Typically Japanese fighters have not travelled well over the years, and many lost world title bouts on foreign soil. Today however we saw WBO Flyweight champion Junto Nakatani (22-0, 17) [中谷 潤人] take his chance to shine on US soil as he stopped hard hitting mandatory challenger Angel Acosta (22-3, 21) in Tuscon, Arizona. In what was a show case of Nakatani's ability and Acosta's will to win through serious adversity.
The opening round saw Nakatani begin slowly, getting his jab into play early on, before opening up his arsenal, and shaking Acosta several times through the round. Acosta, to his credit, showed no quit, and landed some solid shots through the opening round, but looked under-sized, under-powered and like a man who was really going to struggle with the size and power of Nakatani. Despite this being his US debut, it was the perfect round for Nakatani, and it ended even better with Acosta suffering a suspect broken nose at the very end of it.
That nose would be a major problem for Acosta was was a bloodied mess very early in round 2 as Nakatani continued to land big shots to both head and body. The left hand of Nakatani was a major weapon, landing clean, landing hard and really leaving Acosta in trouble time and time again, but it was the blood that was the major issue and part way through round 2 the doctor took a look at the challenger. After a long deliberation Acosta was allowed to fight on, and he knew he was in trouble, looking to land a hail Mary from when the bout continued. Sadly for him the urge to land something big saw him eating more big shots from Nakatani, who landed numerous big shots, and really didn't seem to feel the power of Acosta, when the Puerto Rican landed his shots.
After Acosta was bloodied, beaten and battered in the first two rounds, it seemed like the bout wasn't going to last much longer. To his credit however Acosta fought like a man willing to give everything, even with a blood pouring from his nose. He looked to land bombs, and did land one or two very clean shots of his own. Shots that, at 108lbs, would have potentially swung the bout his way, or dropped a fighter. Nakatani tasted the power of Acosta and just came forward, looking to break down Acosta. The Puerto Rican managed to get through a second doctor's inspection, but was pouring blood over the ring, taking huge body shots, and not looking like he had what was needed to turn things around. He had the heart and the desire, but not the accuracy, power, skills, or size to get Nakatani's respect.
At the end of round 3 it seemed clear the referee and doctor were both looking to stop the fight. Acosta was desperate for that not to happen and asked for more round. He was allowed out for round 4, but within seconds of the round starting blood was again pouring out of his nose forcing the doctor to say enough was enough, and stopped the bout.
The stoppage was explained as having been due to blood loss, it was a strange decision, though in fairness it seemed like Acosta being stopped was inevitable. He had lost a lot of blood, he had been hurt numerous times and had put a lot into rounds 2 and 3 to no real success, whilst taking brutal body shots. He had the heart of a lion, and that will not be questioned, but he also looked out gunned here by a truly sensational 23 year world champion, who looked a natural in his US debut.
Earlier today we saw WBO Super Flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka (27-2, 16) [井岡一翔] record his third defense as he defeated mandatory challenger Francisco Rodriguez Jr (33-5-1, 24) in a compelling 12 round bout that had a bit of everything, and turned out to be a very well contested, and exciting bout that saw both men needing to take some big shots.
The challenger was incredibly confident in his ring walk and it was clear from the energy and demeanour that he wasn't in Japan to make up the numbers. Ioka on the other hand looked like a man who who was missing the fans that he would have hoped would have been at the venue, though weren't due to the increasing number of Covid19 cases in Japan. He didn't look worried, but he didn't look as confident as we've seen him in the past.
The confidence of Rodriguez wasn't just for show and he raced out to start the bout, putting Ioka under pressure and using a lot of movement to make Ioka feel uncomfortable. It was a close round overall but one where Rodriguez seemed to have the more eye catching moments and the best highlights, including landing a number of big right hands.
Rounds 2 and three were quite similar to the opening round, with Rodriguez holding his own with Ioka, who was taking heavy right hands whilst looking to land left hooks to the body. The two men seemed to have very different tactics, with Ioka looking to take the legs of Rodriguez away, whilst Rodriguez wanted to fight in spurts, catch the eye and apply intelligent pressure. It was a very interesting start to the bout, and one that was genuinely very competitive.
