It just keeps happening! The Super Flyweight division just keeps delivering FOTY contenders and instant classics, and we saw that again tonight with a brilliant bout for the IBF Super Flyweight title.
Going into the bout Filipino fighter Jerwin Ancajas (33-1-2, 22) was expected to make an easy defense as he took on mandatory challenger Jonathan Javier Rodriguez (22-2, 16), an unheralded Mexican who really wasn't well known by fight fans. On paper this looked like an interesting match up but, given recent IBF mandatory title fights, it was also expected to be very easy for Ancajas, who had already run up a title record 8 defenses of the belt.
Whilst fans and the media may have been expecting an easy one for Ancajas, Rodriguez had different plans in mind and from the off he was pressing and coming forward. Unfortunately for Rodriguez he was too slow early on to get close and dictate the pace, but he was having success and he wasn't looking outclassed, just too slow. In round 2 Rodriguez again had success, but was out boxed for much of the round.
In round 3 things really went up a gear as the Mexican closed the distance more and Ancajas looked to try and prove his metal as the two ended up engaging for much of the round, in what was a fantastic 3 minutes of action. The action really was eye catching when they fought up close, with Ancajas landing some fantastic body shots and Rodriguez finding regular success with his uppercuts. This was a sign of what we were to see later on, but was, for now, a bit of an abiration.
Rounds 4 and 5 saw Ancajas begin to use his brain more, dictating the tempo, using his feet and jab and making full advantage of the fact he had the quicker feet and quicker hands. He was letting Rodriguez follow him around the ring, and tagging the Mexican regularly. In all honesty Ancajas was making it look easy in those two rounds. That however, did no last long.
In round 6 we again saw the tempo going through the roof as both men traded from the off, Rodriguez came out like he had a point to prove and he really upped his pace, forcing Ancajas to go with him. The entire 3 minutes was spent with the two men in a phone booth, unloading huge shots back and forth in what was a thrilling, pulsating round of action. It was really none stop as the two men took it in turns to unload on each other. Through the round Ancajas' looked the busier man, landing the higher volume, but Rodriguez seemed to be landing the heavier, more meaningful blows.
After a really good sixth round the pace slowed down a bit through round 7. It was a round that started well for Rodriguez, but as it went on Ancajas got back to his boxing, and he took control of the action again.
Round 8 was, by far and away, the most significant of the bout. It started with Ancajas controlling the action whilst boxing and moving. By the middle portion of the round however Rodriguez was closing the distance and dragging Ancajas into his fight. When that happened the pace increased massively, as the two traded blows. Rodriguez, for the first time, seemed hurt and backed up, and Ancajas went all out, unloading shots with both hands whilst Rodriguez was in the corner. The flurry from Ancajas saw him hurt Rodriguez to the body, then follow up up top, finally sending Rodriguez down. The Mexican took his time to respond, but beat the count and survived the final few seconds of the round
It seemed almost certain that the Mexican would be stopped as we went into round 9. Amazingly however he seemed to recuperate between rounds and came out hungry for the 9th. It was another brilliant round, with Rodriguez pressing and pressuring with pure determination. He was fighting on incredible will power and he showed no quit at all. That was despite being visibly hurt numerous times from body shots. Every time he was hurt he stiffened up, before gritting his teeth and pursuing Ancajas, again and again. It was a gritty, determined and brilliant effort from a man who seemed inhuman. It would have been easy for Rodriguez to have accepted a loss, gone down again from one of the body shots, or even fought to survive. Instead however he came to win and continued to press through the pain.
Despite a brilliant effort through 9 rounds the challenger would have known he was behind going into round 10. He would have known he needed to finish strong. Really strong. And that's exactly what he did. The final 3 rounds saw Rodriguez fighting through exhaustion and pain with amazing hunger, cutting the distance and out working a tired looking Ancajas. The Filipino had moments in all 3 of the final rounds, but was out worked as the will of Rodriguez over-came the skill of Ancajas. Those final 3 rounds saw Rodriguez were incredible. But they weren't enough to grind down the Filipino champion, who survived to the final bell.
After 12 brilliant rounds we went to the judges scorecards, which were read out as 115-112, 116-111 and 117-110, all in favour of Ancajas.
It's hard to argue with the result, though 117-112 felt too wide given the determined effort of Rodriguez, who made this into such a thriller. Ancajas got the decision, and he deserved it. But boy did he have to work for this one, and it was, much, much tougher than anyone would have expected. It was also a surprisingly entertaining fight, something that Ancajas hasn't typically had. He seemingly could have made it easier for himself. He probably should have made easier for himself, but Rodriguez's determination cannot be questioned. He was great.
For Ancajas this was a 9th defense but in reality it was a chance for him to win over fans who have been disappointed by him in the past. It was the fan friendly bout he needed, and hopefully bigger and better things will come shortly for him. He spoke about a unification bout following the win, potentially a showdown with WBO champion Kazuto Ioka, and that would be a huge step up for him, and a great chance for him to prove he is world class.
As for Rodriguez, he made a lot of a new fans here. He lost but his performance was brilliant. He proved he tough, talented, brave and a hugely fan friendly fighter. Fingers crossed he gets more chances to show what he can do on a big platform like Showtime after this. He got a chance on a big stage, after a very long wait, and he made it count. He might not have got the win on the night, but he should be given chances again, and in the long term this loss could prove to be a massive victory for his career.
Just moments ago in the Humo Arena in Tashkent we saw unified Super Bantamweight champion Murodjon Akhmadaliev (9-0, 7) [Муроджон Ахмадалиев] retain his IBF and WBA "Super" Super Bantamweight titles as he stopped former IBF champion Ryosuke Iwasa (27-4, 17) [岩佐 亮佑].
The defending champion started really well and was coming forward almost from the off. He looked sharp and crisp whilst coming forward, whilst Iwasa looked relaxed, and like a man who was looking to see what the champion had to offer. Through out the round the speed and dynamic offense of Akhmadaliev shone, and he took very little in return, with Iwasa having limited success with his jab and a single good body shot.
Round 2 was another good one from Akhmadaliev, who began to really control the bout with his sharp, accurate and spiteful jab. A jab that really was a massive difference maker. Iwasa again had moments, but they were few and far between with Akhmadaliev really controlling the action overall.
The success from Akhmadaliev was building round by round, and even when Iwasa tried to turn it around, he was having very limited success, with only flashes of action going his way. A rare body shot here, a clean jab there, a good flurry in response to a strong Akhmadaliev combination. But nothing sustained.
In round 5 Akhmadaliev seemed to come out with a point to prove, starting fast and wobbling Iwasa, who seemed off balance more than hurt. Iwasa seemed to regroup and Akhmadaliev backed off, at least for a few moments, before another flurry from Akhmadaliev, this time the referee jumped in.
If we're being honest the stoppage seemed early. Iwasa wasn't looking particularly hurt, despite being under pressure, and given the high profile of the bout it seemed like the referee jumped in far too soon for out liking. Especially for a world title bout. He robbed Iwasa of a chance to come back, and also robbed Akhmadaliev of a chance to score a really big KO, something that seemed very possible given the ease with which he was landing.
It's true we prefer stoppages to come too soon, rather than too late, but sadly it feels like the referee did this one far, far too soon. Regardless, it's a fantastic first defense for Akhmadaliev who has made it clear he wants to continue collecting titles. In a division as stacked and talent heavy as the Super Bantamweight division there are som amazing match ups that he could be involved in.
As for Iwasa this is probably the end of his dreams at world level. Though a return to the Oriental scene would certainly be an interesting one, with fights against the likes of Jhunriel Ramonal, Shingo Wake and Hiroaki Teshigawara all being very interesting match ups that could be made later in the year.
To close the month of February in the Philippines we got a rare All-Filipino world title bout as the defending IBF Minimumweight champion Pedro Taduran (14-3-1, 11) clashed with the unheralded Rene Mark Cuarto (19-2-2, 11). The bout was an interesting one going in, with Taduran having a reputation for his heavy hands and pressure and Cuarto being a talented boxer, but a man taking a big step up in class.
Early on it was the boxing of Cuarto that was the key, with the challenger boxing really well on the back foot. Cuarto seemed fully aware that having a firefight with Taduran in the middle of the ring wasn't going to be a good idea, and instead moved, boxed, and picked his spots, landing some brilliant uppercuts as Taduran came in. It was the boxing, counter punching and movement of Cuarto that allowed him to control the pressure of Taduran, and the clean, crisp, combinations that Cuarto landed allowed him to catch the eye and rack up the rounds.
From the early part of the fight it was round 3 that really got the blood flowing, with Taduran being tagged hard by a Cuarto counter in a thrilling exchange, Cuarto pressed forward himself at one point during the round, before Taduran tried to finish with a strong rally. It was a brilliant round but it was another that showed the obvious skill level of Cuarto, which was higher than that of Taduran.
After 6 rounds it seemed the challenger was comfortably in the lead, but that was only half the task and Taduran wasn't in the ring to hand over his title, or to change tactics, as he kept coming forward. No matter what Cuarto landed Taduran came on, and came on. And had limited success until round 7, when he shook Cuarto to his knees. The challenger was suddenly in trouble, and was clearly hurt for almost a minute of the round, before regrouping, surviving what was left of the round and seeing his way to his corner. He was hurt again in round 8 as Taduran's pressure began to find more and more cracks in Cuarto's resistance.
To his credit Cuarto didn't panic, he didn't worry and he didn't seem to doubt himself. Instead he began to spoil, create distance and try to kill the momentum that Taduran was building. He knew he had to survive, and that's what he was doing, despite being rocked again at the end of round 9. He knew he was in the lead, he knew he only needed to win one of the late rounds and he knew that this was his bout to lose.
Sadly round 10 saw the stream fall apart, though when we were back in round 11 we saw an exciting round, as Taduran continued to try and march forward, hunting a stoppage and Cuarto turned into a seasoned veteran, trying to old man Taduran. He was walking around the ring, landing single shots and getting on his toes. It wasn't the most appealing style at times from Cuarto, but it was exactly what he needed.
Cuarto's toughness and determination saw him surviving round 12 as well, despite looking tired at times and being rocked, again. It was clear he could be hurt, but he was not going to be stopped. Not today, this was his day.
After 12 rounds we went to the scorecards, and it was clearly a close fight, with Cuarto dominating the early rounds with his clean boxing, good movement, and accurate punching, then Taduran coming on strong in the second half. The scorecards reflected the close nature of the bout, with all 3 judges turning in identical 115-113 scorecards. Unfortunately for Taduran they didn't side with him, instead going with Cuarto who's early success saw him do enough to take the title and become the new IBF Minimumweight champion.
Sadly for Taduran this ends a reign that started with a lot promise, following a sensational win over Samuel Salva, though never really got going, due in part to Covid19. As for Cuarto this is a career defining win, and he looked much, much better than the man who lost to the aforementioned Salva in early 2019.
On Friday night Joseph "Jojo" Diaz (31-1-1, 15) became the former IBF Super Featherweight champion , losing the title on the scales ahead of a mandatory defense against unbeaten Russian based Tajik fighterShavkatdzhon Rakhimov (15-0-1, 12). As well as losing the title Diaz lost 20% of his purse for missing, which he did by more than 3lbs.
Despite Diaz missing weight the bout went on, with Rakhimov able to win the IBF title if he won the bout and the bout remaining vacant with any other result.
