The WBC world title picture at Bantamweight is a series mess with the body having one of their more confusing title pictures, with a world champion, and interim champion and a silver champion. The title scene really is a mess due to issues caused in 2018 by Mexican fighter Luis Nery, who failed a drug test and subsequently failed to make weight. Despite his issues Nery is actually the #1 ranked and current Silver champion.
Rather than going into detail about Nery, and his various issues, it's worth noting that him and Takuma Inoue, the interim champion, are both vying for a future world title fight, likely later in the year. They do however have to wait, and next up for the main title will be the first defense of unbeaten French champion Nordine Oubaali (15-0, 11), who takes on Filipino challenger Arthur Villanueva (32-3-1, 18) on July 6th. The bout isn't the most interesting, given the talent in the division and the long line of WBC challengers, but it's a notable bout headlining an MTK card in Kazakhstan, and certainly deserves some real attention.
The unbeaten champion, a French fighter with Morocan heritage, was an outstanding amateur competing at 2 Olympics and 3 world amateur championships. Although his best result was "only" a bronze medal, at the 2007 World Championships in Chicago, he was clearly talented and that showed in his consistency and success in the World Series Boxing, where he fought for the Paris United Franchise. That experience in the amateurs and WSB saw Oubaali turn professional with some pretty lofty expectations 2014 and since then the southpaw has impressed picking up minor titles before claiming the WBC belt last year.
As a fighter Oubaali is a talented southpaw boxer-puncher with excellent skills and solid punching power. He turned professional in 2014 and was kept busy early on in his career against mostly limited opponents, but in 2016 he stopped both Iran Diaz, who later went the distance with Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, and Julio Cesar Miranda, a former world champion from Mexico. Those wins put him on the map before he added stoppages against very tough Mexican veteran Alejandro Hernandez, skilled Filipino Mark Anthony Geraldo and tough Colombian Luis Melendez. Most recently he defeated Rau'shee Warren, over 12 rounds, for the WBC title back in January. Notably that bout in January is his only contest in the last 12 months. With a number of good wins he is really one of the top, and most under-rated, Bantamweights out there, with a resume comparable to better recognised fighters at the weight, like Zolani Tete, Emmanuel Rodriguez and Ryan Burnett, and would have been a good addition to the WBSS.
The Filipino challenger was once regarded as a bright hope, though has sadly failed to live up to the expectations on his shoulders. He began his career with 28 straight wins whilst working his way up the world rankings. In 2015 he would then face McJoe Arroyo in a bout for the IBF Super Flyweight title, losing a technical decision in what was a truly stinking bout. He was much more competitive than the score cards suggested, though in reality neither man did much of anything in a truly disappointing match up that never clicked. Since then Villanueva has gone 5-2-1 (4), and not looked particularly good, even in his wins.
At his best he was a methodical fighter, a thinking mans fighter, with good timing, patience and counter punching. He was a chess player in the ring, but unfortunately his skills haven't shown themselves at the top level, and losses to not only Arroyo but also Zolani Tete and Luis Nery, who he dropped before being stopped by, have shown he's a level beneath world class. He's a very capable fighter, but no world beater, and unfortunately fighters will need to be world beaters to beat Oubaali.
We're expecting Villanueva to put up a good effort early on, though as the fight goes on Oubaali's class, clean punching and accuracy will be the difference and by the middle rounds Villanueva will be getting broken down, before being stopped in the second half of the fight.
Prediction - Oubaali TKO9
Last August we saw the long WBC Bantamweight reign of Shinsuke Yamanaka (27-1-2, 19) come to an end. By that point he had held the title for over 2100 days, or close to 6 years. During that time he had gone from obscure Japanese fighter, best known for his thrilling Japanese title fight with Ryosuke Iwasa, to a man listed in many pound-for-pound lists and a man with 12 world title defenses. He was dethroned by Mexican youngster Luis Nery (25-0, 19), who impressed by stopping Yamanaka in 4 rounds in Kyoto. The performance was a coming out event for Nery, though one that would later have a cloud hanging over it due to a failed drugs test by the Mexican.
This coming Thursday the two men meet again. For Nery it's a chance to prove that he is the better fighter, and that the drugs were incidental to his winning performance, for Yamanaka it's a chance to avenge his sole defeat and become a 2-time champion. For fans around the world it's an opportunity to see two world class Bantamweights go at it again, live on NTV.
Aged 35 Yamanaka is an old fighter, especially for the lower weights. On the whole he has avoided damaging bouts, but as he's gotten older the damage has accumulated and he's started to show more and more cracks in his chin and his reactions aren't what they once were. In his pre-prime days he was involved in the aforementioned thriller with Iwasa and it wasn't really until his 2014 clash with Suriyan Sor Rungvisai that anyone really ran him close. Sadly following the bout with Suriyan we seemed to have seen a faded Yamanaka, who narrowly over-came Anselmo Moreno in their first bout, was dropped twice by Liborio Solis in 2016 and dropped by Moreno in their second bout.
