By Joe Koizumi
Photos by Boxing Beat
WBC#11 ranked Japanese, OPBF lightweight champ Yoshitaka Kato (26-4-1, 7 KOs), 135, barely kept his regional belt as he eked out a close but unanimous decision over mandatory challenger, WBO#4 Filipino titlist Rey Labao (24-5, 16 KOs), 133.75, a hard-punching southpaw, over twelve hard-fought rounds on Saturday in Tokyo, Japan. Judges Fukuchi (Japan) and Olalo (Philippines) tallied 115-113 and 116-112 respectively, while Tsuchiya (Japan) saw it 117-111, all in favor of the busy-punching champ.
“This boy will knock out Kato to take the belt to his country,” said a ringsider when he watched Labao lopsidedly batter the champ from all angles in the first round. Ironically did Labao suffer a hand injury with his opening attack, which eventually kept him from going on his ferocious rallies in later rounds. Labao, a sturdy banger, shifted his target to the champ’s breadbasket because of his hand pain, while Kato, a shaven skulled fighter, connected with light but busier combinations to the face. After the fourth, the open scoring system indicated it was so close as 38-38 twice and 39-37 for Kato.
Labao previously came to Japan twice and impressively stopped Taisho Ozawa in five one-sided sessions this April, and served as a sparring partner for the then WBC top 135-pound contender Nihito Arakawa prior to his participation in an elimination bout with Omar Figueroa for the vacant WBC lightweight belt in Mexico last July. Another partner for Arakawa was Kato, and they often saw each other though they didn’t actually exchange gloves in sparring sessions. Kato might realize Labao’s style better, saying before the bout, “He’s a dangerous hard-puncher, but he doesn’t seem to be able to pace himself properly, going forward too furiously from the start.”
It became a close affair as expected, but after the eighth Kato was leading on points: 77-75 twice and 78-74 for Kato.
“I gave him an instruction to knock him out as he was trailing on points,” said Sammy Gello-ani, Labao’s manager, after the interim tallies were announced. But it was Kato that displayed a last surge earlier than Labao as he kept furiously battering the fading Filipino with incessant combos in round ten. Labao was in command in the final session, when he desperately threw slower but still strong shots to the game defending champ.
Labao admitted his close defeat, saying “Kato was tough and strong. Without my hand pain I could have shown a better performance.” But it was a very competitive affair that fully entertained the audience. Labao may deserve a rematch in the near future should he become the mandatory contender again.
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In a supporting national title go, Japanese welter champ Suyon Takayama (19-1, 7 KOs), 147, successfully retained his belt as he defeated #12 Cobra Suwa (12-11-2, 5 KOs), 147, by a unanimous nod (98-92, 98-93 and 98-91) over ten. Game and durable, Suwa withstood the champ’s persistent attack in every round, and Takayama swarmed over him to aim at a possible stoppage in the final session. It was, however, the champ that took a count as he became so wild and rough-and-tumble that he absorbed Suwa’s counter and carelessly lost his equilibrium. Suwa’s adherents cried for joy to see the knockdown, but it’s one and only round that the underdog could dominate throughout the lopsided game.
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Former OPBF 122-pound champ Yukinori Oguni (11-1, 2 KOs), 122, a tall and stylish counterpuncher, appeared for the first time since his forfeiture of his regional belt to fast-punching southpaw Shingo Wake, and earned a unanimous nod (79-73 twice and 79-74) over JBC#4 Yuki Iwasaki (11-4, 6 KOs), 122, over tactical eight sessions. Ogumi, who was lately traded to Kadoebi Jewel Gym in Tokyo from VADY Gym in Kobe, will go on fighting here in the capital.
Promoter: Kadoebi Jewel Promotions.
Matchmaker: Joe Koizumi (as for the Kato-Labao title bout).