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
World Title Previews
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