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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