Although Yamanaka was never a technical wizard he was a solid boxer, with an extremely potent left hand. The power of left led to the nickname “God's Left” and whilst that power is still very devastating there is a feeling that age has really caught up with him. His footwork, which was once his best tool to set up the power shots, is slowing and his defense wasn't ever a strong suit. He may still have one great last performance in the bag, though it may well be that that last hurrah was his stoppage win over Moreno in 2016.
At just 23 the future is amazingly bright for Nery, who has become a big star in his homeland. The Mexican is a flawed but exciting and aggressive fighter. He brings a lot of pressure and is surprisingly quick with his hands, which are double a problem given that he too is a southpaw, and he is a high volume puncher who really loves letting his punches go. Although explosive and physically imposing Nery does have questions over his own chin, and he was dropped last time out by the accurate but relatively light punching Arthur Villanueva. Given his style he makes the most of his youthful energy, though some questions should be asked about his stamina, and he has only done 24 rounds in his last 6 bouts combined with only 1 career bout going beyond 9 rounds.
Although flawed there is a real feeling that Nery has the style to always trouble Yamanaka. Even a prime Yamanaka didn't like incessant pressure, this was shown against Iwasa and more recently against Suriyan and Solis. There is a chance that Nery's chin wouldn't hold up to a perfect left hand from Yamanaka, though with the Mexican being busy, young and quick, he will feel confident of swarming Yamanaka, cramping him of space and working away on the inside. Where Nery perhaps is at a big disadvantage is his natural size, and he does seem like a fighter who struggles to comfortably make 118lbs, with 2 of his recent bouts taking place above the divisional limit. If he's struggling he may just cause himself enough issues to take away the edges he has.
We suspect this bout will be similar to the first. Yamanaka will have some success when he's got the bout at range, making the most of Nery's slower feet, but the Mexican will gradually get closer, and will begin to break down the Japanese veteran, eventually stopping Yamanaka, and retiring him. There is a chance Yamanaka will land a trademark thunderbolt left hand, but that's all he has, a puncher's chance.
This coming Tuesday we'll see a mouth watering WBC Bantamweight world title fight, as long reigning champion Shinsuke Yamanaka (27-0-2, 19) [山中慎介] faces off with unbeaten mandatory challenger Luis Nery (23-0, 17), in a bout that really is brilliant on paper and is viewed by many as a 50-50 contest.
The Japanese world champion has been the WBC Bantamweight king since November 2011, making him the longest reigning current world champion, and in that time he has racked up 12 title defenses. Unlike many long term champions he hasn't been racking them up against weak opponents, instead defending his belt against the likes of Vic Darchninyan, Tomas Rojas, Malcolm Tunacao, Suriyan Sor Rungvisai, Anselmo Moreno and Liborio Solis. That's not to say there hasn't been some poor challengers, such as Carlos Carlson and Diego Ricardo Santillan, but for the most part his reign has come against top tier competition.
The Konana born champion is aged 34, so getting on a bit, but has got a style that doesn't depend on youth and age. Instead it's a simple style with his whole game plan being based on landing his straight left hand, which has seen off a number of opponents. Although he “only” has a 66% KO rate he has stopped 9 of his last 13 and is regarded as one of the biggest punchers in the sport, on a pound for pound basis. As we all know, power is the last thing a fighter loses.
Although not the quickest, or hardest working, Yamanaka controls the ring well, and often takes on the role of a counter puncher, looking to land his left hand on an aggressive foe. It is however too easy to say Yamanaka is a 1-trick pony as he can brawl, he can come forward and he has got a nice jab, and right hook, when he decides to use them.
Whilst there is little new to say about Yamanaka's style which hasn't been said before, he has got a special reason to be particularly determined here. A win against Nery will see Yamanaka record his 13th world title defense, tying a long standing Japanese record for most defenses. That record was set back in the 1970's and 1980's when Yoko Gushiken made 13 defenses of the WBA Light Flyweight title, and it's clear that tying that record will be a huge achievement for Yamanaka. It's also worth noting that if he's the champion in 2018 there could be a potential bout against Naoya Inoue in the pipeline, if the Monster moves up as expected.
Aged 22 this bout is a potential coming out party for the challenger, who is known by hardcore fans and has been bubbling just under the surface for a few years now, with some dubbing him the 2016 Prospect of the Year. Whilst only 22 it's worth noting that he's a 5 year veteran who debuted back in May 2012 and began making some real noise in 2014, with wins over Victor Mendez and Carlos Fontes. Since then he he has gone 8-0 (7) scoring wins over a number of Filipino's like Jether Oliva, John Mark Apolinario, Richie Mepranum and Raymond Tabugon. Notably the one win that really stands out is a stoppage of David Sanchez, last year, but it is worth noting that Sanchez had been stopped just 2 fights earlier.
