By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
The month of July is a quite busy month for boxing, with so many great matches taking place worldwide. One of those is Ryuya Yamanaka, the reigning WBO World Minimumweight champion, defending against Vic Saludar, in Japan on July 13.
Ryuya Yamanaka (16-2/5 KOs) took up boxing at a very young age, under the tutelage of, 3 division world champion, Hozumi Hasegawa. His first pro-fight took place in 2012, when he was just 17 years old. Within the next 4 years, he garnered 12 wins and 2 losses, before he faced, top Philippino boxer, Merlito Sabillo (25-3*) for the vacant OPBF Minimumweight title. Sabillo, a former Philippines, OPBF and WBO world champion, had finished 12 of his 25 wins via KO whereas Ryuya had only 3 under his belt. The Japanese fighter was clearly the underdog in this bout, with less in-ring experience and KO power. However, Yamanaka shocked everyone with his performance that day, making the champion look like an amateur. His speed and precision earned him the unanimous decision and his first major title. In less than a year later, his big moment came as he was set to fight Tatsuya Fukuhara (19-4*) on August of 2017 at the Shiroyama Sky Dome for the WBO World Minimumweight championship. Fukuhara, who is still ranked amongst the top Minimumweight competitors in the world, went through a war with Yamanaka, with both men giving everything they got during this title bout. In the end, Yamanaka’s hand was raised once again in victory, winning the World title at the age of 22. On March of this year, he successfully made his first title defense against Mexican standout Moises Calleros (28-7*). Yamanaka’s skills proved to be too much for Calleros, as he made him retire in the 8th round.
Vic Saludar (17-3/10 KOs) currently ranked #3 by the WBO, has been slowingly climbing up the rankings in order to get a crack at the gold. The Philippino was 11-1 when he faced the undefeated world champion Kosei Tanaka back on December of 2015. Despite losing the match, he proved that he is a worthy contender as he took Tanaka to the limit, even knocking him down in the 5th round. In 2016 he made a strong comeback, after he beat Lito Dante (11-5*) to win the WBO Oriental Minimumweight title. Since then, Saludar has been gaining momentum and finally earned another chance at the new champion.
The Japanese champion has come face to face with much tougher opponents during his previous encounters. This fight is just another stepping stone for him towards a possible future unification match. For Saludar, this is do or die time. He already missed his first shot, he does not want to fail again, since chances like these don’t come very often.
Prediction: Yamanaka is the favourite in this one. Even though he may not be the knock out artist Saludar is, he has been matched with much better competition, than the challenger, in the past and he always manages to come out on top. His technique and agility will be his biggest assets here. However, Saludar is not to be taken lightly, if his bout with Tanaka is any indication. One mistake by Ryuya and we could be looking at a new champion.
*The boxer’s record before the fight.
The Minimumweight division is one of the most frustrating in the sport, right now. There is a lot of talent in the division, not something that can often be said about the 105lb weight class, but that talented doesn't seem to be on a collision course of any kind. Instead it seems like the 4 champions are likely to be kept apart. Whilst that's frustrating there is, thankfully, enough contenders to keep the division interesting. One of those is Mexican Moises Calleros (28-7-1, 16), who will be in Japan this coming weekend to challenge WBO champion Ryuya Yamanaka (15-2, 4), who will be making his first defense of the title.
For those who haven't followed the division Calleros fought in Japan in February 2017, losing to Tatsuya Fukuhara for the then vacant WBO title. In his first defense Fukuhara lost the title to Yamanaka. Interestingly both of those fights were razor thin action bouts, and Fukuhara later went on to prove he was world class with a fantastic losing performance to WBC champion Wanheng Menayothin.
Since losing the Fukuhara just over a year ago the 28 year old Calleros has been busy with 3 fights, all wins. These haven't been against the best fighters but they have included a win against former world champion Mario Rodriguez.
For those who haven't seen Calleros he's an ultra aggressive, come forward fighter with a high work rate, a very exciting style and someone who will be a handful for pretty much anyone at 105lbs. He's not the biggest puncher, but has under-rated power, which combined with his volume does make him very dangerous. At 28 he's coming into his prime, he's fairly big fighter for a Minimumweight and has fought at Flyweight a number of times.
At the lower weights competition for contenders to face on their way up can be a bit thin. Calleros however has faced good fighters through his career. This has included a narrow loss to Julian Yedras, 12 round decision loss to Francisco Rodriguez Jr, a win over Carlos Perez, the loss to Fukuhara and the aforementioned win over Mario Rodriguez. He might not be in the top 10 of the division, but he's certainly not too far outside of that group.
