Yafai ready for Panamanian devil

Danny Winterbottom
06/12/2016 7:54am

Ahead of his title shot against WBA super flyweight king Luis Concepcion, Birmingham's Kal Yafai assures Danny Winterbottom he is in the shape of his life ...

There is no doubting that Anthony Joshua is the Pay-Per-View star attraction on 10 December at the Manchester Arena when he defends his IBF heavyweight title against Eric Molina. However, with AJ fully expected to dispose of Molina in double quick time before tackling Wladimir Klitschko next year, it is further down the card that the action promises to get really interesting.

One of the most intriguing contests on Saturday night's card sees unbeaten British and Commonwealth 115lbs titlist and stand-out amateur Kal Yafai attempt to become Birmingham's first ever world champion when he makes a huge step-up from domestic and international level to challenge dangerous punching Panamanian Luis Concepción for the WBA world title that 'El Nica' won from Japan fighter Kohei Kono in Tokyo on 31 August.

That night Concepción, 31, proved he is more than just a wild slugger, remembered fondly by hardcore fight fans for his epic first war with Hernan 'Tyson' Marquez' in 2011, as he mixed boxing with the brawling he is most famed for to best Kono over 12 rounds via a unanimous decision. Despite Concepción showing a more mature side to his game in Japan, Yafai fully expects the Panamanian devil to come out all guns blazing on Saturday night in an acid test of the Birmingham man's world title credentials.

“He's gonna come out firing and try to put me in my place,” said Yafai when speaking to Boxing Monthly over the phone this week. “It would be a mistake for him to box me because I'm bigger and taller than him, it would be great if he did [box] but I'm fully expecting the type of Luis Concepción who fought Marquez.”

The first of a trilogy of fights between Concepción and Marquez took place at the Roberto Duran Arena in Panama City on 2 April 2011 and it was an incredible and breathless back and forth war, a YouTube sensation and the kind of ring battle that ages a man.

Both warriors hit the deck in round one whilst Concepción was dropped again in the third session and once more in the tenth before he was stopped in round eleven in his first world title tilt. Concepción was then halted in the first round of the rematch before finally securing a victory over his rival on 17 December 2015.

In contrast to Concepción, Yafai, one of three boxing brothers, sports a perfect 20-0 record but has yet to mix in world class, although the 2008 Beijing Olympian has done everything asked of him so far in the pro ranks and has looked good doing it on his way to British and Commonwealth titles.

It goes without saying that the Birmingham man is preparing for the hardest test of his professional career and he has been training like never before ahead of this huge opportunity.

“I'm expecting the best Luis Concepción there has ever been,” said Yafai. “He finally won his world title last time out in Japan and that victory could have taken him up to the next level.

"I'm not fighting a Mickey Mouse world champion for a Mickey Mouse belt, this is a real fighter and a really good and hard-punching world champion but my preparation has been better than it has ever been and I'm in the shape of my life.”

“The great thing about this fight is that I will learn a lot about myself,” admitted Yafai. “Am I good enough at this level or not? I believe in myself as a fighter but when you step up in levels you don't know how you will react until the fight happens. I've had 20 fights and I'm mature and strong at this weight and If I can't beat Concepción what chance do I stand with the other world champions?”

Arguably Yafai's most impressive victory came in March when he wasted Dixon Flores with body shots inside the first three minutes of their contest at the Genting Arena in Birmingham. Flores had gone five rounds with WBC champion Carlos Cuadras in August 2015 but was unable to withstand Yafai's tremendous body attack, a weapon he believes could pay dividends on Saturday.

“I might surprise Concepción with my size but it's the left hook to the body that he will be most wary of," he said confidently. "No doubt they will have prepared for that shot but watching footage on YouTube is one thing and being able to do something about it in the ring is something else.”

Prior to his eighteenth career victory over Flores, Yafai had holidayed in Los Angeles with his girlfriend in December 2015. A relaxing vacation which 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.

He told Boxing Monthly at the time that working with a legend of the lower weight classes would one day pay off when his world title chance came around.

“After the Jason Cunningham fight when I won the British title 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 Mrs 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's] fights with Ivan Calderon back in the day and I have a ton of respect for the guy. 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 and I was big for the weight. I'm not one to believe my own hype but hearing Segura say good things about you makes me think that maybe I could become a world champion.”

On Saturday night Kal Yafai gets his big chance to do just that.