In the ring Nery is an ultra aggressive fighter. He brings the pressure, lets his hands go from the opening round and looks to take out opponents from the early stages. He can look wild and reckless at at times, but is clearly dangerous with both hands, and loves to look for the right hook. It's worth noting that the has been dropped before, with Tabugon doing it in the first round of their bout last December. It's an exciting and fan friendly style that he has, but one that really has worked so well because he's been facing naturally smaller men, who will back off.
Although unbeaten one could ask “what good Bantamweights has Nery beaten?” And the truth is that he hasn't yet beaten a world class Bantamweight. That's not to say he can't, but he is stepping up massively here, and taking on his best foe by far. He could really shine and swarm Yamanaka, showing too much fire for the old dog, but he could just as easily be out classed by the man regarded by many as the best at the weight.
What we're expecting, though again we could be hugely wrong, is for Nery to be his aggressive self in what will be his first bout outside of Mexico. He will be able to have early success with his forward march, but will find Yamanaka's ring craft to be something totally new. The pressure won't be able to pin Yamanaka against the ropes, and instead the champion will time him with counter left hands. There is a good chance Yamanaka will get old over night, but it's hard to imagine that happening here against a fighter like Nery, who just seems to be trying to jump too far, too fast after having faced the competition he has for the last 5 years.
On March 2nd Japanese icon Shinsuke Yamanaka (26-0-2, 18) will return to the ring in search of his 12th world title defense, as he takes on in form Mexican challenger Carlos Carlson (22-1, 13). For Yamanaka a win would see him move to second in the list of Japanese fighters with successive title defense, just a defense behind the 13 defense record of Yoko Gushiken, whilst a win for Carlson would put him on the boxing map as a potential star of the Mexican fight scene.
Yamanaka has been the champion since November 2011, when he beat Christian Esquivel for the then vacant title. Since then he has become one of the stars of Japanese boxing and his 5 year reign at the top is the longest active reign of any male world champion. That reign hasn't just been long but it's also been a distinguished one with defenses against Vic Darchinyan, Tomas Rojas, Malcolm Tunacao, Suriyan Sor Rungvisai, Anselmo Moreno, twice, and Liborio Solis.
Aged 34 Yamanaka is one of the elder statesmen of Japanese boxing, yet is regarded as one of the truly elite level fighters from the country. In the ring he can be a bit predictable, lining up his vicious left hands which are his most potent weapon. Although a very left hand dominant fighter Yamanaka has got under-rated skills and can rely on them when needed, as he did against Solis, and can also win a war, as he did in his second bout with Moreno.
Although still a top fighter, and probably the best Bantamweight on the planet, Yamanaka has shown flaws in recent bouts. He has been dropped in his last two bouts, was fortunate to over-come Moreno in their first meeting and was given real fits by Suriyan. Despite those flaws Yamanaka has always found a way to come out on top at world level, and has won his last 21 fights, with 16 stoppages in those contests.
Whilst Yamanaka is widely regarded as the best Bantamweight on the planet much less is known about Carlson, despite the fact he too is on a long winning run, winning his last 22 bouts following a loss on his debut. Notably that loss was fought well above the Bantamweight limit, and in fact many of Carlson's early career bouts were fought in and around the Super Bantamweight division. During his 22 fight winning run Carlos has fought in both the US and in Mexico.
Whilst Carlson has fought internationally the competition that he has faced has been dire. The most notable names he has faced have been the likes of Javier Gallo, Jose Cen Torres,Miguel Tamayao and Giovanni Caro. Worryingly he has also been dropped in some of his bouts so far, and by much lesser punchers than Yamanaka.
Sadly footage of Carlson is relatively limited, though he has appeared on TV before. One of those televised fights saw him take on Aaron Olivares. The bout showed that Carlos is offensively wild and although he can seemingly punch his defense is poor, his shots are wide, his feet cross and there was little in terms of world class ability on show. He has improved since that bout, but he's still a relatively open fighter and was dropped by Carlos Melo only a few fights back.
Whilst it's hard to read too much into Carlson's ability from the footage out there he has been down against limited opponents often enough to suggest he won't be able to withstand Yamanaka's power. With that in mind we're expecting to see a relatively easy stoppage win for the Japanese fighter who will likely return later in the year seeking to tie Gushiken's Japanese record, and maybe even break it before the end of 2017.
Last September we saw a huge, and highly controversial, Bantamweight fight in Japan as Shinsuke Yamanaka (25-0-2, 17) retained his WBC title with a split decision win over Panama's Anselmo Moreno (36-4-1, 12). The bout, a mandatory defence for Yamanaka, saw many suggest Yamanaka had gotten a gift and soon lead to Moreno getting a world title eliminator for a rematch. The Panamanian won the eliminator, defeating Suriyan Sor Rungvisai, and put us where we are today.
