The new year may have been very slow to provide in ring action but it appears that things are warming up and today we saw the first Japanese title fight of the year as the Champion Carnival kicked off with a bout in the Super Featherweight division. More excitingly it kicked off with young and unbeaten fighters colliding in a bout that looked brilliant on paper.
The bout in question saw second generation fighter, and Japanese Super Featherweight kingpin, Rikki Naito (12-0, 5) get taken all the way by the now once defeated Masayuki Ito (16-1-1, 7) in a bout that really could have gone either way and in a bout that really did kick off the Champion Carnival in the perfect way.
From the opening round this was a highly skilled and highly sped fight with both men showing off what they had in the locker. Naito's timing did seem slightly better but Ito was well deserving of the credit he got for landing accurate counters and preventing Naito from building on any notable success.
Through the first 5 rounds the fight was impossible to call and it showed on the scorecards which had a split draw when they were announced. It was every bit as competitive as the records suggested and every big as exciting as we had all hoped.
In the second half of the fight the action picked up with Naito beginning to become more aggressive and this showed in rounds 7 and 8 as tried to force the judges into giving him rounds whilst Ito tried to answer back. It was still nip and tuck action.
Going into the final round both men seemed to think they had to up it and that left us with a thrilling finale that saw both unloading shots in the best round of the fight. Sadly however for Ito it wasn't enough and he lost his unbeaten records via a razor thin majority decision with the judges favouring Naito by scores of 96-95 and 97-94 whilst the third judge had the bout even at 95-95.
Coming into the fight we had suggest a draw was likely and considering he action in the ring a draw was perhaps the fairest result. Saying that neither man comes out badly here and given the two men are both only in their early 20's we'd not be shocked to see them both fighting at a much higher level down the line, in fact a rematch for the OPBF or even a world title wouldn't be out of the question.
Whilst Naito has retained the gold, and racked up his 3rd defense of the title we have no worries that Ito will come again and comeback stronger. For Naito the intention is clear, to move onwards and upwards as he attempts to replicate the success of his father, Cassius Naito, who was an OPBF and a Japanese champion back in the 1970's.
For those interested in seeing this bout it will be aired, in a tape delay format, on Fuji TV in a few hours time.
(Image courtesy of boxingnews.jp)
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