Fireworks in Japan

Ohashi Promotions put on a spectacular boxing card in Tokyo last night. The eight fight show was headlined by two world title fights, the first featuring ex-minimum weight and flyweight champion Akira Yaegashi challenging IBF light flyweight champion Javier Mendoza. The main event saw WBO super flyweight champion Naoya Inoue, 2014’s Fighter of the Year, in his long awaited comeback match against Filipino Warlito Parrenas.

Akira Yaegashi was thought to be a shot fighter as many had written the ex champion off after back-to-back knockout losses to Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez and Pedro Guevara in 2014. Two wins against less-than-stellar opposition followed, but it was thought that by stepping up to challenge Javier Mendoza for his IBF light flyweight title that Yaegashi was setting himself up for another defeat and certain retirement. But Yaegashi had other plans as he proved his doubters wrong with a sublime display of punching prowess, magnificent footwork and superior ring generalship.

Yaegashi defeated Mendoza for his third world title belt.

From the opening bell it was clear Mendoza was in for a tough night as the quicker Yaegashi landed punishing shots to the head and body. It was the straight right that found its mark with precision early on and would do so throughout the match. Yaegashi asserted his dominance over the champion, and while the Japanese challenger isn’t known for his power, his fists had Mendoza’s head rocking back solidly in virtually every round.

Mendoza had his moments, but his offensive output, consisting of a large percentage of punches which missed completely, did little to stem the tide of violence brought forth from Yaegashi. By the later rounds the fight was well and truly the former champion’s, but that didn’t stop Yaegashi from trading shots, the last thirty seconds of round eleven a display of aggression that thrilled the crowd and no doubt gained a serious measure of respect for both men. The last round started slowly as Mendoza was clearly exhausted and Yaegashi knew he had the win, but the final seconds saw the Japanese warrior attack with vigor and almost stop his more fancied rival.

The judges scored the bout 120-107, 117-111 and 119-109, all in favour of the new champion, Akira Yeagashi, who now deserves serious consideration for any 2015 Comeback of the Year awards after so many had completely written him off.

Yaegashi the victor despite his underdog status.
Yaegashi the victor despite his underdog status.

Following his huge victory, Yaegashi was quick to point to his family as the catalyst for continuing his career after two knockout losses. “I almost quit boxing after the losses of last year but my family encouraged me. It was a hard fight but I fought for my family.”

The main event failed to match the entertainment value of the previous match, though it was no less exciting in its own way, as Japan’s prodigal son, Naoya “Monster” Inoue, returned to action after a year-long hiatus due to an injured right hand. He had little trouble dispatching challenger Warlito Parrenas of the Philippines, and indeed he ends 2015 right back where he was a year ago, with a reputation for being one of the most dangerous punchers in the sport and, at just 22 years of age, with no limit to his future potential.

Inoue started the bout cautiously, feeling out his slightly taller foe before landing some crisp one-two combinations. In round two the baby-faced champion with the dynamite hands set upon Parrenas in earnest, dropping him with a huge right. The challenger beat the count but seconds later Inoue landed a vicious combination which left  the referee little choice but to halt the match and award the undefeated Inoue his fourth world title win in only his ninth pro fight.

Naoya Inoue made easy work of Warlito Parrenas in his return to the ring.
Naoya Inoue made easy work of Warlito Parrenas.

Inoue is as talented and powerful a fighter as any in the world right now and speculation is rife about future matches. A visit to U.S. shores is looking likely for the near future.

“Boxing is so fun to me,” said Inoue. “I want to give the fans what they want. If there’s an offer from America, I’m willing to take it.”

Japanese fighters could very well be the best-kept secret in boxing right now. The lack of coverage outside of the Land of the Rising Sun means few mainstream fans are aware of the talent residing there, but rest assured, the depth and quality of fighters being produced in the Pacific Rim is of the highest class. Last night was clear evidence of this fact.          — Daniel Attias

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