As the rounds went on the action kept picking up, and by the end of round 5 it seemed like Rodriguez had been the man getting the better of things. His aggression, his strength and his eye catching right hands up top were certainly impressing and it seemed like Ioka, who's well known for being an adaptable fighter, had got his gameplan wrong. The lack of fans perhaps leaving him just a touch flatter than we'd seen from him.
In round 6 and 7 however Ioka began to find his range, his tempo, his counters and his space with more freque ncy. Rodriguez was still having moments, but the Mexican was slowing down, he had put a lot in to the early rounds, used a fair bit of energy, and was struggling just a little bit to close the distance for his bursts. The extra space allowed Ioka to show case his counter punching, and he was he who started to land the better shots, making Rodriguez pay for his aggression with more regularity. Round 7 was a real changing point and Ioka went on to take round 8 as well as he began to take slowly take control. The momentum the champion was building seemed likely to see him take the fight away from Rodriguez, however the Mexican bit down hard and had a stellar round 9, as he hurt Ioka, and showed the same energy he had shown earlier in the bout. The round saw Ioka holding quite a bit, something that Rodriguez complained about after the fight when talking about the result, and something that did go completely unpunished, though had seen both men holding at times on the inside earlier in the bout.
Sadly for Rodriguez the round wasn't the start of a major fight back, and instead rounds 11 and 12 were both good ones for Ioka, as he got back to boxing, making Rodriguez miss, and spoiling when he needed to. It was something he needed to do to win, and something that did end up deciding the bout, with Ioka taking the last 2 rounds to secure a 116-112 win on all 3 cards.
Talking about the scorecards, they were certainly interesting. Not a single round in the first half of the fight saw all 3 judges agree. The unanimous round was round 7, for Ioka, who also took rounds 8, 11 and 12 on all 3 cards. Rodriguez on the other hand took round 9 on all 3 cards. Other than that the results of the rounds were split on the cards. Amazingly however it was one of those fights where judging was tricky. Although both men had very good rounds, they also had a lot of competitive close ones, making this a really close fight, and a very hotly contested one.
After the contest Rodriguez stated that he thought he'd won, and that he would have won had the bout been on neutral territory. He complain about Ioka holding and hitting behind the head, though in all honesty it was something both men were guilty of, and neither seemed to be doing it maliciously but more incidental shots up close.
As for Ioka he seemed to accept his performance wasn't great, and that he couldn't fight the fight he wanted, but getting the win was key. He also stated that the bout he's going to try and get next is a unification bout with IBF champion Jerwin Ancajas, something he and his team are going to be trying to negotiate for the big New Year's Eve show that Ioka will be on.
One thing that is undeniably true in boxing, is that father time is unbeaten in the sport. No fighter can take on father time forever and win. Sooner or later old age will get to any fighter. It seemed, today, that Filipino legend Manny Pacquiao (62-8-2, 39) found that out as he suffered a loss to unheralded Cuban Yordenis Ugas (27-4, 12), who retained the WBA Welterweight "Super" title.
From the off Pacquiao didn't quite look like the fighter he had been a few years ago. He looked good, but not even close to his best. He landed several big left hands early in the opening round, but also took some big right hands from Ugas, to both head and body as the round went on. The Cuban looked calm, relaxed and much bigger than the Filipino, and he used his size and reach well to land his jab, and regularly through the final 90 seconds of the opening round.
As the bout went on Ugas really managed to show exactly why he's been so well regarded by those who really follow the sport. He was defensively sound, neutralising Pacquiao really well, whilst finding room to land big right hands up top and crafty body shots, taking the legs away from the Filipino. He wasn't throwing a lot, but what Ugas was throwing he was landing with alarming regularity whilst Pacquiao was struggling to tie him down, and seemed to struggle to land either single shots or his trademark flurries.