Regardless of the pre-fight hiccup on the scales, the bout looked like a fantastic one on paper, between two men liked to let their shots fly and had different styles, but busy styles.
In the opening round it was Diaz who seemed to settle quickly, whilst Rakhimov looked really tense, and the tension of Rakhimov showed through the first 2 rounds before he began to relax. When that happened the Tajik began to really find his groove, and from round 3 his activity seemed to catch the eye time and time again. Prior to that happening however he was tagged by some left hands from Diaz who seemed to try and set a high pace and get his nose in front.
What the Tajik was doing was letting 3 and 4 punch combinations go, then getting out of range, resetting, and doing the same. He was mixing up his hooks, uppercuts and straight shot, and although many shots were landing on the gloves of Diaz he was essentially handcuffing the former champion, out working him, and did enough to leave blood trickling from the former champion's nose.
From rounds 3 to 9 it seemed like Rakhimov was racking up the rounds, and he even managed to shake Diaz twice, as his power showed. Sadly though Rakhimov was doing a lot, and not getting as much success as he'd wanted. He was landing to head, and body, but rarely having sustained success and was visibly slowing by round 9, though Diaz wasn't making him pay.
Sadly for Rakhimov his high work rate in the middle portion of the bout did take a major toll as the went into the later stages, and from round 10 Diaz began to surge. He was forcing Rakhimov back and Rakhimov's own combinations were becoming less and less frequent. In fact if anything it was the clean punches of Diaz that were now catching the eye as the pace slowed. That allowed the American back in to the bout and really closed the gap on the scorecards.
Despite both men being wobbled through the bout, and a solid number of shots being landed by both men, the bout went the 12 rounds, and we got the scores.
The first was 115-113 to Diaz, a score that was within the realms of reasonability. That judge was however over-ruled by two scores of 114-114, resulting in a majority draw.
As a result of the draw the title remains vacant, and we can't help but think that Rakhimov will be kicking himself. He seemed well on the way to winning, but his gas tank ran low and he couldn't keep up his success in the later stages. Regardless we expect to see Rakhimov get another world title shot sooner rather than later.
As for Diaz, he'll be gutted he lost his title on the scales, and we do genuinely, wonder what division he'll be competing at going forward, whether he takes his career seriously and moved back to 130lbs or leaves the division to join the ranks at Lightweight.
After more than a year out of the ring we saw Kazakh great Gennadiy Golovkin (41-1-1, 36) [Геннадий Геннадьевич Головкин] return to action tonight as he successfully defended his IBF and IBO Middleweight titles against the horrifically over-matched Polish challenger Kamil Szeremeta (21-1, 5), in one of the most one-sided bouts we will see this year.
The opening round saw Golovkin dominate behind a busy jab early on through the round before going deeper into his arsenal, landing an eye catching uppercut and brutal left hook that dropped Szeremeta at the very end of the round. It was clear there and then that Szeremeta was not going to be in the bout, at all. To his credit the Pole got to his feet and came bout out for round 2, and once again he was on the wrong end of an horrific 3 minutes, being dropped for the second time in the bout.
To his credit Szeremeta showed absolute no quit, and managed to survive a torrid round 3 by remaining on his feet for the full 3 minutes. He took a whooping but some how avoided being dropped during the round. The challenger was however down again for a third time in round 4, as Golovkin's power, pressure and incessant jab just became too much for Szeremeta, who really was takin a lot of punishment and being broken down.
It seemed like the bout was going to be over incredibly soon and Johnathan Banks, working Golovkin's corner, even made a comment about waiting to go home to Golovkin. Instead Golovkin took his time, and seemed, at times, to be carrying Szeremeta a little bit, in rounds 5 and 6. He was still landing clean, but he seemed happy to get some ring time, and try things, even showing some very un-Golovkin like head movement.
In round 7 we saw Golovkin score his 4th knockdown of the fight, with a jab. Szeremeta got back to his feet, again, and saw out the round. Thankfully however the bout wasn't going to last much longer, with the referee waving off the bout in the corner between rounds 7 and 8.
For Golovkin this was the ideal comeback after a long lay off. It was dominant, it was easy, it was controlled and a chance to shake some ring rust. It was however relatively pointless for fans, and with DAZN repeatedly echoing the fact this was Golovkin's 21st successful defenses things did get a bet annoying to listen to.
As for Szeremeta, this could well be a career ending beating. He took a lot of punishment, and we wouldn't be surprised if he was damaged good next time we see him in then
After close to a year out of the ring we saw the long awaited ring return of WBA "Super" and IBF Bantamweight champion "Monster" Naoya Inoue (20-0, 17) [井上 尚弥], who was fighting for the first time since his WBSS triumph last November. Not only did we see Inoue, but we saw him in Las Vegas for the first time, and as a Top Rank fighter, for the first time.
In the opposite corner to the Monster was Australian challenger Jason Moloney (21-2, 18), dubbed "Mayhem". A talented, brave, confident fighter who was looking to make a name for himself. The Australian had talked a good fight before hand, entered full of confidence and seemed to genuinely believe he could shock the boxing world.
Before we got to the opening bell the fighters came out to almost the music you'd expect them to. Moloney, the challenger, came out first to the classic "I come from a Land Down Under" by Men At Work, a song long that many Australian fighters come out to. Inoue on the other hand came out to "Departure" by Japanese composer Naoki Sato, a song that we have seen Inoue use in his ring walk numerous times, including a live performance a few years ago by Akira Jimbo.
The opening round saw both men fighting relatively evenly. It wasn't a typical feeling out round, but it wasn't a round where either man landed too much in terms of power shots. It was very much a round where both men used a lot of jabs, set a high tempo, but boxed within themselves. There was respect from both, and both men took their time to see what the other hand, whilst staying busy themselves.
In round 2 we again saw the jabs of both men being the most used punches, however we did begin to see Inoue going into his arsenal of weapons. By the end of the round we were seeing Inoue's right hand and a left hook, very late in the round. It was a competitive round, as was the first, but both were Inoue rounds, with out too much discussion.
By round 3 we had started to see Inoue changing his tactics. He was starting to get more aggressive, more confident, and was starting to walk down Moloney. To his credit the Australian was taking clean shots really well, including a series of big right hands at the end of round 3, but it did feel like Inoue was starting to feel alarmingly comfortable.
That comfort level for the champion rose again in rounds 4 and 5, as he went into seek and destroy mode, applying intense, and persistent pressure. It was a credit that Moloney was surviving, though he was trying to do more than just survive, and landed one or two shots of his own. Sadly for him those shots did next to nothing to discourage Inoue, who was quickly realising he could take whatever Moloney was going to land without issue. Moloney however, wasn't afford the same benefit and in round 5 he was wobbled for the first time, and was forced to hold on late in the round.
Inoue continued to fight on the front foot in round 6, but it was actually a counter that proved to be his best asset, as he dropped Moloeny for the first time in the bout, doing so with a counter left hook. Moloney was up quickly, but Inoue could smell blood, and spent much of the round piling on the punishment as Moloney began to have his body and confidence eroded.
It seemed like it was only a matter of time until we'd see the end, though how would it come was unclear. As we entered round 7 the referee was making it clear that he wouldn't allow the punishment to continue for too much longer, Moloney's corner were also aware their man was taking a lot of punishment.
They weren't needed however as Inoue closed the show with a massive counter right hand late in round 7. The shot was a beauty, landing clean as a whistle. It dropped Moloney, who then crouched before trying to get up, then stumbled as he tried to get to his feet. He knew where he was, but his body didn't want to do what he told it. The referee instantly waved it off.
