By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On July 17 at the legendary Korakuen Hall, 2 of the most exciting Japanese boxers come face to face, as Akira Yaegashi takes on Hirofumi Mukai.
Akira Yaegashi (26-6 / 14 KOs) is a modern day Japanese legend. A successful amateur, with a record of 56-14, he won the Inter-High School Championship in 2000 as well as the National Sports Festival of Japan in 2002, which is considered to be their national premier sport event.
Turned pro at the age of 22, Yaegashi was thrown into deep waters quickly, as he fought Eagle Den Junlaphan (17-1*) for the WBC Minimumweight World Title, after only 5 fights. Despite his amateur pedigree and already the OPBF champion, he wasn’t quite ready for that level of competition, at that point of his career. However he did manage to go 12 rounds with the Thai fighter, showing his Bushido spirit of never giving up.
Yaegashi continued to grow as a fighter, pilling up victories over the likes of Kenichi Horikawa (17-6*), Junichiro Kaneda (19-3*), Kosuke Takeichi (10-1*), Norihito Tanaka (13-3*) while also collecting another title, this time the Japanese Minimumweight belt.
In 2011, he finally fulfilled his destiny when he stopped Somporn Seeta (23-3*), to become the WBA World Champion, for the first time in his career. Undoubtedly, that was Yaegashi’s breakout performance as he went to war with one of the best minimuweight boxers of all time and came out on top. That match earned him “Fight of the Year” honors from ESPN.com and BoxingScene.com, as well as the WBA's award for “Most Dramatic Fight of the Year”.
8 months later, Yaegashi was in another much talked about fight, when he took on undefeated WBC Minimumweight World Champion, Kazuto Ioka (9-0*) in a double title unification bout. Again a FOTYC as both men brought their A game that night, knowing what’s at stake. In the end, Ioka got the decision and both championships.
It didn’t take long for him to get back to the “gold game” as he fought Toshiyuki Igarashi (17-1*) on April of 2013, this time for the WBC Flyweight World Championship, moving up 2 weight classes. Much like himself, Igarashi was an accomplished amateur, with a record of 77-18. After 12 competitive rounds, Yaegashi left the victor and more importantly a 2 division World Champion (the Ring and Lineal titles were also on the line)
The “Sonic Fist” defended his championship thrice over Oscar Blanquet (32-5*), former world champion Edgar Sosa (49-7*) and Odilon Zaleta (15-3*) before losing it to Roman Gonzalez (39-0*) in another slugfest.
Yaegashi once more decided to switch weight classes, this time dropping to Light Flyweight. His debut at this new division was an unsuccessful one as he got knocked out by the WBC World Champion Pedro Guevara (23-1*). Those 2 back to back KO losses didn’t discourage the Japanese superstar from continuing his journey of becoming a 3 division King. His dream was realized on December 29 of 2015, after he got the decision win over Javier Mendoza (24-2*) and earned the IBF Light Flyweight World Title.
His reign lasted 2 years, consisting of 2 successful title defenses against Martin Tecuapetla (13-6*) and Wittawas Basapean (31-5*). On May of 2017, Milan Melindo (35-2*) pulled a major upset as he put an end to Yaegashi’s IBF reign in the very first round of their encounter.
Since then, the 3 division champion has fought once this year against journeyman Frans Damur Palue (15-19*), stopping him in just 2 rounds. His next opponent will not be an easy one though.
Hirofumi Mukai (16-5*) began boxing at the Nanjing Municipal High School, while serving as a co-chief in his third year, along with future Olympic gold medalist, Ryota Murata. Afterwards, he went to Nihon University and won 3rd place at the All Japan Championships, plus a national title.
Mukai’s first 5 wins as a pro were against much more experienced foes, such as Jin-Man Jeon (13-2*), Anis Ceunfin (15-10*) and future WBC Flyweight World Champion Sonny Boy Jaro (29-9*). In spite of an unsuccessful attempt at the OPBF Flyweight title, he was granted a world title shot against one of the best boxers to come out of Thailand, Pongsaklek Wonjongkam (83-3*). However the match ended in the opening round after Mukai’s suffered a nasty cut from an accidental head clash.
Throughout his career, Mukai holds notable victories over Sooksan Chaichana, Mark John Yap, world title contenders Tanawat Phonnaku (twice) & Konosuke Tomiyama as well as losses to Mark Anthony Geraldo, world title challenger & Japanese champion Shohei Omori, WBC Super Flyweight World Champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Chinese Superstar Rex Tso.
Specifically, his losses to Rungvisai and Tso were critical to proving his toughness in the ring. The WBC, Ring and Lineal world champion went 9 rounds with Mukai and the fight ended after the Japanese corner threw the towel in. Obviously Mukai wasn’t going to win the fight, but at the same time, he never gave up, despite the vicious beating that he took. On the other hand, his bout with Tso was a back and forth affair, a battle that must be considered one of the best fights of 2017. 3 titles were on the line (Mukai’s WBO Asia Pacific and Tso’s WBO International & WBC Asia). Both warriors had an old school brawl that the kept the fans on the edge of their seats. Tso’s hand speed and agility made the difference, as he dropped Mukai three times during the fight.
All in all, Yaegashi and Mukai may have very different careers, but the one thing they have in common is that whether they win or loss, both will always deliver the excitement. Keep your eyes glued to the screen when this fight is on.
*Denotes record going in to the fight
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