What made things even worse for Pacquiao is that his shots, when they did land, seemed to bounce of Ugas whilst Ugas shots seemed to take a toll on Pacquiao, rocking him numerous times and leaving him marked around the eyes as early as round 2. As the bout went on Ugas's face also began to swell and bruise, but Pacquiao's was significantly more bruised and looked much more damaged than that of the Cuban.
To his credit Pacquiao did try, at numerous times, to up the tempo, turn things around and press Ugas, but the increased effort from the Filipino really were thwarted by the Cuban who used his jab to force Pacquiao to rest, or held Pacquiao when he needed to, stopping the rare toe to toe wars in their tracks.
After 12 rounds it felt very much like Pacquiao had given his all, but been beaten by a younger, hungrier, fresher fighter, who was too good on the night. He'd given Ugas a close one, with Pacquiao's work rate doing enough to keep things competitive in a number of rounds, but he was too inconsistent from the Filipino great. He didn't have the intensity he had once had, he lacked the energy, and speed that he once had, and instead looked like a fighter who was only 80% of the fighter he had once been.
When we went to the judges scorecards the judges turned in scores of 115-113, and 116-112, twice, to give Ugas the decision.
For Ugas this win really does put him in the mix for more big fights. Bouts against Errol Spence Jr and Terence Crawford are certainly going to be ones that fans are going to want, and Ugas has the tools to be a banana skin for both men. He took this fight on 2 weeks notice, and really showed what he could do.
As for Pacquiao it's surely, now, time to retire, and go into politics fulltime. He's 42, he hadn't fought in around 2 years, and this really should be a chance for him to bow out of the sport. He has served the sport as a true icon, a fan favourite and a great servant. He really doesn't need to take any more punishment, or give any more of himself to the sport.
Being in the UK I'm used to staying up for fights to cover here, and being up until 4AM or later is pretty much normal. Thankfully usually fights are worth watch, and are between two men wanting to win a fight. Tonight however we got a fight that really had nothing positive to sya about it, with one fighter looking to play a game of run away, against a fighter who was much slower than himself. What we ended up getting was one of, if not the, worst bout of 2021. And it came on a show that also had 16 second No Contest!
The bout in question saw WBO Bantamweight champion John Riel Casimero (31-4, 21) retain his title with a split decision over Cuban Guillermo Rigondeaux (20-2-0-1, 13). And it was a bout that no one should have have to sit through. In fact the highlight of the bout was the crowd, who let the fighters know that what they were getting was total bull shit. The crowd let both men have it with through out the contest.
The fight actually started in exciting fashion with Casimero being aggressive, trying to take the fight to Rigondeaux. He seemed to hurt the Cuban, who bent at the waist and got clobbered for it, something we don't typically see from Rigondeaux opponents, with the Cuban hitting the canvas and taking several shots when he was down. It seemed like the fight was going to be exciting. That was until round 2, when Rigondeaux began to do what Rigondeaux does, and moved. A lot. He moved to the point where he was killing the fight, and whilst he did land a couple of good left hands in round 2 those became less and less and less frequent as the rounds went on.
Instead countering Rigondeaux just moved, and he moved quicker than Casimero, who chased, but failed to cut off the ring. This lead to round, after round, of boos, frustration from everyone. The punch output from both dropped off complete, and the most in ring drama was a late punch from Rigondeaux at the end of round 6. In fact it was the only time he showed any real fire. After that we got pose off, with Casimero trying to mimic Rigondeaux, we got got running, we got chasing, and we got something really would have made the officials of the Olympic Kumite Karate competition very happy.
By round 7 it was hard to care about who was winning and losing. The reality is that we, as fans, were losing. The only saving grace is that we live in 2021, and world title fights are only 12 round affairs.
After 12 rounds the reality is that scorecards could legitimately have said anything. There was very few clear rounds either way, less than 90 combined connects, according to compubox, and the judges really could pick what they want. Casimero's attempt to make a fight, or Rigondeaux's ring general ship, and ability to avoid a fight. The judges, or at least two of them, preferred the work from Casimero, scoring it 117-111 and 116-112 in his favour, against a score of 115-113 to Rigondeaux from a dissenting judge. In reality it's hard to care about the scores, we're just hoping this is the last time Rigondeaux can stink out a televised card. As for Casimero, he'll need a fight next time out where he can re-establish himself as an exciting fighter, and get the taste of this bout out of fans minds.
