In May 2019 we got a bit of a forgotten gem in the Philippines as a then rising Japanese fighter made his international debut and took on a Filipino who held a minor regional title. On paper this was a really interesting match up, and it gave us fans a chance to watch bout that combined boxing, brawling, and fighting. Neither man seemed to have the power to hurt the other, but both men managed to put on a cracking bout together and, in the 18 months or so since this bout, one of the fighters has since gone on to become a national champion one of the rising faces of the Featherweight scene.
Ryo Sagawa (6-1, 4) vs Al Toyogon (10-2-1, 6)
The Japanese fighter in question was Ryo Sagawa, who coming in to this bout had won 5 in a raw since suffering a stoppage loss very early in his career to Retsu Kosaka. Although he had an early career loss to his name Sagawa had shown some fantastic boxing skills and came in to this bout with wins over the likes of Junki Sasaki, Ryo Matsumoto and Shingo Kawamura. Despite his impressive wins coming in to this bout, this was regarded as a step up. No only was he travelling over to the Philippines for the bout, but he was also stepping up in weight, to take on an opponent at Super Featherweight.
Prior to turning professional Sagawa was a talented amateur who had turned professional with lofty ambitions. His early set back showed their was issues with how he responded to being his, but the way he had bounced from that loss was very impressive. Of course those who have followed him recently, will know that he has continued to develop and since this bouts he has gone on to great things winning the Japanese Featherweight title, and making 2 defenses of the title as we write this.
The Filipino that Sagawa was facing was 21 year old Al Toyogon, who sported a 10-2-1 (6) record and had won his previous 5. Whilst he didn't have a big win to his name he did have a number of decent regional level wins including victories over Naotoshi Nakatani, Nathan Bolcio and Ryusei Ishii. He looked like he was going forward with his career, and had won, and defended, the WBC Asian Boxing Council Silver Super Featherweight title.
Although not a big name Toyogon had momentum, he was young, he was promising, he was in form, he had more experience, he was the naturally bigger fighter and, most importantly, he was fighting at home. In fact all 3 judges and the referee were from the Philippines as well. The deck seemed to be stacked in his favour, big time.
From the early going both men tried to box, and it made for a rather slow start, with both looking to get behind their jabs and box at mid range. It didn't make for the best of action early on, though Sagawa did manage to show the skills, and smoothness that we now used to seeing from him. Although the skills of Sagawa showed through, Toyogon showed his toughness, coming forward behind a tight guard and not taking too much cleanly, whilst landing probably the best single shot of the round, a solid right hand. In round 2 Toyogon began to show a bit more ambition, and clearly had the fans in the venue behind him, cheering any success he had.
Toyogon pressed the action early in round 3 as he began to come alive, and as he began to use his aggression well. That success didn't last and by the end of the round Sagawa was the one coming forward, boxing off his jab and landing some gorgeous uppercuts. Essentially walking through the best of Toyogon. Although Sagawa had success it was a Toyogon round though his momentum didn't really last and Sagawa boxed brilliantly through round 4, to stem the success of Toyogon up close and seemingly begin to take control of the action.
Whilst we know some hate open scoring it was actually in effect here, and amazingly Toyogon was leading on 2 of the 3 cards after 4 rounds, with the third judge having it even. That included one judge who had the bout 4-0 in favour of Toyogon, which was an awful scorecard. Thankfully for fans wanting to see someone put a light to the touch paper, it was perfect, as the cards essentially told Sagawa to put his foot on the gas, which he did. And he did in style.
From round 5 we saw Sagawa dropping the "boxing" mentality and become more of a swarming pressure fighting, pressing the action and turning the bout into a brawl. This was where the bout took off, as he looked to make sure the judges couldn't possibly rob him.
After 8 rounds the Japanese fighter was leading on two of the cards, leading by a point on one of the cards with another card even. He knew he could still get done on them and he knew he couldn't let off the action as we ended up getting a brilliant finish to the bout.
This is a genuine hidden gem from 2019 but one this is well worth watching, especially now that Sagawa is the Japanese national champion and is a world ranked contender. It wasn't a Fight of the Year contender, not even close, but it was a genuinely worth while bout, well worth the 55 minutes or so that it takes to watch. A very good, solid hidden gem that had some great exchanges, and built from a slow temp at range to an inside war up close.
The dynamic and action changed significantly due to the scoring, and it is one of the rare bouts where open scoring positively affected the bout. Both guys had to dig deep at times, and we ended up with a genuinely good fight here.
The contenders, and hopefuls, at Featherweight do make for an interesting mix from all over the globe. It's a division that perhaps lacks in terms of depth, but makes up for it in just how varied the division's hopefuls are. This isn't a division based around one country, but has contenders from every corner of the planet.
