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
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