After more than 20 months out of the ring, and with numerous fights falling through during that time, we were all curious as to what we'd see from exciting Chinese fighter Can Xu (18-3, 3) [徐灿] this evening as he looked to defend the WBA Featherweight title against Englishman Leigh Wood (25-2, 15).
Sadly what we saw was a shadow, of a shadow of a fighter. This was a man who looked completely unrecognisable to the man who announced himself to the world in January 2019, when he beat Jesus M Rojas. In fact what we saw was a man who looked not just out of sorts, but almost as if he was out of love with the sport all together and it looked like the stop start nature of the last 20 months had really taken everything away from him.
Xu, who is known for his high output, incredible work rate, and wildly entertaining fights, was subdued from the off. Part of that was ring rust though part of it, a very good part, was the tactics of Leigh Wood, and trainer Ben Davison, who used subtle movements to make Xu regularly reset. In the past Xu has had no problem resetting but here he seemed completely unable to get his feet into gear, whilst Wood picked him off with good single shots from mid-range. Wood really was just doing basic things, very well, and Xu couldn't do anything. In fact Xu looked like a man wanting to be the human heavy bag in the early rounds,
As the rounds went on the work rate from both increased, and Xu did manage to have some moments, notably landing some solid body shots and he had a solid round 5, but for the most part the action was dominated by the simple, clean, effective boxing from Wood, who appeared to be boxing against a man who had lost everything that had made him a world champion.
After round 5 Xu really didn't build on his success, instead Wood had one of his best rounds in round 6, taking the play away from Xu almost immediately. Xu tried to get back some momentum in round 7, but failed, despite landing some solid right hands late in the round. He was pressuring, but it was ineffective, and really just made life easy for Wood, who had an opponent coming to him, and chances to land some eye catching uppercuts, which had been his best shots in the early part of the fight.
In round 8, for the first time, it seemed like Wood felt he could stop Xu, and he seemed to buzz the champion for the first time, though seemed to gas himself as he went for a finish. One again a bad round for one man, in round 8's case Xu, was followed by him bouncing back and round 9 was a genuinely fatastic round to watch, with both men hhacing some great back and forth before we finally, saw glimpses of the real Xu. Round 10, or at least the first 2 minutes of it, was pretty much the only time we saw anything resembling the Xu of 2019. He was busy, he was aggressive, he was letting shots go and looking like the perpetual punching machine that had won us all over against Rojas. Sadly though it was just a 2 minute burst from him and following that Wood picked up his tempo later in the round, landing good body shots began to take the fight out of Xu.
In round 11 Wood began to play with his man, and there was nothing much landing from Xu, barring a late right hand that connected clean on Wood's chin. It was a brief success, that came too late for him to build on.
In round, as both looked to exchange, a big right hand from Wood dropped Xu. Xu got to his feet but was spent, a broken fighter, and Wood knew it, jumping on him until the referee stepped in.
For Wood this is a massive win. A career changing win. The win that puts him on the map and a win that opens the doors to some huge fights for him going forward.
As for Xu, it's hard to know where he goes from here. On the back of such a poor performance, we really need to wonder if he over-trained, lost focus, was too rusty and needed an easy win before a title defense or to needs move up in weight. This was not the Xu of the past.
On Saturday night in Brussels fans got the chance to see local hero Ryad Merhy (30-1, 25) successfully defend his WBA "regular" Cruiserweight title for the first time, as he defeated Chinese challenger Zhaoxin Zhang (10-2-1, 6), who some how entered the bout ranked #14 by the WBA despite not having a single win of note on his record.