Tugstsogt Nyambayar (11-0, 9)
Mongolian fighter Tugstsogt Nyambayar is set for a WBC title fight in February, against Gary Russell Jr, and if he wins he would become the second ever world champion from Mongolia. "King Tug" is a skilled, heavy handed boxer-puncher but has got some real question marks over his head. He has been down a number of times, and it's hard to know, for sure, if that's a chin issue, or a problem with his balance. He often seems to be completely fine when he gets up, and it doesn't appear he's got any durability issues, but he has been down a few times so the question does remain. If he can dethrone Russell Jr we are likely to see the WBC title being a lot more active than it has been, so fingers crossed Nyambayar does take home the win in February.
Mark Magsayo (20-0, 14)
Filipino fighter Mark Magsayo has been banging on the door of a world title fight for a while and it would be a surprise if he get a shot sooner, rather than later. The talented Pinoy has managed to move out of the shadows of ALA and scored a couple of wins last year. Another win or two, letting him shake whatever rust is left, would help prepare him for a world shot, and an eliminator later in the year would certainly be over-due. It's time now that his backers put some money up for top opponents and let us find out just how good Magsayo really is.
Ryo Sagawa (9-1, 4)
Japanese champion Ryo Sagawa has been on a great run after an early career loss in 2017. He's won his last 8 in a row and has beaten the likes of Ryo Matsumoto, Al Toyogon and Reiya Abe, and has raced up the rankings. The talented boxer-puncher is 25 years old and is expected to defend his Japanese title against mandatory challenger Hinata Maruta later this year, after that's out the way don't be surprised to see Sagawa being linked to world title eliminators, if not world title fights themselves. He's a former amateur standout and he's quickly proving to be a versatile professional fighter who can box, punch and if needed, brawl. The only real worry is a concern about his chin, which has been shown to be less than solid already.
Michael Conlan (13-0, 7)
Talented former amateur standout Michael Conlan turned professional after a controversial 2016 Olympics, and did so after famously giving the bird to the judges. He turned professional with a lot of hype and expectations and the popular view was that he was going to be raced to a world title, potentially facing Shakur Stevenson somewhere down the line. Sadly Conlan has proven to be a rather frustrating fighter to get behind. The 28 year old is talented but appears to lack real power, and has a style that certainly isn't going to attract huge volumes of fans. He has strong Irish backing, and that will certainly help him get big fights and big crowds, but it would take some real changes for Conlan to go all the way to the top.
Musashi Mori (11-0, 6)
Another Japanese fighter than deserves a mention is 20 year old prospect Musashi Mori. The youngster, who is trained by Ismael Salas and managed by former world champion Yasuei Yakushiji, is already a regional champion and ended 2019 by stating that he was intending to fight for a world title in 2020. Don't be surprised at all if we hear a lot about Mori this year, and potentially even see him making a US debut at some point, to try and raise his profile. At the moment it's hard to see his route to a world title, though a potential bout with Can Xu, in China, would be possible, but a very tough ask for the youngster.
Miguel Marriaga (29-3, 25)
Hard hitting Colombian Miguel Marriaga is in an interesting position as his career seemed to be winding down after a loss to Vasyl Lomachenko, but now rumours are that he will get a world title fight with WBO champion Shakur Stevenson. Marriaga is certain on the wrong side of 30, aged 33, but is powerful, tough and dangerous. We wouldn't say he's the best possible opponent for Stevenson, but he is arguably the toughest opponent Stevenson will have faced so far, so it's hard to complain too much. Marriaga is a good test for a youngster and that's essentially the role he'll be playing against Stevenson.
Oscar Escandon (26-5, 18)
It's hard to know what to make of 35 year old Colombian Oscar Escandon. He's lost 3 of his last 4 but gave his career a massive, almost career saving, shot in the arm in December when he took out Jhack Tepora. Although no world beater Escandon does seem to be a very legitimate gate keeper and it'll be interesting to see whether or not he can land another big win this year. If he can it wouldn't be a surprise at all if Escandon managed to another world title fight before his career comes to an end.
Having spent the last couple of days looking at the Featherweight division, and more precisely its champions and contenders, we now get on to some of the prospects in the division, which are a real mixed bag with many of them having had inactivity plague their careers so far.
If you missed the previous articles on the division they are available here:
The state of the Division - Featherweight - The Champions
The state of the Division - Featherweight - The Contenders
Ryo Sagawa (6-1, 4)
Arguably the most improved fighter in 2018 is Ryo Sagawa, who began the year 2-1 (2) and went on to score 4 good wins, over opponents with a combined 61-10-2, during the year. He was a former accomplished amateur who suffered a surprise loss in his second professional bout, but has bounced back well and scored notable domestic wins over Junki Sasaki, Ryo Matsumoto and Shingo Kawamura in his last 3 bouts. He's a skilled boxer-puncher who has shown real improvements since his loss and now looks like being one of the big rising stars of the Featherweight division. A real one to watch in 2019, a year that he's stated he'll be looking to fight for titles in.
Jordan Gill (22-0, 6)
With 22 fights to his name 24 year old Englishman should perhaps be a bit further along with his career than he is, however "the Thrill" hasn't been the most active in recent years with only a single fight in 2016 and just 2 fights in 2017 so has struggled to build momentum. The Englishman is a light puncher, but a talented one and scored good wins in 2018 against the likes of Jason Cunningham and Ryan Doyle. Hopefully he continues to be busy in 2019 and move his way on to the European title picture. Unfortunately, Europe is packed with very good Featherweights and it could be tough for Gill to impress at the level at the moment.
