By Joe Koizumi
Free-swinging Daisuke Naito (34-2-3, 22 KOs), 112, kept his WBC flyweight belt as he put on a tricky, unorthodox and comical performance, steadily piled up points and finally dropped ex-OPBF champ Shingo Yamaguchi (23-6-2, 9 KOs), 111.75, with a roundhouse right en route to referee Fukuchi’s well-received stoppage at 1:12 of the eleventh round on Tuesday in Tokyo, Japan.
It was just like a pier-six brawl of the Japanese compatriots at the Ryogoku Sumo Arena. Should we compare the defending champ Naito with legendary world flyweight champ Jimmy Wilde (this reporter has watched some footage of his classic fight in 1910’s), Wilde might look more scientific and less wild than Naito. The Japanese must be the trickiest and most awkward of all world champs in all categories. Naito seldom hit straight punches but threw old-fashioned swings from all angles.
Naito, making his fourth defense since dethroning Pongsaklek Wonjongkam in his third shot at the same man last year, utilized his physical advantage of height, reach and power against the ex-OPBF light-fly titlist Yamaguchi who had recently moved up to the 112-pound division. Yamaguchi, however, had an ambitious crack at the WBA fly throne against compatriot Takefumi Sakata, whom he once dropped with a right cross, though losing a unanimous nod last March. But the shorter challenger was simply overpowered by the pugnacious champ tonight.
The judges were Steve Morrow (US), Douglas Belton (New Zealand) and Nobuaki Uratani (Japan). Morrow and Belton, who actually watched Naito fight for the first time, might be stunned at Naito’s incredibly funny style, probably mentally asking, “What’s this? What is he doing? Is this really a world title bout?” Ducking low, the bandy-legged champ awkwardly moved side-to-side and unleashed punches from unusual angles. But he could punch with full power, though missing plenty.
From the start Naito took the initiative with his aggressive swings. The shorter footworker Yamaguchi, handled by ex-WBA 108-pound champ Katsuo Tokashiki, looked at first bewildered with roundhouse opening rallies of the champ, who was in command in the first three rounds with ease.
Yamaguchi, however, began tossing wild combinations, which were badly influenced by the champ’s looping punches. They became wilder and wilder together. Yamaguchi fought the champ toe-to-toe and seemingly took a point – for the first time in the game. After the fourth, the open scoring system indicated 39-37 twice and 40-36, all in favor of the tricky champ.
Daiki Kameda, who failed to win the belt from Naito in the champ’s initial defense in the previous year, called the champ “cockroach.” Naito’s fighting style is quite like a cockroach which quickly walks to any direction. Naito’s style simply looks funny, but his opponents had been greatly confused and frustrated by the champ’s avant-garde way of fighting. Or, his opponents used to be fighting, while suppressing their laughter.
Completely having him confused, Naito appeared to sweep the next four rounds as he accelerated his free-swinging and unorthodox side-stepping as the contest progressed. The tallies after the eighth were: 79-73, 79-74 and 78-74, all for the fistic trickster.
Now Yamaguchi realized he wouldn’t be able to win without knocking him out. Suddenly turning loose, the shorter challenger kept punching the champ who now changed his strategy of not taking a risk in the close range any longer because of his huge lead on points.
Yamaguchi became Naito. Yamaguchi, unlike in his previous style, kept swinging roundhouse punches against the abruptly defensive champ, dominating the ninth and tenth.
Yamaguchi, all out for a kill, swapped hot punches with the champ who responded to his two-fisted attack. Naito connected with a solid right swing to the side of the face. Down went Yamaguchi. Raising himself, the challenger managed to resume fighting more fiercely than previously. They furiously exchanged busy combinations in the center of the ring.
A left hook of the champ caught the challenger, who became groggy but still attempted to keep throwing slower punches like a sleep-walker. That’s enough. Referee Yuji Fukuchi, a son of ex-Orient welter champ Kenji Fukuchi (the father-son relationship is like that of Mike and Arthur Donovan), called a halt to save the loser, who fell down after the well-timed stoppage.
Believe it or not, Naito, the funniest of all six world champs out of Japan, is the most popular boxer here. While he is off, he frequently appears in comic TV programs to make people burst into laughter. Day after day, week after week, Naito has become well-known and now becomes a household name as champ/comedian. His last two defenses scored a startling rating of higher than 20 percent, which means more than 24,000,000 people (out of our 120,000,00 population), by simple calculation, watched Naito’s fight on television.
If you love such a classic stylist as Sugar Ray Robinson or Alexis Arguello, you may call Naito unorthodox stylist in an improper way of fighting. But while Naito (who thus kept his world belt on four occasions) keeps winning and gaining a high TV rating, no one could criticize his way.
Strange enough, Naito, already 34 (five years senior to Yamaguchi), still kept showing his improvement of great stamina and physical power in every defense since his coronation. But it may be true that no trainers here would tell their boys, “Follow Naito’s style.”
It was ballyhooed as a triple-header in the flyweight category, featuring world, OPBF and national title bouts on the same promotion. But the first two title bouts resulted in dull affairs that really tempted the audience into sleep.
OPBF flyweight champ Masafumi Ohkubo (14-2-1, 4 KOs), 111.75, too easily kept his belt as he scored a terribly one-sided decision (120-110, 119-110 and 115-113) over perennial top contender Jojo Bardon (23-11-2, 10 KOs), 111.75, Philippines, over twelve.
Bardon, ex-OPBF champ (who had previously stunned Japanese spectators by icing hard-punching Yuki Nasu with a single left hook), had been regarded as a tough and strong Filipino banger, but he seemed to have left everything (speed, power, fighting spirit, etc.) in his native country. He claimed after the bout that he had suffered some injury while training just before his departure for Japan.
But it was a crime that Bardon showed such a terribly lackluster performance before such a huge crowd in the world title contest. The Filipino judge’s 115-113 tally seemed crazy enough. Ohkubo easily and monotonously kept punching the slowest shell of Bardon, piling up points with great ease and with great surprise. Bardon had been a prohibitive prefight favorite.
WBC#11 Japanese full flyweight champ Tomonobu Shimizu (14-3, 5 KOs), 112, kept his national belt by outpunching and outscoring interim titlist Toshiyuki Igarashi (7-1-1, 5 KOs), 112, ex-Olympian and a junior to Shimizu of their alma mater Tokyo Agricultural University, over ten. The decision was so unanimous as 98-93 twice and 98-92. It looked like a boring fencing game between the orthodox (Shimizu) and the southpaw (Igarashi). Shimizu was in complete command in the last four rounds to confirm his victory.
Ex-WBA super-fly champ Khaosai Galaxy, the Thai legend, was in attendance. His credentials of 49-1, 43 KOs was just a defeat short of Rocky Marciano’s 49-0, 43 KOs. Khaosai arrived today and rushed to the arena to watch this show, as he accompanied WBA top flyweight contender Denkaosen Kaowichit who will have a mandatory shot at Takefumi Sakata in Hiroshima on the last day of the year. Khaosai, who registered 19 defenses to his credit, is 49 years of age, but looked still strong. How did he see and evaluate the tricky stylist Naito?
Promoter: Miyata Promotions.