Whanganui's Brendon Wallace has rebounded from defeat in the best way possible as the Assassins Muay Thai prospect won the vacant NZMF Heavyweight title against Auckland's Rawiri Wiperi in Timaru on Saturday night.
The five round bout was the co-main event of the Vendetta show put on by Lucky Nine Gym, and in what was considered the fight of the night, Wallace claimed the title by split decision on the judges scorecards, 48-47 46-49 49-46.
This was Wallace's comeback from his unanimous decision loss to Wellington's Navajo Stirling for the NZMF North Island Heavyweight title at Night of Assassins 3 in Whanganui on November 3.
Not giving up the same height disadvantage that he did to the towering Stirling, Wallace fought a technical and even first round with Wiperi, with both men taking turns to get on the offence with jabbing combinations, followed by calf kicks and knees, moving around the ring at a swift pace.
In the second round, Wallace used his counterpunches to telling effect, backing the taller Wiperi up, then looking to score with left and right hooks.
A brief stoppage for his mouthguard and Wiperi came back looking to impose himself with kicks and knees from the clinch.
But Wallace absorbed the pressure and timed some nice elbow shots in the grappling on the ropes, and when he got free, a hard right hand hurt Wiperi and left his mouth bleeding, with Wallace trying for the finish until slipping over in Wiperi's corner on some spilled water.
The action kept picking up in Round 3 as both men traded hard leg kicks, before another strong punch from Wallace rocked Wiperi, who was pushed back to the ropes and took a fierce pounding.
But the Aucklander wouldn't be put away, landing a spinning back elbow, as Wallace had expended a lot of energy in his barrage.
He was sucking in the air in the corner with trainer Kyle Gallacher working with him to control his breathing and issuing instructions to attack the body.
Wallace started the fourth round with body punches and kicks as instructed, and then rocked Wiperi again with a series of uppercuts on the button, before coming hard with more hooks and jabs as he looked for the stoppage.
A quick stop to wipe the blood from Wiperi's nose gave him some respite, taking Wallace back to the corner in a grapple as both men traded knee strikes to the bell.
Wallace was nearly exhausted, but he dug into the bag of tricks with a twisting sidekick, which Wiperi countered with one of his own, and after moving away from a Wallace spinning back elbow, he connected with a leaping superman punch.
Wiperi then came hard at a tiring Wallace with a series of hard shots, but the Whanganui fighter checked his momentum with straight kicks to stomach, followed by more hooks.
Desperate, Wiperi followed Wallace around, scoring with leg kicks while Wallace covered up to avoid the punches, and then the Whanganui found another second wind with a series of jabs on the button to send Wiperi back to the ropes.
They locked up again and traded knee strikes to the bell.
The split decision victory gets Wallace back on track after Stirling had derailed his previously 11 fight winning streak and makes him a two-weight champion with his IKBF New Zealand Middleweight crown.
A proud Gallacher was not happy with the one judge scoring the bout for Wiperi by a four round margin, given it was clear Wallace had dominated the middle three rounds.
"Three or four moments we thought he was getting the knock out.
"I spoke to the ref afterwards and apparently that judge wasn't even a trainer, so who knows what he was looking for."
Gallacher said his fighter will have a break over the New Year, and then begin cutting weight so he can compete at cruiserweight, having come up several classes to vie for the heavyweight belts.
"The sky's the limit, because he's a multiple weight champion now."