Climbing up several weight divisions proved a bridge too far for Whanganui's Brendon Wallace, whose 11-fight winning streak came to an end at the hands of Wellington's Navajo Stirling in the main event of Night of Assassins 3 at Springvale Stadium on Saturday evening.
Having come up from middleweight to fight for the NZMF North Island heavyweight title, Wallace got caught by a vicious leaping knee at the start of the third round which saw his cheek swell up immediately and his left eye nearly closed.
Wallace gamely fought on against his taller opponent for the remaining two rounds, but lost a unanimous points decision.
Organiser Kyle Gallacher had certainly not lined up easy opponents for his fellow Assassins and the other locals on the 14-fight card, with a number of the "outsiders" picking up impressive victories.
Yet flying the flag was previous Night of Assassins main eventer Mike Makatea-Leylander, who put away two opponents by unanimous decision to win the 4 Man Middleweight Tournament trophy.
In the main event, Stirling looked to utilise his jab early, with Wallace accepting he had to eat a couple of shots if he wanted to get in with combinations.
Still, a Wallace superman punch attempt had Stirling wary, as did a spinning leg kick with punches coming behind it.
Stirling switched to body jabs in the second round, again using his reach, while showing good head movement and counterpunches as Wallace came after him.
Wallace deftly avoided an uppercut but not Stirling's hard straight jab that came in after a some Wallace leg kicks.
Stirling followed up immediately in the third round with the flying knee, which was followed by hard hooks in the corner, with Wallace's cheek swelling up.
The Wellingtonian moved in, but Wallace stayed in the fight, tying him up and pushing Stirling down after an attempted leg kick, with both men then training jabs through to the bell.
But the referee had a good look at Wallace's eye and the young man was now slowed as the pace and punishment had taken a toll, as Stirling tried leg kicks which were caught, but was able to get out of danger as the Whanganui fighter could not secure the sweep.
Needing something to swing the momentum, Wallace kept coming forward, again pushing Stirling over after a grapple, but he was not able to land that one big shot.
The fifth and final round continued in the same vein, with Stirling holding Wallace in the clinch, and then connecting with long jabs.
Wallace tried another leg sweep but Stirling freed himself, then landed a hard overhand shot that rocked Wallace back, before they traded blows to the finish, where Stirling was judged the clear winner.
Getting those leg sweeps proved crucial for Makatea-Leylander in his 4 Man tournament final win against Napier's Tiwai Tomoana, after both had picked up unanimous points decisions over Northland's Clayton Halliday and Christchurch's Iain Blade respectively.
Having drawn Halliday to have the first semifinal match, Makatea-Leylander slipped over in the early exchanges, but soon got into his work, connecting with an overhand punch and counter kicks when Halliday tried to close the distance.
Makatea-Leylander was landing jabs on the money, so Halliday tried a leaping kick and got dumped, while the hometown favourite connected nicely with a changing levels kick that starts at the midsection but then takes the head, which was followed not long after by another leg sweep.
Halliday tried to do damage in the corner but Makatea-Leylander defended it well at the bell.
The Whanganui fighter followed up in the third round with another changing levels kick, with Halliday swinging and hoping for a knockout, but being countered every time.
Makatea-Leylander tripped him at the end of the round to cruise to a comfortable decision.
So that set up the final with Tomoana, who defeated Blade in a match categories by a lot of grappling and holding, with Tiwai looking very tired and saying as much for his in-ring interview afterwards.
But that may have been tactics as a little less than two hours later, Tomoana looked rejuvenated and came out strong against Makatea-Leylander, pushing him over on the first exchange of leg kicks.
Tomoana had power in reserve and looked to utilise it, until Makatea-Leylander could move him back with leg kicks, and despite applying pressure at the end of the round, it was likely the Napier fighter had taken it.
But Tomoana had now used a lot of energy and Makatea-Leylander drained more out him with consecutive leg sweeps to put him down, although Tomoana avoided the levels kick, as the pair grappled in the centre of the ring.
Makatea-Leylander got the fight to the corner and again Tomoana tripped over, although he got a good kick off before the bell.
The third round started with both men winging hooks at each other, with Tomoana coming out the worse for wear with blood from his nose, then falling again in the grapple and another leg sweep.
A hard jab by Makatea-Leylander further hurt his opponent, again forcing the action into the corner for another pounding, with Tomoana swaying back on the ropes as the fight ended.
Although not totally satisfied with his performance, Makatea-Leylander was pleased to get the judges nod and to have finally won tournament-style fighting, after missing out on his first chance at a Waikato event last year when a fighter withdrew.
"It was good, I'm use to five round fights but it's good to have a three round and burst it out," he said.
"It's awesome, man. Always good to have our home crowd, they get loud."
"[Thanks to] Kyle, Assassins and my girlfriend Aneta Turia."
Not so happy was Awa Kings president Lee Kara, after another loss to Featherston rival Moe Hussain, this time by split decision for the NZMF Super Heavyweight title.
Hussain had beaten Kara by comfortable points decision 12 months earlier, but this time Kara had upped his game, although he was slowed by an inadvertent low kick early in the first round.
As they did in the first fight, both men clinched and grappled a lot from side to side, trying to connect with knees, but Kara seemed to be getting the better of it in Round 2, starting with a hook and getting a good counterpunch late in the round, with Hussain falling twice in between during the grappling.
Hussain hurt Kara with leg kicks to start the third round, which became hard to score as again both men ended tangled up constantly, which continued into the fourth round, although Hussain got a couple of leg kicks to add to his tally and even tried a leaping kick.
A Kara jab was countered to begin the final round, before the Whanganui fighter got in an uppercut, with Hussain landing a couple of jabs before both men swung away and missed, then ended up in yet another wrestling match along the ropes to end the fight.
It was a tough one to score, but despite Kara's confidence in front of his supporters, again Hussain got his hand raised.
A disappointed Kara thanked Colin Smith and Lee Ashford for helping him get ready for what Kara thought would be his payback.
'I doubled the training regime, morning and night," he said.
"I thought it was going to go my way, but I'm not a judge.
"All due respect to Moe, he won on the night."
"I think a rematch is on the cards. I thought it would be a split [decision] to me.
"Don't know what fight the judges were watching."
Stacy Te Kuru (TLP) bt Jesse Broughton (TPK) by unanimous decision; Emilia Sa'u (TLP) bt Ashleigh Thompson (Pitbull Thai) by unanimous decision; Swade Wallace (Assassins Muay Thai) bt Ethan Bickers (Jackals) by unanimous decision; Brent Surgue (Fortitude Gym) bt Shaun O'Conor (TPK Whanganui) by knock out; Brian Alderton (Whanganui Kyokushin) bt Daniel MC Watters (Pitbull Thai) by unanimous decision.
4 Man Middleweight Tournament
Semifinal 1: Mike Makatea-Leylander (Assassins) bt Clayton Halliday (Toa Ngatihine Muay Thai) by unanimous decision.
Semifinal 2: Tiwai Tomoana (Jackals) bt Iain Blade (Elite Fight Complex) by unanimous decision.
Final: Makatea-Leylander bt Tomoana by unanimous decision.
NZMF Super Heavyweight Title
Moe Hussain (Smac Featherston) bt Lee Kara (Awa Kings) by split decision.
NZMF North Island Heavyweight Title
Navajo Stirling (TLP) bt Brendon Wallace (Assassins) by unanimous decision.