Hinata Maruta (8-1-1, 7)
The very highly regarded Hinata Maruta made his debut in 2015 and was destined for greatness. Sadly his journey hasn't been smooth sailing, as anticipated, with a loss to Hidenori Otake in late 2017 and an unfortunately draw with Ben Mananquil earlier this year. Despite those set backs we have seen touches of genius from Murata who now looks to be fighting at his best weight, and his recent TKO win over Tsuyoshi Tameda was as impressive as anything else he's done since turning professional. If Maruta can get it all together and perform to his best then his ceiling is incredibly high, but the boxer-puncher really needs everything to click sooner rather than later so he can build some momentum and move into title contention.
Joet Gonzalez (21-0, 12)
At 25 years old Joet Gonzalez is similar in some ways to the aforementioned Jordan Gill, in that we would typically expect a guy in his mid 20's with over 20 fights to really have progressed beyond being a prospect. He had a good 2018, with wins over Rafael Rivera and Rolando Magbanua, to go along with a solid 2017 win over Deivi Julio Bassa, but we're still waiting for a big break out from him, and we suspect that's what we'll see from him in 2019 as he looks to move from prospect to contender.
Hector Luis Garcia (10-0-0-1, 8)
Dominicant Puncher Hector Luis Garcia is a 27 year old who debuted in late 2016 and has quickly raced out to 10-0. He's heavy-handed has already won a regional title and now heads into 2019 with some momentum. Given his advanced age we're expecting to see Garcia matched with better regional talent in 2019 and could potentially find himself in the world rankings by the end of the year, if he can do that then maybe he'll be given more exposure. Whilst he's not a bit name he was a notable amateur, competing at the 2016 Olympics and being a 3-time silver medal winner in regional competitions, losing to top Cubans in his final bouts
Tremaine Williams (15-0, 5)
Unbeaten American Tramaine Williams, aka "The Might Midget" is a 26 year old who has long been tipped as a future world champion, following a solid amateur career. Sadly for all the expectations on his shoulders he's yet to really show what he can do, and he's already been a professional for well over 6 years. Sadly his career has been slowed by serious bouts of inactivity, with no fights in 2014 or 2016, and only 1 fight in 2018. Despite the inactivity he has beaten the likes of Christopher Martin, German Meraz and William Gonzalez, showing that he has been able to perform well against good competition. He's promising but certainly needs to "get on with it" so to speak.
Dave Penalosa (14-0, 10)
Hard hitting Filipino Dave Penalosa carries one of the biggest names in Filipino boxing, with his father, uncles, grandfather and brother all being notable fighters. He, like several others on this list, has been a really frustrating fighter. He's been a professional since 2011, but failed to fight in 2015 and 2017, essentially losing more 24 months of his career. If he can remain active, build on a couple of wins in 2018 he could become a contender by the end of 2019, especially given his surname, strong backing from ESPN5 in the Philippines and an exciting style. He will however need to be kept busy and be given the match ups to build on, rather than have any more time away from the ring.
Michael Conlan (10-0, 6)
Northern Irishman Michael Conlan is a very highly regarded prospect in the division and was a standout amateur, winning the 2015 World Amateur Championships with a victory over Murodjon Akhmadaliev as well as competing at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. We feel he hasn't quite shown the same skills in the professional ranks as he did in the amateurs, but with Top Rank behind him, along with a huge Irish support and so much amateur experience it's hard to see imagine any but success for Conlan, who is a lot more technically rounded than his brother Jamie, who was one of the most exciting fighters in recent memory. A lot of pressure is on Conlan's shoulders but we're expecting him to shine in the next year or two.
Musashi Mori (8-0, 5)
Whilst some fighters on this list have been tipped as a success since before making their professional debut, the same cannot be said of 19 year old Musashi Mori, who turned professional in 2016 without any fanfare. Mori would impress in 2017, winning the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Super Featherweight before moving down in weight earlier this year to claim the WBO Asia Pacific title from Richard Pumicpic. There are areas for Mori to work on, but he looks like a fantastic prospect with good speed, underrated power, good composure and he is improving his defense as well. A really promising and young talent as we head into the new year.
Ren Sasaki (8-0, 5)
Another Japanese fighter making it on to this list is Ren Sasaki, a 23 year old who really made his mark in 2017 when he won the Japanese Rookie of the Year last year, winning it at Featherweight whilst the aforementioned Mori won at Super Featherweight before dropping down in weight. Sasaki didn't have a mega busy 2018 but did win a B class tournament final, over-coming Kanehiro Nakagawa and has shown a lot to be excited about, though he obviously is less far along than Mori who has already claimed an international title. We expect Sasaki will look to climb up the domestic rankings n 2019 and could well be looking at a national title fight in 2020.
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.