Akira Yaegashi (L) of Japan punches to knock out Odilon Zaleta of Mexico during their World Boxing Council (WBC) flyweight title bout in Tokyo April 6, 2014. Photo by Toru Hanai, Reuters.
TOKYO - World Boxing Council flyweight champion Akira Yaegashi of Japan knocked out Mexican challenger Odilon Zaleta Sunday to retain his title after a close fight.
Yaegashi floored Zaleta with a right hook followed by a flurry of uppercuts in the ninth round. The Mexican struggled back to his feet but British referee Ian John Lewis stopped the fight two minutes and 14 seconds into the round.
It was 31-year-old Yaegashi's third defence of the 50.8kg division title which he won by outpointing compatriot Toshiyuki Igarashi in Tokyo in April last year.
His professional record improved to 20 wins, 10 of them inside the distance, against three losses.
It was the first crack at a world title for 28-year-old Zaleta, the number eight WBC contender, but he suffered his fourth defeat against 15 wins, eight of them by knockout.
"The counter caught him by chance. I felt very anxious as I fought on," said Yaegashi, a former World Boxing Association minimumweight champion, whose reach was eight centimetres shorter at 161 cm.
"I want to prove that hard work pays off in the hotly contested flyweight division," he said.
Zaleta took advantage of his long reach to punish Yaegashi midway through the bout, but then the two boxers started fighting at close range.
The Mexican hit the canvas in an exchange of counters in the ninth round.
Yaegashi was slightly ahead on points in the first eight rounds, according to two judges.
Italian Guido Cavalleri scored it 77-75 and South Korean Lim Jun-Bae had it 77-76 in favour of the Japanese. But American judge Steve Morrow carded it even at 76-76.
Number one WBC contender Roman Gonzalez was on hand to greet Yaegashi by raising the champion's arm in the ring right after the fight.
The 26-year-old Nicaraguan, who has never lost in his 39 fights with 33 knockout wins to his name, was widely seen as the next challenger for Yaegashi's crown.
"Can I fight him?" Yaegashi asked the cheering crowd at the Ota gymnasium.
"I will work hard and try to win as long as there is a chance."
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