WORLD title championship glory slipped out of Gisborne kick-boxer Melissa Mackey-Huriwai’s gloved hands in the headline bout at the Te Ihi a Tu mixed martial arts tournament on Saturday night.
The International Kick Boxing Federation world featherweight title went to defending Australian fighter Rachael Phillips in a controversial split decision that will be appealed by the Mackey-Huriwai camp.
Phillips is now a four-time title holder.
Held at the YMCA, the highly-anticipated fight was a rematch after Mackey-Huriwai and Phillips drew in Melbourne last year.
The bout was one of two championship events that topped the bill for the tournament.
Mackey-Huriwai’s outstretched left fist led her into the first round.
She was met with equal force by her stockier Australian rival.
Where Mackey-Huriwai relied more on punching, in which she had superior reach and accuracy, Phillips had the pugilistic power to keep driving her opponent back.
In the third of seven furious, two-minute rounds, Mackey-Huriwai’s head snapped back when she took a big hit from Phillips. The Manutuke school-teacher returned with a deadly accurate uppercut, but Phillips withstood it.
Mackey-Huriwai’s face was bloodied but she returned with a flurry of punch sequences.
Phillips landed more kicks in round four, but by the next round seemed unbalanced by her opponent’s hits.
A couple of Mackey-Huriwai’s young supporters held up a cardboard sign which read “Go Aunty Mel”.
The fighters flew at each other with renewed commitment in round six.
Phillips withstood a withering one-two-three combination from Mackey-Huriwai’s fists and took a double kick to the midriff just before the bell.
No quarter was given by either fighter in the final round.
Both contestants were momentarily surprised by the judges split-decision when it fell in favour of Phillips.
Despite her obvious disappointment at having lost the championship, Mackey-Huriwai could not help a big grin for her students in the stadium.
The featherweight event followed the New Zealand super-heavyweight title fight between defending champion Tom Peato of Ngakaunaui Thai Kickboxing Gym and Warren Joseph of the Mana Muay Thai Club.
Joseph made good use of his spinning reverse backhand but as with several flurries between the equally solid men, several shots went wild.
Peato was unflustered as he absorbed Joseph’s swipes and kicks, and seemed intent on wearing the Wellington man down with punch sequences.
In a split-decision at the end of the bout, Joseph was announced super-heavyweight kickboxing champion of New Zealand.