Last Friday we finally got the chance to see the Japanese Featherweight title bout between defending champion Ryo Sagawa (10-2, 5) and mandatory challenger Hinata Maruta (11-1-1, 9).
The two men were originally supposed to clash in 2020, as part of the Champion Carnival, but saw their bout being delayed due to Covid 19. There was then a delay to the broadcasting of the bout, due to an earthquake in Japan earlier this month. Despite the delays, and the tragedies surrounding them, it was a bout that we were really looking forward to, and a bout that promised a lot. Thankfully it delivered and was a brilliant bout, well up there with some of the best bouts of 2021 so far. It was high level stuff, exciting and a really, really interesting bout.
In the end Maruta dethroned Sagawa, stopping him late in round 7, and finally lived up to the promise he had shown glimpses of since his days as an amateur. Before then however both men had shown a lot to like and given us a great bout.
With the bout now re-watched we've decided to give it the "Five Take Aways" treatment and share some of the things we took from the bout.
1-This is the best we've seen from Maruta
When he turned professional there was a lot of expectations on the shoulders of Hinata Maruta, who was aiming to win a world title within 3 years of his debut and was regarded as the future of the Morioka Gym. There was a lot of pressure on a man who was just a teenager. It was clear he had insane potential, and watching his early bouts it was clear he could go all the way, but there was also a lot of work to do and he could, at times, admire his work too much, and want to show off the flashy things, rather than get in and get the job done, drawing out bouts that that could have ended quickly. Here we saw him put it all together and put on a career best performance. He still switched off a little bit at times, but all in all this was a brilliant performance, he was sharp, quick, accurate, and when the time came to close the show he did just that. This was, by far and away, the best we've seen from Maruta.
2-Sagawa wasn't there to lose
Over the last few years Ryo Sagawa had been on a great role and had scored a string of notable wins over the likes of Junki Sasaki, Ryo Matsumoto, Shingo Kawamura, Al Toyogon and Reiya Abe. He wasn't going into the ring here to just hand his title over to some young upstart. He may have ended up being stopped in the end, but Sagawa was not in the ring to hand over his title and crown a new prince of Japanese boxing. Instead he fought hard, changed things up and tried to rely on his deep amateur experience and tough professional competition. He boxed early on and managed to turn up the heat as the bout went on, trying to get into Maruta's head and change the momentum of the bout. He wanted to keep his title, keep his career going forward and his effort can not be questioned here.
3-High level boxing can be exciting
There's an old George Foreman quote that we've all heard and seen, "Boxing is like jazz. The better it is, the less people appreciate it". Whilst that can be true, to some extent, we can still get high level boxing contests that are great to watch and highly entertaining affairs, when two fighters aren't overly negative and aren't coming to run and avoid a fight. That was certainly the case here. This was genuinely high level boxing, almost everything was based off technically solid work, jabs were the key for both men, feints and counter punching were seen regularly and both men fought first with their brains, rather than their brawn. Despite this being boxing contest, and not a fight, this was still a hugely exciting bout, and thoroughly entertaining. Really good boxing, and really good bout!
4-The finish was sensational
The big question mark we had coming in to this, in regards to Sagawa, was his chin, and it had let him down early in his career. Here he took some huge shots, with one of the best coming at the end of round 3, and showed surprising toughness and heart. Despite that there was little he could do to prevent the finish in round 7. Early in the round he took some big shots, and came through them trying to turn the fight around, even having some success in dictating the bout and forcing Maruta to back up. Sadly though there was next to nothing he could do to stop the counter right hand that dropped him the first time. That was a peach of a shot. Sagawa getting back to his feet afterwards was impressive, but Maruta had his man hurt, heard the clacker to signify the final 10 seconds of the round and finished with one of the best combinations we'll see this year. A brilliant, brutal, combination to put away the defending champion.
5-The Featherweight division in Japan is incredible!
The argument as to what makes a good division is one that we can go around in circles on, however a good division for us is "having a number of fighters who can be matched to give compelling and even looking match ups, and though fighters having no reason to avoid each other". With that definition in mind what an amazing scene the Japanese Featherweight division is right now. We have pure boxers like Sagawa, Maruta and Reiya Abe, we have punchers like Satoshi Shimizu and Tsuyoshi Tameda, we have craft little fighters like Musashi Mori, warriors like Daisuke Watanabe and Shingo Kusano, and emerging youngsters like Ryosuke Nishida and Rentaro Kimura, Jinki Maeda and Mikito Nakano.
