Yuya Shirai's back control saved his Deep title in a wild one at ‘56 Impact.’ | Photo: Taro Irei
TOKYO -- It took three grueling rounds, but Yuya Shirai retained his Deep welterweight title in the main event of Deep “56 Impact” at Korakuen Hall on Friday evening with a unanimous verdict over heavy-punching Taisuke Okuno.
“My punches hit him, but toward the end, my hands were really hurting,” said Shirai, after the bout. “However, I think the takedowns were the key to the fight.”
The champion tied “Goten” up from the back mount for most of the first frame. Shirai ended the round with a guillotine attempt, but although Okuno held on until the bell, it appeared that Shirai had the fight essentially handled with the perfect gameplan to dispatch his challenger. Nonetheless, a smiling and dogged Okuno emerged unfazed in the second frame to push full steam ahead, heedless of Shirai's myriad counterpunches and kicks, in the hopes of landing one big blow of his own.
“Okuno is very much that kind of guy who will walk forward through anything, so I wasn't really surprised that that's what he did,” said Shirai. “Okuno's guts are amazing.”
Okuno caught his break late in the round with a big right straight, forcing a wobbly-legged Shirai to backpedal. While overzealously giving chase however, Okuno was dropped by a desperate Shirai right hand.
The final period saw Shirai again capture Okuno's back briefly before the wildman escaped back to his feet, whereupon both welterweights traded exhausted punches until the bell.
Despite landing his best shots and putting the champ on the ropes in the second frame, it wasn't enough to impress Deep's five judges as Yoshinori Umeki, Kenichi Serizawa, Samio Kimura, Akira Shoji and Yuji Shimada all voted for the champ to retain his title. No scores were announced.
In defeating Okuno, the 31-year-old Shirai exacts revenge for his training partner Ryo Chonan, who was brutally knocked out by Okuno in a mere 19 seconds last December, and moves to 22-10-1 as a pro.
“A lot of feelings went through my head when the fight was just made, but I also felt that this was a sport too, in the end,” said the champion of his “revenge” victory.
After his resounding knockout victory over Nobuhiro Obiya just six weeks ago, 20-year-old South Korean prospect Doo Ho Choi served up an encore, crushing Pride and Strikeforce veteran Mitsuhiro Ishida in just 93 seconds.
Choi came in two pounds over the weight limit and suffered two yellow cards prefight for the infraction, but it was all for naught: The Korean fighter proved surprisingly difficult for the “Endless Fighter” to take down, showing off excellent balance during Ishida's trademark single-leg attempts.
Choi wobbled the Japanese wrestler with a right hand while shucking off the takedown attempt, and returned with a brain-rattling left cross. A dizzy Ishida dove for the takedown, but the Korean blasted him in the face with an explosive knee. The follow-up punches sealed the deal as referee Akira Shoji rescued Ishida just past the minute-and-a-half mark of the bout.
“I was injured before this fight, so I didn't think I was in any shape to perform tonight, so to be able to get such a wonderful finish from this fight makes me incredibly happy,” said the Korean KO artist after the bout.
Choi further revealed to Sherdog.com that he had injured his lower back before the fight, contributing to him missing weight on Thursday.
In his usual fashion, Hiroshi Nakamura controlled Seiji Akao with sharp wrestling and positional grappling to take a well-deserved unanimous decision in their bantamweight two-rounder. Rather than indulge Akao on the feet, Nakamura employed double and single-leg takedowns to put “Sage” on the canvas before advancing to mount and back mount to pile on the short punches.
With the win, the 30-year-old Nakamura moves to 14-5-4 in his campaign, with wins in five of his last six bouts. His streak includes wins over former WEC title challenger Yoshiro Maeda and former Deep champion Masakazu Imanari.
Dream bantamweight veteran Yusaku Nakamura was almost robbed of a stylish victory over Yoshiki Harada when he caught an errant finger to his left eye late in the bout. Until that point, the confident Nakamura bashed Harada with counter right hands shot from the hip, dropping him several times. Nakamura was cleared to continue several minutes after the eye poke, but on the advice of ringside physician Tomoki Nakagawa between rounds, the bout was ended early, forcing it to a technical decision.
For his dominance in the first five minutes, judges Umeki, Kimura, and Shimada gave their nods to Nakamura.
In Deep’s heavyweight Megaton division, mainstay Seigo Mizuguchi blasted Chang Hee Kim with a big left hook early for the knockout. The blubber-bodied Mizuguchi connected square on Kim's chin to send him crashing face-first into the canvas, forcing Akira Shoji to stop the bout at the 1:38 mark.
At featherweight, Muneyuki Sato earned a unanimous decision over tough scrapper Tomoya Kato. While braving Kato's aggressive dirty boxing, Sato dropped his heavily tattooed foe in the first frame with counter punches and controlled him on the ground in the second.
Yoshitomo Watanabe blasted longtime veteran Kosei Kubota a mere 17 seconds into their welterweight bout, finishing the visiting Pancrase veteran with a two-punch, head-kick combo across the face. Rocked, Kubota fell to all fours, whereupon Watanabe dropped hammerfists until Yoshinori Umeki lunged for the save.
Daisuke Endo's right hook frequently intercepted the oncoming Isao Terada in their bantamweight affair. Despite the warnings from his corner to defend against the punch, he was tagged countlessly and dropped both rounds by it, en route to losing the unanimous nod.
Starting off the evening with two lightweight tilts, Takahiro Kajita fought tooth-and-nail with Juri Ohara in the clinch, dirty boxing his way to a unanimous decision, while Yoichi Fukumoto overwhelmed Hideto Kondo on the feet and the ground before sinking in a rear-naked choke for the tap at 4:49 of the first round.