There are certain fighters that we always looked forward to seeing, knowing that they consistently delivered great bouts. When we got two of those matched up together we knew to expect something special and in 2018 we got something just like that when, one August evening, we had a massively over-looked All Japanese thriller at Korakuen Hall.
Akira Yaegashi (26-6, 14) Vs Hirofumi Mukai (16-5-3, 6)
In one corner was former 3-weight world champion Akira Yaegashi, a man that had a cult following in the West and a huge fan base in Japan. Yaegashi had given us so many thrilling fighters though his career that we knew if he was in the ring we were in for something exciting. His bouts with the likes of Pornsawan Porpramook and Kazuto Ioka had been absolute thrillers and even Yaegashi's "duller" bouts were more exciting than the most exciting bouts of many other fighters. Come 2018 Yaegashi was clearly not the fighter he had once been, but was still on the hunt for one more world title fight, in the hope of becoming a 4-weight champion.
In the opposite corner to Yaegashi was former amateur standout Hirofumi Mukai, who had twice challenged for world titles in Thailand. Mukai had once shown a lot of promise, and had beaten Sonny Boy Jaro very early in his career, but by 2018 his career was really not going upwards. Instead he was relying more on his heart and toughness than the skills he'd developed as an amateur. That gritty determination had seen him put on an instant classic in 2017, with Rex Tso, and after 3 easy wins he then took on Yaegashi in a bout that was a must win for both.
The loser of this was going to be in their 30's and really would have a lot of rebuilding to do. Both had suffered numerous losses, by stoppage, and both were starting to take a lot of accumulated punishment. In their prime Yaegashi would have been expected to over-come even the best Mukai, but at 35 years old, and just 15 months removed from an opening round loss to Milan Melindo it was unclear what either man had left in the tank.
What we ended up getting was the sight of two men fighting for their careers. Two men putting it all on the line and two men who knew what the bout meant. This wasn't a fight where either man was going to keep something in reserve, but instead a bout where they both had to big deep, and both took serious punishment.
Early on Mukai tried to establish range, behind his footwork, reach and southpaw stance. Yaegashi wasn't having it and was repeatedly marching forward, looking to get inside and draw Mukai into a war. By the round of round 2 Yaegashi was getting closer and closer to getting Mukai to respond up close and it seemed a matter of time before the touch paper was going to be lit and begin to see both firing...and that was done in round 3, as Mukai realised Yaegashi wasn't going to back off. From there on we began to see a classic unfold in front of our eyes.
The bout reached its peak in round 6, a true round of the year contender, with both men being badly damaged and shaken during 3 punishing minutes that saw fans wonder how much the two could take. Yet the bout went on.
This might not have had a world title on the line, but it had two men willing to give their all, and two men who really did everything they could in a legitimate modern day closet classic.
When we talk about great fighters for the decade we usually talk about those who ran up a lot of wins, and not so many losses. Today's honourable mention however belongs to a man who became a 3-weight world champion during the decade, went 16-5 (9) and became a cult figure of Asian boxing. His opponents were a legitimate who's who and despite losing more than a quarter of the fights he was in during the 10 year's we've had he is someone who provided more action than almost anyone else. Here we talk about the Japanese legend Akira Yaegashi.
The all action Yaegashi began the decade with a record of 12-2 (7). He had been the OPBF and Japanese Minimumweight champion though his most notable result was a 12 round loss to Eagle Den Junlaphan back in 2007, when Yaegashi suffered the first of many serious facial injuries. In the years that followed however he would go from a domestic hopeful, to a global cult star, a man that hardcore fans knew, appreciated and respected.
He began the decade by defending the Japanese Minmumweight title against Kosuke Takeichi and Norihito Tanaka, who would later claim the title himself, before scoring his first huge win of the decade. The win saw him score a 10th round TKO win over Pornsawan Porpramook in 2011 to claim the WBA Minimumweight title. That bout was regarded by many as the fight of the year, and was an incredible 10 round war. It was the bout that first saw some in the west take a note of Yaegashi.
