By Alexey Sukachev
In one of the bigger upsets of 2017, unheralded Japanese fighter Sho Kimura stopped famed two-time Olympic gold medalist Zou Shiming to claim the WBO flyweight belt.
Kimura was a big underdog against the ex-champion from China, thus his Cinderella story wasn’t expected to last for long. But the doubters were silenced again when Kimura stopped Toshiyuki Igarashi, a former WBC flyweight champion and the WBO’s No. 1-rated challenger, in the ninth rounds of bloody, fan-friendly affair Sunday night in Tokyo.
Kimura improved his stock and his record to 16-1-2 (9 KOs). Igarashi suffered the first stoppage loss of his career and dropped to 23-3-3 (12 KOs).
In the opening round, Igarashi started to move away from the champion, relying more on his boxing skills than anything else. However, limited recent activities resulted in the 33-year old challenger moving inconclusively and looking rusty, with his jab being dismissed by the champion.
Kimura, 29, was indeed crude – specifically in the first round, but then gradually got himself into the fight. His left cross shook Igarashi hard late into the round to earn it for the champion.
Kimura did better in the second round, as Igarashi couldn't keep him away with his diminished power. Kimura continued landing hard and knocked the challenger around the ring. The beating continued into the third and then into the fourth round.
Kimura began to target Igarashi's body with hard straight right hands and left hooks to the southpaw’s midsection. Igarashi tried to retaliate with huge right hands and landed some, but Kimura paid little attention to them.
In the fifth, Igarashi evened things a bit with better defense and countered the champion several times. Kimura continued to damage Igarashi's body in the sixth, landing multiple combinations to the body of the challenger, some of which were low, adding uppercuts when needed.
Igarashi seemed to have some limited success during the last minute of the round, hurting Kimura with some body punches of his own, yet the champion finished the round strong.
Both combatants engaged into a fan-friendly exchanged in the seventh round, and Kimura was getting the better of it. He punctuated his dominance with a major right hand that landed flush on Igarashi's skull and shook him up.
In one of the best rounds of 2017, the eighth, Kimura started very strong to hurt Igarashi early on, then landed a devastating left hook. Somehow the challenger remained on his feet.
Referee Katsuhiko Nakamura looked carefully at Igarashi, ready to take action at any time, but the challenger survived the crisis to come back during the last minute against an already fading foe. Both combatants sported visible facial damage after the end of the stanza.
But the end was nearing. Kimura jumped out of his corner at the beginning of the ninth with bad intentions.
Igarashi tried to match Kimura’s aggression, but he was worn down and had little left. Kimura continued doing damage and finally got to the challenger with a series of painful blows, which pinned Igarashi to the corner. The one-sided beating continued, and the referee rightfully stepped in to prevent it from turning into something reminiscent of Emile Griffith versus Kid Paret.
The time of stoppage was 2:34 of the ninth round.