In recent times we've began to see the Super Flyweight division get the attention it has long deserved. Whilst that attention is long over-due it is great to see so many top "little guys" getting attention on both American (HBO) and British (Boxnation and Sky Sports) TV. It's been fantastic to see the likes of Roman Gonzalez, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Carlos Cuadras, Juan Francisco Estrada and Naoya Inoue get a chance to shine in front of a huge global audience, something that never seemed likely when the division had fighters like Hugo Fidel Cazares, Nobuo Nashiro, Kohei Kono, Omar Andres Narvaez, Suriyan Sor Runvisai and Rodrigo Guerrero tearing it up in some thrillers earlier in the decade. That momentum looks to continue this coming weekend when unbeaten WBA champion Kal Yafai (22-0, 14) takes on Japanese challenger Sho Ishida (24-0, 13) at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff. For both men it's a huge opportunity to join the big leagues and move towards securing a match up on "Superfly 2", which HBO will air in February 2018, potentially with the likes of the aforementioned Gonzalez or Cuadras.
For Yafai the bout will act as his second defense of the title, which he won late last year when he beat a weary looking Luis Concepcion, and follows a surprisingly draining win over form Japanese Flyweight champion Suguru Muranaka whilst Ishida will be getting his first world title fight, after hovering in the world rankings for the last few years and slowly climbing to a mandatory position. Of the two men it's the defending champion who is the more well know and the the clear betting favourite, though the challenger is the one looking for a small slice of history, and knows a win will see him become the first Japanese fighter to win a world title in Europe, following a number of failures by the likes of Hidenori Otake, Ryosuke Iwasa and the previously mentioned Muranaka.
In the ring ring Yafai has proven himself as a talented boxer-puncher. He's not the biggest hitter in the division, and his power doesn't strike fear into opponents like that of Inoue or Gonzalez, but he's solid in his punches, moves really well and has shown he can fight well for 12 rounds. In terms of championship status he is perceived one of the weaker champions, along with Jerwin Ancajas, but being “weaker” here really isn't an insult given the talent in the division.
To date Yafai's biggest wins have been against over the likes of Dixon Flores, Luis Concepcion and Muranaka. Against Flores we saw Yafai look like a killer, blasting him away inside a round with body shots, against Concepcion we saw a very disciplined performance whilst against Muranaka we saw Yafai being forced to fight 12 hard rounds against a man simply refused to go backwards. In all 3 bouts we saw Yafai win, with few problems, but all 3 bouts saw the Englishman showing something new. It should be noted however that whilst Yafai is a good fighter, with very good amateur pedigree, he's not the biggest fighter in the division and a number of fighters at 115lbs will tower over him.
Talking about fighters who will tower over Yafai that will certainly be the case when he takes on Ishida, who is a freakish fighter for 115lbs and stands at 5'8” with a huge wingspan. Unsurprisingly for such a tall fighter Ishida looks to fight at range, using his feet well to keep range and making the most of his long and rangy jab. He can fight up close when he needs to, and unlike many tall fighters he's actually really good at going to the body, as seen in his win over Petchbarngborn Kokietgym.
Although Ishida isn't well known outside of Japan he does hold a number of notable wins. These include not only the win over Petchbarngborn but also wins over Eaktwan BTU Ruaviking, Yohei Tobe and current Japanese champion Ryuichi Funai. Those opponents might not mean a lot in the West but there are all solid fighters who will have helped Ishida develop his skills. Also helping his development will be his training at the Ioka gym, alongside Kazuto Ioka, Masayoshi Nakatani and Ryo Miyazaki. The gym has a number of top fighters to help Ishida prepare for a world title fight, and although some of his recent competition has been week, as he's fought in a number of stay busy fights, he is a real talent.
