When people start talking about fight of the year or round of the year when there is still an Akira Yaegashi (28-7, 16) [八重樫 東] fight on the calendar they are making a mistake. They should always wait for Yaegashi to fight for the final time in the year before making any sort of lists! Today Yaegashi finished his year off as he challenged IBF Flyweight champion Moruti Mthalane (39-2, 26), and unsurprisingly we ended with an exciting action fight.
The bout actually began in a less than thrilling fashion with Yaegashi fighting on his bike, using his footwork and boxing smart. It's something he's always had in his arsenal, but was last seen being used properly years ago, when he beat Edgar Sosa, way back in December 2013. If Akira fought smart we weren't going to get a classic, but there's a good chance he could fiddle himself to a decision victory.
That, of course, isn't Yaegashi's style. There's a reason Yaegashi has such a cult fan base and a reason he is regarded as a warrior. That is because smart boxing isn't him. He can do it, but it's not him. Instead having a fight is Yaegashi's style. By the third round, Mthalane was inviting Yaegashi into fight, and Yaegashi took the invitation, standing his ground more and fighting toe to toe with Mthalane, with the two men taking it in turns to unload flurries of shots.
Through rounds 4, 5 and 6 we had none stop action, each of those rounds could be considered for round of the year, with each of the rounds swinging one way then the other. One man seemed hurt, then they responded with a flurry of their own, hurting the other man. Not only were they hurting each other, but they were fighting an insane pace for two men who are the wrong side of 35. Sooner or later the tempo was going to catch up with one of them.
Sadly in round 7 it was Yaegashi was caught by the pace, and by a body shot from Mthalane. He tried to recover, tried to walk it off, and "old man" Mthalane, but the South African was having none of it, and kept the pressure up, not allowing Yaegashi to recover. To his credit Yaegashi's toughness kept him up right, and kept him fight, but it was clearly a diminished Yaegashi, who was starting to run on fumes, and take huge unanswered shots. Those fumes were however running out themselves and in round 8, with Mthalane landing an ever increasing number of shots, a stoppage began to look inevitable.
With Yaegashi's face swelling up, engine running low and the momentum clearly swinging in favour of Mthalane it seemed as if the Japanese warrior was going to need a miracle. Sadly for him that miracle never came as Mthalane continued to beat him up. It was getting one sided and in round 9 the referee seemed to be looking for a moment to stop the fight. His moment was a weird one, given that Yaegashi had stumbled a few moments earlier but was beginning to return fire, but it's hard to complain too much at the stoppage. Yaegashi, as he has often been, was too tough for his own good and the referee knew it.
Given Yaegashi turns 37 in February and has been in far too many wars for his own good it now seems like a good time to bow out, and retire, following yet another sensational fight. Round 4 in particular will be a hard one to forget. He could have made life easier for himself through much of his career, but the high, and lows, of Yaegashi's career have made him a Japanese legend. Hopefully retirement is next for a man who has given the sport so much during his often dramatic, always thrilling, rollercoaster like career.
As for Mthalane, the timeless South African is still a sensational fighter at the age of 37. He's ancient for a Flyweight but rarely have we seen him look his age, or looking on the verge of being stopped. He's tough, smart, and can change the direction of a fight. Whilst we suspect he's probably only got 1 or 2 more big fights, like this, in him he is a man who is racking up a Japanese-Killer reputation, with 3 successive wins against Japanese fighters, and is stacking his record with notable wins. It's a huge shame his first reign as the IBF champion ended the way it did, but he's making up for it in style now. A bout with Giemel Magramo, the highest ranked IBF contender, would be something that would be very appealing, and may well be next for the exceptional champion.
The Flyweight division has given us some amazing bouts in recent years, such as 2018's war between Kosei Tanaka and Sho Kimura, and today we got another, as Japan's Masayuki Kuroda (30-8-3, 16) [黒田 雅之] battled tooth and nail with IBF Flyweight champion Moruti Mthalane (38-2, 25) in a sure fire FOTY contender, up there with another of the amazing bouts we've seen in 2019 so far.
