The WBC 115-pound belt changed hands in Tokyo after a hard-fought battle between Thai titleholder Suriyan Sor Rungvisai and Japanese challenger Yota Sato this past Tuesday.
Scores for the bout were 116-110, 114-112 and 114-112, all for Sato, who twice dropped Rungvisai in the third round — which means that the knockdowns may have played a critical role in his victory.
The opening rounds saw the lanky Sato (24-2-1, 12 KOs) using his reach and speed to box from the perimeter, pedaling his hands and throwing quick jabs occasionally followed by hard rights, and then jumping back out of harm’s way. The more compact Rungvisai (20-5-1, 7 KOs) pushed forward and was able to land some lead left hooks when close enough.
In round three, Sato decided to play a bit of “watch the birdie” and started winding up his trailing hand, only to throw a quick jab that knocked Rungvisai off balance and set him up for the payoff: a hard, flush right. Rungvisai immediately covered up, but a flurry from Sato dropped him to the canvas soon after.
Rungvisai appeared more surprised than anything and immediately rose, but got knocked down a second time about 30 seconds later.
In the middle rounds, what had largely been a head-hunting contest tightened up, and the combatants spent longer stretches of time with the tops of their heads touching, both men landing hard bodyshots and uppercuts.
At times Rungvisai, clearly more comfortable in close, was getting the better of Sato with salvos of unanswered power punches. The Japanese challenger proved himself no shrinking blossom, though, and returned fire with leveraged hooks and uppercuts of his own.
The battle of wills continued with each man backing the other up, until Sato appeared to re-evaluate his proximity to the steely Thai champion and reverted to boxing.
Several times in the 11th round, Sato took a quick step back, landed a hard straight right and then ducked under the counter. Rungvisai remained solid and undeterred in his pursuit, though, and the effort showed in the way Sato flopped onto his stool after the round.
The drained victor broke into tears as the WBC strap was fastened around his waist.
Rungvisai was THE RING’s No. 2 junior bantamweight going into the fight, while Sato was rated at No. 7, so stayed tuned to see how the new list looks on Monday.