In their first bout Yamanaka really struggled to land clean on Moreno. His much vaunted power was neutralised and he was made to look slow and old, like a man struggling to give 100% of himself at the weight. Since then he has fought once, over-coming Liborio Solis in a a bout that saw both men being dropped, twice. For Moreno he's also fought just once since the first bout, scoring the aforementioned win over Suriyan.
At his best Yamanaka was a destructive fighter with a vicious left hand, under-rated skills, and a good boxing mind. He wasn't the quickest or the most defensively sound but he was a big puncher who could take a shot and set them up. As he's gotten older however he's fallen in love with the power, and has become predictable with everyone knowing he's always looking to land the dynamite left hand.
At his best Yamanaka was a real sensation and his resume is incredibly impressive with wins against the likes of Vic Darchinyan, Tomas Rojas, Malcolm Tunacao, Suriyan Sor Rungvisai, Moreno and Solis. The last 3 of those wins however have made Yamanaka look more and more human and not like the force he once was.
At the age of 33 Yamanaka is old for a Bantamweight and he has been making the weight since 2006. It's fair to say the the weight is becoming harder and harder for him to make and at 5'7” he is a big Bantamweight. The age and struggles with weight have likely been plaguing Yamanaka in recent bouts, but he has continued to fight at the weight, a choice that has perhaps cost him in terms of performance.
Whilst Yamanaka is a true puncher the way we'd describe Moreno is as a pure boxer. He's tricky, he's smart and he's technically excellent with a lovely array of punches, intelligent movement, excellent defense and an amazing ability to read distance. In many ways he's an old school fighter with old school skills, and uses those skills, and his freakishly long arms, to neutralise opponents and get his own shots off.
Aged 30 Moreno is still in his prime and his resume is exceptional, with victories over the likes of Tomas Rojas, Volodymyr Sydorenko, Rolly Lunas, Mahyar Monshipour, Nehomar Cermeno, Lorenzo Parra, Vic Darchinyan and Suriyan. It may be noted that he has lost his last two bouts but both were in questionable circumstances and there is little doubting his claim to be one of the truly elite Bantamweights.
With 4 losses to his record the ignorant fan may well see him as a poor fighters but one of those losses was early in his career, one was to Abner Mares at a weight that Moreno looked poor at, and the other two were the questionable defeats, to Yamanaka and Juan Carlos Payano. He's far from a fighter coming to the end of his career and although he hasn't always looked fantastic he usually raises the bar when he's fighting a top opponent, like Yamanaka.
Whilst Yamanaka will be a confident fighter coming in to this fight. It is worth noting however that Panamanian fighters appears to have the number of Japanese fighters this year and we've already seen Jezreel Corrales stop Takashi Uchiyama and Luis Concepcion over-come Kohei Kono in Japan. A win for Moreno would complete a remarkable year for Panamanian fighters in Japan and would continue a great rivalry between the two countries, who have had a rivalry dating back decades.
We suspect that Moreno will come out on top here, with Yamanaka's poor recent performances coming to haunt him against a very skilled fighter. Yamanaka has a chance, a puncher always does, but we suspect he'll struggle again to land on the brilliant visitor, losing a clear cut decision.
The Bantamweight division promised a lot for Japan last year but delivered little more than disappointment with a number of losses for fighters who were favoured, including Ryo Akaho, against Pungluang Sor Singyu in a WBO title fight, Tomoki Kameda, twice against Jamie McDonnell, and Shohei Omori, who came up short against Marlon Tapales in a world title eliminator.
Even when Japanese fighters won they were disappointing with the all conquering Shinsuke Yamanaka (24-0-2, 17) also failing to shine, defending his title twice. The first of those defenses was an expected and simple win over the horribly over-matched Diego Ricardo Santillan whilst the second of those defenses saw the Japanese puncher come up very fortunate against Anselmo Moreno.
On March 4th Yamanaka returns to the ring and hopes to return to his dominating best as he hunts a 10th defense of the WBC Bantamweight title, and faces off against Venezuelan warrior Liborio Solis (23-3-1, 10), a man who is well known to Japanese fans.
For Solis the bout will see him attempt to become a 2-weight world champion and look to record his third win in Japan, where he actually holds a 100% record with both previous wins being big ones. Not only is the challenger trying to keep his perfect Japanese record but also extend a 14 fight winning run.
The champion is widely regarded as the top Bantamweight and his reign as the WBC champion has been impressive, though relatively over-looked. He has yet to fight outside of Japan but has scored notable wins over the likes of Vic Darchinyan, Tomas Rojas, Malcolm Tunacao, Suriyan Sor Rungvisai and Anselmo Moreno. Although some of those bouts were close he did the important thing of pulling out the victory and has got himself a solid looking resume. Not only has he scored some solid wins but he has done so whilst becoming a star in Japan and being able to draw a sizeable TV audience.
