More than a decade after his last title fight, 35-year old Malcolm Tunacao has punched his way back into contention.
The former lineal flyweight king earned a mandatory bantamweight title shot after knocking out Christian Esquivel in the 7th round Saturday evening in his adopted home of Kobe, Japan.
Tunacao was in charge for most of the contest against a determined foe nine years his junior. Open scoring revealed the Filipino southpaw to lead 40-36 on all three scorecards after four rounds, though the judges' final tallies would eventually prove moot.
A right hook put Esquivel down and out, with no count necessary as the Mexican laid motionless on the canvas for several minutes.
The official time was 2:10 of round seven.
Tunacao improves to 32-2-3 (20KO), scoring his 11th straight win. Esquivel's record dips to 25-4 (18KO). All four losses have come inside the distance, this particular one sending him to the hospital for post-fight observation.
The last time Tunacao was in a title fight was way back in 2001 and as the answer to a trivia question. His 1st round knockout loss to Pongsaklek Wonjongkam ended his own brief stay as lineal flyweight champ after less than 10 months, while starting off the Thai's record-breaking title reign.
More than a decade later, the 35-year old finds himself a win away from becoming a two-division champ. Saturday's knockout victory made him the mandatory challenger to unbeaten bantamweight titlist Shinsuke Yamanaka.
The belt currently in Yamanaka's possession was once proudly owned by Hozumi Hasegawa. The former two-division champ was also victorious on Saturday's card, taking a 10-round decision over Mexico's Arturo Santos.
Scores were 98-93, 98-94 and 97-95 for Hasegawa, who employed stellar defense while fending off a determined Santos.
Hasegawa is two fights removed from a brief featherweight title reign, though his coming in at 123 lb. for this fight suggests a possible run at super bantamweight could be in his future. The 30-year old seemed to quickly adapt to the featherweight division, looking impressive in his Nov. '10 vacant title win over previously unbeaten Juan Carlos Burgos.
He also looked good against Jhonny Gonzalez for about three rounds before suffering a fourth round knockout loss. His one-way bantamweight title unification bout with Fernando Montiel two fights prior developed in similar fashion, leading early before he was stopped on his feet towards the end of the fourth round.
Those losses behind him, Hasegawa has now won two straight as he improves to 31-4 (13KO).
Santos, best known for giving Montiel hell in a disputed split decision loss earlier this year, falls to 12-3 (4KO). The Mexican prospect has now gone the distance in all four of his bouts in 2012, amassing 44 total rounds in the process.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox