Asian scene: Inoue triumphs, Yaegashi toppled
Marcus Bellinger's latest Asian Scene round-up focuses on the flurry of exciting action in recent days and weeks from the Land of the Rising Sun...
Popular Japanese warrior Katsunari Takayama has announced his professional retirement, but instead of riding off into the sunset the former WBO, IBF and WBC 105lb champion has stated his intention of competing in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Many hurdles, including eye surgery, will need to be overcome but given his style Takayama would be a welcome addition to the AIBA set-up. Whilst not well known outside of Asia and those who follow the lower weights Takayama fought a number of the best over the last decade and a bout involving the 34-year-old was always guaranteed action, with his epic encounter against Francisco Rodriguez Jr in August 2014 probably the highlight of his career.
He was also a bit of a trailblazer having handed in his Japanese licence in 2009 after a points loss to Roman Gonzalez to pursue opportunities abroad and only returning in 2013 when both the WBO and IBF were finally recognised by the JBC.
Minimumweight Riku Kano has some serious rebuilding to do after being stopped by Jerry Tomogdan for the WBO Asia Pacific belt in Hyogo on 5 May. Kano’s speed won him the first two rounds but Tomogdan soon came in to the contest and he put the man from Japan on the floor with a body shot in round four.
Kano tried to recuperate but it wasn’t to be and the Filipino knocked Kano out in round six with another crippling shot to the mid-section to put himself in line for a significant fight at 105lb.
All-Filipino clashes of intrigue are unfortunately like finding a needle in a haystack but the 7 May bout between Jonas Sultan and Sonny Boy Jaro certainly gathered some local interest at the Angono Sports Complex in Rizal.
Sultan, whose IBF fringe super flyweight belt was on the line started fast using his speed to outmanoeuvre Jaro in the early stages. A low blow from Jaro in round three and a right uppercut to the body in round four were minor scares for Sultan but the 25-year-old controlled the rest of the contest eventually stopping the 35-year-old in round eight. The ALA fighter - along with Mark Magsayo and Albert Pagara - will return to action on 8 July.
Japan’s Suguru Muranaka travelled to Birmingham to attempt to snatch Kal Yafai’s super flyweight title away from him at the Barclaycard Arena on 13 May. The champion began quickly and a flash knockdown in round two may have had many thinking that an early night was inevitable but Muranaka dug in and even had some moments of success in rounds three and four.
Yafai landed plenty of shots especially to the body over the next 2 rounds but the punches seemed to just bounce off Muranaka who simply would not budge.
There were periods in rounds seven, eight and nine when it looked like Yafai would finally make the breakthrough but the resolve of Muranaka would not be broken.
The challenger continued to give it everything he had, showing phenomenal courage and guts and he deservedly made it to the final bell. Yafai was given a tough workout and had to settle for a unanimous decision victory with scores of 118-108 and 119-107 twice.
Last December Japanese strawweight Tsubasa Koura made a bit of a statement by crushing former world title challenger Jeffrey Galero in two rounds and announcing himself as one to watch at 105lbs. The 22-year-old made his first ring appearance of 2017 against Thongchai Chaiyonggym at the Korakuen Hall on 15 May.
As expected Koura easily disposed of his Thai opponent in two rounds and hopefully some sort of title fight will be next. Also on this card the always fun to watch Katsunori Nagomine overcame Tetsuya Tomioka in six rounds in an up-and-down thriller and should be in line for a Japanese title tilt in the very near future.
It was then on to the huge weekend of action on 20-21 May from Japan with proceedings beginning at the Takeda Teva Ocean Arena in Nagoya as Kosei Tanaka made his first defence of his WBO 108lb bauble against mandatory challenger Angel Acosta. Acosta made an excellent start and managed to push Tanaka on to the back foot over the first two rounds.
The challenger had great success with the left hand and especially the left hook but by the end of round three Tanaka was beginning to warm to the task. The champion stepped up the pace in round four and an uppercut put the challenger on the floor in round five and by now the local man was fully in charge.