Sadly Yaegashi's first reign was a short one, losing the belt in his first defense to Kazuto Ioka, in a close and hotly contested WBA/WBC unification bout. That was another sensational fight and saw both men drawing the best out of the other in the first unification bout between Japanese fighters with different alphabet titles. Just 10 months after this loss Yaegashi would claim his second world title, beating former amateur nemesis Toshiyuki Igarashi for the WBC and Lineal Flyweight title, becoming a 2-weight champion.
Yaegashi's reign at 112lbs saw him record 3 defenses, including a very notable one against Edgar Sosa, before he was stopped by Roman Gonzalez, who at the time was stopping everyone and anyone. That saw Gonzalez claim a third divisional world title, though both men came out with enhanced reputations, and Yaegashi was given a lot of credit for his effort, despite the loss. A move down in weight, to Light Flyweight saw Yaegashi suffer another stoppage, being stopped in 7 rounds by Pedro Guevara, but it wasn't long until Yaegashi claimed a title at 108lbs, beating Javier Mendoza for the IBF title.
Yaegashi's reign at Light Flyweight was another short one, seeing him defend the title twice, before being stopped in a round by Milan Melindo. The loss to Melindo set the record for the shorted Light Flyweight world title fight, and seemed like the end. Yaegashi however would return 10 months later, begin a run of 3 wins, including a sensational 2018 win over Hirofumi Mukai, as he built towards on more title challenger.
That final title fight saw Yaegahsi challenge IBF Flyweight champion Moruti Mthalane, and once again we got an instant classic, despite Yaegashi being broken down in 9 rounds.
At the age of 36, and with Yaegashi turning 37 in February 2020, we don't imagine seeing him in action again. His record for the decade is certainly nothing amazing, but for us he is exactly what a fighter should be, he provided thrills and spills on a regular basis. His fights with Porpranook, Ioka, Gonzalez, Mendoza, Mukai and Mthalane were amazing.
For his performances Yaegashi's featured as an honourable mention, despite the results not being amazing from the all action good guy!
We also want to add, that if Yaegashi never fights again, we suspect we all, want to thank Akira Yaegashi for the amazing fights he has given us over the last decade!
Later this week we'll see Japan's Kazuto Ioka battle against Aston Palicte for the WBO Super Flyweight title. With that bout coming up it seems like this is a perfect time to talk about Kazuto Ioka's most notable bout to date, his 2012 battle with Akira Yaegashi, a true Closet Classic and a major bout in Japanese boxing history. The bout holds a unique status in Japan, and despite being relatively recent the bout has notable sub-story behind it, regarding the mentors of the two men involved. As well all the stories surrounding it, the bout also managed to deliver, in a big way.
Kazuto Ioka (9-0, 6) vs Akira Yaegashi (15-2, 8)
In the late 1980's Japanese boxing had a number of notable fighters making their way to the top of the sport. They included Hideyuki Ohashi and Hiroki Ioka, who both debuted in the mid 1980's and has success in the 1990's, with Ioka becoming a 2-weight champion and Ohashi becoming a 2-time Minimumweight champion.
When they were both professionals Ioka and Ohashi both held Minimumweight world titles, though not the same time, and a bout between the two would have been huge for Japan, pitting Osaka against Kanagawa.
When both Ohashi and Ioka ended their careers they set up gyms, and have had a lot of success as gym owners. Among their star hopefuls were Akira Yaegashi, the big hope of the Ohashi gym, and Kazuto Ioka, Hiroki Ioka's nephew. Both were former stand out amateurs, both were tipped to be stars and in 2011 both held world titles at the same weight, Minimumweight.
