The first round was pretty clearly a Naito round before Chavez came back into the fight, helped by a cut suffered by Naito from an accidental headclash. Despite the cut Naito began to take control and seemed to sweep rounds 3 to 7 with his busy jab and constant movement. Chavez, a patient stalker, seemed to be happy in pressuring without too much of a pay off in the earlier stages. Although it appeared a bit like Chavez was giving away rounds, and was too slow for Naito, his game plan certainly looked like he was wanting to take Naito in to deep waters later on.
After 4 rounds Naito was leading 39-37, on two cards, and was 38-38 on the other when the scores were announced to the public. That lead was increased in the middle rounds, and by round 8, when the scores were announced for a second time, Naito was up 78-74 on all 3 cards.
With a 4 point leading entering the final 4 rounds all Naito had to do was stay up right to retian his title. That however turned out to be much, much harder than expected and Naito really would have wished the bout would have been a 10 rounder.
What made things tough in the later stages was that Naito's concentration was going, his legs were slowing and his reactions weren't what they had been earlier in the fight. Chavez on the other hand looked as solid as he had been earlier in the bout, and was making the most of Naiti's slowing feet, landing heavy body shots and managign to get a tiring Naito with more success than he had earlier in the bout. A tired looking Naito was pinned into the corner, forced to hold and put on the back foot more and more, rather than being able to use his movement aggressively it was becoming more and more defensive. In round 11 a big right hand, bang on the chin, from Chavez dropped Naito hard. The Japanese fighter looked hurt when he got to his feet and was lucky the bell came as Chavez began to pound on him just a few seconds later.
Knowing he had the power to hurt Naito we saw a more intense looking Chavez come out for round 12, and he would drop Naito early in the round before piling on the pressure and lookign for the finish. Naito went into survival mode from then on to the final bell with Chavez throwing everything he had at the champion. A lesser referee would have stopped the bout, but Naito did just enough to stop any intervention from the third man in the ring as he managed to survive ti the final bell, wobblign around the ring for much of the last round.
Despite having lead by 4 points after 8 rounds the knockdowns had made things incredibly interesting, and saw Naito narrowly retain his title with a majority decision, 114-112, tiwce, and 113-113.
Despite the loss Chavez will be welcomed back into Japan after this performance whilst Naito will certainly have to think about his future and about making changes to the way he fights. Chavez also needs to develop his style, having been far too patient at times, but he showed that he has the ability to claim a big win at this level, and really did come very close to scoring the upset win in the final round.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)