Travelling to Wales will be a new experience for Ishida, it's his first fight outside of Japan and will be a unique experience. He will also travel with the knowledge that no Japanese fighter has ever won a world title fight in Europe. Despite all that he'll be a very live under-dog, who will be full of self belief. The popular view here seems to be that Yafai will be too good and too physical for Ishida but the reality is that Yafai couldn't physically impose himself on Muranaka, a Flyweight, and given that Ishida is not only bigger but also well schooled himself this could be a very tough defense for the champion.
We can see Yafai winning, and he's not the clear betting favourite for no reason, but we certainly see this as being more competitive than the bookmakers, and British fans in general,expect it to be.
In 2016 British fighter Khalid Yafai (21-0, 14) created history for the United Kingdom, as he became the first British fighter to claim a world title at Super Flyweight, and completed the set for the UK, which became the first country to have had world champions at every weight. This coming Saturday Yafai makes his first defense of the title, and takes on Japan's Suguru Muranaka (25-2-1, 8), who is looking to become the first Japanese fighter to claim a world title in Europe, something numerous fighters have attempted but failed to do.
Yafai won the title by beating a man Asian fight fans know well, Luis Concepcion. Against Concepcion we saw Yafai use a lot of movement to easily out box the slower, wilder Concepcion. It wasn't an amazing performance, or a hugely exciting one, but it was one that saw Yafai box brilliantly to a game plan and totally boss the fight. Given that Yafai had never fought at world level before it was a sterling performance, even if it did totally lack drama.
Other than the win over Concepcion we've seen a bit of everything from Yafai, albeit at the lower levels. He's blasted out the likes of Dixon Flores and Isaac Quaye, he's boxed in a dominant fashion against Everth Briceno and Cristofer Rosales, and shown a dirty arrogance at times.
At his best Yafai does look genuine world class, but the Concepcion win aside it's hard to tell much from his competition. Given the depth at Super Flyweight he might only be the 8th or 9th best fighter in the division, despite being the WBA champion. Few would favour Yafai against the likes of Naoya Inoue, Roman Gonzalez, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Carlos Cuadras, Juan Francisco Estrada, David Carmona, Jerwin Ancalas or even Johnriel Casimero, and when you consider his competition it really does lack those types of names.
In Suguru Muranaka fight fans in the west will get the chance to see one of the most fan friendly fighters on the planet, but also one who has had issues through the last few years of his career, despite being unbeaten in more than a decade. At his best Muranaka is an aggressively minded, pressure fighter warrior, willing to have a fighter and put on a show. At his worst he's a wild and open fighter, who lacks the power for his style and gets tagged far too much to be a world class fighter.
On paper Muranaka's best wins have been on the fringes of world level. He holds decision wins over Hiroyuki Hisataka and Takuya Kogawa, and has scored a stoppage over Masayuki Kuroda. All three of those men have fought in world title bouts, though all 3 did come up short at the top level. Notably two of those fringe world class wins have come at Flyweight, with Muranaka having out grown the division. It's the out growing of the Flyweight division which has been a major problem for Muranaka, who lost the Japanese title after failing to make weight, and the failed weight a second time at Flyweight before being forced to move up to Super Flyweight.
Since moving up Muranaka hasn't really impressed. He's not been able to force his will on opponents and hasn't looked as impressive as he used to. He's still an aggressive fighter with a pressure style, but he's certainly not looking as good as he once did.
Muranaka has started coming in to this fight that he's looking to put Yafai under pressure, make him work and break him down. Although it's a tactic similar to what Concepcion tried it seems to be Muranaka's plan A, B and C. If he can cut the distance and get to work on the inside, without being taken out by Yafai's dangerous body shots, then things could be interesting. Sadly for Muranaka to get close without taking heavy leather would be a huge surprise, and we can't help but think that either Yafai will box and move, keeping the bout at range and taking a wide decision, turn the tables, stand his ground and eventually take out Muranaka.
We would love to see the upset, and see a Japanese fighter finally win a world title in Europe, but it would be a huge shock if Muranaka could pull it off here, it would be one of the biggest boxing surprises of the year.
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.