Japanese Scene: Yamanaka Victorious in Battle of Unbeatens

Sidney Boquiren recaps this past weekend's Champion Carnival match-up between unbeaten prospects Shinsuke Yamanaka and Ryosuke Iwasa.  For more Japanese boxing updates, you can follow Sidney on twitter: RingwalkNippon@Twitter

The main event in Saturday’s card at Korakuen Hall was a shining example of the great match-ups that the Champion Carnival structure can create. In an era in which a prospect’s "0" in the loss column is a highly valued asset, the fact that the showdown between Shinsuke Yamanaka and Ryosuke Iwasa came to fruition at this stage of their careers was to be applauded. In spite of a mere 23 pro fights between the pair, they combined to put on a show featuring several shifts in momentum tied together at all times by high-level technique. The result was nine plus rounds of excellent boxing that exceeded all ready high expectations and an early candidate for fight of the year.

Yamanaka, the defending champion, was coming off a dominant performance against journeyman Jose Silveira. Though displaying good power in his left hand and quick combination punching, the southpaw seemed a bit one-dimensional and often showed disregard for defense. Contrary to the light-punching Mexican, Yamanaka’s opponent on Saturday does have some pop in his gloves, and combined with an unpredictable style, Iwasa was more than capable of handing the incumbent a beating. Had the youngster been able to replicate the outing he had in September when he had proud veteran Kinshiro Usui discombobulated by his nifty footwork, tricky upper body movement and an offense coming from every angle, the slickster would have several opportunities to drop bombs on the upright Yamanaka.

However, Iwasa was surprisingly textbook for the majority of Saturday’s contest. Perhaps as a show of respect for the beltholder’s power, the challenger fought mainly out of a classic boxing stance and attempted to work behind a jab. The aggressor in the opening frames, Iwasa grasped momentum early, finishing round one strongly then rocking the champ in the second with a hard counter left. Had the challenger just a bit more experience or a tad more poise, he could have at least scored a knockdown or inflicted major damage. However, the bull-rushing youngster ran straight into a counter left by Yamanaka. The fight was clearly on as the pair of southpaws slugged it out until the end of the round.

While he may not have succeeded in changing this writer’s opinion on his lack of variety, Yamanaka’s determination and his ability to execute a well-planned strategy was transparent. Recovering from the bomb in the previous round, the champ looked to turn the tide in the third, scoring with slightly cleaner blows in some nice trading late in the stanza. Yamanaka carried that momentum into the fourth, zeroing in with left crosses and good right hooks. The sixth round is when he began to really take over, concentrating his attack on wearing down the challenger even further by attacking the body. After Iwasa slowed sufficiently, Yamanaka would find the target with his left cross up top with more frequency.

The challenger seemed to have hit a wall early and was showing signs of fatigue as soon as the third round. While he had a very good fifth, the challenger would have to pick his spots as the battle looked as if it could extend into the late rounds. Though he rarely showed the terrific mobility and guile that propelled him to victory against Usui, Iwasa met every salvo thrown by Yamanaka with a retaliation of his own. The young man showed unexpected toughness, a steely chin and tremendous heart.

But the night would be the defending champ’s as his power punches were getting through Iwasa’s defense, causing bad swelling around the challenger’s eyes. Yamanaka remained strong as the gong to the tenth sounded and simply overwhelmed his opponent with a flurry of punches. Though Iwasa stayed upright and attempted to return his own punches, he was absorbing a lot of punishment. At 1:28, the referee stepped in to save the youngster.

With the stoppage, Yamanaka retained his unbeaten status, advancing to 14-0-2 with 10KOs. In his post-fight interview, the 28-year old made the obligatory challenge to WBA titleholder Koki Kameda. While Teiken’s Akihiko Honda jokingly said that he does not really like world title fights between local countrymen, his charge is ranked in the top ten by both the WBA and the WBC. Safely assuming there is no way that Yamanaka gets a shot at the man who possesses the green belt, Nonito Donaire, the prospect may have to lobby for a shot at Kameda or sit on those rankings until someone moves out of the weight class. Though his performance on Saturday showed much resolve and skill, he could use a bit more seasoning before taking on the top tier in the division.

For Iwasa (8-1, 6KO), the first loss of his career – and a stoppage at that – could prove to be a heavy psychological blow. It really should not, however, as he did very well considering it was only his ninth pro contest. Honda offered that had Iwasa had three more fights worth of experience under his belt, he probably would have come out on top that night. This writer wonders if the outcome would have been different if Iwasa employed a more free-flowing style rather than a classic one. Still, the 21-year old still has plenty of time to refine his craft and should be one to keep an eye on for the next few years.

e-mail Sidney Boquiren

For more coverage of Japanese boxing, follow Sidney on Twitter: RingwalkNippon@Twitter

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