Even among the most hardcore boxing fans you would have been hard pressed to find someone picking Jezreel Corrales to dethrone Takashi Uchiyama back in April of this year.
I had seen a few forum posters picking Corrales. I assumed they were either blinded by Corrales' slickness against low level opposition, or felt Uchiyama was either on the slide or not that good to begin with.
Whether it was a leap of faith or astute analysis, those few were vindicated when the diminutive Panamanian—then 19-1 with 7 stoppages to his name—devastated Uchiyama and the Japanese faithful inside of six minutes.
An awkward southpaw (and sometimes switch hitter) Corrales is the classic case of an unknown quantity stepping up to the plate in his first major test. No one can predict what will happen. Some fighters simply aren't seasoned enough and find themselves gasping for air once they realise the task in front of them. Some look like they don't just belong but that they've always been there, world class for a while and just waiting for the opportunity to prove it.
When bombing the now former champion into submission Corrales showed more than he had in previous contests: his awkwardness and wide looping punches had not elicited too many stoppages, and those he had scored at a reasonable level were more down to overwhelming his opponent down the stretch.
But the defending champion—who had left the ring with the belt still strapped around his waist thirteen times—was not only bewildered by Corrales' style, he was badly hurt and completely overwhelmed, his propensity to find his timing and take out his challengers with the efficiency of a sniper snatched away by a whirlwind barrage of gloves.
The question is not whether Corrales is legit and whether he can repeat the feat second time round, but whether Uchiyama can come up with the gameplan to turn things around a little over a month removed from his thirty seventh birthday.
The challenger: Takashi Uchiyama (24-1-1, 20 KO's)
Let's go back to those 'hardcore boxing fans' I mentioned in the opening line of this preview. A badge of honour for some and a stick to whack the pretentious with for others, the term is not easily defined but can certainly be applied to Western fans who intently follow boxing from Asia.
To those that do, Takashi Uchiyama has been at the forefront of their minds for many years. Depending on who you ask he's either the best super featherweight in the world (or at least was before he was battered by Corrales) or a nearly shot veteran who has been flattered by recent performances.
I sit somewhere in the middle. It was hard not to respect Uchiyama for who he'd beaten and how he went about it. Juan Carlos Salgado had starched Jorge Linares a little over a minute into the fight: Uchiyama pasted Salgado with less than a minute left of the 12th. Future WBC 130lb titlist and all-round warlord Takashi Miura couldn't outfight him, and the talented Bryan Vasquez had his superior skillset beaten out of him. Perennial contender Jorge Solis was blasted into retirement by an uppercut that showed exactly why Uchiyama had earned the moniker 'KO Dynamite'.
It seemed the writing was on the wall for Uchiyama when on New Years Eve 2013 he peeled himself off the mat to grit his teeth and win a decision against tough compatriot Daiki Kaneko. Only 19 fights into his pro career, Uchiyama had an extensive amateur run and eight world title fights to his name, so it wouldn't have been a big surprise to see a champ approaching his mid-thirties to see his prime slip away from him after a hard-fought twelve round contest.
Those fears were compounded in his next fight—a whole year after the Kaneko defence—in a lethargic title defence against Israel Hector Enrique Perez. Perez did little to distinguish himself as a viable challenger in the fight, but it was Uchiyama who did his best to elevate him, flopping to the canvas multiple times and struggling to unleash his usually potent offence.
Was the champion shot? Only capable of being bailed out by his immense power? A quicker turnaround six months later against Jomthong Chuwatana, a hardened Muay Thai fighter looking to follow the lead of other Nak Muay Thai and winning a world title whilst still in single digit pro boxing bouts.
Chuwatana had never been stopped in hundreds of Muay Thai bouts, and had easily handled the same Daiki Kaneko that had given Uchiyama food for thought a few years prior. Yet Uchiyama looked like the champion of old, blasting Jomthong out in two rounds and sending him back to the Muay Thai circuit.
Nicaraguan prospect Oliver Flores—set to battle highly rated Puerto Rican lightweight Felix Verdejo this coming February—also failed to see the end of the second round, a crushing body shot being his downfall.
It seemed that beyond all expectations that 'KO Dynamite' was back in a big way.
Then came Jezreel Corrales.
The champion: Jezreel Corrales (20-1, 8 KO's)
You just never know with these Latin fighters. They can be built up with squash match upon squash match with unambitious neighbours and show the same lack of ambition and nous when they get thrown into a title shot that brown envelopes at conventions facilitated.
Or they can be Tomas Molinares. Breidis Prescott. Ricardo Torres.
What those three fighters have in common is Colombia, while newly minted WBA 'super' champ Corrales comes from Panama, no less of a hotbed for fistic talent.
While the likes of Roberto Duran, Ismael Laguna and Al Brown has forever enshrined Panama as boxing royalty, Corrales is the only fighter shining the light for Panama at world level and will be hoping to see out 2016 as their only active world champion.