Tanaka made a concerted effort to hammer away at the body and the tactic definitely took a lot out of Acosta and by round eight the end looked inevitable. To his credit the Puerto Rican dug in and found a second wind and the last three rounds saw the pair involved in some terrific exchanges giving the crowd their money’s worth.
Despite an admirable effort from Acosta there was no doubt of the winner with Tanaka prevailing on the cards with scores of 117-110 twice and 116-111. The bout was streamed for those outside of Japan by CBC giving viewers around the globe the opportunity to tune in to what was a fine world championship tussle. The post-fight spectacle saw Tanaka being joined in the ring by fellow light flyweight champion Ryoichi Taguchi and a unification bout between the duo looks feasible for the near future.
The focus then switched to the Ariake Colosseum as middleweight Ryota Murata was on the wrong end of an appalling split decision loss to Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam with cards of 116-111 and 115-112 overruling a tally of 117-110 which was a proper reflection of the 12 rounds of action.
Murata began on the front foot but barely threw any punches over the first two rounds and allowed N’Dam to box and move and control the first six minutes. Again the French based Cameroonian was boxing well in round three but a right hand from Murata had some effect and the man from Japan was now beginning to let his hands go.
A sweet right hand saw N’Dam hit the canvas in round four and the two fighters engaged in an exciting fifth stanza but Murata’s shots were now troubling N’Dam frequently. Murata was now in total command with N’Dam looking for escape routes at every opportunity. Going in to the championship rounds it seemed that N’Dam needed a KO to win the bout but that never looked like occurring with Murata landing with the harder shots with N’Dam’s pity-patter punches being wholly ineffective.
The verdict left those in attendance and those watching the contest in total shock and judges Hubert Earle and Gustavo Padilla must be held accountable for their unfathomable scorecards. Referee Luis Pabon should also have to answer questions after missing at least one occasion where the ropes were the only thing holding N’Dam up.
This writer has been a huge advocate of flyweight Daigo Higa for a while and the 21-year-old justified those claims with a six-round thrashing of Juan Hernandez to capture the WBC strap at 112lb. Hernandez had had a torrid week having missed weight and scene his world title disappear in the process. The Mexican unsurprisingly elected to box and move, attempting to frustrate Higa but it wasn’t long before the power of Higa came in to play as a hook floored Hernandez in round two.
Hernandez recovered and moved well in the next two rounds but Higa didn’t become frustrated and remain calm. The Yoko Gushiken protégé broke through again in round five dropping Hernandez with a vicious left hook and by the end of the round the writing looked to be on the wall.
Sensing his man was there for the taking Higa let rip with some crushing body shots that saw Hernandez down four times before the contest was rightly brought to a halt and a new boxing star had been born. The Okinawa wrecking ball is now intent on unifying the division and it will take a damn good fighter to beat him.
Unbeaten light flyweight Ken Shiro stepped up to the plate as he dethroned WBC titlist Ganigan Lopez via a close majority decision. There was very little to split both fighters over the first four rounds with the momentum constantly changing. Lopez enjoyed a decent fifth stanza but Shiro responded excellently and after nine rounds the challenger was in a great position to capture his first world title.
The champion wasn’t going to let his crown go without a fight and the Mexican poured it all out in the last three rounds and the final stanza was a thriller with both boxers leaving nothing to chance. After the final bell it was Shiro who had his hand raised with the judges' scores reading 115-113 twice and 114-114. Before any thought of unification Shiro must first tackle Pedro Guevara in a mandatory defence.
A day later still at the Ariake Colosseum super flyweight king pin Naoya Inoue blew away Ricardo Rodriguez in three rounds to retain his WBO belt for the fifth time. Rodriguez attempted to press the action in the opening round but excellent foot work and a sharp jab from Inoue repelled the US based Mexican.