In the ring Yamanaka is well schooled, but not an elite level boxer. He has a very good variety of punches in his arsenal but often neglects many of his punches whilst looking to land his thunderbolt left hand. That left hand has got fight ending power, but recent he has looked overly predictable as he attempts to land it. That predictability has made life easier for recent opponents and whilst he has scored 14 stoppages in his last 17 he has gone the distance in 2 of his last 3.
Whilst the champion is regarded as a genuinely elite world level fighter the challenger is much more over-looked, despite having been a former WBA Super Flyweight champion and holding a number of notable wins on record. Those wins include a decision in Panama over Rafael Concepcion, who famously gave Nonito Donaire fits and a decision in Mexico against Jose Salgado, as well as a huge win in Japan over current world champion Kohei Kono and a controversial victory over Daiki Kameda.
To many fight fans in the East it was Solis's win over Kono that really solidified Solis as a world class talent, and it was a hell of a fight with both men being dropped and both going to war with Solis taking a majority decision over the popular Watanabe gym fighter. Whilst that win really made Solis, in many ways his win over Kameda was the beginning of the end for the Kameda clan and saw Solis missing weight for a Super Flyweight unification bout. Since then he has fought as high as Featherweight and last time out scored a win over Jonathan Baat.
In the ring the 33 year old Venezuelan Solis is a tough, busy action fighter. Technically he's not the biggest or most technically capable but he comes to fight and will continually bring pressure with a high work rate and look to turn everything in to a war. It's a style similar in some ways to Suriyan, who gave Yamanaka hell in 2014.
Given the styles of the two men we're expecting something really exciting here with Solis bringing the pressure and Yamanaka boxing on the backfoot, lining up the left hands in an attempt to take Solis out. The fight should be a high paced and all action affair with Solis bringing the fight but it's hard to see him having the power to hurt Yamanaka. The bout, we suspect, will look similar to Yamanaka's bout with Suriyan with Yamanaka doing enough to claim the win, but certainly not looking at his best.
Seeing top fighters face each other in genuinely intriguing contests seems to be something that is really rare in our sport right now. We've started to see prospects matched hard but it's rare that world champions face another top fighter by choice, instead waiting for a mandatory to give them a tough test. For some fighters however the pursuit of making a name for themselves has made them chase big names and tough match ups.
One fighter who has called for big fights over the last year or two is WBC Bantamweight kingpin Shinsuke Yamanaka (23-0-2, 17) who's wish comes true on September 22nd when he faces former WBA “super” champion Anselmo Moreno (35-3-1, 12), a man who was blatantly ducked by Koki Kameda.
For Yamanaka this promises to be one of, if not the, trickiest test of his career but also a chance to beat a fighter well know in the West, and a man who has impressed American fans and media. It may not be the huge unification bout that Yamanaka may have wanted but it's still a significant and tough defense for the monstrously hard hitting southpaw. On paper it's a great match up and in terms of styles it really has the potential to be a thoroughly intriguing bout between two men with very different in-ring abilities.
Yamanaka, for those who haven't seen him, is one of the sports truest punchers. His straight left hand is ridiculously potent and combines lights out power with laser guided accuracy. Aside from the left his arsenal is under-utilised though he does have a sharp jab, when he uses it, a solid hook and spiteful uppercuts. He can hold his own up close though it's at mid-range to long-range that he is incredibly dangerous. Not only is he dangerous but he's also smart and manages to draw mistakes from opponents whilst having his left hand ready to land at any time.
At 32 years old Yamanaka is one of the elder-statesmen of Japanese boxing, along with fellow champions like Takashi Uchiyama and Kohei Kono. Despite his age he hasn't taken a lot of damage and has gone through 8 defense of the WBC title without suffering too much damage. Part of his “youthfulness” has come down to the fact he has stopped 7 of his 9 world class opponents, whilst the other part is his ring craft which has seen him control the distance and timing against most of his opponents. One thing to note however was that recent foe Suriyan Sor Rungvisai did show some issues with how Yamanaka copes with pressure, for his troubles though Suriyan was dropped 3 times.
Whilst Yamanaka is a boxer-puncher Moreno is the more pure boxer-mover. He's a slippery and sharp fighter who rarely stays still, rarely looks to trade and scarcely throws a shot with full venom. Instead of holding his feet and putting his weight behind a shot he'll stay on his toes, move, duck, dive and frustrate opponents with a combination of his movement, hand speed and elusiveness. As well as the trickery in the ring he's also a southpaw, making him even more awkward for opponents.
At his best Moreno was sensational. He went on an excellent 27 fight winning streak between 2003 and 2012 whilst notching notable wins against the likes of Tomas Roas, Volodymyr Sydorenko-twice, Rolly Lunas, Mahyar Monshipour, Nehomar Cermeno-twice and Vic Darchinan. Sadly however those times appear to be behind him and he has lost 2 of his last 4, with a decision loss to Abner Mares at Super Bantamweight and a controversial technical decision loss to Juan Carlos Payano last year. It was the loss to Payano saw Moreno lose the WBA Bantamweight "super" title after 12 successful defenses.
