Boxing has had a lot of hard luck tales, and today we look at one that is a real and genuine inspiration from a fighter who came from a harsh background, but went on to inspire not only fight fans but also children from a similar background. In fact he continues to inspire people even now, well after his retirement from the sport.
Boxing has had a lot of fighters who have come from a harsh background and have had to carve out their careers. Hiroyuki Sakamoto is one such fighter.
Sakamoto was born at the end of 1970 and sadly his parents divorced when he was young and essentially abandoned him and his brother. Hiroyuki was left in an infants home, then an orphanage, then moved into a relatives home along with his brother. The family members he was left with didn't do a great job, in fact Sakamoto and his brother were both horribly mistreat when they were young and after his brother collapsed due to malnutrition the two would end up in a children's home in Fukuoka.
Despite being mistreat Sakamoto found boxing, watching it on TV as a youngster. It was due to that that he went from Fukuoka to Tokyo, where he would make his debut at the age of 20.
As a professional fighter Sakamoto, who was later dubbed the "Japanese Duran", found success quickly. He would win his first 6 bouts by KO. His initial part of his winning run saw him not only going to 6-0 (6) but continue beyond the run of stoppages to Sakamoto winning the East Japan Rookie of the Year, in December 1992, and then the All Japan Rookie of the Year the following February.
The winning run continued right through 1993, which saw Sakamoto stopping Rick Yoshimura for the Japanese Lightweight title, and into May 1995. By then he was 24 years old, 19-0 (14) and building a reputation as a burgeoning star in Japan. Sadly though he failed to make it to 20-0, being dumped on the canvas twice by Juan Martin Coggi and falling to 19-1 with a decision loss to the Argentinian veteran. The loss was a temporary set back, and Sakamoto would get back on the horse, picking up two more wins before the year was over, including a big win in the US over Jeff Mayweater and a win over Roger Borreros for the OPBF Lightweight title.
Sakamoto's win over Mayweather helped him rebuild following the loss to Coggi and in 1997, when he was then 27-1 (19) he got his first world title, facing off with WBC Lightweight champion Stevie Johnston. Sakamoto put up a great effort but was clearly second best against "Lil' but Bad", who was unbeaten at the time. Despite a scorecard of Ray Solis, in Sakamoto's favour, it seemed clear that the Japanese fighter hadn't done enough.
Sakamoto bounced back from the loss to Johnston with a trio of wins to earn his second world title fight, and again he lost a decision to a more skilled fighter, this time Cesar Bezan in another bout for the WBC Lightweight title.
Sakamoto's hope of becoming a world champion had been dented, but the the flame for world triumph was still there.
Followin the loss to Bazan we saw Sakamoto bounce back with an easy win over Bert Bado as he began another winning run over some limited opponents. After 5 straight wins he got his third world title shot, a bout with hard hitting Venezuelan Gilberto Serrano. Serrano, the then WBA Lightweight champion, had won the title a few months earlier by stopping Stefano Zoff and was travelling to Japan for his first defense.
After about 40 seconds of feeling each other out Sakamoto's power was felt by Serrano who was dropped from what was, pretty much, the first meanignful shot either man landed. Soon afterwards Serrano was down again, and at the end of the round he was in trouble. Sadly however Sakamoto didn't come out of the round unscated, suffering a nasty gash under his eyes. As the bout went on both of Sakamoto's eyes ended up a total mess, forcing the bout to be stopped in round 5, leaving Sakamoto heart broken at world level for the third time.
The injuries to Sakamoto needed time to recover, and it would be almost 7 months before he fought again. In the meantime Serrano had returned to Japan and lost the WBA title to another Japanese fighter, the hugely popular Takanori Hatakeyama, who had returned to the ring after almost a year away. After stopping Serrano we saw Hatakeyama state that he wanted to fight Sakamoto, giving Sakamoto the first shot at the title.
Sadly for Sakamoto he would end up being stopped in the 10th round of a sensationally brutal fight with Hatakeyama. The fight saw both men going to war, with Sakamoto looking like the bigger puncher, but lacking the movement and defense needed to cope with the more capable Hatakeyama, and then running out of steam and being dropped early in round 10.
The fight between Sakamoto and Hatakeyama seemed to pretty much end the best years for both men. Neither man would score a win of note afterwards, with Hatakeyama losing the title soon afterwards and Sakamoto being stopped twice in his following 4 bouts, before retiring in 2007 after a technical draw with a debuting Thai. That draw, the only one of Sakamoto's career, saw him ending his career with a 39-7-1 (29) record.
Whilst that could easily have been the end for Sakamoto as a public figure, it turned out to be the exact opposite. It turned out to be the launchpad for much, much more from the former fighter.
In 2010 Sakamoto turned his hand from fighting to managing as he set up the SRS Boxing Gym. What could easily have been the "Sakamoto Gym", instead became the Skyhigh RingS" gym, set up with the aim of letting people reach their potential. Those who just see SRS wouldn't know it was even Sakamoto in charge unless they looked into things, with founder and chairman putting people, and students, ahead of himself.
In July 2000, prior to facing Hatakeyama, Sakamoto had also set up the Aozora SRS, essentially the Blue Sky Fund, setting this up when he was still fighting. The aim of the blue sky fund was to support children in children's homes, offering things like boxing sessions and talks to the children who had been in the position Sakamoto had been in himself. He was wanting to offer guidance to youngster who found themselves feeling like he had.
The Blue Sky Fund could easily have closed when Sakamoto retired but instead it's kept going and kept growing, and in 2017 was awarded the HERO's award "HEROs SPORTSMANSHIP for THE FUTURE", recognising the great work of Sakamoto and the help he and the fund had given. With Sakamoto stating they would be visiting 40 to 50 orphanages a year, with the hope of breaking the chain of negativity related to children in orphanages.
The basic philosophy for the fund is simple, "every child is equal" and Sakamoto is looking to prove that.
Whilst Sakamoto's dream of becoming a world champion may never have come true, his legacy of helping children will live long after any world title reign would have.
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).