Kazuto Ioka, then 23 years old, had raced away to the WBC Minimumweight title, winning the belt in early 2011 when he stopped Oleydong Sithsamerchai, in what was just his 7th professional bout. He had managed to make a couple of defenses, including one over future Flyweight title holder Juan Hernandez. With those wins he had already a star in the Japanese scene, and a man who was starting to get spoken about the hardcore fans, who were impressed by the fact he had ended the reign of Oleydong, who was 35-0-1 when Ioka dethroned him.
Akira Yaegashi on the other hand was 15-2, he had held OPBF and Japanese titles before winning the WBA title in an incredible bout with Pornsawan Porpramook in July 2011. For what it's worth that bout will be covered in a future Closet Classic article. He hadn't managed to make a defense of the title since beating Pornsawan but was was well regarded by those in the know in Japan, and had himself challenged for a world title in his 7th bout, losing to Eagle Den Junlaphan in that title effort due in part to a nasty injury to his temporomandibular join.
With the two men holding world titles the bout was made, it was the first, and still only, time two world titles, from different bodies, were unified in a bout between two Japanese fighters, and it was an incredible bout. It mixed skills, excitement, heart, determination and two different styles.
In one corner we had Ioka, a brilliant young boxer-puncher who had a sensational array of shots and fantastic ring craft. In the other we had Yaegashi, an aggressive, swarming fighter, who picked his spots and launched 2-handed flurries, using his speed to get shots off and try to get away.
The bout started quickly but really grew and grew as it went on, taking on a personality of it's own and pushing both fighters all the way. Ioka, for the first time, was being pushed hard by a fighter determined to upset him, Yaegashi on the other hand was forced to fight with some horrific facial swelling around his left eye. As they began to tire their footwork began to slow whilst their output remained high and the bout really was something incredibly special. It's not an all out war but it's a thrilling, highly skilled battle that every fight fan deserves to watch before Ioka's up coming contest.
Amazingly since this bout both men have become 3-weight champions, picking up titles at Light Flyweight and Flyweight, and both are looking to add Super Flyweight titles to their collections. Ioka get his second shot at a Super Flyweight title when he faces Palicte, whilst Yaegashi is hoping to get his first shot at 115lb title later in the year.
During the next year we're expecting to see the Light Flyweight division become the “must watch” weight class. Given that it's often been an over-looked weight class we're really hoping that 2016 can be a year where fans do get excited and do start to give the division the attention that it deserves, and of course we also hope to see some great match ups. Ahead of any major announcements we've thought of 5 fights that we want to see this coming year in what is the second part of out "Bouts we want..." series, following on from the Minimumweight version here.
seemed like those bouts had taken their toll on him and that retirement was beckoning. The fighter however had other plans.
His return to the ring in May 2015 was as low profile as they come, with Yaegashi stopping Songseanglek Phosuwangym in a bout that took third billing on card headlined by Ryota Murata. That bout had taken place at 115lbs with Yaegashi seemingly ready to end his career in simple bouts. The thought of Yaegashi fighting weak opponents continued in August when he fought Said M Said, an Indonesian fighter who lasted just 3 rounds.
Yaegashi's first 2 bouts were certainly not preparing us for what he would do to end the year. The warrior dropped down to Light Flyweight, the same weight where he had lost to Guevara, and despite being an under-dog he put on a sensational performance to defeat Javier Mendoza to claim the IBF Light Flyweight title, and become a 3-weight world champion.
The win over Mendoza may have come on December 29th but it was clearly the comeback performance of the year and it was the sort of bout that has made Yaegashi a fan favourite over the year.
We probably shouldn't say this, but thank you Akira for another brilliant fight, it's been a pleasure watching you over the year and hopefully it won't be the final shining performance from the hugely popular Ohashi gym fighter.
(Video thanks toi 高 嶋 史 郎.)
It's been a while since Japanese boxing fans have had free to air action though over the next few weeks fans will get a number of free to air shows across 4 of the terrestrial channels with each showing at least 1 big name in action.
