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.
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.