Fighting against Belgium's Stephane Jamoye (25-5, 15) we knew Yamanaka was in with a tough and brave opponent, we just didn't know how brave until Yamanaka beat him up, discoloured his face and eventually stopped him in 9 very 1-sided rounds.
The fight started as many expected with Jamoye marauding forward, trying to pressure the champion in to making mistakes and getting involved in to a slugfest. Sadly for Jamoye his pressure wasn't educated enough to make Yamanaka feel any discomfort and instead the Japanese fighter boxed beautifully off the back foot using his jab and powerful left hand to land as and when he wanted.
In round 2 we saw the vaunted left hand of Yamanaka being used to it's full effect as he targeted the body of the challenger. Although the body was a clear target for Yamanaka the highlight was when he went back up stairs and dropped Jamoye for the first time. It appeared little more than a flash knockdown though that was due to Jamoye being insanely brave and getting back up quickly.
Despite getting up from the knock down the left hands of Yamanaka were having a telling effect on Jamoye with his right eye bruising up badly despite the fight being in the early stages. The shots may not have been knocking down Jamoye every time they were landing but they were all doing damage as the champion chipped away at the challenger.
The chipping effect of the straight left seemed to make the eye of Jamoye worse in round 3 and then appeared, at one point, to rock Jamoye a little. Unfortunately for the challenger his best shots seemed to do little more than bounce off the champion who was never bothered by anything the Belgian did. It was one sided and it gradual became more and more one sided as Jamoye continued to feel the effects of the shots.
By the start of round 5 the scoring was easy, 40-35, all the judges doing open scoring agreed and there was very little argument to the contrary, unless you felt like giving Jamoye a sympathy round for being a sacrifice to the "God of Left".
In the 5th the power of Yamanaka shook Jamoye again and the Belgian seemed to be just a few punches away from being stopped as the referee moved in, ready to stop the punishment, a huge left uppercut from Yamanaka followed before Jamoye fired back with a right hand that did enough to allow the referee to let him continue despite doing nothing to ward off Yamanaka who patiently looked for more and more openings for his left hand.
Rounds 6 and 7 saw much the same pattern. Yamanaka continued to dominate with his powerful straight left landing both upstairs and to the midsection whilst Jamoye tried to fight back with booming and wild shots that either missed or bounced off the champion. Unfortunately for the challenger he was no match at all for the champion who landed crisp and hurtful shots at will whilst never really looking rushed or pressured. The one thing that perhaps did go for the challenger was the fact Yamanaka was deducted a point for stiff arming in round 6 though at the end of the day it did little more than lead to a 9-9 round.
By round 8 it appeared that Jamoye was running out fight and and he was dropped early in the round. The challenger showed his toughness and bravery by getting up, again, but couldn't do much more than fight on instinct. He was nearly done and was actually bounced around the ring at one point before a solid body shot put the challenger down for the 3rd time in the fight. It was now clear Jamoye was a completely spent force but the bell to end round 8 saved him.
In all honesty his corner probably should have saved him though he was sent out for round 9 instead. The punishment in the 9th didn't last long and almost the first connect of note from Yamanaka dropped Jamoye again, this time the referee didn't give Jamoye a chance to recover and waved it off immediately, as if to say "you're brave kid, but you're only going to get battered if this goes on".
For Jamoye it was his big chance though he found out the huge gulf in class between "world class" and "European class". In Europe he is a top, top Bantamweight, in the world however he's not up there with Yamanaka who may well be one of the truly elite boxers on the planet.
With power, skills, speed, timing and a great judge of distance it's going to take a very special fighter to beat Yamanaka.
After the fight the Japanese fighter said that he wants a unification bout though we tend to think he'd prefer a bout with Leo Santa Cruz, who is unfortunately due a mandatory with Carl Frampton in the near future.
An interesting side note for this fight was the focus on Joichiro Tatsuyoshi in the crowd. "Joe" famously beat Sirimongkol Songwancha of Thailand back in 1997 in this same venue for the very title Yamanaka was defending.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)