Boxing has a number of records, which seem odd and look rather unreal. One of those is the record of Japanese fighters in Thailand in world title fights, a record that stands at 0 wins, 23 losses and 1 draw. The latest of those losses however was a controversial one, as WBC Minimumweight champion Wanheng Menayothin (49-0, 17) [วันเฮง ไก่ย่างห้าดาวยิม] retained his title with a very questionable win over former WBO champion Tatsuya Fukuhara (19-6-6, 7) [福原 辰弥].
On paper it looked like a mismatch in favour of the Thai, who was looking to equal the 49-0 record of Rocky Marciano and record his 8th defense. It was however the total opposite of what we expected, with Fukuhara setting an insane pace in the opening round and forcing Wanheng to fight fire with fire. It was as if no one had told Fukuhara that he was there to lose, and instead of being respectful of Wanheng's unbeaten record he went straight at the champion. To his credit Wanheng did fight back, and landed the better shots, but was very much taken by surprise by the intense work rate of the challenger.
Wanheng managed to have better success in rounds 2 and 3, as he landed the bigger shots, and actually started round 3 with the initiative, something he hadn't done in the first two rounds. Despite starting well Fukuhara came back at him later in the round, showing good variety and the high tempo which had caused so many issues for Wanheng, not only in the opening stages of this bout bus also against Melvin Jerusalem.
Wanheng also had credible success in round 4, arguably his best round of the fight, as he forced Fukuhara to fight at range, made the most of his technical abilities and prevented the challenger from unloading with volume. It was a round that showed the skill level differences between the two men. After 4 rounds the champion was up on the score-cards, with all 3 judges favouring the local, and although it felt like he was fortunate to be in the lead it wasn't out of the question for him to be up.
The success of Wanheng continued in round 5 as he managed to make the most of his heavier hands, but he wasn't able to discourage Fukuhara who continued to press the action and ended the round looking like a man possessed, despite eating the best Wanheng had to offer. In round 6 Wanheng's pace seemed to drop off as Fukuhara managed to again cut the distance, get to work and press with not only his volume but also some very solid shots, including a big head shot mid-way through the round. Wanheng did land his own stiff right hand late in the bout, but it seemed like a clear round for the challenger.
Fukuhara's success seemed to grow from there, as he pressured Wanheng with serious intensity, landing not only flurries to the body but also some really eye catching head shots, including a big uppercut. Wanheng returned the favour with some body shots of his own, but was clearly out worked through the round, and appeared to be showing signs of tiredness as Fukuhara refused to back off. The challenger was even more intense and driven in round 8 as he thoroughly out worked Wanheng, landing bigger and heavier shots on to a champion who was looking at the referee for every minor incident. It was looking like the champion was frustrated by the fact Fukuhara was always in his face and always refusing to back off, despite the clean shots the champion had been able to land.
With the champion looking like he was flagging the open scores after round 8 seemed like they were going to be very interesting, bizarrely however they were all widely in favour of Wanheng, reading 80-73, 79-73, and 78-74. It seemed clear at this point that Fukuhara wasn't only up against the unbeaten champion, but also the judges.
Knowing that he wasn't going to get the decision Fukuhara changed his tactics in round 9. The high energy and intense assaults were put on the back burner as he looked to land bigger, heavier shots. Those became the key in round 9 as he landed some big shots which seemed to force Wanheng to on to the back foot. Wanheng had his moments, but was again out worked, and out landed by the challenger. Fukuhara continued to look bombs in rounds 10 and 11 as Wanheng looked more and more tired, struggling to even raise his arms at the end of round 11. Fukuhara seemed to ignore his defense at times, instead choosing to just chase Wanheng and unload, and the only real breaks in action happened when Wanheng tired up the challenger, or complained about some small issue, with the referee starting to seem like yet another opponent for the challenger.