Whilst the WBA are known as a farcical organisation in recent years, it very much felt, going in to this one, that Zhang had been parachuted a ranking to help Merhy get an easy defense and to create a bit of history, with Zhang being the first ever Chinese Cruiserweight to fight for a world title. Sadly though all it really did was further take away from the legitimacy of the WBA, who need to do better before the move to re-recognise the Association picks up any more steam with antics like this.
As for the bout everyone, and their dog, was picking a Merhy stoppage, with the main question going in not being about who would win, but how long it would take him. And surprisingly it took until round 8 for the Belgian based fighter, originally from the Ivory Coast, to see off Zhang. That was despite Merhy being in total control and looking like he could have gone through the gears and really taken this any time he wanted.
To his credit Zhang showed some ambition, some skills and a busy jab, but there was very little on his shots and every time Merhy opened up the challenger looked worried and in trouble. It was clear Zhang had nothing to get Merhy's respect and midway through round 8 Merhy dropped his man with a sweeping left hook for the second knockdown of the fight. Zhang showed heart to get to his feet but the referee made the right call in stopping the bout and saving Zhang, who seemed unhappy at the stoppage but really was lucky that Merhy wasn't in an angry mood as this could have gotten very ugly, very quickly.
As for Merhy this really needs to be used to kick start his career in a division that is heavily dominated by European fighters. There are much, much, much better options out there for him than a fighter like Zhang.
As for Zhang however we wouldn't be that disappointed to see him mixing on the OPBF title scene in the newar future. The OPBF title picture in the region is poor, and he showed enough here to suggest he could play a role in the regional scene. Fingers crossed that is something he and his team consider, despite this set back.
After close to 8 months out of the ring we saw "Monster" Naoya Inoue (21-0, 18) [井上 尚弥] return to the ring late on Saturday night as he took on mandatory challenger Michael Dasmarinas (30-3-1, 20) from the Philippines. And barely broke sweat whilst disposing of the Filipino like a second rate challenger who didn't belong in the ring with him, and retaining his IBF and WBA "super" Bantamweight titles.
The opening round saw Dasmarinas looking confident and calm, for about 20 seconds until he was caught by a left hook. After that his confidence seemed to instantly fade and he went from looking calm to looking jittery and apprehensive of the task in front of him. Things weren't helped when Inoue landed a good right hand, in what was, for the most part, a quiet round. As the round went on Inoue landed a right hand to the body and began to get his jab into play. It was a scouting mission for the champion and a "what have I sign up to" experience from Dasmarinas.
In round 2 we began to see Inoue go through the gears slightly and jittery Dasmarinas began to look more and more nervous as the calm, calculated and relaxed Inoue began to press with more intensity. To his credit Dasmarinas did throw some shots in round 2, but struggled to land much clean, hitting the guard with a handful of shots, and fallign short with numerous others. The real talking point from the round however was a combination from Inoue that featured a glancing left hook to the body. The shot didn't land clean, but moments later Dasmarinas hit the canvas as Inoue began to ramp up the pressure. Dasmarinas beat the count, but spent the rest of the round in survival mode as Inoue looked to take him out, landing several more good body shots before the round was over. To his credit Dasmarinas managed to survive, at least for the entirety of round 2.
Having been dropped in the second round Dasmarinas came out looking to get Inoue's respect early in round 3, and showed some ambition. It was misplaced, however, and an uppercut from Inoue instantly made Dasmarinas realise he was making a mistake. There was some hard jabs that followed as Inoue began to control the distance at will and made Dasmarinas flinch every time he looked at his body. It was clear Dasmarinas wanted to protect his body, but he couldn't and a left hook from Inoue to the midsection did the damage again again, sending Dasmarinas down for a count of 9. There was only around 25 seconds of the round remaining after when the bout resumed, but that was more than enough time Inoue to find the body of Dasmarinas again, sending him down for the third time. This time the referee quickly waved off the bout, rather than allowing Dasmarinas to try and get to his feet, again.