The bout started with Kuroda looking to use his slight reach advantage but it wasn't long until Mthalane got up close and drew Kuroda into a fire fight, with both unload a high volume of shots on the inside. It was a great back and forth with both landing their share of solid clean shots. Of the two Mthalane seemed to be the smart man, landing cleaner and defending better, but Kuroda was landing more shots, going to the body excellently.
Through the first 4 rounds there was almost nothing to split the two men. It could have been 4-0 either way with no complaints. Sadly for Kuroda he began to show some signs of tiring in the middle rounds, Mthalane on the other hand remained consistent with his work, cutting the left eye of Kuroda in the process. Kuroda would battle hard, and have a huge burst at the end of the round trying to steal it but it was too little too late. The same again applied in round 6, with Mthalane out working Kuroda through much of the round, before the challenger rallied at the end, with a huge onslaught that was driven by both the crowd and Kuroda's will to win.
In round 7 Kuroda began to show real swelling around his face, and was slowing. He was now picking moments to fire off, rather than trying to to press. He still had his moments, but he was taking more than he was giving, and was struggling to fight hard for 3 minutes. That continued to be the case in round 8, a round that Kuroda managed to land a lot of body shots in, but at the expense of taking a lot of head shots, as he face continued swelling. That was followed by a massive round 9 from Mthalane, who seemed to sense that he could get a stoppage, something that seemed plausible given the state of Kuroda's right eye, which was completely swollen shut by the end of the round.
By now Kuroda was fighting on will power and determination alone. His face swollen, his gas tank emptying and the momentum clearly behind Mthalane. He refused to sit back though and and pressed Mthalane through the round, taking punishment for his desire to be a world champion, landing shots but taking better ones in return. It was a brave and hungry effort, but one that saw him taking so much in return. By now it was becoming clear he would need a KO, and he was aware of it.
In the 11th round Kuroda managed to get his second wind, at least early in the round, but Mthalane soaked it all up and had a huge 2 minutes of the round, pushing Kuroda's determination to near breaking point. Kuroda looked done, completely blind in his right from swelling and like the referee might step in to save him from further punishment. It was a huge Mthalane round, until the dying seconds when, for the first time, he seemed to really hurt Mthalane, forcing the champion into survival mode for the final few seconds of the round.
Given he had hurt his man late in round 11 it seemed clear that Kuroda was going to give all he could in round 12, and he started out hot. Mthalane saw it coming however and boxed, using his foot work, his movement, timing and ring ring craft to see out the pressure before landing some glorious combinations late. Kuroda's desperation left him open and Mthalane was making him pay lighting up his face as we went to the bell.
After 12 rounds it seemed we had a close but clear winner. The first half of the fight had been wonderfully contested, and Kuroda had played his part in the latter stages with his incredible toughness, but there was only one man who looked like getting the win. The judges knew it, the fighters knew it and the crowd knew it, with Mthalane getting the unanimous decision, 116-112, twice, and 117-111.
There was no denying Mthalane was the better fighter, the worthy winner and a true warrior. His future is likely going to be a unification bout, potentially with WBC champion Charlie Edwards or WBO champion Kosei Tanaka, if Tanaka's team can lure him to Japan. For Kuroda a long, long rest will be needed. His face really was a swollen, damaged mess. Hopefully this isn't the end for him, but if it is, we can safely safe that the Last Samurai really did go out on his sword in a true FOTY contender.
The second, of 3, world title fights in Macau today saw IBF Flyweight champion Moruti Mthalane (37-2, 25) battle against little known Japanese challenger Masahiro Sakamoto (13-2, 9) [坂本真宏]
On paper this was a mismatch, a 2-time world champion, with notable wins against the likes of Muhammad Waseem, John Riel Casimero and Zolani Tete against a man who is best known for losing to a then little known Sho Kimura. It was however a bout that turned out to be a very, very entertaining contest with Sakamoto showing no quit and a lot of ambition.
