World boxing title goes to Tauranga-born woman

Tauranga-born Cherneka Johnson won the IBF World Super Bantamweight title in Melbourne on Wednesday night. Photo/Supplied.

Tauranga-born Cherneka Johnson is now the second Maori and third New Zealand woman to win a world boxing title.

Johnson, of Ngāti Ranginui, took home the IBF World Super Bantamweight title after a split decision win over Mexican boxer Melissa Esquivel.

The fight was close, but Johnson’s superior fitness gave her the edge over Esquivel, and it showed when Esquivel was hampered with a knee injury during the fight.

Johnson used the basics with her jab, which helped her win the fight.

“I stayed on my jabs, stayed on my game plan, and I dug deep towards the end there, and I'm victorious, which is what I came here to do,” says Johnson.

“I knew that she'd come to fight and I knew that she'd be tough, and she was ready to brawl.”

American New Zealander Lt Dan Hennessey was the announcer of the evening. While he announced the fight's winner, Johnson showed she was a proud Maori with her team behind her, holding the Tino Rangatiratanga flag.

Johnson is the second Maori person to win a World boxing title, following Ngapuhi Daniella Smith, who won the first-ever IBF World title in November 2010 in Germany.

The other New Zealand female to win the world title was Brazilian-born New Zealander Geovana Peres when she won the WBO Light Heavyweight title in March 2019.

Johnson follows a rich history of world champions that came from New Zealand, including UK born Bob Fitzsimmons, who won multiple world titles between 1891 and 1903, the first New Zealand born World champion Torpedo Billy Murphy who won two world titles in 1890, Jimmy Thunder who held the IBO World Heavyweight title between 1994 to 1996, American Samoan New Zealander Maselino Masoe who won the WBA World Middleweight title in 2004 and World champion Joseph Parker who held the WBO World Heavyweight title between 2016 and 2018.

The fight judges scored 96-94 and 97-93 to Johnson, and 96-95 to Esquivel, with Johnson becoming the victor with a split decision win.

After the fight, Johnson took to the Mic to call out another Australian World champion, IBF Bantamweight World champion Ebanie Bridges.

“Ebanie Bridges, if you'd like to come up a division (in weight), or I'm happy to come down.”

She also called out Shannon O'Connell, who she had a controversial defeat back in March 2021.

“Shannon O'Connell let's get that rematch happening.”

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