they go with the top young talents in Japan, and it's part of what is making the Japanese scene so exciting right now. Young fighters are told to prove themselves, almost straight away.
We can see how Otake could win. We can see him just refusing to go away, taking Maruta in the deep water and drowning him, with either a late stoppage or a close decision. But our view is that Maruta's speed, skills and movement will be too much for Otake, and we even go as far as to say that a stoppage for Maruta isn't out of the question. The old adage “speed kills” is likely to play a factor here, and Maruta will be too quick and too sharp for the veteran, who will be made to look his 36 years of age, and will be finished off late into the bout.
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.