By Joe Koizumi
Photos by Naoki Fukuda
Ring-crafty South African Moruti Mthalane (38-2, 25 KOs), 112, successfully retained his IBF flyweight belt as he kept battering gutsy Japanese Masayuki Kuroda (30-8-3, 16 KOs), 111.75, winning a unanimous decision over twelve hard-fought rounds on Monday in Tokyo, Japan.
Both optics badly swollen and bloodied, Kuroda recklessly kept swapping punches with the shorter but smarter champ, who made good use of his stinging lefts and scored with accurate rights that gave him good punishment. Mthalane, 36, making his second defense, displayed his finesse and superiority in his tight defense and crisp punching that overwhelmed Kuroda’s gameness. Mark Nelson (US) was the referee that handled the quick-moving affair very well.
Ian Scott (New Zealand) saw it 117-111, Neville Hotz (South Africa) and Masakazu Murase (Japan) both had it 116-112, all in favor of the defending champ.
For Kuroda, 32, it was his second opportunity to fight in quest of a world belt after he failed to wrest the WBA title from Juan Carlos Reveco via unanimous decision here six years ago. He might be admired for having maintained his high world ratings thereafter, but he couldn’t win the belt again probably due to his technical inferiority, not due to his lack of fighting spirit.
It was Kuroda, three years taller at 5’5.5” than the short but sturdy champ, that initiated his opening attack in the first three rounds. The shaven-skulled champ covered himself up, didn’t absorb any serious punishment but Kuroda had a leadoff with all the three judges giving the Japanese at least two points in the first three rounds.
The tide visibly turned from the fifth in favor of the tight-guarded champ, who often penetrated Kuroda’s guard with his accurate and heavy left jabs. The fifth saw Kuroda sustain a bad bruise around the left optic because of Mthalane’s accurate jabs and solid rights to the face.
Well-educated and excellently-conditioned, Moruti displayed accurate jabs, left-right combinations and following lefts to the puffy face of the still game and gallant Kuroda. The Japanese challenger frequently attacked the champ with solid left uppercuts to the side of the belly following his favorite one-two combos, which unfortunately couldn’t catch the target as Mthalane had a very tight guard.
Mthalane, who once had a bitter experience (a TKO loss at the hand of Nonito Donaire) in his first crack at the IBF flyweight belt in Las Vegas in 2008. It was his last setback as he kept winning for almost eleven years since then. Obviously the South African technically improved so well thanks to his handler Nathan Colin that he seemed to have mastered how to defend himself against his opposition’s best attacks.
The champ maintained good composure and was in command from the fifth until the tenth—chiefly thanks to his excellent left hand. Mthalane, in round ten, kept battering Kuroda to the punch and had his face badly bruised and bloodied with his effective combinations.
The tenth saw Moruti’s tape on the glove loosened to be treated twice in his corner, and, in round eleven, this time Masayuki’s tapes loosened also twice to be adjusted by his cornerman. That might have apparently averted Mthalane’s follow-up to finish the affair and bring home the bacon.
The closing seconds of the eleventh witnessed Mthalane took a vicious right and almost lost his equilibrium, but the bell came to his rescue. It was only the scene that the South African absorbed a bad punishment, while it was Kuroda that took a constant shellacking from the superior Mthalane.
The final session, which was dominated by the champ, reminded this reporter of Alvaro Yaqui Lopez who always showed a great performance but couldn’t be victorious against Mathew Saad Muhammad, losing twice via TKO in 1979 and 1980. Their rematch was named The Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year. Kuroda is just like Yaqui Lopez. He always displays a game and gallant showing against the champion, but cannot win the belt. He is probably short of something despite his great heart and tremendous effort.
The winner and still champ Mthalane jubilantly said, “Kuroda’s shots were heavier than expected, but my punches must be heavier and more effective than his. Look at his battered face, which may clearly show who the winner was. I’m thirty-six, but am still as sharp and fast as when I was young.” It was true that his face was so unmarked and unbruised that his defense was as tight and impregnable as Gibraltar.
Kuroda, a good loser, said, “I did my best, but couldn’t win. Mthalane did what I wished to do. He connected with good shots with precision. I threw many body shots, but I admit his punches was more accurate and more effective.”
Some 1,930 people at the Korakuen Hall, most of whom were Kuroda’s adherents, witnessed a hard-fought battle, which proved that Kuroda responded to their hot expectations despite the unsuccessful result.
Promoter: Kawasaki Nitta Promotions.
IBF supervisor: Tsuyoshi Yasukochi (Japan).