On Saturday the WBC stripped hard hitting Japanese fighter Daigo Higa (15-1, 15) [比嘉 大吾] of their Flyweight title, after he failed to make the 112lb limit. Today he suffered further as he suffered his first loss, and saw his perfect stoppage run come to an end at the hands of talented Nicaraguan Cristofer Rosales (27-3, 18). Not only did Higa lose his first bout, but for the first time he looked like a fighter who was mentally broken, as well as physically exhausted, and left many questioning why and his team even went ahead with this fight.
In the build up Higa had looked horrific. He had looked drained and beaten at the medical checks on on Thursday, looked equally as deflated at the signing ceremony on Friday and had failed to make the limit on Friday. Even this morning, at a special same day weigh in, he looked less than his usual confident self.
From the first round he looked slow, and like he was questioning himself in the ring. His usual intensity wasn't there, his aggression was lacking and his pressure fighting, a trademark of his, was totally absent. Rosales, like a professional, used his advantages from the off and stuck to his game plan. He out boxed Higa early on, moved well and made the most of his jab. It was a gameplan that liked like it was drilled into him before the fight, and was something that had been tailored to make the most of his height and reach advantages.
As the fight went on Higa had some moments, particularly to the body, but even on the inside he seemed to be losing the mini-skirmishes the two fighters were having as Rosales matched him, backed him off and forced Higa to think twice. It was clear that the same day weigh in had taken something from the Japanese fighter, and his usually all out attack was absent.
It wasn't until round 5, with Higa well behind, that the fight really turned into an inside battle. Sadly for Higa he couldn't maintain any real output for long and it was often Rosales landing the better shots, connecting cleanly to his body and snapping his head back with shots up top. It was the style of fight Higa would have dreamed of having, but he looked like he was only half the fighter he usually was. Even then a fully fit Higa would have struggled with Rosales, who had clearly prepared himself to start on the outside before going inside and standing toe-to-toe.
After a few rounds of toe-to-toe action it seemed like Higa was becoming incredibly desperate. His power was lacking, his combinations looked forced and Rosales was taking everything and returning it with serious interest.
After 8 rounds the judges score cards were announced. One judge had given Higa a single round, another judge had given managed to give him 3 whilst the third judge, inexplicably, had the bout even. Despite the close nature, on paper, of those cards Higa's team knew he was a spent force and in round 9 finally pulled their man out mid-round.
Despite stopping the bout before their man had gotten seriously hurt there needs to be serious questions as to why SGS even allowed this bout to go ahead. Higa had defended his title just over 2 months ago, although it was a quick blow out the turn around seemed too quick and given how Higa had previously struggled to make weight they really needed a much longer camp, especially for someone as talented as Rosales. Not only that but they should have really pulled him at the start of this week, he looked mentally broken at the medical and never looked like he had rebuilt his confidence coming into this bout. It's easy to say in hindsight that getting into the ring was the wrong decision, but it wasn't a smart choice. In fact it was a further hit for the SGS gym following Yoshimitsu Kimura's loss in mid week against Richard Pumicpic for a regional title.
Hopefully there will be sense in Higa's team and he will make a move up in weight, he shouldn't have been in the ring today and if he tries to remain at Flyweight his career is going to be a very short one.
For Rosales this is a huge win and a very well deserved one. Higa's issues in camp can't take away from Rosales who did his job, was professional through out and fought to his gameplan. He was, as he usually is, very impressive and well deserving of his win. He'll likely have a target on his back from WBC #1 ranked contender Andrew Selby, who beat him recently, but this title win may well be what he needs to boost his confidence to the next level, and perhaps even avenge the loss to Selby.
(Image courtesy of daily.co.jp)
One of the often used excuses for fans not watching the lower weights is the lack of power that the fighters have. Those likely haven't seen the terrific WBC Flyweight champion Daigo Higa (15-0, 15) [比嘉 大吾], who made his second defense earlier today and continued his perfect stoppage run, recording a Japanese record equalling 15th straight stoppage.
