Japanese Scene: Two Knockdowns the Difference as Sato tops Suriyan

Sato taking questions from reporters after outpointing Suriyan to win WBC 115lb title.

Sidney Boquiren recaps Tuesday's boxing action from Japan (undercard details after the jump). For more Japanese boxing updates, you can follow Sidney on twitter: RingwalkNippon@Twitter

After three rounds of action in Tuesday’s WBC super flyweight title bout, Japanese boxing fans could have been under the impression that they were witnessing the birth of their next great boxing star.

Yota Sato had been impressively in the zone for the first nine minutes of the fight, punctuating on his height and reach advantages by repeatedly sticking incumbent Suriyan Sor Rungvisai with his jab. The challenger controlled distance well, displaying nifty footwork and good quickness. When the Thai bruiser closed in, Sato would ram him with a counter right before stepping away. The 27-year old Iwate native’s confidence was transparent – bordering on cockiness – the few punches he did eat mainly due to his own hubris.

The third frame in particular was an emphatic statement that Sato could be something special. Cracking Suriyan with a hard straight right in the opening moments would be a premonition of events to come. Just as the fight moved into the final minute of the round, the challenger would feint before launching an overhand right, buckling the titleholder upon impact. Suriyan would fall to the canvas amidst Sato’s ensuing flurry, and though he would rise from the mat, it would be on wobbly legs. The challenger would score a second knockdown at the end of the stanza when both men struck with right hands. While Sato remained upright, the Thai would land on his backside, crashing into the ropes.

After another strong round in the fourth, scores revealed that Sato had built up a huge lead on the cards. Two of the judges scored it a 40-34 shutout.

However, the tone of the fight as it moved into the middle frames was quite different from the first four.

Though the Thai warrior had trouble early getting inside Sato’s reach, he had been inching forward gradually with every period. In Sato’s haste to end the fight in the fourth, Suriyan was quietly touching him up with lefts and rights to the body. Those blows would be more conspicuous in the fifth and sixth as the champ showed a relentless attack inside. Combinations of left hooks, thrown both to the midsection and the head, as well as the right uppercut found the mark with surprising frequency.

Whether it was the result of Suriyan’s work to the body or an attempt to show he could trade at close range, the challenger strangely complied with the phone booth brawl by stopping his feet. Though Sato has been touted for his ability to fight at any range, the shorter titleholder was clearly more adept at working chest to chest. Tagging the local product with quicker, shorter punches, Suriyan’s comeback in the middle rounds allowed him to come closer to evening up the scores.

Still owning a fair lead after eight, Sato appeared to catch something of a second wind. However, while he would be able to dance around and snap off jabs at the beginning of each round, the challenger would find himself stuck against the champ by the middle of the frame. Though never in any real trouble, Sato seemed exhausted and worn by the final round, struggling to make it to the last gong.

What started out as a one-sided rout, ended as a close, tit-for-tat battle. While Sato (24-2-1, 12KO) would be crowned the new champion, the scores announced showed that the challenger had to earn it. Final tallies read 116-110, 114-112 (twice). Without the knockdowns, the fight would have been a majority draw with Suriyan, now 20-5-1 (7KO), taking his belt back to Thailand.

The performance seems to quantify Sato’s current skill set well. His domination in the early rounds showcased his boxing ability, natural quickness, and surprising power. Sato should also be commended for his toughness and willingness to sit and trade. The new titleholder did not wilt and offered his share of hard punches on the inside.

At the same time, areas that require improvement also surfaced. The fight likely would not have been as close if he did not opt to set his feet. While Suriyan proved to be a relentless warrior, he excels in no particular area, but still found holes to exploit in Sato’s defense. Should the new champ attempt a similar fighting style against a bigger puncher, he may not hold his crown for very long.

Saito again fails to win the 147lb title

Crowd-pleasing veteran Koshinmaru Saito (17-4-1, 9KO) experienced déjà vu as once again he fell short in his attempt to usurp the national welterweight title. In 2009, the Hokkaido native had built up a lead against a much taller Daisuke Nakagawa, but would succumb to the champ after eating several power punches. Last night, Saito again put on a valiant but unfruitful performance, this time against heavy-handed Akinori Watanabe.

The challenger seemed to have taken the ring dedicated to executing a specific game plan. Watanabe, who shares the national record for consecutive stoppage victories, owns a huge left hand, and Saito’s strategy was to maintain his distance, duck under the attack, then respond with a counter punch. At close range, the shorter Saito also showed an effective right uppercut, rocking Watanabe’s head back violently and frequently with the punch.

Though the champ has a strong tendency to rely on his left, this fight featured spots of really nice two-way action, particularly rounds six to nine.

Overcoming an early deficit to even up the scores after eight, Saito likely grabbed the lead before the start of the eleventh. The more active of the fighters, the challenger scored with lead rights from distance and uppercuts and crosses in close. However, midway through the frame, Watanabe would land a flush left hand that completely sapped Saito of his energy, sending him to the canvas. Saito arose only to be unable to effectively clinch the raging champion. Though premature in the eyes of this writer, the referee elected to step in at the 1:59 mark to stop the bout.

With the win, Watanabe improved to 25-4, 23KO, and retained his national and OPBF titles.

Also on the undercard, unbeaten prospect Teiru Kinoshita and once-beaten Go Onaga met in a rematch of their injury shortened draw last October. In a technical fight between southpaws, Kinoshita did just enough to earn a split decision and claim the domestic super flyweight title vacated by Sato.

e-mail Sidney Boquiren

For more coverage of Japanese boxing, follow Sidney on Twitter: RingwalkNippon@Twitter

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