Kenyans exploded into joy last Saturday night when Fatuma ‘Iron Fist’ Zarika retained her World Boxing Council (WBC) Super Bantamweight title following a split decision win over Mexican challenger, Yalmith ‘Yelmi’ Mercado.
Judge Eddie Papoe of Ghana awarded Mercado the fight 96-94, while Kenya’s Bena Kaloki and Francis Chirwa from Malawi gave Zarika 97-93 and 99-91 after a 10 round slugfest that kept the packed Comesa Grounds dome at the Kenyatta International Sports Centre (KICC) Nairobi on the edge of their seats.
This was different from her unanimous victory over Zambian Catherine Phiri last December. During the fight, Zarika had to dig deep to outclass the 20 year-old Mexican who is undoubtedly on her way to the top of her sport.
How did she do it?
Speaking after the contest, John Gillies, one of the three coaches from 4 Corner Combat and Fitness Gym where Zarika trained for the showdown dubbed ‘Nairobi Fight Night’ explained how the Kenyan female boxing queen pulled off the victory.
“We knew that Mercado would come swinging punches and during training, we focused on making Zarika box. At no stage were we worried at all about winning the fight.
“Zarika has a boxing brain and we had to train her to distribute her energy evenly through the rounds and towards the end, Mercado tired as we expected she would,” Gilles who has over 20 years experience in kick boxing, boxing and mixed martial arts asserted.
The coach who was at Zarika’s corner during the breaks between the round hailed the WBC titleholder and is expecting to continue with the work they have done in the UK ahead of her next assignment.
“Our wish is Zarika to return to us soon and that we will get another chance to come to Kenya and scout for talent. She has demonstrated there is a talent for boxing in the country and I know she has inspired many to take up the sport,” he underscored.
Gillies and training partners were bowled over by the electric atmosphere as the crowd willed-on their heroine to victory.
“Trust me, I have been to arenas with over 80,000 fans but I have never seen anything like this, it was simply amazing and it shows what can happen if more of such fights are organised.
“We are proud that Zarika did not let her fans down, they were amazing, it was hard to believe there were almost 3000 fans making such noise. For us to learn it was a record crowd for a boxing match makes it unbelievable,” the coach added.
Kenya's Fatuma Zarika (right) attacks Mexico's Yamelith Mercado during their WBC Super Bantamweight title fight in Nairobi on Saturday, September 8, 2018. PHOTO/SPN
Gillies had tipped Zarika for victory before her showdown, telling SportPesa News she would leave nothing in the ring and despite the spirited opposition from the challenger, the Kenyan prevailed.
Mercado on the other hand burst into tears soon after the final bell having like the rest of the auditorium, heard that Zarika was leading 2-1 in the ninth round. She later complained the judges had awarded the champion 'too many points.'
At that stage, the punishing high altitude of Nairobi and Zarika's tactic of taking the wind off her through body shots to the abdomen had sapped all energy she had left. Her only hope in the 10th and final round was to win via a technical knock out.
Zarika however, is a street savvy boxer and kept the challenger at arm’s length until the last bell to win the contest.