By Jake Donovan
Takashi Uchiyama scored his second consecutive New Year's Eve knockout, this time drilling Costa Rica's Bryan Vasquez in eight rounds Monday evening in Tokyo.
The battle proved to be a stiffer test than expected for Uchiyama, regarded by many as the best 130 lb. fighter in the world. The case was made as far back as a year ago, but gained even stronger ground after unbeaten American rising star Adrien Broner abandoned the division earlier in the year.
Despite the accolades, the year had not been kind to Uchiyama. His lone action in 2012 was an anti-climactic three-round technical draw against Michael Farenas this past July. The result was in stark contrast to his previous encounter, a Knockout-of-the-Year level 11th round drilling of Jorge Solis.
Uchiyama returned to that level of savagery with his performance on Monday evening, dishing out a vicious beating against Vasquez throughout the night. The fight wasn't a complete rout, however. Vasquez offered a solid account of himself, perhaps lending credence to his unbeaten record and status as mandatory title challenger.
The brave showing would be all that he had left, though. A give-and-take affair through four rounds turned into a showcase performance for Uchiyama the rest of the way through. Vasquez offered the mother of all chins as he remained upright through consecutive rounds of brutality in the fifth and sixth frames.
Uchiyama closed the show in brilliant fashion, unloading on Vasquez for all three minutes of an eighth round that could have offered a stoppage at any point.
American referee Raul Caiz Jr. inexplicably sat back and played the role of spectator as Vasquez' health was compromised with each head-snapping power shot. The third man finally realized his role well after the challenger was out on his feet, stepping in just as the bell rang to end the round.
The official time was 2:59 of round eight.
Uchiyama advances to 19-0 (16KO), while Vasquez heads back to Costa Rica with his first official loss as he falls to 29-1 (15KO).
The first few weeks of the New Year will mark the three-year anniversary of Uchiyama's dramatic 12th round knockout win over Juan Carlos Salgado to begin his 130 lb. title reign. Salgado has since reclaimed a portion of the crown and is presently in negotiations for a rematch with Argenis Mendez, whom he bested to win the vacant belt in Sept. '11.
A showdown between Uchiyama and the winner of that contest could very well establish true divisional supremacy. For now, the 33-year old can take pride in the fact that he managed to literally go out with a bang on New Year's Eve for the second straight year.
Yota Sato capped a terrific 2012 campaign with a 12-round points win over Ryo Akaho for the second defense of his 115 lb. belt. Scores were 117-112, 117-111 and 118-110 in their title fight, with Sato (26-2-1, 12KO) controlling the action for most of the night.
Akaho (19-1-1, 12KO) was taking a huge leap in competition, aside from the bout being his first title fight. The difference in class was subtle, however, as Sato's smooth style was tested by Akaho's aggression before taking the lead for good in the second half of the night.
Sato scored three wins on the year, which began with a title-lifting effort over Suriyan Sor Rungvisai.
Monday's win in Tokyo couldn't have come at a better time - specifically an hour or so after a late entry in the Upset of the Year sweepstakes was offered on the undercard.
Further proof that the election isn't over until all of the ballots are counted came in the opening bout of the TV Tokyo broadcast. Unheralded fringe contender Kohei Kono scored a major upset - officially and visually - with a stunning fourth round stoppage of Tepparith Kokeitgym to claim a piece of the 115 lb. crown.
Kono entered the fight riding a modest two-fight win streak after having lost three in a row. Meanwhile, Kokeitgym was gaining traction on incumbent titlist Omar Narvaez in discussion for the best 115 lb. fighter in the world.
Any argument in favor of the 24-year old became moot the moment Kono clipped him with a right uppercut early in the fourth round. Kokeitgym was attempting a right hand of his own, but was reckless in his effort and paid the price dearly. The soon-to-be ex-champion beat the count but for all intent and purposes was out on his feet.
Kono, who was trailing on all three cards at the time, had the wherewithal to capitalize on the moment and pummeled Kokeitgym for as long as the bout would last. A sweeping right hand sent the streaking Thai to the canvas midway through the round for the bout's second knockdown.
Referee Stanley Christoldoulou gave the fallen Thai fighter every chance to continue, but was given no choice but to come to his rescue moments later. Kono pinned Kokeitgym along the ropes, unloading with a flurry of head shots before flooring him for the third time the round. No count was issued this time, as the fight was instantly waved off at 2:08 of round four.
Kono improves to 28-7 (11KO) with the win, by far the biggest of his 12-year career. The 32-year old came up short in two previous alphabet title bid, losing decisions to Nobuo Nashiro (SD12, Sept. '08) and Tomas Rojas (UD12, Sept. '10).
The feat is an upset in and of itself. Even more dramatic is the fact that Kono is a light-hitting fringe contender, while Kokeitgym is regarded as the class of 115 lb, having never been stopped or even dropped through 23 fights as a pro.
That all changes in a big way, as he enters the New Year on the heels of a crushing defeat that will take some time from which to recover. Kokeitgym falls to 21-3 (13KO), with an impressive 18-fight win streak coming to a screeching halt.
His career hit stride beginning last year, racking up four straight top shelf wins. A unanimous decision over then-unbeaten Drian Francisco began the stretch, followed up with title fight wins over Daiki Kameda, Tomonobu Shimada and most recently Nobuo Nashiro.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox