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)