This past weekend saw 2 of Asia’s top talents take to the ring as Jerwin Ancajas and Daigo Higa defended their respective world titles. It should be noted that both were in bouts they were expected to win but maintaining the excellent momentum that both men had built up was important.
Ancajas defended his IBF super flyweight strap for the 4th time against Israel Gonzalez at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, Texas. After 3 KO wins on the road in 2017 the Filipino southpaw earned a contract with promotional powerhouse Top Rank and the contest with Gonzalez was his debut for the US outfit. The fight was broadcast on ESPN in America and on ESPN TV5 in the Philippines which was a real coup as the vast majority of Filipino boxers have been starved of TV coverage and media attention.
Ancajas nailed Gonzalez with a left hand in the opening stanza, scoring a knockdown and an early night looked feasible however, the Mexican challenger proved to be a competent adversary and made things slightly awkward for the champion. 2 knockdowns in round 10 saw Ancajas eventually get the job done and overall it was a successful night’s work for the 26-year-old. Ancajas did neglect the body more than he had done in previous outings and if you were being hypercritical then a more aggressive approach may have brought an early finish but credit should be given to Gonzalez who proved a game opponent. The thudding jab was again impressive and is an essential tool to set up the left hand and against more willing opposition expect to see Ancajas in some highly entertaining scraps.
Next up almost certainly is a mandatory defense against Jonas Sultan in an all Filipino world title clash. If it does take place then it will be the first all Pinoy world title fight since 1925 when Pancho Villa won via 15- round decision versus Clever Sencio in Manila. On the surface to most this would seem a quite staggering statistic but to those who follow the Filipino scene this is just now the unfortunate reality.
With the historical reference and uniqueness of the contest it should be a fairly easy sell and if placed in an area with a solid Filipino population it would also hopefully draw a good crowd and maybe, just maybe the ridiculous notion of Filipino versus Filipino is somehow bad for the sport will be dispelled for ever. As for the fight itself Sultan more than earned his shot with a mature and intelligent display to outpoint forma 108 and 112 lb champion Johnriel Casimero last September over 12 rounds. If Ancajas can overcome his countrymen then there are numerous fabulous matchups available in a super flyweight division that is bursting at the seams with talent.
A few hours later at the Prefectural Budokan in Okinawa Daigo Higa made the second defense of his WBC flyweight crown against forma WBO strawweight champion Moises Fuentes. Higa has built a reputation amongst hard core fans as this destructive force of nature and was aiming to score his 15th straight KO which would tie a Japanese record set by Tsuyoshi Hamada. The bout against Fuentes was a homecoming with the last world title fight to be held in Okinawa coming way back in 1981 when Yoko Gushiken lost his light flyweight belt to Pedro Flores.
The Mexican possessed a significant height and reach advantage over the young champion and towered over him. Fuentes landed a right hand in the first few seconds but that was to be the extent of his success as Higa forced him backwards and landed with numerous hard shots. An attack to the body saw the challenger crumple to the canvas and the fight was over in the first round. It was noticeable in the post-fight interview how much more confident the 22-year-old now is compared to the shy emotional kid from a couple of years ago.
With the consecutive KO record now tied next up could be a meeting with unbeaten Pakistani Muhammad Waseem in what would be a mandatory defense with May being targeted. Waseem has been a victim of some financial difficulties but if these can be resolved his excellent amateur background and solid skillset present an intriguing challenge. Higa also stated his desire for a unification and he’ll be attending the upcoming SuperFly card where 2 112 lb title tussles are taking place. All Japanese battles with Sho Kimura and Kosei Tanaka are also a possibility.
Making the flyweight limit for the KO wrecking machine isn’t a straight forward task and a move up 3 pounds is an inevitability with 2019 being the likely time this occurs. Venturing over to America is also a wish and given that the lower weights have finally made some traction and his heavy hands and crowd pleasing style Higa would surely be a hit to the US audience. Finally an annual defense in Okinawa is also an aim and for the likes of Tatsuro Nakashima, Ryuto Owan and Shawn Oda who appeared on the Fuentes undercard, Higa is a crucial talisman to keeping up the revival of boxing in Okinawa but a larger venue is necessary to meet the demand to see this quite extraordinary young talent.