Kal Yafai contributed to British boxing’s current feelgood factor as he made a successful first defence of his WBA world super-flyweight title in Birmingham on Saturday.
Yafai (22-0, 14 KOs) defeated Japan’s Suguru Muranaka (25-3-1, 8 KOs) in front of his home crowd by unanimous scores of 118-108, 119-107 and 119-107 at the Barclaycard Arena.
It was a dominant display from the Briton but he could not force a stoppage despite flooring his challenger in the second round.
“I am still a work-in-progress, he has one tough head and took everything I had,” said Yafai, who is aiming for world title unification fights later this year.
Yafai is a good friend of IBF-WBA world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua who won a thrilling fight with former long-term No. 1 Wladimir Klitschko by late stoppage last month.
After claiming the world title on the undercard of Joshua’s previous fight in December, Yafai rose to the occasion in front of his home fans as the first world boxing champion from England’s second biggest city in over 100 years.
Yafai is virtually unknown in the UK outside of Birmingham, unlike Joshua who has become one of the country’s biggest sporting stars alongside the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Andy Murray, Rory McIlroy and Mo Farah.
But big fights are on the horizon for Yafai in one of the boxing’s hottest divisions.
Muranaka was unbeaten in 11 years but had also never fought outside of his homeland until this trip to challenge Yafai in front of a hostile crowd. He found it difficult from the start, and took a knee in the second round following an aggressive opening from Yafai and his fast flurries of punches.
But Yafai, 27, was unable to sustain the impressive start and Muranaka was not overly troubled by any of his later assaults.
Yafai, after hurting his challenger with a left uppercut earlier in the round, was deducted a point late in the eighth.
Muranaka showed great conditioning to withstand Yafai’s late onslaught from round nine, but the outcome was never in doubt when it went to points.
Earlier, Yafai’s fellow Birmingham boxer Sam Eggington produced a brutal knockout of Ceferino Rodriguez on the undercard in a European welterweight title fight.
The Briton, who beat former world champion Paul Malignaggi in his previous fight, sent his opponent sprawling through the ropes in the 10th round with a big left hook. Rodriguez was left flat out for a few minutes before getting up.