Earlier today saw an announcement from the UK to confirm that former Japanese Flyweight champion Suguru Muranaka (25-2-1, 8) [村中 優] would be the first challenger to WBA Super Flyweight champion Khalid Yafai (21-0, 14), who is defending his belt for the first time since beating Luis Concepcion last year, with the bout to take place on May 13th in Birmingham, England.
The talented Yafai became Britain's first Super Flyweight champion last year, helping the UK become the first country to have had a world champion in every weight division, he also became the first Brummie to claim a big-4 world title and cemented his place in history in a number of ways. Here he's in a bit of a no-win situation with some fans already slating Muranaka as an opponent, meaning a win is worthless, whilst other fans simply don't know anything about Muranaka, who isa total unknown outside of Japan.
The 31 year old Muranaka is part of the Flash Akabane gym, a relative unknown gym for those outside of Japan. He began his career way back in 2004 and lost 2 of his first 9 bouts before going on his current 18-0-1 run. That run has seen him claim the Japanese Flyweight title, which he won by defeating Takuya Kogawa back in back in 2013. As the champion Muranaka defended the belt twice, stopping both Masayuki Kuroda and Yusuke Sakashita, before losing the belt on the scales against Tetsuma Hayashi. The weight failure of Muranaka against Hayashi was a major story in Japan and unfortunately Muranaka didn't do himself any favours afterwards as he failed weight for what would have been his next bout, forcing the cancellation of a bout with Hideyuki Watanabe.
Muranaka's failue to make weight against Watanabe saw the former champion suffer a suspension from the JBC. On return from his suspension Muranaka beat Shun Ishibashi, all the way up at Bantamweight, before adding a second Bantamweight win over Filipino Renoel Pael. More recentlyMuranaka beat Hiroyuki Hisataka, though did struggle with the former 4-time world title challenger and could only just do enough to take a majority decision.
In the ring Muranaka is, like Kogawa, a warrior fighter who lacks defensively but has shown a great work rate, real tenacity and a brilliant will to win. He will always enter the ring to have a fight and although he's not a big puncher or the quickest he is a fun fighter to watch, and should make for an exciting bout with Yafai, and if Yafai doesn't take him seriously as a challenger he may also find out that Muranaka has under-rated power, as Sakashita found out.
Interestingly Muranaka holds wins over 3 former world title challengers, Kogawa, Kuroda and Hisataka, but as mentioned has never fought outside of Japan and hasn't looked great since out growing the Flyweight division a few years ago.
If Yafai wins, as expected, it's thought he will likely have a mandatory title defense later in the year against Muranaka's countryman Sho Ishida (23-0, 12) [石田 匠], and it may be that Ishida's team could lure Yafai out of the UK.
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