By Jake Donovan
Keita Obara did everything he wanted to do in his super lightweight title eliminator versus Walter Castillo. The only thing that didn't come of his pre-fight game plan was delivering a late-fight knockout.
Because of that, he believes it cost him the fight - even if the majority of fans and viewers believe otherwise. What appeared to be a clear-cut win instead resulted in a majority draw, with Obara winning 115-113 on one card but overruled by matching scores of 114-114.
"I'm honored that so many fans support me; I wish I could have given them the knockout," Obara told BoxingScene.com after his brilliant 12-round performance Saturday evening at Miccosukee Indian Gaming Resort in Miami, Florida.
The bout served as the televised opener in the latest installment of Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) on NBC Sports Network. Obara was fighting for the first time in the United States and outside of Japan - pro or amateur - and was having the time of his life throughout fight week and all the way up until the final scores were announced.
The expression of disbelief on Obara's face upon hearing the decision perfectly summed up the reaction from the crowd on hand, from the ringside broadcast table (note: this writer served as unofficial scorer for NBCSN, viewing the fight 116-112 in favor of Obara) and from fans watching at home whom immediately took to social media to voice their displeasure.
Still, he stopped well short of claiming in-ring robbery.
"I feel like I won, but I would like to go home (to Tokyo, Japan) and review the fight," Obara said. "Maybe the judges saw something that I didn't pick up on during the fight. I give credit to (Castillo) for going all 12 rounds; he (was cut and bloodied) but never quit."
Castillo was examined by referee Frank Santore midway through the fight due to rapid swelling and a small cut around his right eye, and also had the ringside physician examine the Miami-based Nicaraguan due to a cut inside of his left ear.
The fight continued, though medical concern once again came into play when Santore didn't like the reaction he was getting from Castillo, who was constantly blinking his eyes at the start of the championship rounds.
Had a medical stoppage been ruled (all cuts and swelling were produced from punches), it would have taken the fight out of the judges' hands.
Castillo's brave performance justified allowing the action to continue; what took place in each of the 12 rounds did not justify a draw verdict. Had the scores come in the way most viewers saw the bout, Obara would have earned a guaranteed title shot at newly crowned unbeaten 140 lb. titlist Eduard Troyanovsky had he received the verdict.
It's possible that the International Boxing Federation (IBF) sanctions an immediate rematch given the widely disputed outcome. A rematch would be fine with Obara, but his performance on Saturday gives him the confidence to begin hunting for a world title.
"I think I'm ready," Obara believes. "I know I have to improve, but I'm proud of what I did. My plan was to box early, let him tire and knock him out late. That didn't happen, and it cost me the fight with the judges.
"Even not getting the win, I would very much like to face any of the champions (at 140 lbs.). I would love to return to the United States for a big fight, but also invite any champion to fight in Japan in a very big event in front of all my fans."
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox