On September 22nd 2021 the Japanese boxing world had a notable upset as the long and impressive WBC Light Flyweight reign of Kenshiro Teraji (18-1, 10) came to an end in his 9th defense, as he was stopped by the unheralded Masamichi Yabuki (13-3, 12), who dethroned the champion in round 10. The result was a huge one for those who follow the lower weight classes, and also a bout that essentially derailed a dream title unification between Kenshiro and WBA "super" champion Hiroto Kyoguchi, who had began to make a name in the US thanks to linking up with Eddie Hearn, Matchroom Boxing and DAZN.
Following that bout there was a complaint put forward by Kenshiro's team, including his father, that the bout had been marred by head clashes, notable caused by Yabuki, with one late in the bout negatively affecting Kenshiro, who didn't look the same after one particular clash. This issue was raised with the JBC, who did their best impression of the British Boxing Board of Control and pretended it had no bearing on the result of the bout, and the WBC, who took steps to order a rematch, recognising the head clash, along with Kenshiro's reign as reasons for the men to go again in an immediate rematch. Around the time of the WBC order the terms for the rematch were agreed relatively quickly between the 4 sides involved, Green Gym - who promote Yabuki, BMB and Misako Gym - who represent Kenshiro, and Shinsei, who promoted the first bout and will also promote this one.
Coming in to this bout there is a lot of small stories that feel somewhat unresolved from their first bout. Their first fight had been marred with issues before and during the contest. The most notable of those wasn't, however, the head clash. Instead it was Kenshiro contracting covid in the weeks before the bout. He had been said to only have had mild symptoms, but the bout had been re-arranged due to his positive test, and it was suggested that issue getting back into fighting shape only weeks after contracting the virus had taken it's toll on him, leaving him less than 100% come fight night. Notable we have seen numerous fighters being affected by the virus, and many of them haven't looked themselves in their first bout following the illness. It's maybe didn't change the outcome of the bout, but it's fair to say that Kenshiro's preparation for that first bout was certainly not great. Given that covid affects the repository system, and Kenshiro had looked tired in the middle of the bout, there is a good chance the issues of the virus were still affecting him in the ring. As for the bout there was the well reported issue with head clashes, which went unpunished by the referee. Coming in to this rematch we're expecting to see Kenshiro at 100%, and determined to avenge his loss, reclaim his title and do more than just win, we expect him to look to make a statement. As for Yabuki he'll be wanting to put to bed any idea that he needed to be facing a somewhat sub-optimal Kenshiro to win, and that he relied on some generous work from the referee to win. In fact he's also like to feel fired up by the suggestions that he was fighting dirty and couldn't have taken home the win without now well noted issues with his head. With those things in mind we're expect to see both men fighting with more hunger, more desire and more stubbornness than in their first bout. Those traits alone could actually affect this bout, quite considerably.
For those who haven't followed the two men, and their careers so far, it's worth learning something about the two fighters.
Prior to last year's huge win Masamichi Yabuki wasn't known at all outside of Asia. In fact he'd only fought once outside of Japan, scoring a win in South Korea. In Japan he was probably best known for 3 things. The first of those was losing to Junto Nakatani in the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year final at Flyweight, the second was his 2018 loss to Seigo Yuri Akui, and his third was winning the Japanese Light Flyweight title in 2020, when he stopped Tsuyoshi Sato inside a round. Even in Japan he wasn't a big name, fighting mostly in Kariya and only having had 3 fights at Korakuen Hall, the holy land of Japanese boxing. Despite his set backs he had scored notable wins, stopping Gilberto Pedroza in 2 rounds, Ryuto Oho in 6, Rikito Shiba in 4, Sato in 1 and had defended defend the Japanese title with a wide win over Toshimasa Ouchi. He was however very much regarded as something of a local star in Central Japan, and someone who had been showcased a fair bit on Boxing Raise, thanks to their relationship with Yabuki's promoter.
In the ring Yabuki is a really good boxer-puncher, or more of a puncher-boxer if we're being honest. He's one of the hardest punchers at 108lbs, and like many punchers wants to create space to have full extension on his shots. He does that through a combination of solid footwork, and being something of a physical freak at the weight with long arms and a lean body. Unlike most puncher's he's not really an out and out aggressive fighter, though he certainly has that in his locker, and instead looks to create openings before landing his power shots, and either hurting them and going for a finish, or breaking them down as the bout goes on. As we saw in the first match with Kenshiro, when he has has his man hurt he can really put his shots together, and he is a natural finisher. He's not the quickest, or the sharpest, but he's hard hitting, well schooled, understands his advantages, and with such a big win against Kenshiro last time out, he'll be full of confidence, self belief and determination to keep a hold of the WBC title.
Although Yabuki is something of an unknown outside of Japan it's fair to say that Kenshiro had something of an international following prior to his loss to Yabuki. He had gotten attention early in his career due to his name and impressive performance, and within just a few years of his debut he had quickly raced through the rankings, winning the WBC title with a close decision win over Ganigan Lopez. After struggling in his first defense, a narrow in over Pedro Guevara, Kenshiro began to impressive, and defended the title against Gilberto Pedroza, Gangigan Lopez, Milan Melindo, Saul Juarez, Jonathan Taconing, Randy Petalcorin and Tetsuya Hisada. He had a solid claim as the best fighter in the division, in terms of resume and in terms of ability. Sadly though Kenshiro's career has had issues the last few years, including a drunk incident that forced his bout with Hisada to be delayed and contracting Covid 19 just weeks before the originally scheduled date for his bout with Yabuki. He also appeared to be quietly dropped by Fuji TV, who had carried most of his world title bouts before the Hisada bout, and didn't fight at all in 2020.
In the ring Kenshiro, at his best, is a brilliant boxer. He's light on his feet, intelligent, creates space for his sharp punches, mixes his shots up well, and has one of the best jabs in the sport. In fact he pretty much shut down Melindo with his jab in 2018. He also has under-rated power, wonderful placing of his body shots, and the ability to take opponents apart with his accuracy, timing and variety. Notanly Kenshiro really can do it all, and is just as comfortable taking the fight to an opponent as he is boxing and moving, picking his spots and punishing mistakes, which he does draw a lot of for counter opportuntiies. Looking at flaws he does have a knack of dropping his defense on his way out, and backing up in straight lines. There are also question marks to be had about his confidence and mental state coming into this bout, and whether or not Covid has had a lasting effect on him. If it does he may well be in trouble here. It's also worth asking just how committed he is to sport, and what hunger he still has following his title loss last year.
Going in to the first bout we expected Kenshiro to have a fair straight forward task with Ybuki, though we did suggest that Yabuki had a chance late on if Kenshiro slowed down. We feel that Covid, and the issues Kenshiro had getting back into shape following the illness had a major impact on that first fight. With that in mind we'll against be backing Kenshiro to win here, and avenge his loss. However we do wonder if we'll get the same Kenshiro that managed 8 world title defenses, and if not he could be in trouble again here, against a man we don't think will want to easily hand back the title.
We expect Kenshiro to start well, and to then conserve energy in the middle rounds, expecting a big Yabuki finish and keeping something in reserve for those late rounds. In rounds 9, 10, 11 and 12 we expect to see Kenshiro then putting the jets back on, and out working Yabuki to take a competitive decision win.
Predcition - UD12 Kenshrio
The Light Flyweigth division has long been slept on by fans of the sport, yet it has been consistently a great division giving us some amazingly legends since the division was created, such as Jung Koo Chang, Myung Woo Yuh and Yoko Gushiken to name just 3. In recent years, thankfully, the division has started to get more and more attention on the global stare and fighters like Hiroto Kyoguchi, Elwin Soto and Felix Alvarado have had world title defenses aired on DAZN as the division has started to get the international respect that it's long deserved.
Sadly whilst 3 current world champions at the weight have been aired on DAZN one hasn't, and that is WBC champion Kenshiro Teraji (18-0, 10). Arguably the best of the fighters at the weight. This coming Wednesday he looks to make his 9th defense of the title as he takes on fellow Japanese fighter Masamichi Yabuki (12-3, 11) and continue his reign, which has already seen him over-come the likes of Pedro Guevara, Ganigan Lopez, Saul Juarez, Milan Melindo, Randy Petalcorin and Tatsuya Hisada. As for Yabuki this will be his chance to join the mix of the divisional elite, claim his first world title and prove that his power carries up beyond domestic level, where it has been a legitimate force of destruction.
