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.