When it comes to popular Japanese fighters with an international fan base based more on their style than their records no one matches the all-action Akira Yaegashi (24-5, 12), who could put on a FOTY contender with a broom. Though his memorable career he has has thrillers with the likes of Kenichi Horikawa, Pornasawn Porpramook, Kazuto Ioka, Toshiyuki Igarashi, Roman Gonzalez, Javier Mendoza and Martin Tecuapetla. It's hard to think of many bad fights with Yaegashi and we're expecting another really fun one this coming Friday when he takes on Samartlek Kokietgym (33-5, 12)*, who will be taking part in his second world title fight.
Yaegashi, the current IBF Light Flyweight champion, isn't just one of Japan's most exciting fighters but is one of the sports most exciting fighters. He combines an incredible will to win, which has been a downfall in the past, with an aggressive action based style, and an incredible work rate and desire. That desire saw him break down Pornsawan in a FOTY contender, and see out some torrid rounds against Tecuapetla as well as put on a FOTY candidate with Mendoza.
Yaegashi is one of the few Japanese fighters to be a genuine 3-weight champion. He has won titles at 105lbs, 112lbs and 108lbs and it's that 108lb weight class that he seems most suited to. Sadly however he is closing in on his 34th birthday and his time at the top looks unlikely to last long, especially given how long and hard his career has been. He already has 222 rounds under his belt and although he's only fought 29 bouts he has had 17 at title level, and 11 at world title level, with those bouts often being draining wars.
Although a warrior, through and through, Yaegashi can box and has shown that through his career, sadly though his warrior mentality has kicked in more often than not, meaning that even the most simple of bouts have been wars. That has sadly left him suffering multiple injuries, from bad facial damage to a broken Temporomandibular Joint and a serious shoulder injury, that has kept him out of the ring most of this year. Those injuries, and damage, have accumulated and will almost certainly affect him going forward.
Although relatively unknown Samartlek is a fighter on a role, and a fighter who has proven his toughness in the past, along with proving he can travel and can fight, a bit. He's best known for lasting 11 rounds in 2014 with Yaegashi's stablemate Naoya Inoue but has been a success in Thailand where he has been racking up a long string of wins since losing the “The Monster”.
The 32 year old challenger was originally a Muay Thai kick boxer before turning to boxing back in 2010. In a little over 6 years he has racked up either a 31-5 (12) record or a 33-5 record, depending on the source. That record has included losses to Inthanon Sithchamuang, Denver Cuello, Yuki Chinen, Randy Petalcorin and Inoue along with wins against the likes of Inthanon and Muhammad Rachman,
At his best Samartlek has proven to be a tough and gutsy fighter, he pushed Chinen close, bounced off the canvas multiple times against Petalcorin and lasted until round 11 with Inoue. He has also shown signs of improvement and has won his last 14 bouts, 14 fought since losing to Inoue a little more than 2 years ago. The improvement is thought to be more than he has shown with work alongside Kompayak Porpramook said to have improved his body work and made him a more rounded fighter.
Wither neither man having huge amounts of power, and both being aggressively minded guys who let leather go we're expecting something a bit special here with both letting their shots go. We have to favour Yaegashi, who has the experience and proven class, but we're expecting a very special action bout here with both men standing and trading blows. Yaegashi will likely look swollen and damaged but we genuinely expect him to be the clear winner on the cards.
Over the last 2 years there have been numerous fighters bursting on to the scene in one way or another. Some have gained more attention and hype than others and others have achieved more than many fighters do in their entire career.
One of the men to fall into that second category is Japanese super stud Naoya Inoue (6-0, 5), a man who claimed a world title in just his 6th professional bout after being a professional for a mere 18 months. Aged 21 it's clear that Inoue has the potential to be an all-time great, in fact he has the tools to be the best Japanese fighter in history. It may sound like hyperbole but the potential for this youngster really is limitless.
Last time out Inoue claimed the WBC Light Flyweight title by stopping Mexican Adrian Hernandez in just 6 rounds. The performance was sensational and saw many proclaiming him to be the best fighter at 108lbs. Sadly however he had struggled to make weight for the bout with Hernandez and it seemed almost certain that the fight with Hernandez was going to be Inoue's last at Light Flyweight. Instead however he will continue at the weight for one more fight, defending his world title against Thailand's Samartlek Kokietgym (17-4, 5) in what really is seen as a mismatch. Though for Inoue it's a chance to defend his belt before moving on, something he never did as the Japanese or OPBF champion.
Although viewed as a lamb to the slaughter Samartlek is himself a champion, albeit a PABA champion at 105lbs. Sadly however not only is he moving up a division but he is also facing his best opponent to date in Inoue. Saying that Samartlek has mixed with solid company in the past. He holds a very good win over Muhammad Rachman and a notable one over Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr whilst he has suffered losses to Denver Cuello and Randy Petalcorin, both of whom are world class fighters. Sadly those losses are more notable than the wins with Cuello stopping Samartlek in 9 rounds.
Samartlek is, on paper, on a good run with 9 successive victories including wins this year over Samuel Tehuayo and Domi Nenokeba, both via 6 round decision. Unfortunately that 9 fight streak has seen him scoring just 2 stoppages indicating a real lack of power. Another thing Samartlek lacks is size, even for a fighter in the lowest weights he looks tiny, in fact he sort of looks like a school boy. He has decent enough movement though nothing that should make a world class fighter worry.
With Inoue being a destructive force the only issue he has here is complacency. He has said he's looking for a quick win and if he's not careful that could be his downfall. He has all the advantages in terms of skills, power, speed, size and strength though he will need to keep his head straight and focus on scoring a win rather than looking amazing. If he mows down Samartlek inside a round then that'll be a great way to wave goodbye to 108lbs. If he needs to take a hard fought decision win then he shouldn't feel disappointed with himself. Aged 21 however we all know he'll want to impress the fans and the boxing public who have tuned in to see if he is as good as people say. For what it's worth, he really is as good as people say.
(Image courtesy of our great friends at http://www.thairec.com)
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.