The final round saw Fukuhara go all out for the stoppage. He combined power shots with volume and an insane intensity that saw him jump on Wanheng at every opportunity. It was a thrilling final round that saw Wanheng being forced to respond with power shots, until he was spent and forced into pure survival mode. It was a thrilling all action effort from the challenger, but given the scores after round 8 it was clear it wasn't going to be enough to see the title change hands.
With the judges scoring the bout in favour of Wanheng he had now scored 8 defenses, but this is the second time where he could be regarded as very fortunate in recent times, and it does seem like his reign is living on borrowed time. For Fukuhara the bout seems to suggest he can continue fighting at world level, and will almost certainly get another shot down the line.
Earlier todaty fight fans in Kumamoto saw a WBO Minimumweight title fight, though sadly for the fans their local hero Tatsuya Fukuhara (19-5-6, 7) [福原 辰弥] was unable to retain the title, as he was out pointed by fellow Japanese fighter Ryuya Yamanaka (15-2, 4) [山中 竜也] in an incredibly competitive bout.
Straight away there was little to separate the two men, with Fukuhara being the more aggressive, and Yamanaka being the better mover, using his legs well to create some space and work at range. Round after round the action was nip and tuck, with neither fighter being able to clearly get contol of the action.
Although the scores weren't publically announced the score cards were 39-37, 38-38 and 37-39 after 4 rounds, showing just how hard it was to split the men, and just how close the bout was in the early stages.
During the middle rounds Yamanaka managed to do enough to take the lead on two of the cards, drawing mistakes from Fukuhara and catching the judges eye with his work, to take a 77-75 lead one two cards, whilst the other had the bout 76-76.
Although it was still a close contest it did just feel like Yamanaka had that little bit extra into the final rounds, and that showed on two of the cards, as he swept rounds 9, 10 and 11, establishing a the lead on all 3 rounds going into the final round. A lead that he refused to give up.
At the final bell it was as if both men felt they could have done enough, but all 3 judges sided with the challenger, scoring the bout 116-112, and 115-113, twice, for Yamanaka.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Jut over 3 years ago Tatsuya Fukuhara (19-4-6, 7) [福原 辰弥] was being beaten by a debuting Takuma Inoue, today however he find himself the new WBO “interim” Minimumweight champion, following a split decision win over Mexican warrior Mexican Moises Calleros (25-7-1, 14). He also finds himself a local hero in Kumamoto and perhaps the most improved boxer of the last few year.
Today he got his big chance, battling against the aggressive and exciting Calleros, and he took that chance showing his skills, toughness and desire to over-come the Mexican.
From the opening moments it was clear that these two were brilliantly well matched with Fukuhara trying to box and move, whilst Calleros came in looking for a fight. The styles clicked immediately action was captivating for the fans in the arena. It was a truly great back an forth, and one where the judges were deciding whether it was the rounded boxing, and the skills on the back foot from Fukuhara or the aggression and pressure of the Mexican.
Through the first 6 rounds there was very little to pick between the two men, though it did seem that, in round 7, Fukuhara got a break though. The Japanese fighter suffered a cut from a headclash but fired back and landed a nasty southpaw left hand to the body that seemed to slow down the Mexican who was again forced to take a solid body attack in round 9 with Fukuhara seemingly finding a new tool in his arsenal.
That body attack became the key to Fukuhara's gameplan in the later rounds as he managed to low Calleros down and back him up, whilst showing his incredible will to win and doing enough to take the narrow decision, with scores of 116-112 and 116-112 which over-ruled a score of 115-113 in favour of Calleros
With the win Fukuhara became the first boxer from a Kumamoto gym to win a world title, even if it is “just” and interim title, and also secured himself a potentially lucrative bout with Katsuunari Takayama later in the year, with the two men set to fight in the next 180 days. Sadly the bout wasn't aired on major TV in Japan, nor was it featured on an online service such as Boxingraise or Asign,but hopefully Fukuhara will earn his chance to impress a wider audience next time out. As for Calleros the loss will be a hard one, but he's certainly a man who can come again with his exciting and committed aggression, which will also go down well with fans.
(Image courtesy of https://boxmob.jp)
World Title Results
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