Inoue played with his opponent in round two, even turning southpaw and landing a hard left hand which made Rodriguez wary of opening up. A left hook dumped Rodriguez on the seat of his pants in round three and although he managed to get to his feet the same shot floored him for the full ten count. Inoue will now head to the US where he will make his debut in the country in September.
You can watch Inoue vs Rodriguez
Japan briefly had all four light flyweight belts in their possession but only for 24 hours as Filipino Milan Melindo produced a career-best performance to vanquish Akira Yaegashi inside a round to snatch the IBF crown.
Yaegashi started well but Melindo found the range and dropped the Japanese fighter who wasn’t massively hurt. Just moments later Yaegashi was down again, this time it was a more severe knockdown and although he got to his feet a cracking right hand put Yaegashi on the floor for a third time and the bout was correctly stopped.
Hopefully Melindo can now build on this fantastic victory having fallen short in two previous world title tilts. As for Yaegashi, at 34 it’s hard to see where he goes from here even though he has bounced back before.
The undercard saw Andy Hiraoka stop Shogo Yamaguchi in five rounds, Ryo Matsumoto drill Hendrick Barongsay in two and Satoshi Shimizu and Satoshi Hosono see off their respective opponents Takuya Yamamoto and Masashi Noguchi inside a round.
The TV ratings from both Tokyo cards were released and the Murata vs N’Dam bout was a huge success with a combined average audience of 11.4million and a peak figure of just under 10m in the Kanto region. The contest between Higa and Hernandez drew an average of around 4m, with a peak of over 5.5m in the Kanto area. The Inoue vs Rodriguez fight drew roughly 4m on average and peaked at just under 5.2m in Kanto and the IBF light flyweight contest between Yaegashi and Melindo averaged approximately 3.5m, peaking at around 5.2m also in Kanto.
Two other results of note involving Asian fighters on 20 May saw Fazliddin Gaibnazarov score a shutout over eight rounds versus Agustine Mauras at Madison Square Garden and on the same bill China’s Li Tong Hui won a shutout over six against Daniel Calzada.
Looking ahead to the upcoming weeks, after his breakout KO win over Christian Gonzalez in March lightweight puncher Romero Duno returns home to take on Jovany Rota at the Robinson’s Mall in General Santos City on 10 June over ten rounds. Also on this card super flyweight contender Aston Palicte faces the durable John Mark Apolinario in a contest also scheduled for ten.
A week later the criminally underrated Ricky Sismundo returns to Canada to take on Yves Ulysse Jr at the Olympia Theatre in Montreal. Sismundo is coming off a unanimous decision win versus Ghislain Maduma in October 2016. Ulysse Jr, who is unbeaten in 13 fights with 9 KOs, impressively stopped fellow undefeated prospect Zachary Ochoa on the undercard of the middleweight bout between David Lemieux and Curtis Stevens in his last outing in March.
Jerwin Ancajas’ mandatory IBF 115lb fight with Teiru Kinoshita now has a date and a venue with the contest to take place on 2 July at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane as part of the undercard of Manny Pacquiao’s bout with Jeff Horn.
After their respective wins over Francisco Vargas and Miguel Roman on 28 January Miguel Berchelt and Takashi Miura will tangle for the WBC super featherweight strap at the Forum in LA on 15 July as part of a cracking triple-header.
Due to the retirement of Katsunari Takayama, Tatsuya Fukuhara was elevated to full WBO champion status and the 27-year-old makes his first defence against number 1 challenger Ryuya Yamanaka on 27 August at the Shiroyama Dome in Ashikita, Kumamoto. Fukuhara had to dig deep to overcome the spirited challenge of Moises Calleros to capture the interim belt in February and he’ll be aiming to maintain his terrific recent form. Yamanaka’s most significant win came last November when he outboxed Merlito Sabillo over 12 rounds to claim the OPBF minimumweight belt.
Finally, 7 October sees the return of Rex Tso who faces former world champion Kohei Kono at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center.