Hot shot Yafai targets Kono

Danny Winterbottom
18/03/2016 6:30am

British super-flyweight champion Kal Yafai picked up the vacant WBA Inter-Continental title with a devastating one punch body shot KO of former world title challenger Dixon Flores in Birmingham earlier this month, with promoter Eddie Hearn now keen to match the rising star with Japan's World Boxing Association champion Kohei Kono.

“All I know is that Eddie [Hearn] is talking to Kono's team about the fight,” said Yafai when speaking to Boxing Monthly over the phone.  “I just concentrate on fighting whoever is in front of me. The Flores fight was an eliminator, not a final eliminator, so if Kono gets a voluntary defence of his title then we'll see if Eddie can land the fight but in fairness I can't see Kono picking me for a voluntary defence. At the moment, I'm just concentrating on climbing the ladder and bettering myself in every fight.”

Yafai, a former amateur stand out and 2008 Beijing Olympian, has impressed so far as a professional winning all 18 of his contests and claimed the British title in October against Jason Cunningham, but his most impressive performance came on 5 March  when he obliterated Flores in less than a round in front of his home fans in Birmingham.

Flores had taken WBC 115lbs king Carlos Cuadras five rounds in August, 2015 but he was sickened by a tremendous Yafai left hook to the body after being dropped by a right hand earlier in the round.

“When I got back to the changing rooms, I hadn't even realised I had thrown a left hook to the body!” said Yafai. “It is just one of those shots that comes naturally. It happens almost before I've had time to think about it and the next thing I know I'm over in the neutral corner and Flores is on the floor!”

The Nicaraguan youngster hadn't faced the greatest of opposition prior to his surprise shot at Cuadras, with all his bouts taking place inside his Latin American homeland, and critics were quick to question Flores' credentials following the quick fire defeat to Yafai. 

“That's life,” reasoned the Birmingham star. “You'll always face criticism as a sportsman. If I'd gone six rounds they would have said I should have got him out of there sooner, but when I knocked him out in a round he isn’t good enough. I believe I carry power in this weight class, Cuadras took five rounds to beat [Flores] and I took one.

“I want to fight the best guys in the division like WBO champion [Naoya] Inoue [who returns on 8 May against mandatory challenger David Carmona] and Cuadras, those are the fights I want in the future.”

Going in to the fight against Flores, Yafai had faced four opponents from Nicaragua and had dropped all of them with left hooks to the body leading the Birmingham puncher to believe that his body attack was the talk of Nicaraguan boxing!

“I knew they were gonna protect that body!” said Yafai.  “But when he went down from the right hand to the head earlier in the round he didn't know which area to protect first and that opened up the gap for the left hook to the body.”

Prior to his 18th career victory, Yafai had holidayed in Los Angeles with his girlfriend.  A relaxing vacation quickly turned in to a working holiday as he visited the Big Bear facility in Southern California before eventually sparring with Mexican legend Giovani Segura.  Yafai takes up the story.

“After the Jason Cunningham fight, I went on holiday to Los Angeles and did some travelling around. I went up to Big Bear first, just on a break with the missus, but I ended up at the Summit Gym run by Abel Sanchez. It was a good experience just to be there but they didn't have any sparring for me. I moved on to the Wild Card in Hollywood but again they had no little guys there for me to do some work with.

“Over the last 12 months, I'd built up a friendship on Twitter with a Mexican guy in the States and I met up with him and he took me over to the Azteca Boxing Club. I did some work with a few of the Golden Boy prospects there and he told me Segura would be coming in but probably wouldn't be sparring yet. I met Segura and he said he'd seen me spar earlier in the day and, if I came back tomorrow, he would do some rounds with me.

“I'd watched his (Segura) fights with Ivan Calderon back in the day and I have a ton of respect for the guy and he's still a big puncher although not the most technically skilled. He hit me with a back hand to the chest and I thought to myself, 'I don't wanna get hit by another one of those!', so yeah he can still punch.

“He couldn't believe that I was a junior bantamweight either because he said I can really hit. I'm going back over to the Azteca Gym soon, the head trainer invited me and said there is a ton of sparring out there for me if I want brawlers, southpaws, orthodox whatever. It's all good experience.”

As Yafai closes in on his maiden world title shot, Ellesmere Port's Paul Butler is chasing global honours for a third time after holding the IBF bantamweight title in 2014 and losing to excellent South African Zolani Tete in a bid for the same organisation’s 115lbs belt early in 2015. Butler defeated Mexican Sebastian Gonzalez last Saturday night in Liverpool and Yafai gave Boxing Monthly his take on the fight between himself and Butler that never quite materialised.

“When Butler held the British title Eddie [Hearn] won the purse bids to stage the fight but they didn't want it,” said Yafai. “It was always gonna be a potentially big domestic match-up and I was really pushing for the fight but now I'm concentrating on my path in the sport. Paul and his team will be doing the same, but hopefully we can still face each other at some point in the future because it will be great for the smaller guys to get that exposure again like [Carl] Frampton vs [Scott] Quigg.”

Photo Credit: Phil Sharkey.