Whilst the bout was widely regarded as a mismatch going in, and proved to be so in the ring, it was still a commanding performance from Inoue. As for Dasmarinas, it's hard to know where he goes from this. He looked completely out of his depth
In 2019 we saw Nonito Donaire (41-6, 27) rollback the clock and give Japanese sensation Naoya Inoue the toughest test of his career. The performance, by some, was regarded as Donaire showing up Inoue's limitations, rather than Donaire actually showing he was still a world class fighter. Today he ended any doubt that he was still world class as he claimed the WBC Bantamweight title in a destructive, and dominant performance against the previously unbeaten Nordine Oubaali (17-1, 12).
From the opening moments Donaire looked bigger, stronger and tougher Oubaali. He also looked smarter, making intelligent little moves to make Oubaali miss. Not only was he making the champion miss, but he was landing his own clean shots, especially the straight right hand which hard alarming success against the quicker, smaller, man. Not only was Donaire landing good right hands up top, but also to the body, taking some of the wind out of Oubaali's sails.
Donaire continued to land right hands through round 2, and despite taking some straight lefts from Oubaali never looked in any problems at all. In fact if anything Oubaali's left hand was just bouncing off Donaire and was only ever being landed in single shots. There was a sense, almost, that if Oubaali took any risks, he was going to pay for them. And he knew it.
In round 3 we finally saw Donaire's trademark left hook, with the Filipino landing it very early in the round. It was almost as if he was taking it out of the arsenal for the first time, and it quickly become the most telling punch of the fight. Part way through round 3 Donaire landed a right hand, then a body shot, Oubaali responded, and had his best success, as he tried to get back on track, before eating a huge counter left hook. It dropped Oubaali hard and despite beating the count he still seemed buzzed when he was allowed to continue. Through much of the rest of the round he looked like a man who was trying to clear his head, but was completely unable to as Donaire press, landing a right hand, a left hook, a huge uppercut, and then, right on the bell, a massive left hook. The left dropped Oubaali for the second time, and he was given an age to recover as Jack Reiss gave him every benefit of the doubt he could to allow him to go to his corner to end the round.
With Donaire's left hook now well in play, and Oubaali looking done at the end of round 3, the bout looked like it was over. Reiss should have stopped the bout. Oubaali's corner should have saved their man. Instead we proceded with round 4, and unsurprisingly Donaire was quickly in control again, landing right hands, uppercuts, a left hook, and really battering Oubaali who offered little. Then the Filipino landed a brutal left uppercut, dropping Oubaali for the third time. This time Jack Reiss finally decided enough was enough and waved off the bout.
Following the win donaire, who has now set the record for the oldest ever Bantamweight champion, stated that he wanted unification and seemed very open to a rematch with the "Monster", which would be something special. Much like their first bout.On the back of this performance it's clear Donaire might be old, but is not show, like many had been suggesting when he entered the WBSS. In fact if anything he looks like a man rejuvenated by the move to Bantamweight, which he made in 2018 to enter the WBSS.
As for Oubaali, it's hard to see where he goes from here. This was a seriously punishing, damaging, and hurtful loss. With his 35th birthday coming later this year, and with this loss, he'll have a long way to climb back to a title fight, and this loss may well be the end of his career.
Whilst some will discuss the issues at the end of round 3, with the punch thrown pretty much on the bell, it was, at most, an accidental foul, and at best came on the bell. It perhaps should have stopped the fight, Oubaali did not seem fight to continue. There will be discussions about it, and some will see it as a huge controversy. The reality however is they could rematch and given this performance Oubaali would be stopped again. He simply couldn't take the power of Donaire's left hook.
If there is one thing we need to thank DAZN for it's shining a light on the Light Flyweight division, which continues to deliver some of the best action we're getting. That was shown again this evening when Japanese legend Katsunari Takayama (32-9-0-1, 12) [高山 勝成] made his US debut and challenged WBO Light Flyweight champion Elwin Soto (19-1, 13) in a thrilling bout that saw Takayama get a chance to shine in the bright lights of the US.
It was a chance that was sadly ended in disappointment, not just with a loss, but also on the back of one of the worst stoppages we've seen in years, thanks to the often controversial Laurence Cole.
