By Jake Donovan
Unbeaten Japanese puncher Takashi Uchiyama racked up the fourth defense of his WBA Super Featherweight title on Saturday with an emphatic 11th round knockout against visiting Mexican brawler Jorge Solis in Yokohoma, Japan. Uchiyama was in control for most of the evening, with the outcome – at least from the perspective of who would win – never in doubt. Solis had his moments over the course of the evening, but for the most part looked like a past-prime battle-tested veteran. The flow of the fight was hardly a surprise as Uchiyama was heavily favored to win. What came as a shock – both suddenly and in general – was the fight’s ferocious ending.
Uchiyama was landing with regularity and appeared to be inching closer towards forcing Solis into submission. Ever the warrior, Solis refused to go away quietly, so the defending titlist decided to turn out his lights in a flash. A sweeping left hook caught Solis flush on the chin, flattening the Mexican as he laid motionless (though conscious) beneath the bottom rope. The crowd went ballistic as the bout was waved off on the spot so that the Mexican could receive immediate in-ring medical attention. The official time was 0:19 of the 11th round.
Uchiyama improves to 18-0 (15KO) with the win, his biggest since winning the title two years ago.
Solis suffers his second straight knockout loss as he falls to 40-4-2 (29KO). The former featherweight titlist appeared to be on the way out in dropping a decision to Cristobal Cruz in 2009, but roared back to win three straight, including an upset win over Mario Santiago in May ’10.
His luck ran out when he ran into Yuriorkis Gamboa, suffering a one-sided fourth-round knockout loss this past March. The defeat was forgiven considering the opposition, but Solis’ showing on Saturday confirmed that the 32-year old is rapidly approaching the twilight of his 13-plus year career.
Meanwhile, things are just taking off for Uchiyama, who confirms his star power in a 130 lb division that continues to heat up. The hard-hitting Japanese titlist has shown a flair for the dramatic in his rise to fame, beginning with his title-winning effort nearly two years ago.
Juan Carlos Salgado was a prospect on the rise who made the leap to overnight sensation after scoring a shocking 1st round knockout over prematurely anointed one Jorge Linares late in 2009. The Mexican’s reign was short-lived, however, as Uchiyama outfought him for most of their Jan. ’10 fight. Just when it appeared that he would cruise to a decision, Uchiyama provided a highlight reel ending in dropping and stopping the visiting champion with less than 15 seconds to go in the fight.
The career-best win came in the midst of what is now an eight-fight knockout streak. The lone scare in an otherwise dominant run to date came in his previous title defense, rising from a third round knockdown to rally back and stop Takashi Miura at the end of the eighth round in their January bout.
Aside from the knockdown suffered, further damage came from the night as Uchiyama broke two fingers on his power hand. The war wounds forced the Japanese puncher to the injury list, resulting in an 11-month inactive period before Saturday’s showing against Solis.
The only remaining question after the bout is what comes next for Uchiyama.
While the promise of unification is almost always the immediate response offered, such a game plan isn’t as cut and dry as it sounds. Aside from the politics and economic issues that generally come with trying to secure fights between titlists from opposite sides of the world, how far Uchiyama can go in his quest to dominate the 130 lb. division will depend entirely on his willingness to travel.
The Japanese Boxing Commission only recognizes the WBC and WBA as major and legitimate titles (for those who hold any stock in alphabet hardware). The IBF and WBO belts are not recognized in Japan, thus explaining the lack of title fights from those organizations taking place in the Far East.
As far as unification bouts go, that limits his options to countryman Takahiro Aoh. The modest hitting southpaw claimed a belt last November with a points win over Vitaly Tajbert, but has yet to establish himself as a legitimate roadblock for any 130 lb. fighter in search of divisional supremacy.
Superfights with the likes of Broner and unbeaten Yuriorkis Gamboa – who plans to move up in weight in his next fight – represent the best case scenario for Uchiyama, though the likelihood of either fight happening any time soon ranks somewhere between slim and none.
Both fighters are well-entrenched among the HBO stable. Broner became a breakthrough star in 2011 on the strength of his vacant-title winning effort against Vicente Rodriguez, a fight that was less about the quality of opposition and more about his collecting a belt and establishing himself as a star in his Cincinnati hometown.
His next fight comes in late February against fellow unbeaten super featherweight Eloy Perez. Win or lose, it’s doubtful he looks very far beyond the U.S. borders for the time being, even in the presence of his recent claims of seeking total divisional domination.
Gamboa is on the verge of cracking pound-for-pound lists, but remains a man without a country. The Cuban export has no committed fan base to speak of, as evidenced by the near-empty venues that host his fights and the modest ratings (putting it kindly) he pulls in.
Such statements would suggest his being the perfect candidate to travel overseas (his career began in Germany before making its way to the states in 2008), but stateside promotional powerhouse Top Rank has different plans in mind.
Whatever the future holds in store for Uchiyama, the present has clearly indicated that he remains as tough an out as anyone currently on the sport’s top level.
The final title fight of 2011 confirmed as much, just in case a reminder was needed that Uchiyama is to be taken very seriously by anyone in and around the 130 lb. division.