Rosales TKO 9 Higa in a Big Upset at Yokohama

On a card that showcased world middleweight titlist Ryota Murata, Cristofer Rosales, a 23-year-old Nicaraguan, stole the show with a ninth round stoppage of Japan’s undefeated knockout artist Daigo Higa to claim the WBC world flyweight title. The slender Rosales, who had a 4-inch height advantage, delivered a performance that reminded veteran Asia Pacific boxing scribe Joe Koizumi of Alexis Arguello.

The Okinawa-born Higa, coming off a first round stoppage of Mexico’s Moises Fuentes, had won all 15 of his pro fights inside the distance, seven coming in the first two rounds. Had he succeeded in knocking out Rosales, he would have broken the tie with former WBC 140-pound titlist Tsuyoshi Hamada for the most consecutive knockouts by a Japanese fighter. But Rosales wasn’t intimidated and Higa, perhaps weakened in a futile attempt to make weight, eventually faded. The end came near the midpoint of round nine when Higa’s corner threw in the towel. Through the completed rounds, Rosales was up on two scorecards (79-73 and 77-75). The third judge had it even.

Higa came in two pounds over the 112-pound limit at yesterday’s weigh-in and lost his title before the first punch was throw. It would have been declared vacant if Higa had turned away the Nicaraguan invader.

Back home in Nicaragua, Rosales (27-3, 18 KOs) frequently spars with Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez who is his mother’s cousin. What’s next for him is uncertain, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he returns to Japan for a unification match with WBO title-holder Sho Kimura or a match with fast-rising Kosei Tanaka (11-0).

Ryota Murata picked a safe opponent for the first defense of his WBA middleweight diadem. Italy’s 38-year-old Emanuele Blandamura, who had scored only five knockouts in his 29-bout pro career, had a punch that couldn’t crack an egg. Moreover, although Blandamura had a nice record (27-2 going in), only 10 of his wins had come against opponents with winning records.

Murata, who improved to 14-1 (11) with an eighth round stoppage, won gold at the 2012 London games, becoming the first Japanese boxer in 48 years to win an Olympic gold medal. He won his WBA “regular” middleweight title in a rematch with French-Cameroonian Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam who retired on his stool after seven rounds. In their first meeting, N’Dam copped the decision in what ranked as arguably the most atrocious decision of 2017 (notwithstanding GGG-Canelo).

Blandamura fought off his back foot the entire contest. The ever-stalking Murata finally caught up to him, knocking him to his knees with a chopping overhand right and that was all she wrote. The match, a Top Rank presentation, was televised on ESPN 2 and ESPN Deportes and will be replayed tonight at 11 p.m. ET (and, no, if you missed it, it’s not worth staying up late for).

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