Earlier todaty fight fans in Kumamoto saw a WBO Minimumweight title fight, though sadly for the fans their local hero Tatsuya Fukuhara (19-5-6, 7) [福原 辰弥] was unable to retain the title, as he was out pointed by fellow Japanese fighter Ryuya Yamanaka (15-2, 4) [山中 竜也] in an incredibly competitive bout.
Straight away there was little to separate the two men, with Fukuhara being the more aggressive, and Yamanaka being the better mover, using his legs well to create some space and work at range. Round after round the action was nip and tuck, with neither fighter being able to clearly get contol of the action.
Although the scores weren't publically announced the score cards were 39-37, 38-38 and 37-39 after 4 rounds, showing just how hard it was to split the men, and just how close the bout was in the early stages.
During the middle rounds Yamanaka managed to do enough to take the lead on two of the cards, drawing mistakes from Fukuhara and catching the judges eye with his work, to take a 77-75 lead one two cards, whilst the other had the bout 76-76.
Although it was still a close contest it did just feel like Yamanaka had that little bit extra into the final rounds, and that showed on two of the cards, as he swept rounds 9, 10 and 11, establishing a the lead on all 3 rounds going into the final round. A lead that he refused to give up.
At the final bell it was as if both men felt they could have done enough, but all 3 judges sided with the challenger, scoring the bout 116-112, and 115-113, twice, for Yamanaka.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Sometimes in a loss a fighter can increase their fan base. That was seen earlier today when teak tough Japanese fighter Yoshihiro Kamegai (27-4-2, 24) [亀海喜寛] took on Puerto Rican legend Miguel Cotto (41-5, 33) for the WBO Light Middleweight title. The bout was a showcase of Cotto's skills, but yet Kamegai impressed through out, with his toughness, energy and determination.
From the opening round it was clear that Kamegai's gameplan was based around pressure, and nothing else. Hoping to break down Cotto who was forced to fight at an incredibly high pace, something that could have been an issue given he hadn't fought in 21 months and was an aging fighter.
Despite the inactivty, and ring wear, Cotto shone, neutralising much of Kamegai's intense pressure with smart foot work and heavy shots, that Kamegai was forced to eat round after round. Despite being tagged, continually, by bombs Kamegai refused to back down and at times it seemed like he was trying to add some humour to his own beating, brushing his hairafter taking a series of bombs late in the contest.
Despite his pressure Kamegai couldn't get his shots off with the frequency he needed, and they lacked the snap when they did land to really hurt Cotto. Whilst Kamegai was never hurt himself, despite having a bloodied nose from very early on, he always looked second best, and like a fighter relying on his insane toughness to trouble Cotto.
Given the one-sided nature of the bout the score-cards were never in doubt, with Cotto winning 120-108, 119-109 and 118-110.
Despite the fact Kamegai got beaten, clearly, he seemed to enjoy the experience of being in the ring with a hero of his, and it was clear that appreciated being given a chance to fight someone like Cotto for a world title. For Cotto it seems like the end is nigh, and it sounds like he will have just one more fight before retiring at the end of 2017.
Over the last 12 months or so we have seen the long established guard of Japan fall, piece by piece, with fighters like former WBA Super Featherweight champion Takashi Uchiyama, former WBC Super Featherweight champion Takashi Miura, former 2-time WBA Super Flyweight champion Kohei Kono and former 3-weight world champion Akira Yaegashi all lose in major bouts, and the two Takashi have since announced their retirement. The one member of the old guard left standing was Shinsuke Yamanaka (27-1-2, 19) [山中慎介],a long term WBC Bantamweight champion who had racked up 12 defenses and had ruled the roost for around 7 years, proving to be the king of the division. Today however he became the latest veteran champion of Japan to be beaten by a younger, fresher fighter, as he was stopped in 4 rounds unbeaten Mexican Luis Nery (24-0, 18).
The Japanese champion, known as "God's Left" was looking to tie the long standing Japanese record of 13 world title defenses, a record set back in the early 1980's by Yoko Gushiken. It was a big ask at the age of 34, but with Yamanaka's reign having been so long it was hard to see past him, especially with Nery having never really faced a top flight Bantamweight prior to this bout.
The opening round went almost perfectly for Yamanaka, who controlled the tempo well with his jab, movement and occassional straight. It was as if Nery was was in awe of his opponent, and only launched one of attack of any note during the opening round. The second round was similar, though their was more from Nery who was beginning to show signs of warming to the task, but did get forced to eat some solid left hands.
Nery continued to warm to the task, and in round 3 he began to hold his own in a close round. His moments of success from the first two rounds had been multiplied and he was beginning to show what he was capable of. The early respect was slowly going and he was beginning to move through the gears.
Whilst Nery was building up his steam no one expected him to go from 3rd gear to 5th to begin round 4, but he really came out swinging and rocked Yamanaka very early in the round. He knew Yamanaka was hurt and swarmed him like a hungry lion trying to take out it's prey. Yamanaka seemed to see off the first wave of the attack, but was rocked again soon afterwards, and this time he wasn't able to get away, with Nery refusing to stop throwing until the bout was stopped, with Yamanaka's team coming in to save him. Some how he had stayed on his feet what felt like a 90 second pounding, but he did look out of it and and in tears as the bout was stopped.
The arena fell silent except for the Mexican's team, who now have a potential lower-weight mega star on their hands. The fans were in shock at one of their hero's being dethroned, though they did show respect soon afterwards, applauding the new champion, and chanting their hero out of the arena soon afterwards.
Whilst Japanese boxing has seen a lot of it's veterans coming up short, it's clear that the sport it's self is still red hot in Japan and that we've almost seen the new generation of fighters over-take the old generation, with only Kazuto Ioka bridging the likes of Yamanaka, Hozumi Hasegawa, Uchiyama and Yaegashi, whilst other sensational talents have come through, like Naoya Inoue and Kosei Tanaka, with others, like Hinata Maruta, are just beginning to move into the international title scene. This might be the end of Yamanaka, but it's certainly not the end of Japanese boxing, or even the Teiken gym, who have fighters like Hayate Kaji and Shuya Masaki breaking through the ranks, and looking fantastic doing so.
If, as we suspect, this will be Yamanaka's final outing, we want to thank him for helping establish the old era of Japanese boxing, and wish Nery the best luck as a champion. And we expect we'll see him back in Japan sooner, rather than later.
(Image courtesy of daily.co.jp)
World Title Results
Whether you like them or not World Titles add prestige to any bout as a result we've included the results of world title bouts in this special section.