By Joe Koizumi
After a fiasco of the fight place being moved to Japan from China just three days before, WBC flyweight champ Daisuke Naito (35-2-3, 22 KOs), a 34-year-old Japanese, barely kept his belt as he came off the deck in the sixth and maintained his early lead on points with his final effort to earn a hard-fought unanimous decision over Xiong Zhao-Zhong (12-2-1, 8 KOs), 112, over twelve see-saw rounds on Wednesday in Tokyo, Japan. The official tallies were as follows: Noppharat Sricharoen (Thailand) 113-111, Jaebong Kim (Korea) 114-111 and Yuji Fukuchi (Japan) 114-110, all for the defending champ who managed to score his fifth defense since he dethroned Thailander Pongsaklek Wongjongkam in July 2007. The referee was Bruce McTavish (Philippines).
It was a rough-and-tumble free-swinging battle as they kept throwing wild blows from the outset. Shameful for the prohibitive favorite Naito as it was, it resulted in a competitive affair though our press people had been ready to castigate a mismatch because of the difference of their credentials. Standing only 4’11” and having lost to a mediocre Filipino named Julius Alcos on points for the ABCO regional title in China last November, Xiong, 26, was game and durable, and could punch. Naito’s overconfidence and underestimation of the Chinese challenger might account for his toughest defense.
Naito, a tricky boxer-puncher showboating as always, took the initiative with ease in the first two rounds. The third witnessed Xiong, called “Chinese Tyson” with his small but very muscular physique, land a vicious left hook to almost stun the champ. Since then, Naito began to respect his Popeye-like challenger, five inches shorter. With ten seconds remaining, a signal sounded and Xiong misunderstood the third was over to return to his corner. The champ promptly swarmed over the defenseless Chinese with solid combinations from behind. Xiong almost fell to the ropes which barely prevented him from going down with the bell coming to his rescue.
Naito, in the fourth, began to use jabs for the first time since his corner realized it might be risky to mix up with the miniature-Tyson. Moving to-and-fro, the champ dominated the round but suffered a nasty laceration over the left eyebrow. The ref at first declared it had been opened by a legal blow, but he consulted the judges and corrected his decision into a cut by an accidental butt. The uncut Xiong was penalized a point because of the WBC rules.
The open scoring system, after the fourth, showed Naito was leading with 39-36 twice and 38-37.
The unorthodox footworker Naito, in the fifth, made good use of his foot and occasionally landed roundhouse rights to the shorter challenger to win another point. But Naito sustained another gash over the right optic, which caused Xiong to be deducted again.
The sixth was a climax of the combat, as Xiong, a bull-fighter with his bodybuilder muscles, caught the champ with a looping left hook. Reminiscent of Jack Dempsey dropping Gene Tunny with a wicked left hook in their rematch in 1927, it became an extravaganza thereafter. Naito took a bicycle rather than fought back toe-to-toe with the mysterious Chinese to have a narrow escape.
The seventh was Naito, who seriously threw big but fast punches to keep Xiong away. The Chinese looked too eager to land another big shot to put the champ down again, missing plenty of roundhouse blows. The eighth, however, was Xiong, who caught the champ with a vicious right hook that badly shook up the champ, who desperately kept moving around to avert the challenger’s powerful shot.
After the eighth, the tallies were announced: 75-74 twice and 76-73, with the Chinese having been penalized twice. Xiong had a possibility to overcome just a single-point difference on points.
Then, their difference of experience became apparent. Naito cleverly utilized his foot to the full extent like a marathon runner to have Xiong miss repeatedly, and occasionally landed solid countering rights to the very short target. The champ was in command in the ninth and tenth. But Xiong had a gash over the right eyebrow caused by a butt, so the ref deducted a point from Naito.
If the sixth was Xiong’s best, the eleventh might be his second best in the give-and-take affair. The mighty shorty almost caught the champ and almost turned the tables with his relentless assault. Though the champ barely averted Xiong’s desperate attacks, his guard was lowered and his feet almost tangled. Xiong kept stalking the fading champ with left and right swings, regardless of precision. Though in crisis, Naito kept his composure and barely lasted the critical moments.
Naito, in the twelfth and final session, displayed his cleverness in outlegging, outmaneuvering and outpunching the less skillful Chinese. He showed his determination and pride as the champ, and dominated the last three minutes.
With red ribbon continually streaming down the cheek, Naito barely retained his belt. He said on the microphone, “I feel sorry not to be able to show a good fight. Xiong was too short and really difficult to cope with. I’ll train hard and will display a better performance next time.”
Technically poor as it was, it was a much more competitive fight than we had expected. Not only Naito but all of us had underestimated Xiong, since we misunderstood there’re no good Chinese boxers now and Xiong was just an opponent in the first world title bout with a Chinese challenger participating. Xiong showed much better against our prejudice.
It was such a strange show with only a single bout without any preliminary games. It only took place to satisfy a schedule for TBS Television to air nationwide. We saw a one-hour show that started at 7:30 pm and ended at 8:30 pm. With Naito’s likeable personality and people’s understanding of the fight place urgently shifted from China, the spectators (almost all were Naito fans) looked delighted to see Naito’s tough but expected victory.
There are still many unsolved problems. Many Naito adherents already paid for their package tour to see the champ’s defense in Shanghai, so they should be liquidated with the cancellation. The TBS delegation already arrived in China, and hurriedly returned to Japan to shoot the alternative event that took place in Tokyo. The television wasted considerable amount of expenses in the urgent shift of the fight place. Even the WBC supervisor Tsuyoshi Yasukochi, the Japan Boxing Commission’s executive secretary, once arrived in Shanghai and attempted to help the promotion take place as scheduled, but in vain.
This is never a criticism against all Chinese people, but China is not still immature as fight place for such big shows as world title bouts. Firstly, there is no legitimate national commission which should be responsible for controlling and regulating the professional boxing. Secondly, there are no trustworthy and responsible local promoters who can proceed with such international events. Thirdly, the Chinese government is still cold and less cooperative in materializing professional boxing events.
Without clearing these problems, we had better not touch any big fistic business in China, for the time being, even though its 1.3 billion population seem attractive for progressive promoters. Even such great impresarios as Bob Arum and Don King previously failed in their ventures in China, so did Miyata Promotions of Japan this time.
Promoter: Miyata Promotions.