Outside of Uchiyama, Corrales doesn't have much to write home about (although he can dine off kudos for that win for the rest of his days).
What is interesting about Corrales is that despite a lack of world class names on his resume, previous fights have shown he has far more to his game than being a slippery banger.
In most of the available footage, Corrales is more boxer than puncher. Comfortable in orthodox but fighting primarily as a southpaw, exaggerated movement of both hand and feet are diversionary. He is capable of lulling an opponent to sleep before exploding with a wide punch to close the distance. He will change up his tempo, throwing single shots then unleashing a combination. He is hard to pin down and his offence is hard to gauge.
For someone well versed in the boxing textbook, Corrales' stylings is bound to melt your radar.
This is what happened to Uchiyama. A patient, probing fighter, the now ex-champ didn't have any time to settle into a rhythm. That this seems atypical for Corrales shows that it was expert gameplanning from the Panamanian and his team. Overseas in front of a partisan crowd, Corrales put it on the ageing champ and didn't give him time to think. It was a tactic that paid off, and Corrales did more in less than six minutes for his reputation than he had done in a hundred and thirteen rounds previous.
And what of those previous fights? Only Juan Antonio Vasquez and Walter Estrada are notable victims of Corrales' fast fists, and only then because they were opponents to vastly superior fighters. They are what you could describe as world class journeymen. Capable of doing the rounds against world class fighters, but never there to leave the ring victorious.
Uchiyama then, was a massive step up in class. Corrales was mandatory challenger to the Japanese puncher, and seen as such an outsider—except to those aforementioned boxing hipsters—that the contest wasn't even picked up for broadcast in his home country.
But on a Wednesday evening in Tokyo this past April, Corrales shocked the world (or at least outside of Japan the hardcore boxing fraternity) by showing he was the sum of all his parts. Not just a slick and versatile boxer against fighters below his level, but at the very top level as well.
The big question over Corrales is whether he will use this rematch to prove himself Uchiyama's superior, or if like Juan Carlos Salgado he's just another talented fighter who hit the jackpot in the first big fight of his career and is destined not to reach those heights again.
For Corrales, he needs to do what he did in the first bout. Uchiyama is like a Joe Louis or Alexis Arguello-type puncher: timing is key, and reading the patterns of his opponent allows that timing to come into play. Corrales needs to stay busy and come in at odd angles, and throw the punches a cool head like Uchiyama will struggle to cope with. The defending champ needs to keep his head off centre when he rushes in, lest he be cracked by one of Uchiyama's deadly right hands.
For Uchiyama, it may be that Father Time has caught up with him. But write him off at your peril as I and other boxing fans found out when he crushed Jomthong Chuwatana back in 2015.
Living up to the stereotypical Japanese fighter, Uchiyama has remained humble in the wake of the first loss of his career. Speaking to The Japan Times back in November, Uchiyama said:
“I was training myself as hard as I’d always done and felt great going into the fight. I actually felt better than usual even. Everybody has kindly told me (Corrales) won it with lucky punches, or that I should beat him the next time I fight against him, and things like that. But I don’t think that way at all. I know I lost because I got out-competed with his speed and (physical) ability.”
This shows that Uchiyama is well aware of what happened first time around, and that he will have to make adjustments to stop it happening again.
Never the most versatile of fighters, Uchiyama will need to get his jab working as a weapon, rather than as a range finder. He will need to use his powerful straight right to the body to take Corrales' legs away.
As for Corrales, studying footage of his previous fights he is not infallible himself. Whilst he has impressive head and upper body movement, he often wings punches in a way that puts him off balance. This could prove disastrous against Uchiyama if he manages to time a counter punch on the Panama natives chin.
That is all Uchiyama has here in my opinion. The last thing to leave a fighter is their power, and Uchiyama is going to have to pull on all his reserves of experience to summon up another highlight reel knockout to slow the progress of Corrales. My thoughts on Uchiyama and where he's at right now is that the two quick knockouts he scored before Corrales took his title away flattered to deceive, and that the veteran Japanese fighter has been well past his prime for a few years.
My prediction is that Corrales does what he did in the first fight, but mixes up his approach with more lateral movement, which will cause Uchiyama to have to follow him round the ring and constantly reset to get his punches off. As the rounds go on, Corrales' bursts of punching will have Uchiyama weary, and I see Corrales stepping on the gas and forcing a stoppage in the mid rounds, solidifying his place at the top of the division and putting himself in the frame for a salivating unification bout with Vasyl Lomachenko sometime in 2017.
Jezreel Corrales TKO8 Takashi Uchiyama
Now you've read me rambling on, how do you guys see it? Excited for this rematch? Wish Uchiyama would just retire without risking another shameful loss in front of his countrymen? Wax lyrical in the comment section and let me know your predictions.