We have forever made a point of not doing our annual awards until the year is over, it doesn't make sense to do them until the final bell for the year has been rung, and it's actually a bit disrespectful to do the awards when numerous possible contenders have still got to fight. That was proven today when we had another FOTY contender and arguable the comeback fighter of the year.
The bout in question saw the amazing Akira Yaegashi (23-5, 12) claim the IBF Light Flyweight crown with a stirring performance against Javier Mendoza (24-3-1, 19) and mount an incredible comeback after back-to-back losses in 2014. Not only did he return to claim the title, and become Japan's 3rd 3-weight world champion* but he did so with a performance that summed up his entire career in 36 action packed, bloody and exciting minutes.
From the opening round it was clear that this wasn't going to be a typical boxing bout. There was no feeling out round, instead the pace started fast with Yaegashi using his incredible speed to make Mendoza look like a clumsy fool. Yaegashi hammered the body, landed counters and looked like the younger man despite being the better part of a decade older than Mendoza.
Yaegashi's speed continued to carry him through the first 3 rounds with out any real problems at all. All the problems were Mendoza's and the most notable of those was the fact he was wobbled on the bell to end round 2 as Yaegashi landed numerous straight right hands.
It was until round 4 that Mendoza seemed to really have a break through as he started the round fast and had the early success to build form. Yaegashi took it in his stride however and stood and traded with Mendoza in an action packed sequence of testicular fortitude. The success that Mendoza had in round 4 grew through the middle rounds with the 5th round being close, just like rounds 6, 7 and 8. A case could be made for Mendoza to have won any of them, though they were all competitive.
It seemed during those competitive rounds, especially in round 7, that Yaegashi was beginning to tire and that Mendoza had plenty left in the tank. The reality however was that that was all Mendoza really had and Yaegashi had taken it and fired back every time, despite starting to show the scars of war, with swelling around his face and blood seeping from his eye.
It seemed, that if Yaegashi was going to lose it would be due to a doctors stoppage due to his facial damage, in round 9 however Mendoza joined him in the damage stakes with a nasty cut of his own. That cut seemed to deflate Mendoza who was himself looking like a fighter who knew he wasn't going to be able to change things. Whilst Mendoza was looking tired and flat footed Yaegashi appeared to have a second wind and was bouncing on his toes, further adding insult to injury.
Mendoza would try and turn the action around in round 10 but Yaegashi managed to control the distance and tempo making life very easy for himself overall as he countered the jab of the defending champion and landed huge straight shots. For Mendoza time was running out and it seemed like he summed one final effort to fight in round 11, a round in which he seemed to hurt Yaegashi before almost being stopped himself as Yaegashi unloaded a huge attack on the bell, an attack that seemed to have Mendoza reeling and badly hurt. After the bell Yaegashi roared on the crowd and it looked clear that he knew the title was staying in Japan.
The final round started with Yaegashi looking like a man who knew the win was his and for the first 30 seconds or so he was skipping around, making Mendoza look silly. Then the warrior kicked in and Yaegashi took the fight back to Mendoza, rocking him, hurting him and almost stopping him in the final minute as he unloaded. Mendoza, to his credit, survived the storm but did look like a man who was happy to back track and hear out the final bell.
The scorecards were never in doubt with Yaegashi claiming a wide unanimous decision with scores of 120-107, 119-109 and 117-111, and cementing his place among the modern legends of Japanese boxing. His feat of being a 3-weight world champion has matched that of former rival Kazuto Ioka and Koki Kameda, and it's fair to say that his fights, including this one, will live on long after he has retired.
*Technically he's the 4th Japanese fighter to claim 3-weight titles after female fighter Naoko Fujioka also accomplished the feat.
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.