Elwin Soto retained his WBO junior flyweight title via controversial stoppage of Katsunari Takayama in the ninth round tonight, capping off the Canelo vs Saunders undercard at AT&T Stadium.
Soto (19-1, 13 KO) simply cannot have an easy title fight, it seems, and the 24-year-old Mexican warrior is proving to be consistently great television the last couple of years. None of the controversy here has anything to do with Soto, but everything to do with a Texas referee whose career has been a lightning rod for criticism, none other than Laurence Cole.
Cole stepped in at 2:44 of the ninth round to stop the fight, which basically nobody agreed with on TV or in our live discussion. Our unofficial scores at the time of the stoppage were 78-74 Soto (Wil Esco) and 77-75 Takayama (myself, and I’m noting our differences here so you don’t yell at anyone but me for what was very enthusiastically a questionable bit of scoring).
Soto had definitely landed the harder punches throughout the fight, and it seemed in the first round or two that the 37-year-old Takayama (32-9, 12 KO) might not make it out of the first half of the fight or even the first third. But Takayama, a tremendous veteran battler and multiple-time 105 lb titleholder in his career, held his ground, got working, settled into the fight, and made rounds worth discussing if nothing else. Scoring them came down to whether you preferred the volume of Takayama or Soto’s harder shots, and Soto’s pace slowed down a bit as the fight went on, giving Takayama better arguments.
Now, to be fair to Cole, there’s probably an understandable angle here. Takayama is an older fighter, wasn’t really able to dent Soto, and was taking hard shots from the younger man throughout the fight. But he was still there fighting, defending himself, very much trying to win, and it’s not like he was being obviously dominated. But Cole was the one right there, not me; again, I’m trying to be fair. I don’t agree with it, but I was also not a couple feet away from these guys the entire fight, and he was.
But it was a terrific fight, and if this was in fact the end of Takayama’s career, which it may well have been, I think he goes out with a very proud performance. His fighting spirit and toughness won over a very pro-Mexican crowd in Texas, and he’s been a damn good fighter over his 20-plus year career.
As for Soto, he’s just fantastic television, and a possible matchup with fellow Matchroom fighter and WBA 108 lb titlist Hiroto Kyoguchi could be a magnificent addition to any card this summer or fall.
Takayama out here dancing in the middle of the fight pic.twitter.com/29BotYcvO7— DAZN Boxing (@DAZNBoxing) May 9, 2021
Souleymane Cissokho SD-10 Kieron Conway
The scoring here was absurd. Cissokho gets the clearly deserved win thanks to scores of 95-94 and 96-93 his way, one of which was way too close, the other maybe a bit too close. But the third judge had it 97-92 for Conway, which is just horrendous. The right guy won and all, but man, this must have looked some kind of different from ringside. That or the judge who scored it for Conway was filling in the wrong side of his sheet the whole fight.
Anyway, Cissokho (13-0, 8 KO) didn’t look amazing here, but he clearly won this fight. Bad Left Hook had it 98-91 on two separate unofficial score cards for the former Olympian, who just sort of schooled and jabbed Conway (16-2-1, 3 KO) to bits for most of this fight.
Conway did have a chance in the ninth round, when he dropped Cissokho early on an uppercut, which seemed more about where it landed — right on the eye — than the power of the punch itself. Cissokho came up and was clearly a bit out of sorts with the eye, but Conway didn’t follow-up capably; he tried to rush him, didn’t get it done, and then tried to time something big, but didn’t get the right shot in with that approach, either. And then Cissokho went out and won the 10th round.
I think it’s absolutely nuts to have had Conway winning this fight, but maybe it’s me, the fans, who are wrong.
Frank Sanchez Tech. UD-6 Nagy Aguilera
Eddy Reynoso-trained Cuban heavyweight Sanchez moves to 18-0 (13 KO) with a mostly as-imagined win over the veteran Aguilera (21-11, 10 KO), but the ending wasn’t what anyone saw coming.
Sanchez, 28, did land an accidental shot to the back of the head, more cuffing than any clean shot, and the 34-year-old Aguilera went down (eventually) in great pain. The ring doctor checked on him, he got up saying he couldn’t move his left shoulder, and eventually it went to the cards, after a lot of Aguilera screaming at the referee and anyone else in the ring.
Here’s what went down:
REPLAY— DAZN Boxing (@DAZNBoxing) May 9, 2021
Was this punch by Frank Sanchez behind the head? pic.twitter.com/BTLafDijRN
It was, at worst, an accidental foul, arguably caused by Aguilera more than Sanchez. It was not the first time that Aguilera complained of shots coming in behind the head, so he and his corner were really fired up toward referee Ruben Perez, who pretty much took it in stride.
The crowd in AT&T Stadium were really not having it from the minute that Aguilera went down. Personally, I’ve learned to not just assume people are acting — things can go from “oh, come on” to extremely bad before you know it, boxing is a dangerous sport — but eventually Aguilera was up, plenty able to communicate and, uh, express his feelings, and from there every time the big screens went back to him instead of Sanchez, people were booing heavily, and cheering Sanchez heavily on the other side.
Otherwise, the fight was about as expected. Sanchez didn’t have any real trouble with Aguilera, but also wasn’t exactly shining in there, either. He remains a heavyweight that people working the broadcasts are going to hype. He absolutely looks the part, but how he fares against real opposition is still up in the air, because the best opponent he’s faced to date has been Joey Dawejko.