In one of the biggest upsets of the year, Mexico's Gamaliel Diaz swooped into the lion's den and plucked the WBC super feather title from reigning champion and local hero Takahiro Ao last night at Tokyo's International Forum.
The contest started slowly with both boxers studying the other, mounting limited offensive ventures designed to test defenses. The stalemate was broken when Ao suffered a bad vertical cut in his left eyebrow in the third round, with Diaz losing a point for the accidental headbutt.
From that point on southpaw Ao largely fell behind, clearly affected by the blood streaming from the injury. Diaz took advantage of the situation, targeting the champion's vulnerable eyebrow with an incessant jab.
Ao attempted to compensate for his limited vision by pressuring the challenger, scoring at times when he gained close quarters but the champion failed to come in behind the jab or with adequate head movement and was caught with many counter-right hand from Diaz.
Diaz took to focusing on Ao's midsection but his lack of accuracy led to another point deduction as some of his efforts landed below the belt in the fifth.
Ao got a second wind at the bout's midway point, putting the challenger back on his heels but many times smothered his own work in an attempt to KO the challenger, no doubt out of concern that the bout would be stopped because of his injury.
The champion began to run short of energy over the last third of the bout as the fresher Diaz showed better footwork and punch selection, controlling the action behind the jab.
After 12 grueling rounds, Diaz was awarded the victory and the WBC title as he swept the cards by scores of 115-111, 114-112 and 114-112. The occasion marked the third time Diaz had contended for a world title, losing a WBC feather challenge in 2007 and an IBO super feather clash in 2009.
The 31 year old Mexican sees his winning streak extend to 14 bouts, improving to 37-9-2 (17).
Diaz could be headed for a rematch with Ao, but an-all Mexican unification clash with IBF king Juan Carlos Salgado would be a huge occasion south of the border.
Ao loses for the first time in three years, dropping to 23-3-1 (10).
Another Mexican fighter on the card wasn't as fortunate as seasoned vet and former two-time world title challenger David De La Mora, 24-3 (17), was outboxed by lanky southpaw and Japanese bantam boss Ryosuke Iwasa, 13-1 (9), who won all ten rounds on the cards, 100-90, 100-90 and 100-90.
Ex-Japanese super feather champ Takashi Miura, 24-2-2 (18), continued his comeback from a failed bid to knock off WBA titlist Takashi Uchiyama last year, obliterationg former OPBF beltholder Ryuji Migaki, 17-4 (13), in the very first round at lightweight.