By Joe Koizumi
Elongated Japanese Yota Sato (24-2-1, 12 KOs), 114.5, impressively captured the WBC super-flyweight belt as he dropped defending champ Suriyan Sor. Rungvisai (20-5-1, 7 KOs), 114.75, Thailand, twice in the third session and withstood his retaliation to pound out a unanimous decision over twelve hard-fought rounds on Tuesday in Tokyo, Japan. It must be a strong candidate of Japan’s “Fight of the Year.” It was a close but well-received verdict, as Marty Sammon (US) and Jun-Bae Lim (Korea) both tallied 114-112, and Rey Danseco (Philippines) saw it 116-110, all in favor of the lanky speedster Sato. The referee was Jack Reiss (US) who handled such a fast-moving and busy-punching contest very well.
Sato, former Japanese champ having defended his national title five times, utilized his advantageous physique since he was four inches taller and his reach was seven inches longer than the stocky champ. The taller challenger, four years his senior at 27, started to display his stick-and-move strategy, as expected, winning the first two rounds with ease.
The climax was witnessed by some 2,000 spectators at the Korakuen Hall. It was in the third. Sato’s smashing long right had the champ’s body almost buckled, when he furiously followed it up and decked him near the neutral corner. Battered and bewildered, Suriyan barely stood up and fought back with a big right. Again did explode Sato’s right—this time, a short right—to have the champ kneel down for another mandatory eight count. The first right shot reminded us of Thomas Hearns’ pulverizing overhand right to Pipino Cuevas in Detroit in 1980.
The Thailander was breathlessly saved by the bell. Suriyan’s damage seemed so heavy that the referee davised the ring doctor to see whether the champ would be able to go on, but Suriyan showed his great recuperating power afterward.
The fourth saw Sato try to stick to his scenario of outjabbing and outpunching the damaged champ rather than going for a kill. It was a smart move. But surprisingly Suriyan came back hard to mix it up, swinging his trade-mark left hooks to the challenger as if he wished to show his pride and pugnacity.
After the fourth, the open scoring system indicated Sato leading on points: 40-34 twice and 38-36. It’s true Sato made a very good start, and Sato’s corner might not imagine it would become such a furiously see-saw affair down the stretch.
The energetic champ amazingly recovered from the third-round disaster as if it had been only a nightmare, and it was Suriyan that was in command in rounds five and six. He turned aggressive, going forward and throwing many punches in the close range. Sato recklessly responded to the champ’s attack toe-to-toe in the center of the ring despite his trainer Arai’s loud instructions of utilizing his footwork. The sixth witnessed Sato land solid shots to Suriyan, who, however, seemed to have scored more effective left hooks to the willing mixer.
Sato, in round seven, smartly returned to his original hit-and-run strategy, throwing many good jabs and solid counters to the crouching stylist. It’s a good round for Sato, but the next session was dominated by the aggressive Thailander who maintained the pressure all the way.
After the eighth, the official tallies became closer than those after the fourth: 75-75 and 77-74 twice for Sato.
The smart boxer Sato confessed after the fight, “When I heard the interim scores, after the eighth, with three points ahead for the two judges, I thought should I win a least one round I would be the winner.” So did he. Sato abruptly turned aggressive and pushed back the champ with busier combinations, clearly dominating the ninth round.
The last four sessions were furious and ferocious enough to entertain the crowd. Two judges gave three rounds to Sato, while another tallied three in favor of the defending champ. It showed the last four were a really give-and-take combat. Sato refused to run away and was content to swap punches with the champ who wanted to turn the tables with his last surge. The final round was a good example of the official tallies as two supported Sato and another had it for Suriyan.
When the scoresheets were announced, Sato jubilantly cried for joy, saying “I’m tremendously happy to be able to respond to my supporters’ expectations. Their spiritual power had me gain the world title.”
Sato comes from Iwate Prefecture where people suffered tragic earthquake and tsunami just a year ago. The new champ said, “I strongly wished to encourage the victims after the disaster with my victory. But this is not a goal. I’ll defend this belt against world top-notch contenders. My road has just begun.”
The crestfallen ex-champ said, “Sato threw strong shots in the third. But, except in that round, I dominated the initiative. I’ll beat him in a rematch.”
The dramatic third session with Sato’s two knockdowns over Suriyan was scored 10-7 by all the officials, but the two judges tallied 114-112, which means that had it been only 10-9 for Sato, their scores would have been 114-114. If so, it would have meant the champ Suriyan’s hairline defense with a majority draw. But it’s not a story of virtual reality, but the reality was that Suriyan badly hit the deck twice and lost three points as he himself admitted. It’s the talented Sato’s night.
“Next time I’m sure I’ll win,” pledged the ex-champ, but no one knows the results of the rematch just after the first encounter was over. Sometimes we show no interests in a rematch between a new champ and an ex-titlist because their first encounter sufficiently showed their difference of power or chemistry too clearly to need a return bout. However, the Sato-Suriyan rematch will be a good attraction to our Japanese aficionados.
It was a great night for Japanese fight fans, who, however, now must remember all of nine world champions’ names. Of course, it is our new record that we have no less than nine world titlists at the same time.
A great achievement is that Yota Sato is the twelfth world champ Kyoei gym has ever produced. The promoter Keiichiro Kanehira, 46, emotionally said, “Yesterday was the thirteenth anniversary of my father and great promoter Masaki passing away in 1999. I’m excited to dedicate this fantastic coronation of Sato to my late father.”
OPBF welter champ Akinori Watanabe (25-4, 23 KOs), 147, barely kept his regional belt with a dramatic demolition of top contender Koshinmaru Saito (17-4-1, 9 KOs), 146.75, at 1:59 of the eleventh round. Unbeaten Teiru Kinoshita (14-0-1, 3 KOs), 115, was awarded a hairline split duke (97-95, 96-95 and 95-96) over arch enemy Go Onaga (17-2-2, 12 KOs), 114.75, in a ten round contest of southpaws.
All fights were so hot and so furious that we might feel we won’t watch boxing for a while, but we look forward to watching four more world title bouts next week.
Promoter: Kyoei Promotions.
WBC supervisor: Frank Quill (Australia).