The first of the shows comes a week today as the unbeaten Shinsuke Yamanaka (22-0-2, 16) defends his WBC Bantamweight title against unbeaten Argentinian Diego Ricardo Santillan (23-0, 15) on April 16th. This will be Yamanaka's 8th defense of the title and will see him attempting to continue his reign of terror in the packed Bantamweight division. For fans wanting to watch this one it will be on NTV at 19:56 Tokyo time with the broadcast set to finish at 20:54.
For those wanting to watch the undercard bouts for that card they are unfortunately not on a free to air channel.
Less than a week later we see action on TBS who will be televising two world title bouts. One of those will see IBF Minimumweight champion Katsunari Takayama (28-7-0-1, 11) defending his belt against Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr (27-3-1, 15) whilst the the other bout will see the mega-popular Kazuto Ioka (16-1, 10) attempt to become a 3-weight world champion as he battles Juan Carlos Reveco (35-1, 19) in a bout for the WBA Flyweight title. The beginning of this broadcast is stated to begin just before 20:00 local time on April 22nd.
From what we understand Sho Ishida (18-0, 10) may have highlights shown if the two main bouts both end early.
To begin May the televised action continues to roll and Fuji TV will begin the month by televising a couple of interesting looking bouts. The first of those will be Takashi Miura's (28-2-2, 21) WBC Super Featherweight world title defense against former IBF Featherweight champion Bily Dib (39-3, 23) whilst the other will be a bout between Ryota Murata (6-0, 4) and Douglas Damiao Ataide (13-1-1, 6). This show will give Miura a chance to really establish himself with fans whilst also allowing Murata to face a world ranked foe in what should make for an enjoyable card.
The hope here is that if both bouts are over early then highlights may be shown from Akira Yaegashi's (20-5, 10) bout, which will see the exciting 32 year old fighting for the first time as a fully blown Super Flyweight.
The last of the free to air shows during the little burst of action comes on May 6th when TV Tokyo get in on the action and televise a couple of interesting bouts between Japanese champions and Thai challengers. The first of those bouts will see WBA Light Flyweight champion Ryoichi Taguchi (24-2-1, 8) defending his title against Kwanthai Sithmorseng (49-3-1, 26) in what will be Taguchi's first defense of the title he won this past December. The other bout is a much more mouth watering contest between unbeaten WBA Super Featherweight “super” champion Takashi Uchiyama (22-0-1, 18) and Thai challenger Jomthong Chuwatana (9-0, 4). Uchiyama will be seeking the 10th defense of the title, as he slowly moves towards the Japanese record of 13 world title defenses, whilst Jomthong look to claim a world title in boxing to go along with his numerous titles from Muay Thai.
At the moment there hasn't been a time announce for either the Fuji TV or the TV Tokyo show however we suspect details will emerge closer to the date.
Of course whilst these channels are free to air in Japan that doesn't mean they will be the only ways to watch the bouts. For example we're aware that the Takayama Vs Fahlan bout will be aired in Thailand, on Mono 29, and the Ioka Vs Reveco bout will be televised in Argentina, on TYC Sports. At the moment however it does seem like some bouts are set to miss out on international coverage and that none of the bouts are set to be televised in the US or UK. Thankfully the free channels from Japan are available via certain methods on line.
(Image courtesy of http://www.kazutoioka.com)
If you were to ask me what I think of 2014 so far, I'd say that the year has been very quiet. Whilst some fight fans will say that the first few weeks of any new year is quiet for boxing this one just seems quieter than usual.
I understand, that the lack of fights is, at least partially, down to the winter Olympics. I can appreciate that no promoter wants to go head-to-head with one of the biggest sporting events of the year. Though what I can't understand is the real lack of action in almost every country. Some weeks haven't just been quiet but have been pretty much silent in terms of notable fights (and I really stretch the definition of "notable fights" right here).