As mentioned Fukuhara lost the title to Yamanaka in his first defense, last August. Since the the 22 year old champion hasn't fought, but has clearly been preparing hard for his first defence and to continue his 8 fight winning run.
The Japanese youngster made his professional debut at the age of 17 and struggled at times early in, going 7-2, with an opening round loss to Kenta Shimizu in his 5th bout and an upset loss to Roque Lauro in 2014. Since that loss to Lauro however we're see Yamanaka his his stride with notable wins against Takahiro Murai, Ronelle Ferreras, Merlito Sabillo and Tatsuya Fukuhara. Like the challenger he's a busy fighter, who will throw a lot of punches. Technically he's a bit limited, but with his youthful energy he's got good stamina, beating Fukuhara at his own game, good speed and an under-rated boxing brain.
Sadly Yamanaka does lack fire power. He's only scored 4 stoppages in 18 bouts, and only 2 in his last 11 bouts, with the last two of those coming against terrible Thai visitors. His lack of power will be an issue at world level, and whilst he has got the energy, speed and skills to hold the title for a bit against the right types of opponents, though against someone like Hiroto Kyoguchi he would likely be ripped apart due to the significant differences in power and physical strength.
Coming in to this one we're expecting a really thrilling bout. Sadly though we feel that the maturity and physical strength of Calleros will be the difference. The two will have an insane action bout, but the challenger will be too strong for the champion, who is one of the sports youngest current champions and will obviously be able to come again in the future, with a bit more experience and physical development.
The Minimumweight division is one that is currently dominated by Asian fighters, with all 4 major world titles being held by Asian's. This coming Sunday won't see that changing, but could potentially see a new champion being crowned, as WBO Minimumweight champion Tatsuya Fukuhara (19-4-6, 7) defends his title against fellow Japanese fighter Ryuya Yamanaka (14-2, 4). For the champion this will be his first defense of the title whilst Yamanaka will be getting his first world title fight, as he looks to become the next world champion from the Shinsei gym.
The 28 year old Fukuhara was a fighter who showed some early promise, reaching the 2009 Rookie of the Year final, but then his career stumbled. He went from 5-0-2 (1) to 12-4-3 (3) and suffered losses to Yu Kimura and Takuma Inoue, who was making his debut. Since that poor run we have however seen Fukuhara turn his career around, with a 7-0-3 (4) run in his last 10. That run has seen him fight to a draw with Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr in Thailand, defeat Hiroya Yamamoto for the Japanese title, over-come Takumi Sakae and Genki Hanai in title defenses, get a technical draw against Shin Ono and beat Moises Calleros for the “interim” WBO world title.
The run of Fukuhara's has been genuinely impressive and has seen him show impressive mental strength. In the ring he's got a nice jab and solid work rate, but does lack power and he has a very weak looking left hand, which is an issue given he's a southpaw, and a pretty weak defense. When he throws the left hand he often leaves him open to counters, and can be seen to rely on his chin a bit too much during those moments. Despite there being a lot of flaws Fukuhara has proven to be a tough man to beat in recent years with his willingness to take one to land one being part of what makes him so hard to beat. It's also worth noting that he is a hero in Kumamoto, and the crowd will be behind him every time he fights there, where he has grown a notable local following.
Whilst the champion is pretty unknown in the west it's fair to say that Yamanaka is a total unknown outside of Japan, and in fairness is pretty unknown outside of Hyogo. He turned professional in 2012 and has regularly fought in Kobe on shows promoted by his gym Shinsei. He's ventured out a few times, but not too often. During his career he has suffered a couple of losses, with one of those being an early career stoppage to Kenta Shimizu and the other being a decision loss to Filipino journeyman Roque Lauro in 2014. Coming in to this bout however he is riding a 7 fight winning run, including wins over Takahiro Murai, Ronelle Ferreras and most notably Merlito Sabillo, a win that saw Yamanaka claim the OPBF title.
In the win over Sabillo we saw the ability of Yamanaka shine as he boxed and moved, using his speed and movement to make the former world champion look slow, clumsy and like a novice at times. It was this version of Yamanaka that showed the talent to become a world champion down the line, and earned him this shot, but there is a difference between fighting a shop worn, former champion like Sabillo, and a current champion like, Fukuhara.
Footage of the two suggests that Yamanaka is the better boxer. He's the more natural talent of the two. But we can't help but feel that that natural talent will be swamped by Fukuhara, who will simply wear down the challenger. We can certainly see Yamanaka boxing and moving to a decision victory, but we suspect the champion will retain with a late stoppage.
World Title Previews
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