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.