By Joe Koizumi
Unbeaten Nicaraguan Roman Gonzalez (24-0, 20 KOs), 104.25, successfully retained his WBA minimum (105-pound) belt as he kept stalking fast-moving Japanese, ex-WBA/WBC titlist Katsunari Takayama (23-4, 9 KOs), 105, and pounded out a unanimous decision (all 118-110) in hard-fought twelve rounds on Tuesday in Kobe, Japan. Takayama fought well by making best use of his footwork, but it was Gonzalez, still 22, that occasionally caught the game Japanese down the stretch
It was a good fight as each fully displayed his specialty: Gonzalez’s power and Takayama’s elusiveness. But the Nicaraguan youngster utilized his superior power to catch the fading speedster in later rounds, and then the Japanese gave up his original fight plan and fought toe-to-toe to greatly entertain the crowd.
Takayama started using his footwork by circling like a ballet dancer and had Gonzalez missing opening shots in the first round. The fast moving challenger landed pit-a-pat punches to the still stiff champ to be in command. The Nicaraguan, however, maintained the pressure to the faster rival, and occasionally landed long right uppercuts and roundhouse left hooks to dominate the next two sessions by a slight margin.
Gonzalez accelerated his attack and kept punching the elusive challenger, regardless of precision, to clearly win the fourth. But Takayama, who previously seized the WBA and WBC belts at separate occasions, fought back with busier but light combinations to take the fifth, which showed his gameness and gallantry.
The tide obviously turned in the sixth, when Gonzalez opened a laceration over the left eyebrow of Takayama with a legal punch (a solid straight right) and began to have the upper hand to the gory Japanese. The young champ clearly dominated the second half, but Takayama’s retaliation was sometimes furious and fierce enough to surprise Gonzalez.
The eighth witnessed Gonzalez to attempt to finish the affair by showing his acceleration of versatile combinations, but Takayama occasionally grabbed the champ to have a narrow escape.
The ninth was the hardest round of the fight, as Takayama came out fighting to exchange hot rallies with the hard-hitting champ. Gonzalez, temporarily covering himself up, turned loose to retaliate with more effective punches to the face with the bell coming to the challenger’s rescue. Without the champ’s desperate retaliation Takayama would have won this colorful and condensed round.
Still using his trademark footwork, Takayama positively mixed it up with the formidable champ and kept swapping punches in the center of the ring. Gonzalez, however, began to more clearly dominate the pace with his solid and sharp combinations that sometimes bounced the face back. The last three sessions weren’t only an exchange of hot rallies but a confrontation of the undaunted heart.
The judges were Levi Martinez, Sergio Caiz (both US) and Pinit Prayadsab (Thailand), whose tallies were identical, 118-110. But it looked a closer contest, if we reviewed each round, as those close and competitive rounds were mostly taken by the vastly talented champ.
Gonzalez praised Takayama’s gameness, saying, “Takayama was a talented fighter with speed and heart. It was a tough game. I dedicate this victory to my idol, three-class world champ Alexis Arguello.” Before the title bout we saw a solemn ceremony of rendering ten gongs to the late Explosive Thin Man (Flaco Explosivo) who used to be tremendously popular here in Japan.
The good loser Takayama also praised the champ’s strength. “Gonzalez was strong. My good punches sometimes caught him and my body shots might be effective to have him a bit slowing down. But his punches became stronger and more effective as the bout progressed. It showed he’s a good champ.”
Gonzalez, making his second defense, admitted he had a weight problem and said he would like to move up to the 108-pound category in the near future. Until that occasion Arguello’s pupil (who had actually received Alexis’ lesson when young) will have to fight the scale as well as forth coming challengers. Promoter: Shinsei Promotions in association with Teiken Promotions.