Whilst not all of these fighters will ever compete at world level the domestic picture is incredible and there's no excuse for us to not get more amazing bouts in the division. With Maruta as champion we have potential match ups against Shimizu, Mori and Abe for the next year or two, and we have Sagawa's rebuilding process to look forward to. This division is going to be on fire in Japan for the next 5 or 6 years, if not longer, and to us that's something to be really, really excited about!
Last week fight fans at Korakuen Hall saw Japanese Featherweight Ryo Sagawa (10-1, 5) retain his title with a 6th round KO win against Yuri Takemoto (8-2-1, 4). We, however, had to wait until the weekend to watch the bout on tape delay on Fuji TV.
Following the contest we were left with something's we wanted to talk about, and thought it was a great bout to cover for our second Take Aways article
1-Ryo Sagawa is a joy to watch
We all have natural biases in what we like and for us one of the most fun to watch styles are the aggressive technicians. The guys who are skilled but come forward and don't look to win bouts solely on the back foot. Ryo Sagawa fits that mould perfectly. He is very much a joy to watch, pressing forward, jabbing, poking, finding holes and letting shots go. One issue we often see with technical boxer is that they wait for something to happen but Sagawa makes things happen and that is a real fan friendly quality. He also does that without being reckless, but simply by being accurate and busy.
Despite being offensively minded Sagawa also still has big question marks over his chin, which makes every exchange have a sense of tension to it. It's likely his chin will be an issue when he steps up a level, but at domestic level it's part of what is giving every opponent something to make them feel they have a chance.
We don't think many international fans are aware of Sagawa, but they really should be, this kid is a joy to watch, he makes boxing look easy, has under-rated power and when he has an opponent hurt he goes for the kill.
2-Yuri Takemoto has a bright future
Aged just 24 Takemoto jumped at the chance to take on Sagawa at Korakuen Hall. Although we don't often talk about the geographical situation in Japan Takemoto is based in Wakayama, over 300 miles from Tokyo, and was fighting in the capital for just the second time, with the last time coming in the All Japan Rookie of the Year in 2018. This was a huge step up in class, against a brilliant fighter and Takemoto acquitted himself really well.
It was too much of a step up, too soon, but he showed enough here to prove that he shouldn't be written off, and we dare say he learned more in defeat than he had in his last 3 bouts combined.
The youngster was ambitious, came to win, fought bravely and fought back despite taking some huge shots. That showed enough to earn him new fans, and prove he has a hell of a chin. Don't sleep on him despite this loss, he should come again in a few years time.
3-The Japanese title still has massive significance
In recent weeks we've seen the WBA pump out "interim" titles like their business model depends on having 4 champions per weight class. In Japan titles are still kept to a relative minimum with the national title having huge prestige. Whilst a Japanese title doesn't match the value of a WBA "interim super duper" trouser keeper up we do need to make it clear that a national title that has top domestic fighters fighting for it helps grow an important national scene.
We don't expect the US to follow suit but we can't help but think that a true national title or a regional title for some countries that don't have one would be a really important stepping stone, and help to eliminate the need for these pointless WBA belts.
In Europe there is the EBU title and in Asia there is the OPBF title. In North America there is nothing similar at the moment in terms of prestige. The NABF, USBA and NABA titles were all supposed to serve that function, but they haven't done the job properly and have fallen by the way side, allowing prospects to win "interim" world titles instead. That's a real shame.
National and regional titles are great things and it's a shame that so few countries have a scene like Japan and the UK in regards to their national titles.
4-Korakuen Hall looks better with fans but...
The bout was held at the iconic Korakuen Hall and was actually the first headline bout at the venue to have fans. That was brilliant, and it's great to see fans back at the "hall". However it did leave us wondering about social distancing and a lot of people seemed to be sat in small clusters on the benches. We know why the venue was only partially filled, and we know why fans haven't been at bouts, but their close proximity to each other here had left us a little bit uneasy.
Unlike some venues, such as the City Sogo Gym in Hirakata, where seating can be placed and spaced with plastic chairs Korakuen Hall has long benches for seats on one side of the ring, giving it a very unique and intimate look. Sadly the venue might be verging on "too intimate" for the current climate.
Not only do the organisers, in this case Misako, need to look at at the number of people in the venue but also how concentrated they are in any region of the venue.
Whilst it may well be a case of the camera making it look crowded, we suspect that changes will need to be made to how fans are allowed to sit in the venue.
Also even a splattering of fans makes a big difference to the whole atmosphere and we suspect other promoters, will be desperate to get fans back in to venues, even if it is a limited number.
5-We wish it had been Hinata Maruta
Whilst we were impressed by Yuri Takemoto's effort, and it was a very brave and credible one, we still wish that Ryo Sagawa had faced Hinata Maruta, as originally expected. We feel a bout between those two men would be something very special and would see both men raising their games to exceptional levels.
We understand why we didn't get it, and really do think Takemoto exceeded all expectations, but it does feel a little bit underwhelming still, given what seemed like a done deal.
A bout between Sagawa and Maruta was scheduled earlier in the year, but we all know what's happened in 2020, and sadly the bout has been put on hiatus, likely until 2021. We still hope we see those two in the ring together, but there is a real worry that the two men may go in different directions. That's because Sagawa is currently world ranked and will likely be looking for those bigger opportunities sooner rather than late.
(Screen shot used to show how close together fans were)
Earlier this week fight fans at Korakuen Hall, yes they are back!, saw Japanese Featherweight champion Ryo Sagawa (10-1, 5) successfully retain his title and record his second defense. With that in mind we've decided to give him the "Five for" treatment this week. Whilst we haven't featured any world title bouts for the Japanese fighter, who we do think is still a few fights away from competing at that level, there are still a lot of great bouts out there for him.
Here we have included a really obvious one, that we expect to see in 2021, along with a rematch we'd like, a couple of regional title unifications and then a bout against someone who appears to be heading towards becoming a divisional gate keeper.
Note - Due to current travel restrictions we have limited this to just Japanese fighters. We're not totally sure when Filipino fighters, for example, will be able to easily get to Japan so it makes more sense to stick to bouts we know "can" be made, even if the reality is that Sagawa won't fight until those limitations are lifted.
1-Hinata Maruta (10-1-1, 8)
The obvious match up, and the on we expect to see in 2021, is a bout between Sagawa and mandatory challenger Hinata Maruta. This bout was originally planned for this year, before the global situation forced it to be cancelled, and caused problems in rescheduling it. On paper this is about as good a match up as we could expect at domestic level and the winner will see their standing in the sport boosted massively. On one hard Sagawa would probably be the slight favourite, given his competition and wins, but talented Maruta should not be written off when, or if, this bout takes place. This would be high level, high speed stuff from both in a brilliant technical match up.
2-Reiya Abe (19-3-1, 9) II
Another alternative for a Japanese title defense would see Sagawa taking on the man he beat for the then vacant title, Reiya Abe. The two men fought in an ultra close and competitive bout last year and to see them go again would be great. Sadly the originaly bout wasn't aired on TV in full, with only very brief highlights, but a rematch between the two would hopefully be shown in full. Both of these fighters are very highly skilled, well matched and make for an interesting match up. It should be noted that Abe has been out of the ring since their first clash, last September, but will be back in action later this year. If he comes through that bout this is one we would love to see being re-run.
3-Satoshi Shimizu (9-1, 9)
The one weakness we think Sagawa has is his chin. He has been stopped once and dropped in the past. With that in mind a bout against the crude, technically awkward, but monstrously heavy handed Satoshi Shimizu looks like an interesting one for us. Shimizu certainly has the power to take Sagawa out if he lands clean, giving a real risk to Sagawa for fighting the man from the Ohashi Gym. On the other hand Shimizu is so clumsy, so crude, and so open, that Sagawa could have a field day with him, using his counters, and sharp fluid punching to burst up and break down the Olympic bronze medal winner. This bout would also have a few substories to it. Shimizu is the OPBF champion, meaning the bout could serve as a unification of the Japanese and OPBF titles, and it's also a bout for Shimizu to avenge the loss of stablemate Ryo Matsumoto, who was stopped by Sagawa.
4-Musashi Mori (11-0, 6)
Another potential unification bout could see Sagawa risking his Japanese title against WBO Asia Pacific champion Musashi Mori. On paper Mori is an easier opponent for Sagawa than Shimizu, with Mori lacking the destructive power and heavy hands of Shimizu, but he is still no push over, with good technical ability, a smart boxing brain and a lot of confidence. A bout between Sagawa and Mori would be a technical delight, with one of the best Japanese offensive fighters in the division against one of the better defensive fighters. This would be high speed, high skill, and whilst perhaps not the most entertaining match up possible it would be a very engaging and competitive bout.
