By Joe Koizumi
Photos: Naoki Fukuda
Mexican veteran Gamaliel Diaz (37-9-2, 17 KOs), 130, captured the WBC super-featherweight belt as he scored with long rights to bloodied defending champ Takahiro Ao (23-3-1. 10 KOs), 130, with better precision to win a close but unanimous decision over twelve gory rounds on Saturday in Tokyo, Japan.
Anek Hongtongkam (Thailand) and Glen Rick Crocker (US) both saw the give-and-take affair 114-112, and Steve Morrow (US) had it 115-111, all in favor of the Mexican challenger. The referee was Ian John-Lewis (UK), who penalized a point twice from Diaz in the third and fifth.
It was unfortunate that Ao, three years his junior at 28, sustained a gash over the left eyebrow caused by an accidental butt, which kept streaming more blood as the contest progressed. His vision deteriorating, Ao tried to be aggressive in the close quarter, pressing the action toe-to-toe with the taller opponent. Probably Ao lost his composure, while Diaz occasionally caught him with long direct rights to the onrushing southpaw. Strange enough, Ao had his well-reputed defensive skills gone only to absorb Diaz’s sickle-like rights to the face.
Ao and Diaz shared the first two rounds since each scored with a few solid shots to the face. An unintentional butt happened midway in round three, when the third man had a point deducted from the taller Mexican due to the WBC eye-cut rule. Diaz was in command with a positive display of his long rights in the fourth.
After the fourth, the WBC open scoring system indicated Diaz leading on points: 38-37 and 39-36 for the challenger, and 38-37 for the champ.
The fifth round saw the referee again penalize a point from Diaz for his repeated low blows by far under the belt. Ao, still bleeding from the forehead, displayed good southpaw jabs followed by solid lefts and right hooks in the sixth. But the Japanese southpaw regrettably forgot to throw right jabs from then on. Diaz wasn’t faster than Ao, but a little more accurate than the champ who probably felt too anxious to overwhelm the Mexican with stronger shots since he had been a prohibitive favorite over Diaz.
After the eighth, all the judges tallied 76-74: two for Diaz and one for Ao, which still showed it was a hairline contest up to that point.
In the last four sessions both looked fading and slowing down. Ao attempted to have the upper hand with one-two combinations, which were neither accurate nor effective against the still flexible Mexican. Diaz scored with occasional rights to the champ’s face with red ribbon, which made the Mexican dominate at least three rounds down the stretch.
In retrospect, Ao might have had a wrong strategy. He might have been too eager to win convincingly, so became a bit too tense, too stiff and too monotonous. We know Ao has had a tendency of fluctuating in every fight—sometimes tremendously sharp and sometimes dull. Even with an understandable reason of bad bleeding that hampered his vision, Ao couldn’t show his best performance but one of his poorest. He failed to display his trademark—fast and shifty footwork, sharp counter-punching and quick combinations out of his potential armaments. He looked only a one-dimensional fighter without revealing his boxing skills.
Gamaliel Diaz, 31, might have already passed his peak, but the Mexican veteran displayed his best from the spiritual—if not technical—viewpoint. His punches lacked snap, sharpness and power, but had better judgment of distance against the willing mixer. He often caught Ao’s face with long rights that weren’t strong but effective enough to impress the judges.
Diaz said, “I’ll come back to Japan to defend my belt.” For him, this country may be a lucky place where he thus registered three victories in as many bouts. As this is a voluntary defense for the dethroned champ Ao, there must be an option agreement that may oblige the new champ Diaz to fight Ao or some other challenger that the promoter will designate.
Third time does the trick. For Gamaliel, this was his third crack at the world throne. For him, this was his third visit to Japan. Probably many people hadn’t expected the old Mexican hombre to win the belt abroad, but Goddess of victory smiled for the old soldier whose nickname was “Platano (banana).” The difference of a newly crowned world champion and an unsuccessful challenger is big enough. The difference is as big as to possess a plantation of banana and to buy only a bunch of bananas. It’s a night for Gamaliel, not for Takahiro. Ao should remember and regain his technical excellence (with which he had gained six amateur championships after his 76-3 mark with 27 stoppages), which may be the AO (Army Order) next time.
WBA#9 ranked Japanese bantam champ Ryosuke Iwasa (13-1, 9 KOs), 118.75, swept all rounds to pound out a shutout decision (all 100-90) over David De La Mora (24-3, 17 KOs), 118.75, over ten. Iwasa, a tall southpaw, once had a grueling fight with the current WBC 118-pound champ Shinsuke Yamanaka despite his TKO defeat in the tenth and final round in March of the previous year. De La Mora once visited Japan and lost a hairline verdict to Koki Kameda in his bid for the WBA bantam throne thirteen months ago. Iwasa often pinned the moving target to the ropes or to the corner with a flurry of punches, but failed to finish him and bring home the bacon early.
In a sensational encounter of ex-national champions, WBA#9 lightweight Takashi Miura (24-2-2, 18 KOs), 135, scored a very quick stoppage of Ryuji Migaki (17-4, 13 KOs), 135, at only 97 seconds into the opening session of a scheduled ten. Miura’s southpaw left exploded at the button early in the session with Migaki badly hitting the deck. He wobblingly stood up to resume fighting, but Miura’s furious follow-up prompted the referee to intervene to save the loser from further punishment.
WBC supervisor: Edward Thangarajah (Thailand).
Promoter: Teiken Promotions.