This evening in Wales fight fans saw Japan's Sho Ishida (24-1, 13) [石田 匠] look to create history as he attempted to become the first Japanese fighter to claim a world title in Europe. He was facing the WBA Super Flyweight champion Khalid Yafai (23-0, 14), and entered as the mandatory challenger in what looked like a genuinely interesting contest.
The fight started really slowly as both men spent time trying to figure out what the other brought to the table. There was jabs from both but little more in the first 2 rounds as neither man wanted to take too many risks, instead playing a frustrating game that seemed to almost kill any hope of another Super Flyweight thriller.
In round 3 it seemed like we were on the very of a fight breaking out as Ishida upped the ante and began to go to the body of Yafai. That seemed to force Yafai into holding a bit more and firing back whilst out of range, often hitting the air with what looked like shots that were being thrown with bad intent. It became almost a pattern of Yafai throwing huge hooks whilst miles out of range, and only getting away with them due to Ishida being too passive to try and make Yafai pay for themselves.
The tempo dropped again in round 4, killing off the action that we'd seen in round 3, though Yafai did manage to pick up the pace late and took the round as a result, despite eating some solid jabs. Ishida managed to pick up the pace again in round 5, arguably his best round, as he upped his work rate and really began to settle in what was one of the bouts more fan friendly rounds, with both men landing some clean shots. It was clear that Ishida was finding his groove and Yafai didn't like it, so Yafai came out for round 6 with more energy and seemed to put Ishida into his box for a few rounds.
Yafai's momentum grew as he established a lead, left Ishida's nose bleeding though never seemed to hurt Ishida who seemed to come back strong in the championship rounds, looking to use what was left his energy. That lead to an entertaining round 12, with Ishida clearly having the better off it, but it was far too little too late for the challenger, who had far too much to do.
At the end there was no complaints with the scorecards, which read 118-110 and 116-112, twice, to Yafai.
After the bout Yafai seemed to suggest that he had hurt his hands during the fight, and given the lack of action that may have explained the lacklustre contest, though the reality is that Yafai showed that he was well below the top tier of the Super Flyweight division. The likes of Naoya Inoue, Juan Francisco Estrada, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Roman Gonzalez would all be far too much for Yafai on this performance.
As for Ishida he was too timid and too passive through out. He had some really good moments, though seemed unwilling to gamble too much, and let the scores slip away from him too early. He proved he could compete in, and around, world class, though needs more bouts at this type of level to really help his development. Too many fights against limited Thai's hurt his chances here, but he will almost certainly get more chances, and hopefully will try and grasp the next one with both hands.
In Birmingham, England, earlier this evening fight fans world wide got the chance to see the warrior mentality of Japan's Suguru Muranaka (25-3-1, 8) [村中 優], who gave his all in a losing battle against WBA Super Flyweight champion Khalid Yafai (22-0, 14). It was an effort that saw Muranaka come up well short, but gain incredible credit in a performance that showed his desire, hunger, energy and toughness.
Early on it looked like the bout was going to be a total blow out with Yafai landing bombs whilst Muranaka walked in. Although Muranaka's game plan, like he said before the fight, was based on his pressure, that pressure seemed to be getting used against him as Yafai landed some thunderous shots to both head and body, and scored a very flash knockdown in round 2.
Despite being tagged hard early on Muranaka hardly looked bothered and he continued to press the action through the whole fight. He occasionally looked hurt, occasionally looked tired but always looked hungry and in rounds 4, 5 and 6, he had real success as Yafai seemed to run out of ideas a bit. The champion was still landing the better shots, but it was clear that he wasn't expecting Muranaka to still be there, and still be pressing the fight in the way he was.
Yafai managed to change things up a big in round 7 as he began to use his boxing skills and make the most of his more mobile legs whilst landing some solid shots, shaking Muranaka once or twice, and doing the same in round 8, a round that saw the champion being deducted a point for a low blow, his third or 4th clear low one.
Despite the point deduction Yafai was a mile ahead, and he further extended that lead in the following few rounds. It was however Muranaka who had some of the more eye catching success in round 11 as he went out looking for a stoppage. Although he went looking for it, it never looked likely to happen, though it did force some really big shots form Yafai as he looked to get Muranaka's respect again.
In the final round Muranaka again went looking for the stoppage and turn the bout around but was hurt late and never managed to land the blows he needed to shake up the champion.
The bout was a clear win for Yafai, with the judges scoring it close to a shut out, but Yafai was forced to work incredibly hard in every round and was given his stiffest test as a professional. As for Muranaka he's opened the door to some exciting international bouts, including a potential fan friendly bout against Jamie Conlan in the UK.
The loss sees Japan's hunt to win a world title in Europe continue, but the loss has really helped put Muranaka's name up there as a genuine continued, and helped restore some pride in the fighter following some real issues in the past with his weight. The loss was a clear one, but Muranaka's determination, heart and work rate won him a whole new fan base, and it's fair to say that he will be welcomed into the ring against almost any other Super Flyweight.
Interestingly Muranaka's countryman Sho Ishida is ranked #1 for Yafai's title, and that could be Yafai's next defense, later this year.
World Title Results
Whether you like them or not World Titles add prestige to any bout as a result we've included the results of world title bouts in this special section.