By Joe Koizumi
Japan’s sole Olympic gold medalist Takao Sakurai passed away because of cancer of esophagus on Tuesday (January 10). He was seventy. Sakurai, a speedy and skillful southpaw, acquired the gold medal in Tokyo in 1964. The Chuoh University graduate turned professional under Misako Gym against strong dissuasions of our amateur federation the next year. The scientific footworker, after a winning streak of 22-0, was given an opportunity to have a shot at the world bantam throne against Australian Lionel Rose in his first defense after dethroning Fighting Harada by an upset decision.
Harada, because of his weight problem, didn’t participate in a rematch with Rose but moved up to the feather division. Sakurai, in 1968, floored the defending champ Rose with his trademark southpaw left in round two, but couldn’t show his aggressiveness enough to capture the best but tried to keep his lead on points. Eventually Sakurai lost a hairline majority verdict (72-71, 72-70 and 72-72). It was his first and last crack at the world throne, though he later gained the Orient bantam throne from world-rated regional champ Wonsuk Lee of Korea the next year.
His overall record was 30-2, only 4 KOs. He was a Chuck Davey stylist. Another defeat was inflicted by Ruben “Mr. Knockout” Olivares, whom Sakurai dropped early in the bout but whose incessant combinations finally stopped him in the sixth session at the Forum, Inglewood, in 1969. It was the final eliminator to decide the mandatory challenger against Rose, who went to yield his belt to Olivares three months later.
Should he have born today, his scientific boxing skills would have been more highly evaluated. It was unfortunate for him that the majority of our experts and fans then were only watching such aggressive crowd-pleasers as Harada and other windmills by disesteeming stylish boxers. Sakurai hang up gloves for good in 1971 and established his One-Two boxing gym in Tokyo later. He served as the club-owner and manager until his sudden and sorrowful passing. May his soul rest in peace.