NAIROBI, Kenya — Fatuma ‘Iron Fist’ Zarika rose to the occasion to beat Zambian Catherine Phiri to retain her World Boxing Council (WBC) Super bantamweight title at the Carnivore Grounds in Nairobi on Saturday night.
Zarika won the brutal bout on unanimous points decision after she scored 97-92, 98-91 and 99-92 from the three international judges who presided over the fight.
The victory in front an adoring home support that cheered her on to the rafters at Carnivore Gardens in Nairobi extended Zarika’s win record to 30, of which 17 have been via knock-outs.
The title-holder who won the coveted belt last year in the United States got of the blocks quicker and dominated the first three rounds of the global duel before her progress was hampered by a bleeder on her temple after Phiri landed a devastating blow.
However, to the delight of the fans, Zarika who had promised her nation an early Christmas present ahead of the showdown soldiered on to deliver sweet victory for Kenya in the scheduled 10-round main event of the night.
“I’m happy to retain this belt, this win is an inspiration that hard work pays in the end,” Zarika, who was quickly whisked away by fight promoters; Bigger Than Life Entertainment following her triumph stated.
Beaten Phiri, who nonetheless gave a credible account of her talent, hinted at vying for a WBC crown next year before magnanimously tipping her hat off for Zarika, whom she acknowledged was superior on the day.
“I believe I gave my best in the ring. We were all interested in the belt but at the end of the day only one person has to go with it home,” Phiri, who stepped up a weight division to fight Zarika, told.
Zarika was on the offensive from the bell in Round 1, throwing solid jabs which caught Phiri unawares while her defence dealt with a flurry of solid punches from the Zambian ex-WBC bantamweight champion who lost her second title fight this year.
Zarika’s right hand which she, branded ‘Iron Fist’ after her favourite American television series by the same name; did much of the talking as the champion had promised in their pre-fight press conference when the boxers returned to the ring for Round 2.
The Kenyan landed several right hand blows on Phiri who was still struggling to get her bearings as the excited crowd willed her own to deliver the knock out.
However, it was not to be as Phiri saw out the assault and when they came out for the third, the Zambian finally penetrated through Zarika with a jab but that was swiftly met with a left-hook that sent the challenger reeling to the ropes.
The tide of the fight changed in Round 4 when a more offensive Phiri delivered a right hook that cut Zarika on her temple but that was as heated as it got as both fighters resorted to holding as they struggled with the furious pace of the fight.
The cut seemed to slow down Zarika in Round 5 as Phiri charged on but the Kenyan summoned strength to respond by unleashing upper cuts that missed the target and sensing danger, the Zambian who was tiring, backed off to the ropes before she was saved by the bell.
In Round 6, the intensity dropped as the fighters engaged in ducking blows as they skipped around each other seeking out an opportunity to land a killer blow.
This had turned into the high octane contest organisers had planned and in Rounds 7 and 8, Zarika and Phiri traded evenly-matched blows that got behind the defences to score points.
The penultimate round saw Zarika come out determined for a closing flourish and caught Phiri with a right cross and another jab before the Zambian turned to holding to escape the onslaught, her only aim to last to the end and peg her chances on the points verdict.
When the bell to the final round went, Zarika came off her corner and promptly pinned Phiri to the ropes and a combination of punches hit the target as she closed in on victory.
Earlier, James Onyango roused the home supporters when he clinched the World Boxing Federation Welterweight belt with a unanimous 118-104,120-107 and 116-109 victory over Saidi Mundi of Tanzania after slugging it out over 10 rounds.
In another title fight on the card, Anisha Basheel of Malawi broke into song and dance with tears of joy streaming down her face when she was declared the new Africa Boxing Union Super Lightweight champion via Technical Knock Out (TKO).
Basheel won her first ever title when her fight against Kenyan Consolata Musanga was stopped when the local boxer suffered a heavy cut on her right temple in the ninth round; forcing the centre referee to end the fight.
Olympian and former Aiba-Pro Boxer, Rayton Okwiri, extended his winning streak by beating Tanzanian Gutram Ngoya unanimously 60-54, 60-54 and 60-54 in a six-round middleweight non-title fight.
Visiting Israel Kamwamba of Malawi outclassed another Kenyan, Anderson Sifuna, in the opening under card of the night in the featherweight division also through a unanimous decision as the judges returned 60-54, 60-54 and 70-54 in favour of the winner.
Local fighter, Michael Odhiambo floored Amos Mwamakula of Tanzania in the sixth of their eight-round non-title featherweight contest.
The Super featherweight face-off pitting Cosmas Cheka of Tanzania against Kenneth Kidega of Uganda was a slow burner but the judges handed the former victory by returning 80-75, 80-74 and 80-74.
Heavyweight Carl Davis Junior of United States of America shadow-boxed Tanzanian Mbaruku Kheri before sending his opponent to the canvas twice in quick succession in Round 3 to score a TKO victory.
WBC Super Bantamweight Title: Zarika Fatuma (Kenya) won 97-92,98-91 and 99-92 against Catherine Phiri (Zambia)
WBF Welterweight Title: James Onyango (Kenya) won 118-104,120-107 and116-109, against Saidi Mundi (Tanzania)
ABU Super Lightweight Title: Anisha Basheel (Malawi) won via Round 9 TKO against Consolata Musanga (Kenya)
Heavyweight: Carl Davis Jr. (USA) won via Round 3 KO against Mbaruku Kheri (Tanzania)
Middleweight: Rayton Okwiri (Kenya) won 60-54, 60-54 and 60-54 against Gutram Ngoya (Tanzania)
Super Featherweight: Cosmas Cheka (Tanzania) won 80-74,80-74 and 80-74 against Kenneth Kidega (Uganda)
Featherweight: Israel Kamwamba (Malawi) won 60-54,60-54 and 70-54 against Anderson Sifuna (Kenya)
Featherweight: Michael Odhiambo (Kenya) won via Round 6 TKO against Amos Mwamakula (Tanzania)