Following the win Inoue mentioned that he wanted to face either WBO champion John Riel Casimero or WBC champion Nordine Oubaali, who defends his title in December against former Inoue foe Nonito Donaire.
Interestingly the big worry coming into this was whether Inoue's right eye would hold up, after it was injured against Donaire last November. It did. There was no notable swelling or damage after the fight. Whether it continues to hold up in the future is unclear, but the way it was after this fight was certainly a positive.
Amazingly Inoue's title defense here was only the third time a Japanese world champion has successfully defended a world title in Las Vegas. He follows in the footsteps of Toshiaki Nishioka and Tomoki Kameda. His win was also the first time a Japanese fighter has beaten an Australian in a world title fight away from Japan.
As for Moloney it is going to be hard to comeback from this. He didn't get smashed to bits, or take a career ending amount of punishment, but his confidence, which was sky high when he entered the bout, will take some real rebuilding after this loss. He did however show toughness, bravery, and survived longer than most would have expected.
For both men it's unclear what will be next. We suspect Inoue will want to fight back in Japan in early 2021, potentially the Casimero fight or a mandatory defense of one of his titles, whilst Moloney will need to rebuild his confidence, but hopefully will face a fringe level type of guy, rather than dropping to facing really low level opponents. He's better than that.
Just moments ago Thai fighter Downua Ruawaiking (16-1, 13) [ดาวเหนือ เรือไวกิ้ง], aka Apinun Khongsong, suffered his first loss as he was stopped in the first round by unified IBF and WBA Light Welterweight champion Josh Taylor (17-0, 13).
The Thai came out confidently and looked to land a big right hand from the opening seconds. He looked calm and like he was there to make a statement.
Sadly though as the round was coming to an end a body shot from Taylor landed right on the liver and dropped the Thai in agony.
On first view it looked like there was a headclash, but on replay it was a clean, and nasty body with a left hand that would have put anyone down.
Downua was in pure agony afterwards and it seems likely he suffered a broken rib, given the pain he was in.
Sadly, given the short nature of the fight, which ended after 2:41 of the opening round, there was little to really learn from either man. It was such a sudden ending that it really didn't let us see much of how Josh Taylor looked under the guidance of Ben Davison.
The plan now for Taylor will be took seek a 4 title unification bout with Jose Carlos Ramirez. As for Downua, we expect to see him back in Thailand, picking up wins for a regional title an begin the climb back to a world title fight. Sadly today's experience, whilst painful, would have done little to help Downua's progress going forward, though it may have taught him just how painful body shots can be.
The final big fight of the weekend saw us shifting our focus to Mexico to see IBF Minimumweight champion Pedro Taduran (14-2-1, 11) face off with Daniel Valladares (22-2-1, 13). This had the potential to be something very special, with both men being willing to let their hands go and fight.
Sadly the bout failed to truly live up it's potential, but it did end up being a fight well worthy of a watch, with 2 brilliantly matched fighters involved in it.
From the opening round it was clear that Taduran hadn't travelled with losing on his mind, and set a high tempo from the opening bell. On the other hand the more technically skilled Valladares looked to create room and space to work with, but it was the pressure of Taduran which seemed to catch the eye, and he seemed to rock the challenger once or twice before the round was over.
Notably the major talking point from the opening 3 minutes wasn't actually a punch, but instead a big accidental headclash that left Valladares badly cut on his right eye. The cut essentially meant that the bout wasn't going to go 12, unless miracles could be done by his corner.
Despite being cut Valladares fought a smart second round and began to control the distance better, limiting Taduran's raids along the way. It was just what the challenger needed to give his cut time to heal.
In round 3 the touch paper was lit, with both men putting their foot on the gas and letting their shots go more freely. The increase in action saw both men having moments as we began to see more and more frequent back and forth fighter, in what an excellent round. It seemed like Valladares may have just sneaked it, but it was close either way and set the platform for an intense and thrilling round 4 that saw almost none stop trading from the two men. This was a sensational round, with both wanting to make a statement.
