The Japanese champion, known as "God's Left" was looking to tie the long standing Japanese record of 13 world title defenses, a record set back in the early 1980's by Yoko Gushiken. It was a big ask at the age of 34, but with Yamanaka's reign having been so long it was hard to see past him, especially with Nery having never really faced a top flight Bantamweight prior to this bout.
The opening round went almost perfectly for Yamanaka, who controlled the tempo well with his jab, movement and occassional straight. It was as if Nery was was in awe of his opponent, and only launched one of attack of any note during the opening round. The second round was similar, though their was more from Nery who was beginning to show signs of warming to the task, but did get forced to eat some solid left hands.
Nery continued to warm to the task, and in round 3 he began to hold his own in a close round. His moments of success from the first two rounds had been multiplied and he was beginning to show what he was capable of. The early respect was slowly going and he was beginning to move through the gears.
Whilst Nery was building up his steam no one expected him to go from 3rd gear to 5th to begin round 4, but he really came out swinging and rocked Yamanaka very early in the round. He knew Yamanaka was hurt and swarmed him like a hungry lion trying to take out it's prey. Yamanaka seemed to see off the first wave of the attack, but was rocked again soon afterwards, and this time he wasn't able to get away, with Nery refusing to stop throwing until the bout was stopped, with Yamanaka's team coming in to save him. Some how he had stayed on his feet what felt like a 90 second pounding, but he did look out of it and and in tears as the bout was stopped.
The arena fell silent except for the Mexican's team, who now have a potential lower-weight mega star on their hands. The fans were in shock at one of their hero's being dethroned, though they did show respect soon afterwards, applauding the new champion, and chanting their hero out of the arena soon afterwards.
Whilst Japanese boxing has seen a lot of it's veterans coming up short, it's clear that the sport it's self is still red hot in Japan and that we've almost seen the new generation of fighters over-take the old generation, with only Kazuto Ioka bridging the likes of Yamanaka, Hozumi Hasegawa, Uchiyama and Yaegashi, whilst other sensational talents have come through, like Naoya Inoue and Kosei Tanaka, with others, like Hinata Maruta, are just beginning to move into the international title scene. This might be the end of Yamanaka, but it's certainly not the end of Japanese boxing, or even the Teiken gym, who have fighters like Hayate Kaji and Shuya Masaki breaking through the ranks, and looking fantastic doing so.
If, as we suspect, this will be Yamanaka's final outing, we want to thank him for helping establish the old era of Japanese boxing, and wish Nery the best luck as a champion. And we expect we'll see him back in Japan sooner, rather than later.
(Image courtesy of daily.co.jp)