When researching for these articles we can quite often forget just how many upsets take place. Whilst some are huge shocks, that we talk about years later, others are more reminders of the unpredictable nature of professional boxing. Today we look at one of those notable, but often forgotten, upsets. This one is from 2012 and took place in Japan between a reigning champion, who looked like he was finding his groove in the sport, and a 31 year old who had suffered 9 losses, with 5 of those coming by stoppage.
October 27th 2012
Tokyo International Forum, Tokyo, Japan
Takahiro Ao (23-2-1, 10) Vs Gamaliel Diaz (37-9-2, 17)
Highly regarded when he turned professional Takahiro Ao was one of the big hopes for the Teiken Gym in the 00's and early 10's. He had been moved relatively well and in 2009 he had claimed the WBC Featherweight title, before losing in his first defense against Elio Rojas. He then moved up in weight and in 2010 he had taken the WBC Super Featherweight title, dethroning Vitali Tajbert. As a champion Ao had defended the belt 3 times, over-coming some good fighters, like Devis Boschiero and Terdsak Kokietgym. He looked like he was finally living up to the early promise that had excited Japanese fans and he looked like he was going to be one of the major players in the division.
In his 4th defense Ao was up against Mexican veteran Gamaliel Diaz. Diaz had suffered 9 losses, he was 31, he had been stopped 5 times, including losses to Ao's friend and Teiken stablemate Jorge Linares as well as Humberto Soto, who had dominated Diaz in an interim title fight. Although a number of Diaz's losses had come early in his career, and he had scored 13 wins in a row, he had never notched a win of real note and relevance. In fact his run of 13 straight wins included 4 over fighters with double digit losses.
On paper this was supposed to be an easy defense for Ao against a voluntary who was fairly limited but highly ranked by the WBC. It was supposed to be another defense for the Japanese fighter who was supposedly in his prime at 28 and was looking for bigger fights down the line.
From the first round the cagey challenger was using his jab well, setting an odd rhythm and making Ao follow him around the ring. Diaz was using his vast experience smartly, making Ao work to close the distance and repeatedly forcing he champion to rest. Ao really had no success in the opening round until there was about 45 seconds left, and even that was minimal at best. Ao was missing, chasing, and working hard for no real success, whilst Diaz was picking his spots, landing clean and solid shots, something he continued to do in round 2.
In round 3 Ao actually got something of a break as referee Ian John Lewis got involved for the first time, and punished Diaz for an accidental headclash, taking a point from the challenger. Despite Diaz losing a point he still won the round, causing a 9-9 round, and left Ao with some swelling around one of his eyes.
With a good start behind him Diaz wasn't in a rush to let Ao back into the fight and rocked him with a straight right hand in round 4. It was a round that showed Diaz's confidence was building, it was as if it dawned on him that Ao had no answer for his skills, shots and movement.
In round 5 Diaz was again deducted a point, this time for low blows, as Ian John Lewis tried to do what he could to help out the local champion. It seemed that if Diaz was going to win, he had to be cleaner than clean for the rest of the fight. He had had 2 point deducted in 5 rounds and it was clear the referee wasn't there to do him any favours at all.
The fifth round also saw the open scoring being put into effect, with Diaz leading on two of the cards, 38-37 and 39-36, with the third card some how having Ao up 38-37.
Despite being down Ao actually had a solid round 6, putting his foot on the gas more and although he didn't amaze anyone, he did stem the tide that had been going against him. He seemed to find a new gear, connect more and straighten up his shots. It was a much improved round from the champion, who did need it after his rather poor start.
The good round 6 from the champion saw him trying to keep it up in round 7, which caused a response from Diaz, who tried to match him. During the round Ao was left with blood trickling from his left eye, which was starting to close. It seem just as Diaz was starting to get some momentum, he had had it stopped. Diaz also managed to show his ability to bully the champion dumping him on the seat of his pants with a push right at the end of the round.
In round 8 Ao's started well again, before his facial damage saw him being taken over to the doctor. The bout was allowed to continue, but it was clear that he had once again had some momentum stopped. He was also now fighting with a severe damage around the left side of his face. Notably this was, at least partly, due to a nasty clash of heads. A worse clash than the one Diaz had been deducted for in round 3, with Ian John Lewis showing pretty clear inconsistencies. Another head clash early in round 9 further worsened the damage on Ao's face. By the end of the round Diaz was himself cut, from what appeared to be a straight left hand as Ao finally managed to damage the veteran.
Once again we saw the open scoring in effect in round 9, with scored of 76-74 across the board, two of those cards favouring Diaz and one, some how, going with Ao. It was now all to play for, with 4 rounds left, and just 2 points separating the two men. Those cards, even with the deductions, seemed closer than the reality of the fight, and the card in favour of Ao seemed awful. It was hard to make a case for Ao having 2 rounds, never mind half of the completed 8.
Ao seemed to feel like his title was slipping away, something his team would have relayed after the 9th round, and he began to press more in round 10. He was however continually struggling with the jab of Diaz, who used it to set up his straight right hand, and Diaz also smothered up close. It wasn't pretty from the Mexican, but was a smart tactic from a veteran who was landing shots and neutralising the champion.
Ao's already swollen and bloodied face became an even bigger mess in round 11, as he looked to put his foot on the gas and the two men often came too close. Not only did the men clash up close, but Diaz also made Ao pay when they were getting close and when he was getting out. By now the bout was a mess and the coming together Ao's face was becoming more and more of a mess, requiring a second doctor inspection late in the round. Now he was forced to fight desperate, and fight through immense pain. Diaz seemingly feeling confident he had the rounds in the bag, made the final round an absolute mess, hitting and holding, wrestling, spoiling, leaning on, smothering and generally stopping Ao from having any success.
Although the final few rounds were a mess, they were rounds the judges seem to feel Diaz deserved. His tactics were certainly not fan friendly, but they were effective, and after 12 rounds the judges all agreed that he deserved the win, scoring the bout 114-112, twice, and 115-111. In fairness, despite the deductions, they were probably as close scores as we could have had.
Sadly for Diaz a return to Japan saw him being battered by Takashi Miura, who reclaimed the title for Japan, and began a downfall for the Mexican, who went 2-11-1 after this win. That included a loss in a rematch to Ao in 2018. Ao on the other hand went 5-0-0-1, including not only the rematch with Diaz but also a win over Juan Carlos Salgado.
For those interested in their rematch, we would advise avoiding it. By then both men were shot to pieces and it showed.
Thinking Out East
With this site being pretty successful so far we've decided to open up about our own views and start what could be considered effectively an editorial style opinion column dubbed "Thinking Out East" (T.O.E).