Last August we saw the long WBC Bantamweight reign of Shinsuke Yamanaka (27-1-2, 19) come to an end. By that point he had held the title for over 2100 days, or close to 6 years. During that time he had gone from obscure Japanese fighter, best known for his thrilling Japanese title fight with Ryosuke Iwasa, to a man listed in many pound-for-pound lists and a man with 12 world title defenses. He was dethroned by Mexican youngster Luis Nery (25-0, 19), who impressed by stopping Yamanaka in 4 rounds in Kyoto. The performance was a coming out event for Nery, though one that would later have a cloud hanging over it due to a failed drugs test by the Mexican.
This coming Thursday the two men meet again. For Nery it's a chance to prove that he is the better fighter, and that the drugs were incidental to his winning performance, for Yamanaka it's a chance to avenge his sole defeat and become a 2-time champion. For fans around the world it's an opportunity to see two world class Bantamweights go at it again, live on NTV.
Aged 35 Yamanaka is an old fighter, especially for the lower weights. On the whole he has avoided damaging bouts, but as he's gotten older the damage has accumulated and he's started to show more and more cracks in his chin and his reactions aren't what they once were. In his pre-prime days he was involved in the aforementioned thriller with Iwasa and it wasn't really until his 2014 clash with Suriyan Sor Rungvisai that anyone really ran him close. Sadly following the bout with Suriyan we seemed to have seen a faded Yamanaka, who narrowly over-came Anselmo Moreno in their first bout, was dropped twice by Liborio Solis in 2016 and dropped by Moreno in their second bout.
Although Yamanaka was never a technical wizard he was a solid boxer, with an extremely potent left hand. The power of left led to the nickname “God's Left” and whilst that power is still very devastating there is a feeling that age has really caught up with him. His footwork, which was once his best tool to set up the power shots, is slowing and his defense wasn't ever a strong suit. He may still have one great last performance in the bag, though it may well be that that last hurrah was his stoppage win over Moreno in 2016.
At just 23 the future is amazingly bright for Nery, who has become a big star in his homeland. The Mexican is a flawed but exciting and aggressive fighter. He brings a lot of pressure and is surprisingly quick with his hands, which are double a problem given that he too is a southpaw, and he is a high volume puncher who really loves letting his punches go. Although explosive and physically imposing Nery does have questions over his own chin, and he was dropped last time out by the accurate but relatively light punching Arthur Villanueva. Given his style he makes the most of his youthful energy, though some questions should be asked about his stamina, and he has only done 24 rounds in his last 6 bouts combined with only 1 career bout going beyond 9 rounds.
Although flawed there is a real feeling that Nery has the style to always trouble Yamanaka. Even a prime Yamanaka didn't like incessant pressure, this was shown against Iwasa and more recently against Suriyan and Solis. There is a chance that Nery's chin wouldn't hold up to a perfect left hand from Yamanaka, though with the Mexican being busy, young and quick, he will feel confident of swarming Yamanaka, cramping him of space and working away on the inside. Where Nery perhaps is at a big disadvantage is his natural size, and he does seem like a fighter who struggles to comfortably make 118lbs, with 2 of his recent bouts taking place above the divisional limit. If he's struggling he may just cause himself enough issues to take away the edges he has.
We suspect this bout will be similar to the first. Yamanaka will have some success when he's got the bout at range, making the most of Nery's slower feet, but the Mexican will gradually get closer, and will begin to break down the Japanese veteran, eventually stopping Yamanaka, and retiring him. There is a chance Yamanaka will land a trademark thunderbolt left hand, but that's all he has, a puncher's chance.
This coming Tuesday we'll see a mouth watering WBC Bantamweight world title fight, as long reigning champion Shinsuke Yamanaka (27-0-2, 19) [山中慎介] faces off with unbeaten mandatory challenger Luis Nery (23-0, 17), in a bout that really is brilliant on paper and is viewed by many as a 50-50 contest.
The Japanese world champion has been the WBC Bantamweight king since November 2011, making him the longest reigning current world champion, and in that time he has racked up 12 title defenses. Unlike many long term champions he hasn't been racking them up against weak opponents, instead defending his belt against the likes of Vic Darchninyan, Tomas Rojas, Malcolm Tunacao, Suriyan Sor Rungvisai, Anselmo Moreno and Liborio Solis. That's not to say there hasn't been some poor challengers, such as Carlos Carlson and Diego Ricardo Santillan, but for the most part his reign has come against top tier competition.
The Konana born champion is aged 34, so getting on a bit, but has got a style that doesn't depend on youth and age. Instead it's a simple style with his whole game plan being based on landing his straight left hand, which has seen off a number of opponents. Although he “only” has a 66% KO rate he has stopped 9 of his last 13 and is regarded as one of the biggest punchers in the sport, on a pound for pound basis. As we all know, power is the last thing a fighter loses.
Although not the quickest, or hardest working, Yamanaka controls the ring well, and often takes on the role of a counter puncher, looking to land his left hand on an aggressive foe. It is however too easy to say Yamanaka is a 1-trick pony as he can brawl, he can come forward and he has got a nice jab, and right hook, when he decides to use them.
Whilst there is little new to say about Yamanaka's style which hasn't been said before, he has got a special reason to be particularly determined here. A win against Nery will see Yamanaka record his 13th world title defense, tying a long standing Japanese record for most defenses. That record was set back in the 1970's and 1980's when Yoko Gushiken made 13 defenses of the WBA Light Flyweight title, and it's clear that tying that record will be a huge achievement for Yamanaka. It's also worth noting that if he's the champion in 2018 there could be a potential bout against Naoya Inoue in the pipeline, if the Monster moves up as expected.
Aged 22 this bout is a potential coming out party for the challenger, who is known by hardcore fans and has been bubbling just under the surface for a few years now, with some dubbing him the 2016 Prospect of the Year. Whilst only 22 it's worth noting that he's a 5 year veteran who debuted back in May 2012 and began making some real noise in 2014, with wins over Victor Mendez and Carlos Fontes. Since then he he has gone 8-0 (7) scoring wins over a number of Filipino's like Jether Oliva, John Mark Apolinario, Richie Mepranum and Raymond Tabugon. Notably the one win that really stands out is a stoppage of David Sanchez, last year, but it is worth noting that Sanchez had been stopped just 2 fights earlier.
In the ring Nery is an ultra aggressive fighter. He brings the pressure, lets his hands go from the opening round and looks to take out opponents from the early stages. He can look wild and reckless at at times, but is clearly dangerous with both hands, and loves to look for the right hook. It's worth noting that the has been dropped before, with Tabugon doing it in the first round of their bout last December. It's an exciting and fan friendly style that he has, but one that really has worked so well because he's been facing naturally smaller men, who will back off.
Although unbeaten one could ask “what good Bantamweights has Nery beaten?” And the truth is that he hasn't yet beaten a world class Bantamweight. That's not to say he can't, but he is stepping up massively here, and taking on his best foe by far. He could really shine and swarm Yamanaka, showing too much fire for the old dog, but he could just as easily be out classed by the man regarded by many as the best at the weight.
What we're expecting, though again we could be hugely wrong, is for Nery to be his aggressive self in what will be his first bout outside of Mexico. He will be able to have early success with his forward march, but will find Yamanaka's ring craft to be something totally new. The pressure won't be able to pin Yamanaka against the ropes, and instead the champion will time him with counter left hands. There is a good chance Yamanaka will get old over night, but it's hard to imagine that happening here against a fighter like Nery, who just seems to be trying to jump too far, too fast after having faced the competition he has for the last 5 years.
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.