When we think about fights to include in this Treasure Trove series we try to look at bouts that fit certain criteria. For example major debuts fit in here, exciting bouts, low key slugfests, and meaningful contests. The Treasure Trove is all about the contests that we want fans to give a watch to, and lets his talk about them.
Today's bout certainly falls under the fun to watch match ups, and comes from August 2020. It's not a Fight of the Year contender, but it's a bout that warms it's way into becoming an action bout. It's got a slow and steady start, before one man's pressure forces a real battle, and we genuinely love those types of bouts. It's not the prettiest or the most exciting, but it is an entertaining one and one that features the Japanese debut of a re-imported figher.
Shoki Sakai (23-11-2, 13) vs Hironori Shigeta (6-1-1, 3)
In one corner we had "re-imported" Japanese fighter Shoki Sakai, who had fought his entire career up to this point in Mexico and the US. He had earned a reputation in the West as a tough guy, with a typical Japanese attitude in the ring. He was about heart and desire, determination and hunger. Often his bouts would see him show a lot more desire than skill, but it had made him a worthy gate keeper for prospects, testing the likes of Gor Yeritsyan, Alexis Rocha and Eddie Gomez. He was no world beater, but was the ideal type of opponent for rising prospects.
In 2020 Sakai returned to Japan, where he was born, and signed with the Yokohama Hikari gym, who had him headline an A-Sign show in August at the Shinjuku FACE in Tokyo.
In the opposite corner was the once beaten Hironori Shigeta, a 30 year old who had won the 2017 All Japan Rookie of the Year, but failed to build on that win, with two relatively low key bouts following it. He had shown promise early in his career but by August 2020 he had all but seen his career fade away before it really got going, due to inactivity. Despite that he knew this was a big fight for his career and a win over Sakai could end up boosting his career to the point where he was going to get another big fight in late 2020 or early 2021.
Given the styles of the two men, we had expected a fun match up here, especially given that both had a point to prove.
The opening round was surprisingly quiet. Shigeta, fighting in black and orange shorts, looked to create distance and box at range. He looked to make the most of his better jab and his quicker movement, and it seemed like he had scouted Sakai well. Sakai however wasn't in Japan to lose, after all he had lost his previous 4. He was there to win, to make a successful Japanese debut, and he was there to win fans over. Despite being out boxed during the opening round Sakai was relentless with his pressure, following Shigeta around the ring, and forcing him to work hard for every inch of space.
Shigeta again did well to neutralise the pressure of Sakai in round 2, and landed some solid shots of his own as Sakai came forward without managing to force the war he was looking for. The experienced veteran was however getting a read on what Shigeta had to offer and forcing the relative novice to tire himself out, creating space and trying to keep himself safe. It did, however, feeling like it was only going to be a matter of time before Sakai would go through the gears, get inside and get his shots off, adding a real tension as we entered round 3.
In round 3 we finally saw Sakai getting closer and in round 4 we started to see a war break out as Shigeta's legs began to tire and Sakai's experience, toughness and hunger kicked in. From here on the fight began to take on a new personality. No longer was this Sakai following Shigeta, but it was instead Sakai walking down Shigeta, getting inside and forcing Shigeta to fight hard, something he tried to do through out round 4, before the pace increased again. And again.
In the final rounds this became a rough and tough battle, with Sakai trying to stop Shigeta, and Shigeta trying to get Sakai's respect.
Was it a fight of the year contender? God no, but it was a worthwhile watch, at a time where we needed some fun fights, and from round 5 onwards this was certainly a real fun fight. The change in momentum and dynamic made the fight compelling from the off. It was also a really meaningful bout, giving us a chance to see Sakai in a Japanese ring for the first time after his lengthy run over in the west.
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.