Of the two fighters it's Kenshiro who is the more well and the clear, clear, favourite coming into the bout. The unbeaten champion, a second generation fighter following in the footsteps of his father Hisashi Teraji, turned professional with a little bit of fanfare and rapidly rose through the ranks, winning WBC Youth, OPBF and Japanese titles in his first 8 bouts. He then moved onto to the world stage, narrowly beating Ganigan Lopez for the title, and he struggled past Pedro Guevara in his first defense. Since then however he has looked near untouchable, out boxing very good fighters and creating a style based around his excellent jab, brilliant control of distance and under-rated body punching.
Although not the biggest puncher, or the the fighter with the highest work rate, Kenshiro does everything really well, except for the things he does brilliantly. There is no clear weakness with him. He's a solid puncher, who gets respect, he controls distance excellently, has fantastic ring IQ, uses angles, has solid footwork, and has a finishers mentality. He can be hit, but it's rare for a fighter to ever land more than one or two on him before he gets out of range, and he's someone who will take a lot of beating. Notable he has been down in his career, though those knockdowns were early on and he's shown a good chin since then. The one area where we do worry about him is when he's under intense pressure from a fighter with power and quick feet, though we're not sure how many fighters at 108lbs actually have the traits needed to put Kenshiro under that type of pressure.
Yabuki turned professional in 2016, and blasted out his first 3 opponents before facing Junto Nakatani in the 2016 All Japan Rookie of the Year final, at Flyweight, where Nakatani took the power of Yabuki, and give him his first loss. Following that defeat Yabuki got back to blowing out opponents, 3 fighters before being stopped himself by Seigo Yuri Akui in 2018, and then losing against 5 months later to Cuban fighter Daniel Matellon. Since the loss to Matellon we've seen Yabuki going 5-0 (4), winning the Japanese national title in 2020, and defending it once. Whilst his competition hasn't been amazing, it has seen him beat the likes of Rikito Shiba, Tsuyoshi Sato and Toshimasa Ouchi.
Unlike many big punchers Yabuki isn't an out and out aggressive fighter. Instead he's a heavy handed boxer-puncher, who has under-rated boxing skills and incredibly heavy hands. He likes to use the ring, and let opponents come to him, using their aggression against them. If opponents make mistakes he likes to counter them, and using his straight punches from range to hurt them. When he has a fighter hurt however he does go for the kill, and doesn't like letting fighters off the hook. Whilst he is a solid boxer, it should be noted that Yabuki can be out boxed, and he can be lulled into inaction, as we saw at times when he faced Matellon, who landed when he wanted, and slowed the pace down when he wanted. It's really the way Matellon conducted himself in that fight that worries us for Yabuki backers, as Kenshiro also has the ability to back off and slow the tempo of the bout down.
Before we take a brief look at how we see this one going down there are some important things to note. Firstly, Kenshiro was diagnosed with Covid in August, and had a very swift recovery. That illness certainly won't have done him favours here, and it is a legitimate question mark hanging over his head. How well as has he recovered? What did that take out of him? What's his stamina like? Likewise this is a huge step up for Yabuki, and we do need to wonder whether or not he'll freeze on the big occasion.
If Kenshiro is 100% we really can't see him losing. Yabuki has the power to shake him, but we're not convinced he has the work rate, or footwork to follow up and take Kenshiro out, if he lands. If Kenshiro is damaged by his illness however, there is a chance that he might slow down late on, giving Yabuki a chance to land something and follow up.
Sadly for Yabuki we think the style of Kenshiro is really something he will struggle with. Yabuki simply doesn't have the speed or the tenacity to force his fight against someone with the IQ of Kenshiro. Yabuki will have moments, and will connect when Kenshiro makes mistakes and stays close for too long, but but those moments will be fleeting as he loses a wide, and clear decision.
Prediction - UD12 Kenshiro Teraji
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.