By Joe Koizumi
Photos: Sumio Yamada
Ring-crafty and physically stronger South African, 36-year-old Moruti Mthalane (37-2, 25 KOs), 111.5, impressively retained his IBF flyweight belt as he continually battered game Japanese IBF#14 Masahiro Sakamoto (13-2, 9 KOs), 111.5, in furious exchanges of punches, and finally retired him with the doctor’s advice to the referee because of his closed right optic at the end of the tenth round on Monday at the Wynn Palace Cotai, Macao in China.
The veteran champ, who made his first defense, was leading on points—Deon Dwarte (South Africa) 100-90, Katsuhiko Nakamura (Japan) 99-91 and Gil Co (Philippines) 98-92. The referee was Ignatius Missailidis (Australia).
Whether you may call it a preconception or a prejudice, we, Japanese press people, saw Mthalane stopped by Nonito Donaire, IBF flyweight defending champ, in six rounds in 2008–by YouTube–and regarded the old soldier as a beatable target even by Sakamoto, a less experienced Japanese hard-puncher nine years his junior. The South African, however, eventually proved by far better and stronger than the Japanese challenger.
Our press has paid great attention on Sakamoto’s unique profile that he is currently a student in a master course of mechanical physics in the faculty of engineering of Osaka City University. Previously boxing was a game for literally hungry young men to survive for livelihood. As time goes by, however, there may be such an example of an intelligent and academic university student that professionally fights for self-realization.
It is said that his university, under the name of coexisting literary and military arts, had asked its now socially successful graduates for donation to assist the economy of this title bout in Macao. So, some part of Mthalane’s purse consists of an academic donation, whether you believe it or not.
Since Sakamoto is a prospect in Osaka, not in Japanese capital Tokyo, we had few opportunities to actually watch him fight. What we know about him was that Sakamoto previously lost Sho Kimura in quest of the WBO Asia Pacific flyweight belt by a majority decision (116-112 twice, 114-114) in 2016, acquired it upon Kimura’s relinquishment by defeating ex-WBA 105-pound world champ Kwanthai Sithmorseng of Thailand via third round knockout in December of 2017. Some fight scribes in Osaka say he can fight, but others say he’s still less mature.
It was really a hard-fought affair as they each fully displayed what they had. Moruti, from the outset, battered the still nervous Masahiro with stinging lefts and solid rights that penetrated the challenger’s tight guard. Sakamoto fought back hard with persistent body shots to the older champ by nine years from the second round on.
The third saw Mthalane obviously dominate the game with solid jabs and strong combinations with precision, while Sakamoto retaliated very hard even with less accuracy in the third round. They continually mixed it up toe-to-toe in the close quarter, but it was Mthalane that had an upper hand, giving him more punishment.
Sweeping every round, Mthalante fought the most furious and fierce round in the eighth, when Sakamoto desperately retaliated with solid combos. But it was Moruti that connected with more effective shots inside of his rival’s guard, whenever they swapped hot punches in the close range. Sakamoto’s right optic began to be gradually swelling, and it became almost closed in the tenth, when the ring physician examined his badly swollen face.
After the fatal tenth, the doctor again checked Sakamoto’s almost closed eye and strongly advised the referee Missailidis (this reporter jokingly advised my friend Ignatius to change it to Missile for our easier memory and writing after the fight, and he turned it down) to halt it then and there.
Even if it had continued, Sakamoto would have very little possibility of turning the tables to upset the strong and crafty champion. Mthalane was a well-educated and well-trained champ by his handler Collin Nathan, and proved he deserved a victory by all means.
An intelligent young man sometimes shows his interest in boxing, and try to utilize science in training and conditioning. But boxing is a noble art sophisticated by hungry craftsmen. Ironically, Mthalane was more scientific than the academic scientist. We admire both fighters for their hard-fought performance that warmed the Chinese audience’s heart without doubt. Ganbei (Cheers in Chinese)!
Promoter: Watanabe Promotions.
IBF supervisor: Ben Keilty (Australia).