The champion, defending his title in a home-coming defense in Okinawa, was up against former WBO Minimumweight champion Moises Fuentes (25-5-1, 14) in what looked like an interesting match up on paper. Fuentes was an experienced challenger, who was world class, and had simply out grown the lower weights. He had significant reach and height advantages over Higa and looked less like a fighter moving up in class than the champion he towered over.
Whilst interesting on paper it really wasn't that competitive in the ring. Fuentes looked to start aggressively, and actually backed Higa up very early on, landing a looping right hand in the opening seconds. It was however one of the very moments of success for Fuentes, who also managed to back Higa on to the ropes though was punished for doing so.
Higa's power was shown in a jab that pushed Fuentes back. Moments after being backed up himself he landed another jab that saw Fuentes's legs betray him and a follow up saw him landing some monstrous bombs on to Fuentes, who's chin some how held up to some massive shots. Higa would then go to the body and Fuentes' ribs felt the punishment, with the Mexican dropping to the canvas in agony. He tried to beat the count but was counted out rising to his feet as Higa cemented his name in Japanese boxing history.
The brilliant youngster not only tied the long standing Japanese KO record of Tsuyoshi Hamada, at 15 KO's, but he also became the first Japanese fighter to successfully defend a world title in Okinawa, and managed to bring world title fights back to the area after more than 30 years away. In fact the last time there was a world title defense in Okinawa it was Higa's very own mentor Yoko Gushiken, who lost the WBA Light Flyweight title to Pedro Flores back in 1981!
Next time out Higa will be looking to set a new Japanese record with 16 straight stoppages, and after today's performance there will be very few Flyweights who will feel comfortable in getting in the ring with him.
Japanese sensation Daigo Higa (14-0, 14) made a statement earlier this year when he stopped Juan Hernandez to claim the WBC Flyweight title. Today he managed to establish his reign a little bit more as he recorded his first defense, and stopped French challenger Thomas Masson (17-4-1, 5), who had never previously been stopped.
When the men were in the ring Higa looked really short compared to the challenger, and it was clear that Masson's gameplan was to keep it long and make Higa work especially hard to get inside. Sadly for the challenger the gameplan never really worked and Higa was finding it far too easy to get inside the Frenchman. To his credit Masson did show a tight defense, but shots form Higa, which were through in combinations up close, still sneaked through and did their work on the body and head of Masson.
Round by round Higa pressed more, and got more and more success, with each round taking it's toll on the challenger who showed nice touches in rounds 2 and 3, neither of which he won, butsimply lacked the fire power to get Higa's respect or the movement to avoid Higa's pressure. It didn't matter what Masson did, he still couldn't find much breathing space or avoid the champion for long enough to really regroup.
After 4 rounds the open scoring was 40-36, twice, and 39-37, with one judge some how managing to find a round to give to Masson. Sadly for Masson things only got worse and in round 5 Higa not only continued his pressure but also landed two huge counters, both of which rocked Masson's legs and seemed to be the start of the end for the Frenchman.
In round 6 Masson took an absolute pounding. Hige upped the ante, pressing more than he had earlier in the fight, and it was arguably a10-8 round with Masson being backed up from around the ring and needing to eat flurry after flurry of shots. Where as he was blocking most shots earlier on he was beginning to eat these clean and was paying the price as the power of Higa was taking it's toll. It looked like a stoppage was coming at a number of points during the round,but Masson's toughness kept him in there to the bell.
The assault from Higa continued in round 7 before Masson took a knee, it seemed a bizarre as it had come a while after he had last taken a shot, but it made sense when Masson's face was shown to TV camera's and he had bloody around his eye. A doctor's inspection followed and after a few moments the bout was waved off, with Masson's eye being the cause of the TKO.
