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
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
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 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
Not every bout worth talking about is a title bout, and of not every title bout is worth talking about. One great fight coming up with no title on the line is a match up between recent OPBF Featherweight title challenger Shingo Kawamura (16-4-1, 8) and former amateur stand out Ryo Sagawa (5-1, 3), who clash in what could be the hidden gem of the month on December 13th. Both men have real ambition, both know a win will give their career a huge boost and both know that a loss could see them being forced to work incredibly hard to get an opportunity of any kinda next year.
With 21 professional fights under his belt the 28 year old Kawamura will likely go into the bout as the slight favourite, though even that's not a given in what is a 50/50 in our eyes. Despite his record having multiple defeats on it he has had a really notable career bouncing back from a stoppage loss on debut, in 2012, to win the 2013 All Japan Rookie of the Year at Featherweight. As his career looked to be booming he was upset by Attanon Kunlawong in 2014. He would rebuild from that loss before losing on his international debut, coming up short in a decision loss to Mike Tawatchai. That loss however seemed to allow Kawamura to build his confidence and he would string 5 wins together, including a decision victory over Tae Il Atsumi in 2017. That run of good form lead him to a fight with OPBF champion Satoshi Shimizu earlier this year, and he gave Shimizu fits, setting a high tempo and forcing the 2012 Olympic bronze medal winner to back up several times. Despite the aggression, work rate an electric start Kawamura would be stopped by Shimizu, though had impressed and was clearly going to be getting other big fights in the future.
In the ring Kawamura is an aggressive fighter, who fights out of the southpaw stance with a high work rate. He uses his southpaw jab well to set up his other work, but is defensively open, something that Shimizu made him pay for. Although he has a good jab his straight left hand is rather sloppy at times, though when it lands it can do damage. Watching him you sometimes get the feeling he's a fighter who is battling some internal urges, which wish to have an inside war, and if we're being honest his hooks do seem to be among his very best weapons and are often thrown with more conviction than his jabs and straights. Almost as if he's a natural inside fighter who is being taught to fight on the outside and make the most of his size.
Whilst Kawamura impressed in a loss to Shimizu earlier this year Sagawa impressed with a win against Ryo Matsumoto, a stablemate of Shimizu's, who he stopped in a 3 round upset in September. The win over Matsumoto was a shock, though it perhaps shouldn't have been given that Sagawa was a notable amateur, going 62-22 in the unpaid ranks, was the naturally bigger man, and was in good form with wins over the likes of Tasuku Suwa and Junki Sasaki coming into the bout. Perhaps the one reason it was a shock however was that Sagawa had lost his second professional bout by stoppage, losing in 2 rounds to Retsu Kosaka in May 2017. That loss however said more about Sagawa's lack of experience and he didn't know what to do when he was hurt, and decided to stand and fight, rather than survive, something he had learned by the time he fought Matsumoto. Technically he looked very good, prior to being hurt, and now with that extra professional experience he does seem to have developed, significantly.
As mentioned Sagawa is technically good, he's a sharp puncher, who understands the ring, moves fluidly with light feet and picks his shots well. There really isn't a shot that looks to be missing from his arsenal and he can box well on the back foot as well as from center ring. As for flaws we do wonder how he comes under intense pressure and what his chin is really like. It's also worth noting that he is typically in control of the tempo, and it's usually not an intense one, so question marks do remain about his stamina, though he has already gone 8 rounds in a bout.
If Sagawa has got a poor chin it will be found out here though we suspect he can take a solid shot. If he can take a shot he should have the edge in speed and skills and that could be enough to take him to a very hard fought decision. There is however the work rate and intensity that Kawamura can bring and that could end up being too much for Sagawa, and if Kawamura can force the action he may well break down and stop his man.
This is a fight where unknowns play a big part and in the end we will learn a lot more about both men. Given the unknowns and the fact and they will both be looking to win, we're expecting a very hotly contested contest.
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.