By Tom Roddy
The best boxing photograph of the year has landed in brutal fashion - but this face-contorting moment came with a twist.
It was flush and flat but far from final for Moruti Mthalane.
The South African flyweight (38-2) was caught clean in the face during his IBF title fight with Masayuki Kuroda — before coming back to win.
With his lips contorted and nose twisted, Mthalane, 36, whose nickname is Babyface, had his features rearranged by Japan’s Kuroda during a bloody war in Tokyo.
The flush left hand came early on during an onslaught by 33-year-old Kuroda, the mandatory challenger for the IBF title.
But the remarkable moment appeared to make Mthalane mad as he went on to give his opponent a gruelling beating in the final rounds.
Kuroda finished the fight with his right eye closed and blood pouring from his left.
There was no doubt whose arm was set to be raised.
“I’m feeling very much happy because today I defended my best,” Mthalane said, after winning by unanimous decision.
“Kuroda kept working. He wanted the belt and gave his best as a challenger.”
This is Mthalane’s second time as champion, having held the belt between 2009 and 2013.
The photograph, taken by Tokyo-based AFP staffer Charly Triballeau, sits comfortably alongside some of the most spectacular images taken in the sport.