Next for Higa is likely to be either Andrew Selby or Muhammad Waseem in the near year, though the reality is that neither man would be given much of a chance as Higa seeks a Japanese record tying 15th successive stoppage. For Masson the bout showed the difference between European class, which he is a 2-time champion at, and world class. He had moments, but they were few and far between and he could never get Higa's respect, something a fighter will need to beat him.
Yesterday we saw the WBC Flyweight title being stripped from around the waist of Mexican veteran Juan Hernandez Navarrete (34-3, 25) after he failed to make weight for his first defense of the title. Sadly for Hernande his weekend went from bad to worse and on Saturday he was punished by the all-action Daigo Higa (13-0, 13) [比嘉 大吾], who took his opportunity to become a world champion, and battered Hernandez into submission.
The Mexican, who won the title just a few weeks ago in Thailand against the then unbeaten Nawaphon Por Chockhai, tried to use his boxing and movement in the early stages. It was as if he was trying to tell Higa that he knew more about the sport than the 21 yuear old Japanese fighter.
The movement of Hernandez was able to blunt Higa's pressure early, but the Mexican couldn't avoid Higa for long and was dropped in round 2 from a hook by Higa. It wasn't a painful knockdown, but it showed just how dangerous Higa could be and how legitimate his power was. Despite dropping his man Higa never rushed into and instead he showed maturity to stalk his man rather than attack a fighter who had his wits.
Hernandez recovered well and seemed to use his movement well in rounds 3 and 4 to avoid a fire fight with Higa, but it was clear that he had found a new respect for the youngster and wasn't wanting to go toe-to-toe with him.
The movement of Hernandez was thwarting Higa's pressure and had done enough to impress one judge, who had the Mexican up 38-37, but the other two had sided with Higa who was clearly pressing the fight.
In round 5 Higa's power told again as he dropped Hernandez for the second time, this time it was more serious with Hernandez being dropped hard from a solid left hook. The Mexican recovered to his feet and looked to fight back whilst Higa for the finish, and the veteran showed his survival instincts to see out the round, holding when he needed to and trying frustrate Higa, despite having blood coming from his nose.
Higa seemed to be fully aware that his man coming undone in front of him, despite Hernandez lasting through round 5. That saw Higa amp up the pressure in round 6 and quickly that pressure told, as he dropped Hernandez with body shots within the first 30 seconds. The Mexican got up and tried to fight back with body shots of his own, but was dropped again as Higa again cracked the body, with Hernandez going down in agony this time. The Mexican some how recovered to his feet but was down again from body shots, and then amazingly got up again, before finally being stopped, in what was the 4th knockdown of the round, with even the referee feeling sympathy for the brave former champion.
Coming into the contest Hernandez had done little to endear himself to the Japanese fans, who are good at accepting foreign fighters if they come to win, show heart and come in in good shape. He had messed them about at the public work out, and really annoyed Yoko Gushiken, he had missed weight and had taken some shine off the bout, but his guts and bravery to get up from 5 knockdowns and keep on fighting did go some way to redeeming his faults with the fans.
As for Higa however this performance really was brilliant, despite the fact he suffered a chipped tooth during the fight, which he pointed out to fans before his post-fight interview. The way he showed maturity early in the bout, but then jumped on Hernandez when he had him really hurt, showed a real understanding of the sport and something that not many 13 fight novices have. At the the age of 21 he's the second youngest active world champion, behind Kosei Tanaka who is a few weeks younger, and having been a professional for just 35 months his rise has been amazing.
Next for Higa could be unification, or it could be a bout against a highly regarded foe, with Andrew Selby potentially lying in wait further down the line for Higa. For now the key will be to celebrate, though it's clear with Yoko Gushiken behind him, and the now the weight of Fuji TV and a booming fan base, he's going to be a fighter who goes from strength to strength and could well be the next Japanese fighter to be a break out star internationally..
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
World Title Results
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