Marlen Esparza decides Naoko Fujioka to win WBC, WBA and Ring Magazine flyweight titles
The women’s flyweight division has a new unified champion, and her name is Marlen Esparza.
Esparza (12-1, 1 KOs) scored an unanimous decision win against Naoko Fujioka (19-3-1, 7 KOs) to win the WBC, WBA and Ring Magazine flyweight titles in a close and competitive fight with plenty of ebb-and – flows that unfortunately was not reflected on the scorecards.
Judges Wilfredo Esperon and Jesse Reyes both scored the fight 100-90, while judge Lisa Giampa turned in a more realistic scorecard of 97-93. DAZN commentator Chris Mannix scored the bout 96-94 for Esparza.
Esparza, who hails from Houston, had a homecoming fight of sorts in front of the partisan crowd at the Alamodome in a fight she arguably won, albeit, not as comfortably as the judges disrespectfully dictated.
The 46-year-old Japanese fighter Fujioka did show any signs of intimidation as an opponent away nor that she was 14 years older than Esparza from the opening bell.
Both fighters exchanged flags of their respective countries before bout as a sign of respect, and immediately exchanged a barrage of punches thereafter.
According to CompuBox, Esparza had landed a 120 to 107 edge in total punches, while Fujioka had landed a 98 to 94 edge in power punches. Esparza threw 436 punches throughout the ten-round bout compared to 418 by Fujioka.
Fujioka preferred to exclusively fight inside, while the 2012 United States Olympics bronze medal winner Esparza displayed her strong amateur boxing pedigree by using long-range to leverage a jab and counter shots whenever Fujioka encroached. Esparza’s punches were clearly landing cleaner, but both fighters had their moments during the all-action affair.
In the first round, Fujioka connected with a fierce overhand right, and Esparza immediately responded with one of her own. Esparza landed a strong left hook to the side of Fujioka’s temple in the second.
In the fourth round, Esparza connected with a counter overhand right and dropped Fujioka, who hesitantly stumbled head first only to catch herself with her fists, but referee Rafael Ramos missed ruling it a knockdown.
Fujioka picked up the pace and hurled a volume of punches on the inside in the fifth and sixth rounds but Esparza maintained her control of the fight by firing crisp counter shots off her back foot.
Fujioka scored the best punch of the fight in round eight with a thudding right hand that stopped Esparza in her tracks and momentarily stunned her. Before the punch, Esparza landed an admirable two-punch combination.
A clash of heads momentarily stopped the action in the ninth, with Fujioka getting the worst of it, but she opted not to take any time to recover from the incident. Fujioka walked back into her corner after the round appeared to think the fight was over.
But there were still two minutes still left to go in the fight,
With the match hanging in the balance, both boxers got off their stools and started throwing haymakers to begin the tenth. Esparza backed up Fujioka along the ropes with a right hand. They traded punches, and Esparza ripped another right hand right before the final bell rang to close the show.
Fujioka hinted at retirement before the fight should she have lost, but after her performance, she clearly could still compete at a high level.
Heading into the fight, Esparza held the WBC title, Fujioka owned the WBA crown, and the Ring Magazine title was vacant.
Esparza has now won five fights in a row since losing to Los Angeles native and undefeated standout minimumweight champion Seniesa Estrada in 2019.
Estrada was part of the DAZN broadcast team calling the action, and the two have been linked to a rematch ever since their initial meeting.