Coming in to this bout we're expecting to see world class skills from both guys though the bout will be decided by who can make the most of their advantages. Will Moreno manage to get in and out with out taking punishment? Or will Yamanaka manage to time the Panamanian challenger? If Yamanaka catching Moreno there is a big chance he will drop the challenger, and possibly even stop Moreno. Another huge question is whether Moreno will be effected by inactivity with the challenger having fought just 6 rounds in the last year and 18 rounds in the past 24 months. For a fighter who depends on reflexes and timing that could well be a huge problem for the challenger.
Although we know this will be a tough ask for Yamanaka we are expecting to see the champion shine, stepping up to the task at hand and making a real statement with a late stoppage before seeking another major bout, either at the end of the year or in early 2016.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
The Bantamweight division is one of the hottest in Japan right now. The country boasts two of the truly elite divisional fighters in the form of WBC kingpin Shinsuke Yamanaka and WBO champion Tomoki Kameda. It also boasts a brilliant set of contender level fighters, such as Shohei Omori and Kentaro Masuda, who may well have fought by the time you're probably reading this, Ryosuke Iwasa, who is set to get an IBF title shot later in the year, and WBO #1 ranked contender Ryo Akaho.
It's fair to say that the coming year will be a major one, especially given the news about Iwasa's bout with Lee Haskins and the up coming contest between Tomoki Kameda and WBA "regular" champion Jamie McDonnell. Iwasa and Kameda however are trailing well behind Yamanaka in terms of resume so far and before either of them get the chance to change that we will see Yamanaka return to action and distance himself yet further from his compatriots.
That comes about on April 16th when the unbeaten Yamanaka (22-0-2, 16) takes to the ring in the search of his 8th world title defence and a victory over unbeaten Argentinian Diego Ricardo Santillan (23-0, 15). This will be Yamanaka's first bout against an unbeaten opponent since his 2011 war with Iwasa, though few are giving Santillan any type of chance in a bout widely considered a mismatch, despite the fact neither man has tasted defeat so far.
The reasons Yamanaka is so heavily favoured are numerous though they tend to come down to the fact he's more proven, has the more impressive wins and the more complete skill set. In fact in terms of his resume there is no active Bantamweight who can compare with Yamanaka, who already has wins over the likes of Iwasa, Christian Esquivel, Vic Darchinyan, Tomas Rojas, Malcolm Tunacao and Suriyan Sor Rungvisai.
The Japanese puncher is dubbed the "God Left" due to his rocket like left hand which has destroyed numerous opponents in his 24 fight career. In terms of over-all boxing he's not the most impressive, in fact in many ways he's a one-trick pony but his one trick is an excellent one. He looks for an opportunity to land his home run punch and often connects. Aside from the left hand he does have a solid, though massively under-utilised, jab and a spiteful array of other shots that continue go under-used.
Aged 32 Yamanaka is seemingly still in his prime. He has been involved in one or two wars, with the Iwasa bout standing out, but over-all he's not taken too much damage courtesy of his left hand and his intelligent footwork, which is used to set up his straight. From his 24 career bouts he has only amassed 157 professional rounds, around 6.5 rounds a bout, and has stopped 14 of his last 16 opponents.
Although there are flaws with Yamanaka, notably his refusal to use his jab to set up his left hand, he's a really hard fighter to beat. Firstly a fighter needs to be built of really tough stuff, and then they need to either out box him or work him. To date no fighter has been capable of that, though Suriyan did show the blueprint in to how to beat Yamanaka, though was dropped several times for his effort and relied on his super human toughness to just see out the 12 rounds.
Going through the record of the 27 year old Santillan yields little to really tell us how good he is. On paper his best win came almost 5 years ago when he stopped compatriot Guillermo Osvaldo Soloppi, then 13-0, in 5 rounds for the for Argentinian Bantamweight title. Since then however Soloppi has gone 5-5 with only a single win against a fighter with a winning record and doesn't look like a genuinely good win. Similarly a win over the then 11-0 Oreste Bernabe Nieva looks less impressive now than it looked at the time. Most worryingly for Santillan, at least in regards to his record, was his struggle past the limited Lucas Rafael Baez in a very competitive bout that saw Santillan getting the "home nudge" to retain his perfect record.
From the footage that we've managed to see of Santillan he appears to be slow footed, offensively reckless and defensively open. In terms of his power it's not impressive enough to worry a fighter like Yamanaka and he's not aggressive enough to put Yamanaka under the pressure that Suriyan did last time out.
