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ANALYSIS: New Zealand has a new boxing world champion after Mea Motu dug deep to claim a unanimous decision over Canada’s Tania Walters in Auckland on Thursday night.
In a back-and-forth battle over 10 gruelling rounds, Motu (16-0, 6 KOs) did just enough to get her hand raised and leave the raucous Eventfinda Arena with the IBO super bantamweight title wrapped proudly around her waist.
The historic main event capped off another hugely entertaining Fight For Life card, during which two of her Peach Boxing team-mates also earned contrasting stoppage victories.
Here are five questions to emerge from boxing’s big night on these shores.
1. What’s next for Motu after her world title triumph?
The world is Motu’s oyster after battling past the game Walters to capture the vacant IBO strap.
And Motu has made it clear she won’t stop there and wants to challenge for all the belts and unify the super banamweight division.
But she may have to wait for a chance to accomplish that goal as promoter Dean Lonergan is planning a voluntary defence of her newly-won belt first, targeted for July.
Lonergan, who guided Joseph Parker to the WBO heavyweight crown in 2016, clearly sees Motu as a bankable attraction after her coming-out party on Thursday night and said she is “on the way to becoming a superstar”.
Once that voluntary defence is out of the way, it will be a case of reaching out to champions in the WBA, WBC, WBO and IBF to try and negotiate a unification showdown.
The most marketable would be Tauranga-born Australian Cherneka ‘Sugar Neekz’ Johnson (15-1, 6 KOs), who currently holds the IBF trinket.
A battle between two women of Māori heritage would hold appeal on both sides of the ditch, though Johnson must first negotiate a tough-looking defence against England’s Ellie Scotney (6-0, KOs) in London in June.
2. Was the judges’ scoring fair?
Two of the judges had Motu a clear winner with New Zealanders Ian Scott (99-91) and Steve Scott (98-92) only awarding Walters one and two rounds respectively.
However, the third judge from Australia, Carl Zappia, had it much closer, giving Motu the nod by six rounds to four. That seemed a fairer reflection of a spirited encounter in which Motu threw more punches but was frequently befuddled by her clever opponent.
Walters used all her amateur experience to frustrate Motu and had plenty of success of her own throughout a keenly-fought contest, showing good head movement and accuracy with her punches.
She also managed to wobble Motu with a sneaky left hook in the closing stages of the ninth round and deserved more recognition for her work from the judges.
That said, she didn’t do enough to claim the spoils and Motu was the rightful winner for her relentless body attack and dazzling combinations.
3. Who stole the show at Fight For Life?
Former All Black Sam Tuitupou got the card off to an electric start when he blasted out NRL hardman Roy Asotasi seconds into their three-round contest with a vicious assault.
But it was rising light heavyweight Jerome Pampellone who stole the show with a stunning demolition of friend-turned-foe Mose Auimatagi Jr in the opening frame to defend his IBF Australasian title.
Pampellone (16-0, 9 KOs) had promised to make a statement and boy did he deliver, becoming the first man to stop the durable Auimatagi Jr (15-3-2, 10 KOs).
Pampellone started like a man possessed, ripping Auimatagi Jr to the body before unleashing a six-punch combination that sent his rival crashing to the canvas.
While Auimatagi Jr bravely made it back to his feet, he was on unsteady legs and the referee rightly waved it off to hand ‘The Panther’ the victory.
It was another hugely impressive display from the 26-year-old, who showed another aspect of his game having showcased his boxing skills in a 10-round shutout of Faris Chevalier in Brisbane last year.
Despite only turning pro two years ago, Pampellone is eighth in the IBF’s world rankings. A plumber by trade, he has the tools to go all the way to the top, with both power and technical ability.
Andrei Mikhailovich was dropped in the first but rallied to claim a 5th-round TKO over Edisson Saltarin.
4. Is Pampellone ready for a world title shot yet?
He is certainly moving in the right direction, though it would be sensible for him to take a few more learning fights so that when the opportunity comes along, he’s ready to seize it.
Born in London before relocating to New Zealand as a young boy, there has been talk of matching Pampellone against top British contenders Dan Azeez (19-0, 13 KOs) and Lyndon Arthur (22-1, 15 KOs) to introduce him to the lucrative UK scene.
Both would provide a stern examination of his credentials and should ‘The Panther’ prevail, it would not only boost his status in the division, but also his marketability overseas.
Pampellone’s promoter Lonergan has vowed to find him a top 10 opponent next so expect a significant step-up the next time he climbs between the ropes.
5. What did we learn about Andrei Mikhailovich?
Though he’s already ranked in the top five in the world by the IBF, on this evidence, Mikhailovich still has a fair bit to learn before being thrown in at the deep end of the talent-rich middleweight division.
Mikhailovich (20-0, 12 KOs) was dropped in the first round by the unheralded Edisson Saltarin (16-1, 12 KOs) and he had to show real grit to climb off the canvas and eventually stop the Venezuelan in the fifth of a barnstorming fight.
But he looked vulnerable at times as he struggled to pin down his tricky southpaw opponent, who provided a decent yardstick for ‘The Russian’ at this stage of his career.
After almost nine months out of the ring it was understandable that Mikhailovich had to shake off some ring rust, though it was concerning to see him continually walk onto shots and telegraph his punches.
Against higher calibre opposition, Mikhailovich would have been punished and at 25 with a limited amateur background, there’s no need to rush him along in his journey.
After all, there are plenty of solid opponents in Australasia, such as Michael Zerafa (31-4, 19 KOs) and Issac Hardman (13-2, 11 KOs), for Mikhailovich to test himself against before he makes the leap up to world level.