5-Tsuyoshi Tameda (21-5-2, 19)
On paper a bout between Sagawa and Tsuyoshi Tameda doesn't look all that great, especially with Tameda losing his last bout and 2 of his last 5. In reality however his style could be the type of thing to give Sagawa fits. Tameda is crude, he's defensively poor, he can be hit, and he can be hurt. He is however an aggressive, heavy handed fighter who will be in the ring to win and that power and aggression could ask questions of Sagawa's chin. We suspect Sagawa would win, and would have the skills to take care of Tameda, but the quick starting of Tameda would make this a potential shoot out early on. Very much a high risk-low reward fight for Sagawa, but a fun one for 3 or 4 rounds. If Sagawa sees out the early storm we suspect he'd stop Tameda, but those early rounds would be incredibly interesting.
Many division's out there are really interesting, and have a lot of brilliant match ups that could be made at any moment. One of the most interesting is the Featherweight division, which isn't the "deepest" but is among the most "interesting", not just in Asia but globally. Despite not being as deep as the Bantamweight and Super Bantamweight division's it's still a very, very good weight class.
Again we're only considering Asian fighters for these rankings.
1-Can Xu (18-2, 3)
The stand out Asian fighter in the division is Chinese "Monster" Can Xu. Unlike another monster, who is known for his power and being a physical freak, Xu is a monster in terms of stamina, chin and output. The 26 year old is the current WBA "regular" Featherweight champion and really came along wonderfully in 2019, when he beat Jesus M Rojas, Shun Kubo and Manny Robles III. Although not a technically perfect boxer, or a big puncher Xu is a nightmare to fight with a swarming busy style and an ability to take a punch whilst letting his shots go. A total nightmare to take on.
2-Tugstsogt Nyambayar (11-1, 9)
Earlier this year we saw Tugstsogt Nyambayar come up short in a competitive, but clear, loss against Gary Russell Jr. That may have ended Nyambayar's unbeaten record but with wins over Harmonito Dela Torre, Oscar Escandon and Claudio Marrero it's hard to question his #2 ranking. Yes he's not scored a world level win yet, but in reality he's done more than anyone on this list, other than Xu. The heavy handed boxer-puncher was a former amateur standout and is a quality professional, but needs to be much more active and he has fought only 4 times in the last 36 months, completely wasting some of his prime years. Incidentally enough that's the same accusation that has been sent Gary Russell Jr's way over the years as well.
3-Ryo Sagawa (9-1, 4)
The Japanese domestic scene at Featherweight is legitimately crazy with 6 very good and interesting fighters in and around the top top. The best of those is, probably, Ryo Sagawa, who holds wins over 2 of the other top Japanese guys at the weight. Sagawa is the current Japanese national champion, an excellent boxer, who controls distance well and looks like a true natural in the ring with a really eye pleasing and smooth style. When he needs to brawl and fight he can, though at his best he is an excellent boxer. Despite being a genuine talent Sagawa also has some questions still hanging over him, and his chin is certainly still suspect, meaning that whilst he's talented, there is always a risk he'll be stopped, making his fights the type that will have you on the edge of your seat.
4-Reiya Abe (19-3-1, 9)
The man Sagawa beat for the Japanese title was Reiya Abe, another of the excellent Japanese fighters at Featherweight. Abe is a brilliant technical boxer, an intelligent southpaw with a very good jab and he controls distance fantastically well. He was unfortunate in 2019 to fight to a draw with Taiki Minamoto and then lose a very close one against Ryo Sagawa. Abe is clearly below Sagawa in the rankings, but there was much that separated the men when they fought and in reality there's still not much between them. In fact whilst Sagawa does have the head to head win, Abe has solid wins himself over the likes of Daisuke Watanabe and Satoshi Hosono, among others. With a tough 2019 behind him we're really looking forward to seeing what the future brings for the skilled Abe.