Sadly the bout was curtailed after the 4th round to the cut, which had become uncontrollable and was covering Valldares' face with claret, and we went to the judges scorecards early. One of the 3 wise men gave the bout to Valledares, but thankfully he was over-ruled by the other 2 judges who both gave the bout to Taduran, who retains his title with a 4th round technical draw.
Given how exciting the bout was, and how it was really warming up when we hit the premature conclusion, we would love to see a rematch here, for both men. However we wouldn't be surprised if both ended ups going in different directions.
Every so often the sport gives us a fight that's really intriguing in a lot of ways going in. A fight that we expect to see fighters answering questions in and giving us competitive, high level pugilistic chess. Just moments ago we had one such bout in Miami, in what turned out to be an excellent contest at Super Bantamweight.
The bout saw unbeaten Uzbek hopeful Murodjon Akhmadaliev (8-0, 6) [Ахмадалиев, Муроджон Кахарович] taking a huge step up in class to take on IBF and WBA unified Super Bantamweight champion Daniel Roman (27-3-1, 10). On paper the bout was excellent, with both men having a lot of questions to answer.
How was Roman going to look after a lengthy lay off? And how was he going to fight after an injury? On the other hand could "MJ" do 12 rounds? Would he be able to survive Roman's pressure?
In the end every question we had before the fight was answered, and in a really positive fashion. Roman looked good after the lay off and injury, MJ could do 12 rounds, and could survive Roman's pressure. And best of all we got a sensationally good fight, from the first round to the final round.
The bout started with MJ on top, establishing himself in the first minute or so, though Roman came back into things well as the round went on.
MJ seemed to have the edge in speed, and power, and used those well early in the fight, making Roman pay with some huge southpaw lefts, followed by stiff jabs. It seemed like most of the big, eye catching shots were landing from MJ, though Roman was starting to find the space for his uppercut.
After seemingly taking an early lead Akhmadaliev was then beginning to be asked questions in the middle rounds as Roman finally began to get a foot hold in the bout, with an excellent in round 4, which began to turn the tide his way. It was around here that Roman's work rate began to amp up and MJ began to take his foot off the gas just a touch. Despite Roman getting more success, MJ did try some veteran tricks, trying to finish rounds with big attacks to steal the round. Those tricks didn't stop Roman's charge, and he continued to have success with his body work.
The game plan was clear for Roman, break down the novice and drown him late. It was the smart gameplan but one that MJ saw off, and as we got into the later rounds MJ got his second win, re-establishing himself with big power shots and some glorious combinations. He seemed to begin breaking down Roman, in what was a surprising turn of events. It was this late charge that gave MJ some breathing space, but not much as we went into the final round.
Rather strangely the unbeaten challenger took round 12 off, skipping and circling around the ring whilst a determined Roman pressed, unleashing an incredibly volume of punches. Roman got inside and unloaded body shots, uppercuts and really forced the tempo whilst the challenger did almost nothing. It was as if Akhmadaliev felt he had already won, whilst Roman was desperate to keep the titles.
After going 12 rounds the bout felt close, and the score cards shown it, with the first card going 115-113 in favour of Roman, then a card of 115-113 to Akhmadaliev, then a third card of 115-113, giving the split decision to Akhmadaliev.
In the end it felt like the right guy got it. He impressed us almost from the first bell to the last and his performance answered a lot of the questions we had about him before the bout. We didn't like the way he fought round 12, and it's possible his power isn't as devastating as originally assumed, though is still very solid, but he genuinely impressed and it's going to be very exciting to see how his reign develops from here.
For Akmadaliev to be a unified champion in just 8 bouts, and to beat a fighter like Roman is outstanding.
As for Roman, we expect to see him remaining in the title mix. He might need to wait for another shot, but given his style, and his approach in the ring another chance will come for the exciting and highly skilled American.
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.
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.