Junto Nakatani was extended the distance for the first time in a title fight but remained unbeaten and with his crown still in tow.
The unbeaten two-division titlist made the first successful defense of his WBO junior bantamweight title of Mexico City’s Argi Cortes. Nakatani scored three knockdowns Monday evening at Ariake Arena in Tokyo.
It was acknowledged pre-fight by Nakatani’s team that it would be difficult to surpass or even replicate his second title winning effort earlier this year. The Japanese southpaw delivered a leading Knockout of the Year candidate when a left hand flattened Andrew Moloney with less than 20 seconds to go in their May 20 vacant title fight at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Cortes was able to one up that and actually make it to the final bell but wasn’t particularly competitive in the first of two title fights on an Amazon Prime Video/ESPN+ stream. The bout was his first for a physical title and second versus the elite of the junior bantamweight division. He challenged countryman and lineal 115-pound champion Juan Francisco Estrada, who won a twelve-round decision in their terrific fight last September 3 in Estrada’s hometown of Hermosillo, Mexico.
Nakatani is never shy about turning a boxing match into a fight but also made a point to put his massive height and reach advantage to use. The 5’7” boxer used his jab to set up long left hands from the outside, which Cortes often took well but was unable to get past and work his way inside.
Body shots, however, proved be the secret to Nakatani’s success and led to all three knockdowns on the night.
Two came in round five, when it appeared that Cortes was on his way to the first stoppage defeat of his career. A left hand to the solar plexus caused a delayed reaction knockdown as Cortes paused before he took a knee.
Nakatani went right back on the attack and sought to close the show. A right hook to the body sent Cortes to the canvas for the second time in the round but the visiting Mexican challenger was able to make it to the bell.
A third knockdown on the night came inside the final minute of round nine. Cortes absorbed a left hand to the body but insisted it was a follow up forearm behind the head that caused his fall. Referee Steve Willis nevertheless issued the mandatory eight count.
Cortes was not without his moment. He was effective at times in smothering Nakatani’s punches and landed enough right hands to get the champion’s attention. Cortes enjoyed brief moments of success in the eleventh round and early in the twelfth but that changed in an instant.
Nakatani rallied hard in the final minute of the fight, admittedly in search of another highlight reel knockout.
“I was able to put away my last opponent the final seconds of the fight,” Nakatani said after the win. “I thought I could do the same here but I couldn’t because Cortes was such a resilient fighter.”
Cortes once again went the distance at the elite level but also once again walked away without a victory. The 28-year-old contender fell to 25-4-2 (10KOs) as he ended a two-fight win streak following the narrow defeat to Estrada.
Nakatani advanced to 26-0 (19KOs) with the win and is now 5-0 (4KOs) in title fights spanning two weight divisions. He won all three WBO flyweight title fights inside the distance before he vacated last fall to compete at junior bantamweight.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox