By Joe Koizumi
WBC superfly champ Yota Sato (25-2-1, 12 KOs), 115, Japan, successfully kept his belt as he pounded out a unanimous decision (119-109, 118-110 and 116-113) over official challenger Sylvester Lopez (19-4-1, 15 KOs), 115, Philippines, over twelve fast rounds on Sunday in Yokohama, Japan.
Lou Moret (US) and David Bolcerkowski (Canada) saw the affair 119-109 and 118-110, and Chansoo Kim (Korea) had it a bit closer 116-113, all in favor of the defending titlist who technically controlled the contest. The referee was Laurence Cole (US) who handled such a fast-moving contest very well.
It was the elongated 28-year-old Japanese Sato’s initial defense since he twice dropped ex-champ Suriyan Sor. Rungvisai and dethroned him via unanimous nod here last March. His greatly anticipated mandatory defense with the hard-hitting Lopez, 24, resulted in a rather lopsided affair than expected. Sato’s speed and skills simply made him have the upper hand all the way. The champ’s trickiness and showboating also fully frustrated the willing mixer since Sato kept his longer range to avert mixing it up with the dangerous Filipino who was said to have suffered severe reduction of weight.
At the weigh-in on the previous day Lopez struggled to reduce only a quarter pound on the fourth trip to the scale, taking forty-five minutes. The visibly drained and dehydrated Filipino looked so fatigued and feeble that he might not be able to show a good performance. Lopez, however, rebounded no less than fifteen pounds prior to his appearance in the ring, and eventually looked too heavy and slow to catch the Fancy Dan.
Sato was such an elusive target with fast footwork and excellent reflexes that Lopez had difficulties catching him with vaunted right counters with which the Filipino gained the WBC Silver belt by stopping Oscar Ibarra in eight rounds in Mexico last September.
Lopez, in round three, turned loose as he pinned Sato with a flurry of punches, but the champ averted them well and retaliated with more effective combinations to the game but slower challenger. The fourth witnessed Sato circling cleverly to befuddle the flat-footed Filipino and occasionally scoring with solid overhand rights.
The open scoring system after the fourth indicated Sato’s lead on points: 40-36 twice and 39-38.
The next four sessions from the fifth became more unanimous for Sato, who seemingly swept these rounds with ease. Lopez, in the fifth, attempted to catch up with the shifty footworker to no avail, as Sato kept moving on as fast as Muhammad Ali against Zora Folley. The champ might be an Ali fan, sometimes copying his idol’s finesse.
In the sixth, Sato connected with right crosses and left hooks to the onrushing challenger with precision, effectively utilizing his advantageous height and reach. Lopez’ trademark weapon was said to be a good counterpunch, but it was Sato that displayed more accurate counters thanks to his superior hand speed. He often landed accurate rights to the monotonously-coming Filipino, who apparently didn’t like the processing that the champ refused to exchange punches toe-to-toe in the center of the ring.
After the eighth, the difference of scores became wilder than four rounds ago: 80-72, 79-73 and 78-75, all in favor of the superior speedster.
It was the ninth stanza that Lopez was in command to win back a point as Sato was defensive and looked only content to avert the challenger’s attack with his gloves and footwork. In the next tenth, Sato showed his best in the bout when he often connected with vicious left uppercuts to the belly to have Lopez wince at the damage. The champ accelerated his attack but Lopez showed his durability to refuse to go down.
Sato dominated the eleventh by completely outpunching the fading challenger. But Lopez revealed his heart and pride in the last session, when he desperately threw strong shots to the still elusive champ with a couple of judges generously giving a final point to the Filipino.
Lopez was a disappointment despite his ballyhooed credentials. The crestfallen loser said, “I was too tired after making the weight to catch up with the very fast champ Sato, who also studied my style well. I’ll move up to the 122-pound category.”
The champ jubilantly said, “I kept showboating to confuse the hard-punching Lopez. It paid off. Lopez could really punch, so I tried to punch without getting hit. My strategy was very successful thanks to our corner.”
Now that we have eight male world champs, Sato was hoped to score an expected KO victory, but his performance was more than satisfactory against the WBC official challenger who had been evaluated highly due to his good achievements in Mexico. Sato may have a possibility to become a long champion because of his good reflexes and cleverness as well in addition to his physical assets and hand speed.
Sato had a laughable experience that he had been occasionally questioned by policemen since his appearance looked like a crazy young man with blond-dyed hair and hippie-like clothes—even after he became the world champ this year. Now that his fine performance was shown on television, the Metropolitan Police Department might recognize Sato from now on as the legitimate world champ, not a youngster acting suspiciously.
Promoter: Kyoei Promotions.
WBC supervisor: Frank Quill (Australia).