Thankfully though the lack of action in the ring hasn't stopped us from getting word of several major bouts which are either signed or strongly rumoured for this year. It appears that the battling in the ring might have been unexciting but the battle of the match makers, promoters and lawyers has been highly enticing.
I've decided that, instead of talking about the lack of bouts for once, I'd take a look at some of the best ones that have either been signed, are getting signed or seem likely to be made later this year.
Naoya Inoue v Adrian Hernandez (April 6th, Ota-City General Gymnasium, Tokyo)
The first big major bout that we've got coming up was announced just a few short days ago and features Japanese youngster Naoya Inoue (5-0, 4) taking on Mexican Adrian Hernandez (29-2-1, 18) for the WBC Light Flyweight title.
Aged 20 Inoue is still a boxing baby though his potential was clear from his days as an amateur and his desire to be one of the fastest moved fighters in the history of the sport has been a real breath of fresh air. For some however he is being rushed too fast and should have had a few more fights before fighting a dangerous for like Hernandez.
From where I am sat Inoue is more than ready for a world title fight. He is wonderfully gifted, exciting, and more advanced than almost anyone else his age. As well as that he has also been given top training by his father, Shingo Inoue, and has shared a ring with both Akira Yaegashi and Ryota Murata, both of whom have had nothing but glowing words about the youngster.
Hernandez is dangerous and experienced. He does however have numerous flaws and could well be the weakest of the champions at 108lbs. It's a huge ask for Inoue, of course it is, but this is the aggressive matchmaking which has made the Ohashi Gym so well liked by fans and fighters alike.
(Picture, left to right: Shingo Inoue, Naoya Inoue, Akira Yaegashi and Hideyuki Ohashi)
Hozumi Hasegawa v Kiko Martinez (April 23rd, Castle Hall, Osaka)
The second great looking match up takes place less than 3 weeks after the Inoue/Hernandez fight and will see former Bantamweight and Featherweight champion Hozumi Hasegawa (33-4, 15) attempting to become a 3-weight world champion. As with Inoue's bout Hasegawa will be taking on a dangerous world champion as he battles Spain's Kiko Martinez (30-4, 22), the current IBF Super Bantamweight champion.
Martinez was a man courted by a number of fighters, including Carl Frampton and Scott Quigg, though it seems that Hasegawa's team have done enough to convince him to travel for his first bout in Asia.
Whilst Hasegawa, at 33 years old, is a man coming to the end of his career he will feel like he has one more great performance left in him. He'll be hoping that that great performance happens here as Kiko is a very dangerous puncher with an all out pressure mind-set. The Spaniard isn't the most skilled but is very strong and has a brutal attitude in the ring.
If Hasegawa, who some are already writing off, can beat Martinez he will become Japan's second ever 3-weight world champion and cap off a remarkable career. He may not have become the star of Japanese boxing like some had hoped but his name, win or lose, will be very fondly remembered by the boxing fans in his homeland. A win however would see him being put up amongst the genuinely great Japanese fighters.
Picture: Hozumi Hasegawa and Shinsuke Yamanaka
Tomoki Kameda v Pungluang Sor Singyu (Date and venue yet to be announced)
There is something about the Japanese/Thai rivalry that really adds an extra something to bouts. This will next be seen at the world level later this month as Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep defends his WBA interim Flyweight title against Takuya Kogawa. That fight however pales in comparison to the bout between WBO Bantamweight champion Tomoki Kameda (29-0, 18), pictured, and Pungluang Sor Singyu (46-2, 31).
Whilst no date has been set for Tomoki/Pungluang it's a bout that is very difficult not get very excited about. Tomoki looks to be the best fighter in Kameda family and can do it all. He can box wonderfully on the back foot or he can fight going forward. Pungluang on the other hand is an in your face fighter from Thailand who comes forward and tries to make every bout a real fight. If he can cut the ring off from Kameda this could be a potential fight of the year.