From the first round it was clear that Sakamoto saw this as his chance to perform on the big stage, even though the bout was only shown in a few countries, not including Japan. He bit down hard on his gum shield and look to land combinations against the crisp punching and defensively sound Mthalane. We, as many, didn't really expect the Mechnical Engineering student to fight with such tenacity, but he did. Sadly for Sakamoto the clean shots from Mthalane were taking a toll.
Through the first 6 round Sakamoto really did much, much better than expected. He was clearly losing, and taking a fair bit of damage thanks to the clean, crisp, accurate shots of Mthalane, but he wasn't giving up. He was taking the fight to the champion and fighting on the inside, looking to wear Mthalane down with flurries.
Sadly for Sakamoto his effort, and the lack of pay off from the effort, took a lot out of him and he was looking exhausted at the end of round 6, with his face reddening and his right eye swelling shut. That eye would and his exhaustion would bee a major issues, with Mthalane landing more and more shots as the rounds went on.
Eventually, with their man a long way behind on the score cards, his face a swollen mess and his energy tank running on empty Sakamoto's corner pulled him out of the bout at the end of round 10.
For such an unknown, and we're not joking when we say that, Sakamoto put up a very brave performance in a bout that even those in Japan gave him little chance of winning. For Mthalane the win was expected, he was given a surprising tough work out here, and will now be looking towards a mandatory defense against another Japanese fight, Masayuki Kuroda in Spring.
A huge Sunday of fights kicked off earlier today with an IBF Flyweight title fight, that saw Moruti Mthalane (36-2, 24) being crowned as the new champion as he narrowly out-pointed Muhammad Waseem (8-1, 6) in a pulsating and action packed bout.
The contest started well Mthalane who brought the pressure early on and forced Waseem to fight his fight, with the two men trading blows at close range. Waseem tried to keep up with the veteran but Mthalane was finding gaps and landing the cleaner shots through the first 3 rounds as he got off to a perfect start.
Knowing he was behind Waseem changed his game plan, moving more, finding angles and stopping Mthalane from dictating the tempo and distance of the contest. It lead to round 4 being very close before Waseem clearly took the following two rounds, showing his boxing skills as well as his ability to stand and fight. The change in tactics showed that Waseem could make life easy for himself, but by round 7 it seemed like Mthalane was getting a read on the movement of Mthalane and he was starting to counter more and cut the distance, as he had earlier in the bout.
Mthalane would continue to be consistent with his work, there wasn't anything different from him but we was landing consistently, finding a home for his left jab, his left hook and his right hand. Waseem, who seemed to land to the body much more than the South African, wasn't quite getting the snap on his shots to do damage the damage that he was wanting to do.
The two continued to trade a lot of leather through to the championship rounds before we saw Waseem land his best shot, dropping Mthalane in round 11 with a dynamite left hand that dropped the South African. Sadly for Waseem there wasn't enough time left to jump on Mthalane who beat the count.
Having dropped Mthalane in round 11 it seemed like Waseem was going to jump on the South African in the final round.. Instead it seemed that Mthalane was even to it in what was a sensational round of back and forth action, which saw both men looking hurt. Waseem had been hurt in the middle of the round, but came back strong and had a swollen Mthalane badly hurt at the very end of the fight.
Given the close and competitive nature of the fight a decision could have gone either way as we went to the cards. The scores of 114-113, twice, and 116-110 could, conceivably, had gone to either man but unfortunately for Waseem went to Mthalane, who is now a 2-time champion.
For Waseem there will be serious questions asked. Why did he pick up the pace so late? Why did he drop the angles that he used in the middle rounds? Why didn't he pick up the tempo a little earlier? Despite those questions he impressed, he went 12 rounds with one of the most under-rated fighters in the sport and ran Mthalane razor close. There is a real chance that, given a second world title fight, Waseem will come on top with the experience from this loss.
World Title Results
Whether you like them or not World Titles add prestige to any bout as a result we've included the results of world title bouts in this special section.