In the opening Takayama looked out of his depth. He was rocked repeatedly when Soto landed, anything clean, and it seemed as if the 37 year old legend was showing his age and the fact he wasn't a natural Light Flyweight. Soto seemed nailed on for an early stoppage win and Takayama really looked like his long career had taken it's toll on him. The challenger barely made it through the round. He was hurt again in round 2 and it seemed like Soto really was too big, too strong, too powerful and too young for Takayama.
What few were aware of however was just how fucking tough Takayama is. He refused to go down. He refused to give in and instead he fought his fight. He took it to Soto, he set a high tempo and challenged Soto to go with him. Soto failed to do that, as Takayama out worked him, out landed him and out boxed him at times. Sadly nothing Takayama landed seemed to do anything to Soto, who landed significantly less but landed much heavier shots, which caught the eye more than Takayama's lighter, quicker shots.
In round 4 Takayama started to really claw his way into the contest. Soto was doing much less than he had earlier in the bout, and Takayama was starting to grind away at Soto's body with some sustained body attacks. It seemed like, after a nighmare start, the momentum was shifting. That continued to shift in round 5 as Soto began to look tired, and was backing up. Soto on the back foot looked much less effective than he had earlier in the bout, and it seemed clearthat he was starting to feel the tempo.
Having seen Takayama build his way back into the bout Soto knew he had to take some of the wind out of Takayama's sailsand he did just that at the end of round 6 as he again rocked Takayama, as he landed huge right hands and a brutal uppercut. Takayama, foolishly, held his feet and tried to trade with the much bigger Soto, and it didn't work. He was just lucky the bell came when it did, as he looked about read to go.
After looking a beaten man at the end of round 6 Takayama came out for round 7 some how looking revitalised, and again out worked Soto, unleashing quick sharp combinations and really grinding Soto's body. It was an astonishing bounce back round from Takayama after the way he had ended the previous round.
The pace for the first 7 rounds had been high, frantic almost at times. In round 8 things chnaged, and the tempo dropped off, massively. This saw Soto doing very little, and Takayama picking his moments better. It was a breather for both the fans and the fighters before we moved into round 9.
The 9th round saw Takayama looking to up the pace, setting his tempo early on, and backing Soto up. Soto looked genuinely tired. That was until he managed to dig deep and land a rare combination on Takayama who walked through some huge shots trying to land his own blows. Soto continued to land in an exchange before the referee, stepped in and waved off the bout, stopping Takayama in a baffling decision that made little sense. Takayama had been significantly more hurt earlier on, he had been landing, and hadn't gone down or had his legs shaken like he had earlier on. It was a terrible stoppage that really looked like the referee had no idea of what he was doing.
Following the stoppage, which saw Sean Gibbons give an expletive to the crowd regarding the decision, Takayama took his moment to play to the crowd, basking in the moment and the opportunity to embrace himself to fans who had been won over by his heart and determination.
This is probably Takayama's last bout and the reality is that he had his opportunity taken from him by a terrible decision from the referee. Regardless he got a chance to shine on the big stage and prove to a wider audience what he can do, and why he's been one of the true favourites of hardcore fans during his great career. If this is, as expected, his last bout we want to say thank "Lightning Kid" for giving us so many fantastic fights through the years.
As for Soto this was probably the nightmare situation for him. The result, a TKO9, does little to cover up a performance that will leave the other champion licking their lips. Soto looked predictable, very low in terms of output, and like he could be out worked, out boxed and even out fought by some of the others. The likely plan is for him to face WBA "super" champion Hiroto Kyoguchi next but on this performance Kyoguchi would have a field day with him, Likewise Kenshiro Teraji would also be jumping at the chance to face Soto. That's not to say Soto's a bad fighter, but his flaws are evident and he's not yet the fighter he will become. In two or three years Soto will be a better fighter, but for now he's a champion with a lot to prove, and this performance will leave many with more questions than answers.
As for Cole the sooner he's out of boxing the better.