Whilst it's fair to say that Suriyan did give Yamanaka a very tough time last time out it's hard to see Santillan doing the same. The Argentinian does look tough but he's never been hit by anything like a Yamanaka straight left hand. We suspect that when he is tagged by Yamanaka's power he will feel it, and he'll feel it hard. We suspect that that power will finish off Santillan within 8 rounds with Santillan becoming another of Yamanaka's victims.
Whilst this bout is, likely, to be one sided we expect that the division will go through a lot of changes in the next few months. We already know that Kameda Vs McDonnell is set, we know talks are on-going for Iwasa Vs Haskins and we'll also see Japanese and OPBF title fights in the division take place this month. It's hard to know exactly where the division is heading but it's certainly going to be an interesting year for fans of the Bantamweight division.
(Image courtesy of www.boxmob.jp)
For several years the Bantamweight division has had two rulers. One was Panamanian slickster Anselmo Moreno, a tricky pure boxer. The other Japanese destructive and unbeaten Shinsuke Yamanaka (21-0-2, 16). The two two couldn't be much more different with Moreno using movement, sharp jabs and rapier straights as well as tricky and jerky movements whilst Yamanaka often neglects the jab to set up rocket launcher left hands that have earned him the nickname "God of Left".
At the end of September one of those men was dethroned as Moreno lost a controversial, and very difficult to watch, technical decision to Juan Carlos Payano, an unbeaten fighter from the Dominican Republic. That bout may have seen Payano win the title but at the end of the day it's actual affect was leaving us with just 1 proven and dominant champion, WBC holder Yamanaka. Had Payano iced Moreno in a 1-sided show case on Fox Sports 1, as the bout was intended to be shown on, then we'd be talking about Payano as a potential threat but that bout being unaired in the US, or online, has left more mystery and intrigue than anything else.
In middle of October we will see Yamanaka back in action as he looks for the 7th defense of his belt in a little under 3 years and attempts to over-come mandatory challenger Suriyan Sor Rungvisai (37-5-1, 16), a former WBC Super Flyweight champion who is known for both his reign at 115lbs and his close bout with Pongsaklek Wonjongkam way back in 2010, a bout that saw many fans of the lower weights first take note of the Thai.
For Yamanaka this is his most interesting fight since his hard fought contest with Malcolm Tunacao back in April 2013. It's the first time since that bout that the champion is facing a former world title holder and a man with proven world class ability and toughness as well as a proven history of given world class southpaws, such as Wonjongkam, a tough time. Despite those facts it does need saying that Yamanaka is a freak of nature. His movement is criminally under-rated, his timing is sensational and his counters, especially the left straight, is deadly.
Watching Yamanaka can, at times, be frustrating with the Japanese fighter often looking like a purely 1-handed fighter. His jab is massively under-used, his inside work is good but again under-used and if you can neutralise that thunder-bolt right you can sometimes take him out of his gameplan. Despite looking like a 1-handed fighter however we've seen Yamanaka fight enough to know he has all the tools in his locker and his work on the inside can be just as devastating as his shots at range. It's just a shame he doesn't use them all unless truly needed, as was the case against Ryosuke Iwasa in a very memorable Japanese title fight back in 2011.
As for Suriyan the Thai is a very tough guy who has shown an ability to go in hard with fighters like Nobuo Nashiro, who he defended his title against, and Wongjongkam. Saying that however he was, surprisingly, dropped twice by Yota Sato, indicating that whilst Suriyan is tough there may be questions as to how tough and how well he would handle a clear shot from a fully fledged Bantamweight. Saying that however the Sato fight was Suriyan's final bout at Super Flyweight and it is possible that he was suffering with issues from making the weight limit.
Whilst the challenger is just 25 years old he is also an experienced competitor. He has a number of notable wins including decisions over Tepparith Kokietgym, Takashi Kunishige, Tomas Rojas and Nashiro. He also has experience of fighting on the road though like many Thai's his record outside of Thailand isn't great, in fact he is 0-3-1 outside of his home including an early career loss in South Korea to Jin-Man Jeon. It also need noting that he lacks a real standout win as a Bantamweight with his best Bantamweight win being a stoppage over the previously unbeaten Filipino Daryl Basadre in 2013. As well as a lack of notable Bantamweight wins he has also shown a relative lack of power, despite scoring 9 stoppages in the last 2 years or so. Those stoppages have come at such a low level that they have made Suriyan look like a bigger puncher than he is and in reality even those 9 stoppages have taken 17 bouts to accumulate.
Although Suriyan is a talented boxer with a tight defense and good over-all skills it's hard to see what he really brings to threaten Yamanaka with. He doesn't have the power to make Yamanaka think twice about taking a risk and he also lacks the size to get inside and make the Japanese fighter really work for his win. The tight defense will force Yamanaka to do something to create an opening though we suspect that Japanese fight could box off the back foot very comfortably to take a wide decision if he can be bothered to get his jab into action. If Yamanaka does let his jab go then this could easily be a white wash with out the champion really breaking sweat.