5-Mark Magsayo (20-0, 14)
As well as a bunch of fantastic Japanese fighters at Featherweight we also have a number of talented Filipino's. The best among the Pinoy's is Mark Magsayo, who has been banging on the door of a world title fight for a while now, but not managed to get the shot at the big time yet. Despite not getting a fight at world title level yet Magsayo already has wins over Chris Avalos, Shota Hayashi and Pungluang Sor Singyu. He made a smart move a few years ago, in leaving ALA Promotions but hasn't yet managed to secure a big fight with his new promoter. Magsayo is an excellent boxer puncher, and like many fighters we feel he will look better when he steps up faces tough competition.
6-Hinata Maruta (10-1-1, 8)
Back to Japan for our #6 entry in the form of 23 year old Hinata Maruta. The talented Maruta has promised a lot since making his professional debut way back in 2015 and whilst he's yet to accomplish what was expected of him there is no doubting his ability. The one thing we need to see from Maruta is his chin being tested and his ability to move through the gears. It's often felt like he's only had 3 gears and that really did cost him against Hidenori Otake, in his sole loss. Thankfully since his defeat to Otake he has shown a lot to be excited about and wins over Tsuyoshi Tameda and Takenori Ohashi have been excellent. If Maruta can continue to improve as he has done recently he'll be finding himself with some big wins soon. Interestingly he is mandated to fight Abe in a Japanese title bout, though it now seems likely that that bout could slip to 2021 due to the ongoing situation. That may actually be a good thing for Maruta, give him extra time to grow into his man strength.
7-Jhack Tepora (23-1, 17)
It's really hard to know what is going on with Jhack Tepora. At times he looks fantastic hi KO of Lusanda Komanisi in 2017 was brutal, and his win in Malaysia against Edivaldo Ortega should have helped launch him to some huge fights. They didn't and instead he fought a meaningless bout to Jose Luis Gallegos last June before being upset by Oscar Escandon in December 2019. That loss was among the bigger upsets of 2019, and completely killed what moment he had. Rumour from the Philippines circulated suggesting he had fallen out with his team, and that they had gotten fed up with some of his out of the ring habits. Whether their is truth to those rumours or not is unclear, but what is clear is a lack of activity has been a major issue for Tepora, who has fought just 3 times since the start of 20918. He needs to sort his career out before it's too late.
8-Musashi Mori (11-0, 6)
Talented youngster Musashi Mori is the current WBO Asia Pacific champion and is very much "one of the future". At the time of writing he's just 20 years old but has already accomplished a hell of a lot, winning the 2017 Rookie of the Year and winning his regional title, taking it from Richard Pumicpic, which he has defended twice. Although still a work in progress two wins over Pumicpic and one over Takuya Mizuno pretty much show that he's already incredibly talented. For recent bout he has been training under the guidance of Ismael Salas so we're expecting to see significant improvements form the youngster in his next few fights. He's a talented southpaw, though does lack his man strength and power, and it will be interesting to see if he can develop that side of his game as he matures.
9-Richard Pumicpic (21-11-2, 6)
With two close losses to Musashi Mori and a close loss to Ryosuke Iwasa it's easy to understand why Richard Pumicpic had double digit defeats. He has been matched hard, had to travel for bouts, and still run good fighters very close. He has now lost 3 in a row, but in reality he's deserved better from the judges. He's not the most powerful, or the quickest, or the biggest, but he's a nightmare. He's tough, rough, knows his way around the ring and really makes life difficult for anyone in the division. On his day he could beat men ranked well above him on this list, but has certainly lacked any form of luck and good fortune during his career. Fingers crossed we see the now 29 year old getting another opportunity to show what he can do in the near future. He's one of those fighters where you need to ignore his record, and just watch what he can do.
10-Ryo Matsumoto (23-3, 21)
Arguably the most over-looked man in the division is former world title challenger Ryo Matsumoto, who moved up to Featherweight in 2018 following his loss to Daniel Roman. Matsumoto has all the things needed to be a star. He's good looking, powerful, quick, skilled, has great size for the division and is someone with an amazing story, fighting through a nasty illness. He also has a sense of vulnerability, with 2 stoppage losses against him. He has the things needed to be a feel good story in boxing, but needs to be given time to adapt to the division, which he has naturally grown into. A rematch with Ryo Sagawa would be interesting and is potentially something he and his team are viewing for the future.
On the bubble:
Satoshi Shimizu, Jhon Gemino, Genesis Servania, Shohei Omori and Shun Kubo
Thinking Out East
With this site being pretty successful so far we've decided to open up about our own views and start what could be considered effectively an editorial style opinion column dubbed "Thinking Out East" (T.O.E).