Talented, yet horribly frustrating seems to be the most perfectly apt description of Kyrgyzstan born Russian based Dmitry Bivol (18-0, 11) and he showed that again tonight with a clear decision win over Englishman Craig Richards (16-2-1, 9). A clear decision that saw a lack of urgency from Bivol, though out, and saw Richards refuse to gamble until far too late, until the bout had already been lost.
The bout, like so many of Bivol's recent bouts, lacked drama, lacked excitement and lacked positive talking points. It resembled more of a friendly spar, than a world title bout. It looked less like Bivol was defending the WBA Light Heavyweight "super" title and more like he was going through the motions, waiting to get an opponent who can drag the best from him. It also, for the most part, looked like Richards had too much respect for Bivol, and wasn't willing to gamble in what was a huge opportunity for him to put himself on the boxing map.
The early rounds sawa lot of back and forth jabs, from both men. The saw Bivol pressing forward, applying very good front foot pressure, but neither man did much. The back key difference between the two seemed to be that Bivol's jab was landing much more consistently, and the pressure was forcing Richards backwards.
In right 3 we saw Richards land a really good right hand, leaving Bivol with a red mark on his head. It was, by far, his best shot up to this point, and yet it proved to be for nought, with Bivol putting his foot on the gas, taking the play away and landing better shots. It was a short lived moment of success for Richards, but one that seemed to come with an almost immediate lesson.
Through the middle rounds we began to see Bivol move up a gear. He looked to be in control, out working Richards, who still seemed timid, but sadly Bivol's best work was in bursts, and with little urgency. He was happy to catch the eye with one or two moments, then control with his jab, taking as few risks as possible. The typical Bivol way. Sadly for Richards every time he did land something good, the play got taken away, Bivol put together something nice, then resumed control the battle of jabs.
By round 10 it seemed clear that Bivol had done more than enough to take home the decision, and he seemed to feel that was the case to as he did very, very, very little in the final 3 rounds. He cruised over the line, and it seemed like his lengthy lay off, of well over a year, was taking it's toll on his gas tank. As a result Richards managed to have good success in the final 2 rounds, as it finally seemed the British fighter realised he was in a world title fight and began to show some urgency of his own. It was, of course, too little too late.
After 12 rounds we went to the score cards, and it seemed a fairy easy one to score. A 8-4 or 9-3 type of fight. That was shown by the first judge, who had it 118-110, but then we saw the other judges turn in cards of 115-113 and 115-114, which make the bout look a lot closer than it was. Despite those two very questionable scores, they all favour Bivol who got the win, shook some ring rust and got the chance to bore the audience once again.
To his credit Bivol had looked sharp early on, but as the bout went on he never managed to move through the gears and he seemed to feel the tempo late on. There was his typical lack of urgency, no real fire power and once again no belief that he had to impress. He just knew he had to win, and didn't care about entertaining fans. Not for the first time he showed he was willing to frustrate fans with a clear win, and without taking risks. Something that will not win over critics, despite the victory.
For Richards he looked less out of his depth than we'd expected, though he never really seemed to be close to winning. He won a few rounds, but they seemed to come more from Bivol easing his foot off the gas, than actually being a threat to the champion.
For Bivol this was a chance to impress. A chance to make a mark. A chance to get fans back onside after some dreary recent performances. Instead he gave us another dull performance and another clear win, at least in the eyes of the vast majority. Sadly it's not the type of performances needed to help make fans clamour for the big bouts.
It's also worth noting that stylistically, this bout wasn't pretty. It was compelling, and interesting, and it lacked clinches. But it wasn't exciting. The styles of the two men, for much of the bout, neutralised each other, they matched up similarly, and sadly in this case, that meant we had two men who simply waited for the other too much, and looked happy to have elongated jab battles, rather than mix it up. A poor match up from a styles point of view, and not one many will go back and rewatch.
As for the judging, the judges who pulled cards of 115-113 and 115-114 from their arses need to go and see an optician straight after the show, and should be made to explain their scorecards.
World Title Results
Whether you like them or not World Titles add prestige to any bout as a result we've included the results of world title bouts in this special section.