Justis Huni was chasing a statement victory in his clash against Kiki Leutele and while he wasn’t able to get the big knockout he craved, it was another impressive display from the Aussie prospect.
But the 23-year-old could be set for another stint on the sidelines after seemingly suffering another hand injury which could keep him out of the sport for some time.
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Despite moving to 7-0 after the 99-91, 97-93, 98-92 decision victory, questions will continue about Huni’s ability to knock people out and while those will remain, there’s one thing for sure — the kid is tough.
Leutele proved he had a granite chin and a monster right hand, while Huni showed he has the ability to live up to his promise.
His storied speed and skill came to the fore after copping some early punishment.
In commentary for Fox Sports after the fight, Olympic bronze medallist Harry Garside said there questions would still be there for Huni.
“Doing that against someone like Deontay Wilder, Anthony Joshua, some men who are a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger than him?” Garside said. “Can he do that against Andy Ruiz? Who knows. That’s the big question on everyone’s minds.”
Despite those questions Garside added: “I truly believe Justis is the most skilful heavyweight in the world. It’s just the punching power and maybe the size. When it comes to skill, he’s right up there with the top one or two.”
But the injury could set the rising heavyweight start back.
Seeing the injury for the first time after the fight, former world champion Jeff Horn immediately said: “It’s busted.”
Horn said depending on the injury, it could be a “three to six months” stint on the sidelines.
“I think he’ll be frustrated by this fight,” Horn added on Fox Sports commentary.
“I think he’ll be frustrated he’s hurt his hand, done ligament damage or broke it, hopefully it’s not ligament damage. He’ll going to be frustrated after this one not being able to stop him.”
With an ambitious schedule to earn a shot for a world title in 2023 — including a fight next month — now likely blown to smithereens, Huni appeared somewhat downcast after the result.
He admitted in the ring his hand felt like it did in the fight against Paul Gallen, which famously ruined his bid for Olympic gold after he hurt his hand during training.
Huni came out impressively, marking up his opponent across the opening two rounds.
But late in the second round, Leutele landed a flush shot which appeared to leave Huni stunned, and ended in a clinch.
It was just what the Kiwi needed, clearly giving the visitor some confidence.
Leutele’s trainer Isaac Peach was excited by what he had seen, celebrating wildly after the second and third rounds.
The fourth round also had a controversial moment when Huni’s gloves hit the ground but it was ruled a slip.
Huni was working the hard, landing plenty of shots, while Leutele was exclusively looking for big power punches.
On the stool after the fifth round, Huni said “he’s tough”, a huge understatement for what had been a great fight.
“Two big boys fighting at this tempo, it’s just unheard of,” Harry Garside said after a brutal sixth round, which saw Huni land plenty of shots.
It was a war until the end as neither man could find the killer blow.
It was a frustrating finishing for both men as they each wanted the knockout.
Commentator Ben Damon said Leutele had “tested you like no one else”.
“He came to fight, we knew that, and he came very well prepared to knock me out,” Huni said.
“Not only is he a very big puncher, he can take a very big punch as well.”
Asked if he was proud of the performance he put in, Leutele said: “I would have been prouder if I won.
“I think I probably almost had him every single round but just trying to get that finish. I’ve still got a long way to go and a lot to learn so I’ll go back to the drawing board with my coaches and see where we go from there.”
The early fights were packed with action as the co-main between Ben Horn and Campbell Somerville had a wild four-rounder of non-stop action.
New Zealand’s Jerome Pampellone won the vacant IBF Australasian title with a dominant decision win over Faris Chevalier.
Benjamin Bommber kept his unbeaten record in a six-round thriller against Ankush Hooda.
Hooda was on the backfoot early and was left with blood streaming from the bridge of his nose but came back admirably. But Bommber had done the early work and claimed the W to move to 5-0.
Clay Waterman was knocked down in the first round but otherwise dominated Mitchell Whitelaw in an impressive performance.
Commonwealth Games star Billy Polkinghorn impressed plenty after he dropped Broby Martin with a stunning uppercut which got him right under the chin.
It was a brilliant debut from Polkinghorn who appeared to be toying with Martin, before the referee waved it off after a combination landed midway through the round.
Full Huni-Leutele results
Heavyweight – Justis Huni defeated Kiki Leutele via unanimous decision (99-91, 97-93, 98-92) for the IBF Pan Pacific Oriental and Pacific Boxing Federation WBO Oriental titles)
Super welterweight – Campbell Somerville defeated Ben Horn via unanimous decision (39-37, 40-37, 40-36)
Light heavyweight – Jerome Pampellone defeated Faris Chevalier via unanimous decision (100-90,99-91, 99-91) for vacant IBF Australasian title
Light heavyweight – Clay AJ Waterman defeated Mitchell Whitelaw via unanimous decision — (58-55, 57-56, 60-55)
Super welterweight – Benjamin Bommber defeated Ankush Hooda via majority decision (57-57, 58-56, 59-55)
Lightweight – Billy Polkinghorn defeated Broby Martin via TKO (Round 3, 1.36)