The men were meeting for the second time following a competitive bout back in December 2012 and this time it appeared that Saito had improved and Takayama had apparently plateaued.
The fight started with both men trying to control the distance and within a round or two they were both finding opportunities to tag the other hard. The action became tit-for-tat with neither man getting the better of it for more than a few moments.
The level nature of the fight was shown on the open scoring after 5 rounds with the judges all having Saito out in a narrow 48-47 lead. Few would have argued with the scoring though 48-47 to Takayama would certainly not have been out of the question.
Knowing he was behind going in to the second half of the fight Takayama managed to pick up the pace whilst Saito began to slow. The action was still competitive though Takayama was starting to gear up and close the difference on the score cards.
Going into the final 2 rounds it was all to play for and Takayama seemed to know it as he put on a charge winning rounds 9 and 10 to just keep his title.
With scores of 96-94, 96-94 and 95-95 Takayama will know that he was given a serious test and in fact he was lucky that Saito slowed down. Had Saito been a little bit younger than 35 he may well have managed to keep enough steam in his legs to over-come Takayama.
Sadly for Saito this was his 4th loss in a title fight and it's likely to be his last one. A real shame despite the effort he showed today. For Takayama this is further proof that he's a champion by virtue of competing in a weak division as opposed to his actual ability. A bout between the two top Japanese Welterweights, Takayama and Yoshihiro Kamegai, really would be a mismatch and a waste of time.
(Image courtesy of boxingnews.jp)