The few details that have been leaked about this contest is that it could take place in either Japan or the US. I'm personally hoping it's in the US so that every fan state side gets a chance to see these two men in action and gets to see a very even looking all-Asian bout that could well reignite the interest in watching these sorts of bouts in both the US and Europe.
Srisaket Sor Rungvisai v Carlos Cuadras (Date and venue yet to be announced)
If I'm excited about the prospect of Tomoki Kameda fighting Pungluang Sor Singyu then I'm even more excited by the potential Super Flyweight clash between Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (24-3-1, 22) and Mexico's unbeaten Carlos Cuadras (29-0, 24).
This, a WBC mandatory for champion Srisaket, has all the ingredients of being a special contest between two big hitting fighters and aggressively minded fighters.
Srisaket was one of the break out stars of last year and scored an impressive 7 victories, 6 by KO, which included a shockingly destructive victory over Yota Sato and impressive beat down of the brave Hirofumi Mukai. Although he's relatively unknown outside of Thailand and Japan Srisaket is nothing short of terrifying.
Like Srisaket, Cuadras is also aggressively minded and with the bout rumoured to be in Mexico he may well have a notable advantage in terms of home field. Saying that though Srisaket is by far the best fighter that Cuadras will have ever stepped in to the ring with and may well have too much power, aggression, strength and toughness for the unbeaten Mexican.
The only things confirmed about this bout is that Teiken will be the promoters and this it will be a sure fire war for as long as it lasts.
Picture is from Srisaket's Sor Rungvisai's victory over Yota Sato
Shinsuke Yamanaka v Leo Santa Cruz (Speculative)
The first of two "speculative" bouts that I'm excited about sees WBC Bantamweight champion Shinsuke Yamanaka (20-0-2, 15) moving up to Super Bantamweight to challenger WBC champion Leo Santa Cruz (26-0-1, 15).
The bout is one that Yamanaka has been talking about a lot to the Japanese press and seems to be a contest he really wants even though he would have to step up in weight and travel to the US to get it, two things he has been very happy to accept.
Yamanaka has helped pressure the fight by doing a better job on former Santa Cruz opponent Alberto Guevara and seems set to do the same against Stephane Jamoye when the two meet on April 23rd. Whilst some may view this as Yamanaka fighting Santa Cruz's "cast off's" the fact he is looking to do a better job than Santa Cruz could well be enough to make fans question just how good Santa Cruz really is.
As for Santa Cruz, the all out Mexican fighting machine will need to get past slippery and skilful Cristian Mijares on March 8th for this bout to take place. We don't imagine Santa Cruz will have any problems with Mijares though we'd not be shocked if Santa Cruz tries to show more to his boxing than his pressure style, at least for a few rounds.
Akira Yaegashi v Roman Gonzalez (Speculative)
Last week saw Ohashi gym announcing a show for April 6th that included not only Naoya Inoue's bout with Adrian Hernandez, see above, but also a contest between WBC Flyweight champion Akira Yaegashi (19-3, 9) and Odilon Zaleta (15-3, 8) as well as an under-card contest involving Roman Gonalez (38-0, 32).
When that card was announced Yaegashi seemed to strongly suggest that his next defense, if he gets past Zaleta of course, will be against Gonzalez in what is a Flyweight contest to really be excited about.
Gonzalez, who fought this past weekend against Juan Kantun, is arguably the best offensive fighter on the planet. He is a destructive machine that combines speed, power, skill and an outstanding array of punches.
If the bout, as expected, gets signed for fall or winter then we have a bout that will see Yaegashi's toughness and experienced put against Gonzalez's intelligent aggression. One thing is certain, this one will have the potential to be a fight of the year.
Of course, no date has been set for this one and both men will need to win on April 6th but that shouldn't be a problem.
When we have some free time we're hoping to add a series of fun articles to the site. Hopefully these will be enjoyable little short features