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!
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).