Elwin Soto Defends Champion Status In Defeating Katsunari Takayama
On the undercard of the super middleweight unification between Canelo Alvarez and Billy Joe Saunders, an intriguing, under-the-radar world title fight took place at light flyweight. Mexico’s Elwin “La Pulga” Soto (19-1, 13 KO’s) made the third defense of his WBO title against former four-time minimumweight champion, Katsunari Takayama (32-9, 12 KO’s) of Japan.
In the end, champ prevailed by way of bogus ninth round stoppage.
Soto originally won the world title when he upset Angel Acosta by twelfth round TKO in June of 2019. The win was similarly highly controversial. Referee Thomas Taylor stepped in to stop the fight with twenty-three seconds to go in the final round. Up to that point the bout had been an all-action, back-and-forth slugfest. Admittedly, Acosta was hurt at the time the fight was waved off, however, most observers felt he could have continued. Not only that, Acosta was ahead on all three judges’ scorecards at the time bout was stopped.
Since that eyebrow raising victory, the champ has successfully defended the title twice. In October 2019, the 24-year-old resident of Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico, defeated Edward Heno by unanimous decision. He followed that up with a second title defense against Carlos Buitrago a year later. Defense number three comes against Takayama.
The 37-year-old from Osaka, Japan, is one of the most accomplished fighters in the history of the minimumweight division. He won his first world title in April 2007 and has since been a major player at 105 pounds. The Japanese warrior has been a WBC, WBO and two-time world champion in that division. Now at this late stage of his career, he is moving up in weight to challenge Soto. Ranked 11th by the WBO at 108 pounds, he is old for a boxer and damn near “AARP card age” for a lower-weight fighter. But make no mistake, the fighter nicknamed “The Lightning Kid” can still bring it.
Going into this bout, it was folly to think the younger world champion would easily roll over the older challenger. Soto didn’t look good in his title defenses against Heno or Buitrago. Not to mention that Takayama had more than enough experience and speed to give the champion trouble. The challenger was the definition of a live underdog.
THRILLING FIGHT, SOUR END
The fight began with Takayama using a great deal of energy circling round the ring and throwing jabs. Despite all his movement, Soto buzzed him with a crunching overhand right about a minute in. Then in the last thirty-seconds Takayama was wobbled again and finished the period with Soto chasing him down with evil intent.
Just about the first minute mark in the second period the champ dazed the challenger again with a hurtful left hook. For the next minute, Soto essentially threw on his ear muffs and let the Japanese fighter throw blows. One thing that was that very obvious was the size difference of the two boxers. La Pulga was glaringly the larger man and the impact the punches reflected this. Like the first round, Takayama finished the second being hammered and looking vulnerable.
The third was far less calamitous for the former world champion and saw him land a bevy of body blows. Technically speaking Takayama took his success from the third into the fourth. He was by far landing more punches than Soto although in comparison, his shots appeared far more “pity-pat.” Whenever Soto landed he visibly moved his foe. To his credit, despite the damaging appearance of the blows, the Japanese pugilist was eating all the offense very well. So much so in the fifth, both men put their head down and essentially fought a phone booth war throughout.
In the sixth round, Soto gathered himself and chose not to be on the other half of a blizzard of punches. Instead he concentrated on landing the left hook to the body and a double fisted hook attack to the head. This change in tactic paid dividends as he seemed to wilt the former world champion.
STEPPING IN PREMATURELY
Then a seemingly rejuvenated Takayama jumped right back in Soto’s face throwing near non-stop punches for the remainder of the fight. He continued to do battle like a demented energizer bunny and it helped excite the crowd although he was clearly losing the fight. His wealth of seemingly boundless stamina was a joy to watch! For the first time in the ninth, Soto’s punch output significantly dropped as he was feeling the pace in major way. As a result the former world champion was enjoying his best round of the fight.
Toward the end of the round, however, La Pulga did start putting some punches together and began tagging the onrushing Japanese fighter consistently. Yet, Takayama was nowhere near as hurt as he had been in earlier portions of the fight. Nevertheless, this is when referee Laurence Cole inexplicably jumped in and stopped the fight.
This was an absolutely terrible stoppage!
Yes, the former champion was taking damaging but he was still pressing the attack and did not look like he was close to going down. Also as mentioned before, this was first time that Soto was beginning to look active in the bout. Admittedly, the challenger was not likely to win the bout but with the effort that he had put in he should have been allowed to finish or go out on his shield. He made evidence of this as he began shadow boxing in the middle of the ring before the champion was announced as the winner.
The crowd cheered on the display which ultimately made referee Cole look foolish!
Takayama mentioned prior to the fight that this one may be his last. However given how he looked against a world champion, he may want to give us one more!
By: Bakari Simpson