Whilst the champion could take an easy decision we actually suspect is that Yamanaka will hunt a stoppage, it's in his mentality and he appears to want to break Yoko Gushiken's 7 fight national record for most successive title defense by stoppage. If this is what Yamanaka goes for we suspect to see him soften up the challenger in the early and middle rounds before going for the kill in the latter half of the fight, it's there that we will find out how tough Suriyan really is.
On paper we like this bout, in reality however Yamanaka is just too far too good for almost everyone else in the division. Suriyan would give almost everyone in the division a tough bout but not the "God of Left".
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
When we talk about fighters we love to watch we tend to talk about fighters who have insane power and that ability to score an instant KO if, or rather when, they catch an opponent with a clean, full blooded power shot. This is one of the reasons that we love Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev and Takashi Uchiyama.
Another man who can render opponents unconscious on a whim is Japanese southpaw Shinsuke Yamanaka (20-0-2, 15). The reigning WBC Bantamweight champion might "only" have a 68% KO record but he is a fearsome puncher and he knows it. The stats, suggesting he stops less than 7 in every 10 opponents, don't take into account the fact he has gone the distance just once in his last 15 contests. This is a man whose power, or rather the ability to use it, wasn't natural but was something he learned to deliver and has managed to really deliver.
This coming Wednesday sees Yamanaka returning to the ring in an attempt to score his 5th straight stoppage and his 6th successive world title defence as he takes on the popular and fun to watch Stephane Jamoye (25-4, 15) of Belgium. Interestingly Jamoye has faced other reigning and former world champions. The two current world champions he has faced are WBO Bantamweight champion Tomoki Kameda and WBC Super Bantamweight champion Leo Santa Cruz, both men that Yamanaka has suggest he'd like to fight.
In his bouts against Kameda and Santa Cruz we saw Jamoye come up short. Against Kameda is a narrow and controversial defeat to then Mexican based Japanese fighter, against Santa Cruz however Jamoye was stopped in 6 following a vicious body shot. For Yamanaka a win isn't what he wants, what he wants is a better win than either Santa Cruz or Kamda managed against the Belgian.
Those two losses for Jamoye both came more than 3 years ago but will serve as a marker for Yamanaka who is hell bent on prove that he is one of the top pound-for-pound fighters out there right now.
Yamanaka is one of the jewels in Japanese boxing. He combines not only thunderous power, from his left hand, but an understanding of the ring, an ability to go to war, lethal finishing instincts, under-rated speed and a genuine calmness to work. If he wants to box he can do it, if he wants to brawl he'll do that, if he wants to patiently wait for his opportunity he can do that. He's amazingly versatile in the ring though knows that he need only connect once with his straight left hand to have an opponent completely void of their senses.
The one complaint with Yamanaka is that he can be a bit one handed. His right hand is rarely used as well as it should be and instead of using his hooks and jabs to set up his work he tends to depend on his footwork and cleaver ability to control the distance whilst his left hand is cocked ready to be uncoiled. If you enjoy the mastery behind Guillermo Ringondeaux or Floyd Mayweather Jr then Yamanaka should be your type of guy when he's deciding to box. When he's looking to fight however he's a whole different animal, just ask Ryosuke Iwasa who went toe-to-toe with Yamanaka in a thriller before finally being stopped in a Japanese title fight.
We're expecting to see Yamanaka the fighter when he gets in the ring with Jamoye. Not only do we expect to see Yamanaka turn fighter in an attempt to beat Kameda and Santa Cruz but also because of Jamoye's style. The Belgian is an in your face pressure fighter with a love of a good old fashioned tear up.
Jamoye can be out boxed, he was recently by Karim Guerfi, but he loves a tear up and if an opponent doesn't decide to pot shot him they are usually in for a hard fight. This was seen in Jamoye's bouts with Lee Haskins and Jamie McDonnell, both of which were thrilling contests from start to end. We expect Yamanaka to be willing to have a tear up here and we expecting him to look for the right hook that he's been spending time practising in the US and of course his destructive straight left hand.
With Santa Cruz taking 6 rounds we think Yamanaka will be looking for a finish in round 4. He may not get it but we can't see this one going much further. Our prediction is Yamanaka TKO5 with Jamoye just making it out of the 4th to be met by an almost psychotic Yamanaka in the 5th who will march out with nasty intentions and make sure he punishes the Belgian.
After the fight we almost certain that Yamanaka will mention either the US or Leo Santa Cruz. We know that's the fight he wants though we do expect him to have to wait with Santa Cruz likely to face Carl Frampton first some time this year. That would, in theory, open the door for Yamanaka to fight on a US show to raise his profile there before fighting Santa Cruz in early 2015.
-This bout is one of 2 world title on the same show, the other will feature Hozumi Hasegawa fighting Kiko Martinez in an IBF Super Bantamweight title fight.
(Image courtesy of Boxmob)
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.