Moruti Mthalane beats Japanese veteran Akira Yaegashi to retain his IBF flyweight title

South Africa's Moruti Mthalane (C) and Japan's Akira Yaegashi (R) fight during their IBF flyweight title boxing match at Yokohama Arena in Yokohama, Kanagawa prefecture on December 23, 2019.
South Africa's Moruti Mthalane (C) and Japan's Akira Yaegashi (R) fight during their IBF flyweight title boxing match at Yokohama Arena in Yokohama, Kanagawa prefecture on December 23, 2019.
Image: Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP

Moruti "Baby Face" Mthalane admitted that he was under a considerable amount of pressure when he entered the ring to face rugged Japanese veteran Akira Yaegashi but fulfilled his promise to retain the IBF flyweight title in Japan on Monday.

Mthalane is the only legitimate world title holder in SA and he told TimesLIVE a few weeks ago that the responsibility was a huge weight on his small frame.

He said losing was not an option and dug in deep to beat Yaegashi via TKO in the ninth round.

The 37-year-old fearless warrior from KwaZulu-Natal had vowed to die with his gloves on in the third defence of his IBF belt and judging by the fierceness of the fight with Yaegashi‚ an average boxer would have just given up.

The 36-year-old Yaegashi is a formidable former three division champion and he gave Mthalane hell‚ but the South African weathered the storm to emerge victorious.

It was reported that CompuBox recorded 1200 punches exchanged between the two boxers in nine rounds‚ 669 from the reigning champion from KwaXimba and 531 from Yaegashi.

Mthalane was handsomely rewarded with a seven figure purse money.

The South African is refusing to slow down‚ despite being on the wrong side of 30‚ and improved to 26 knockouts in 39 wins against only two losses.

Mthalane's first loss was to Nkqubela Gwazela for the SA title in 2004 and that was in his 15th pro fight.

He later made up for that loss‚ although against a different opponent - Akhona Aliva‚ in a fight for the same title.

He later faced Filipino legend Nonito Donaire at Mandalay Bas in Las Vegas where his dream of winning the IBF belt was shattered by a laceration to his eye in 2008.

The cut forced the fight to be stopped.

But Mthalane was given another opportunity a year later and he grabbed it with both hands and defeated Julio Cesar Miranda for that title‚ which was vacant‚ at Wembley Arena.

He made four defences‚ all by stoppages here at home twice‚ in Italy and in Panama before relinquishing the belt due to what his trainer late Nick Durandt described as paltry purse money for his fifth defence.

Mthalane then won the IBO belt but surprisingly spent two years without action.

Durandt died in 2017‚ and Mthalane joined trainer Colin Nathan.

Promoter Tshele Kometsi brought Mthalane back into game and his consistency made it easy for Nathan‚ a shrewd businessman‚ to use his connections around the globe to canvas for a top IBF rating.

Within a short space of time Mthalane fought for the IBF belt and won it in Kuala Lumpur in the undercard of a WBO welterweight title between Manny Pacquaio and Lucas Martin Matthysse in July last year.

Two defences in Macao and Japan earned Mthalane the recognition here at home where he was voted SA Sportsman of the year.

He became the first boxer to win the accolade since the national annual awards were established in 2004.

Mthalane has justified that big vote of confidence by chalking up yet another stunning victory thousands of kilometres away from home.

Mthalane will arguably go down in the history as SA's flyweight of all time.


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