YOKOHAMA – Yota Sato wasn’t about to let Iwate lose again — not after Akira Yaegashi lost a fight for the ages to Kazuto Ioka last month.
Sato scored one for the quake-hit prefecture on Sunday, successfully making his first defense of the WBC super flyweight title by unanimous decision over Sylvester Lopez.
Sato helped ease the pain of fellow Iwate native Yaegashi, who lost to Ioka by decision in a WBA-WBC minimumweight unification bout on June 20.
Yaegashi — whose eyes were still swollen from his fight against Ioka — was on hand to witness Sato’s victory at Yokohama Cultural Gymnasium.
“The most important thing was to win today because Iwate needed a champion,” Sato said. “After the way Yaegashi’s fight turned out, there was no way I could lose.”
“But I’m confident he’ll be back on his feet in no time, and I hope we can lead boxing together.”
Sato — who hasn’t lost in seven years and is now 25-for-28 for his career — led throughout the 12 rounds on the score sheet, finishing ahead of the Filipino visitor 118-110, 116-113 and 119-109.
Sato never came close to knocking out the No. 1 challenger, but he was never in danger of relinquishing the belt he won back in March off Thailand’s Suriyan Sor Rungvisai, either.
The 24-year-old Lopez, who had won his last five but struggled to make weight for Sunday’s fight, admitted he wasn’t fit as he should have been.
“I had a hard time losing weight,” Lopez said. “I wasn’t as sharp as I needed to be.”
Against his unconditioned opponent, Sato made use of his quick feet to keep Lopez at bay, preventing him from getting inside.
Lopez briefly had the champion in the corner in the third and last rounds but apart from that, Sato never felt the heat, peppering shots to consistently rack up the points.
Yet while Sato knew he had the edge in fitness, he was wary of Lopez’s hard punches that could have turned the tide at any point, opting for the safe win by decision.
“He had a pair of hammers for his hands,” Sato said. “Early on, one of his jabs scraped my cheek and I knew right away that if I took even one, I’d be out cold.”
“I was so afraid I couldn’t bring down my right hand. He never hit me full-on, but the downside to that is I probably wasn’t as aggressive as I should have been.”
“I knew I could win on points so I did. I’m 28 but I like to think I still have upside.”
One of Sato’s potential opponents was also among the crowd — Tomoki Kameda, the youngest of the three Kameda brothers, the renegade trio of Japanese boxing.
“I thought he was going to come up to the ring and say something to me,” said Sato, whose next fight has yet to be set. “I’ll do it if the gym wants me to do it.”
Said Kyoei Gym President Keiichiro Kanehira, “Bring it on. We are always open for negotiations.”