After a dry spell the last week or so has been a hectic one in Japanese boxing with significant bouts both at domestic and world level.
The only place to start is at the Kokugikan in Tokyo where Luis Nery rematched Shinsuke Yamanaka for the WBC bantamweight title on 1 March. There was already a cloud of suspicion hanging over Nery after he tested positive for Zilpaterol after dethroning Yamanaka last August.
Things then took a huge twist as Nery came in 5 pounds overweight on his first attempt and was only able to shed around 2 pounds a couple of hours later and was stripped of his belt without even making a defense. Coming in a few ounces or even a pound overweight is a real annoyance and has become a far too often occurrence nowadays but coming in a pound over the next weight division is simply unforgivable.
Despite the events from the previous day the fight went ahead with only Yamanaka eligible to win the now vacant belt. Whilst the home man was given a rapturous reception on the way to the ring, Nery was roundly booed which is highly unusual as visiting fighters are always given respect from the fans in the land of the rising sun.
Yamanaka actually began well, landing with the jab and some body shots but Nery soon took the play away from him and scored a knockdown in the opening round. Realising he was there for the taking Nery overwhelmed Yamanaka, scoring 3 more knockdowns in the second round before the contest came to a conclusion in what was actually pretty painful viewing given the circumstances that had occurred.
Yamanaka announced his retirement soon afterwards and the Teiken southpaw can leave with his head held high and will definitely go down as one of Japans greatest world champions. The 35-year-old was a huge draw, pulling in TV audiences of 7 and 8 million more than once and he made 12 successful defences of the WBC 118 lb strap scoring wins over the likes of Vic Darchinyan, Suriyan Sor Rungvisai, Malcolm Tunacao and Liborio Solis. Although unification alluded him his defining victory came in one of the best bantamweight title bouts seen in recent times against Anselmo Moreno in their thrilling up and down rematch in September 2016.
As for Nery despite the 2 wins over Yamanaka he leaves Japan with his reputation in tatters and he has since subsequently been put on the Japan Boxing Commissions banned list and been suspended indefinitely by the WBC. Going forward it will be extremely difficult to route for the Mexican and Cliff Rold summed it up perfectly in his Boxing Scene column late last week, “Yamanaka deserved better”.
The other world title contest on the show saw Ryosuke Iwasa score a wide unanimous decision against Ernesto Saulong in his first defense of the IBF super bantamweight trinket. The fight was a forgettable one and Iwasa failed to build on the momentum of his terrific 6th round stoppage of Yukinori Oguni last September. Next up for the Japanese southpaw is a mandatory defense against TJ Doheny who should provide a more willing opponent and make for a far more entertaining encounter.
The last day of February saw Ohashi protégé Ryo Matsumoto step up for his first world title tilt when he faced super bantamweight titlist Daniel Roman at the Korakuen Hall. The fans in attendance were treated to 12 rounds of absorbing action as the pair went back and forth throughout. At the final bell it was Romans hand who was raise with cards of 119-109 twice and 118-108 although these didn’t tell the full story of what was a competitive scrap where with many close rounds.
Matsumoto in spots had real success but the champion’s methodical and more consistent pressure saw him get the nod and going forward the American will be a tough out for any super bantamweight especially if you aren’t able to dissuade him from coming forward. Matsumoto can certainly come again and after avenging his only previous loss to Victor Uriel Lopez then having an operation for hyperthyroidism this experience for the 24-year-old will be invaluable and bouts against the many countrymen at the domestic and regional level would be the wise next step.
On 3 March at the Korakuen Hall Masayuki Ito was aiming to maintain his world title dreams and avoid any banana skins when he squared off against Vergil Puton. The super featherweight controlled proceedings throughout, eventually securing a 9th round stoppage and with Vasyl Lomachenko almost certain to vacate Ito's number 1 spot with the WBO should secure him a shot at the vacant belt.
Since losing a razor thin split decision to Rikki Naito back in February 2015 the 27-year-old has strung together 7 straight wins capturing the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific trinkets in the process. He has more than served his apprenticeship at the domestic and regional level with victories over the likes of Shingo Eto, Ernie Sanchez, Takuya Watanabe and Lorenzo Villanueva and he is as ready as he’ll ever be for a world title crack.
On the same day over in Kanagawa Masayuki Kuroda defended his Japanese flyweight crown against mandatory challenger Katsunori Nagamine. This was expected to be one not to miss and it proved to be the case with Kuroda keeping Nagamine at bay early on with a busy jab before the challengers incessant pressure began to tell as he put the champion on the floor in round 8. Kuroda managed to survive the storm and took the decision with judge’s tallies of 96-93, 96-94 and 95-94.
Given his high ranking a world title shot is a solid possibility for Kuroda in the near future. Nagamine has gained a reputation as a real crowd pleasing operator and despite the loss this should remain intact and he can be in many more enjoyable fights going forward. On the same bill Kazuto Takesako blitzed Hikaru Nishida inside a round to claim domestic honours at middleweight, extending his record to 8-0 8 KOs and could be one worth keeping an eye on.
Finally on 26 February back at the Korakuen Hall in what looked a tasty matchup on paper for the Japanese Youth lightweight title unfortunately didn’t live up to those expectations as Izuki Tomioka fought to a second round technical decision versus Kaiki Yuba. It has since been revealed that Tomioka will be moving down to 130 pounds in search of a shot at the national super featherweight title.
To read more from Marcus follow him on twitter @marcusknockout
(Image courtesy of boxingnews.jp)