By Jake Donovan
Five days after watching previous conqueror Kazuto Ioka win big to end 2012, Akira Yaegashi helped kick off 2013 in grand style.
The former strawweight champ - fighting for the first time since his thrilling points loss to Ioka last June - looked sharp in dismantling Saenmuangloei Kokeitgym of Thailand in the ninth round of their over-the-limit junior flyweight bout Saturday afternoon in Tokyo.
It was hardly an easy night's work for Yaegashi, who was in control for much of the night but was given a stiff challenge from the visiting Kokeitgym.
The 29-year old house fighter - appearing at Korakuen Hall for the 11th time in his eight-year career - boxed early on while feeling out his opponent and also adapting to a new weight. A career strawweight, Yaegashi made the command decision to follow Ioka up the scales, with Saturday's bout coming at a catchweight of 110 lb.
It will take some time for Yaegashi to properly grow into the weight, though he fought at a proper pace while winning rounds. Kokeitgym caught his attention every so often, scoring with combinations but rarely offering sustained success.
Just as it appeared that the bout was destined for the scorecards, Yaegashi shocked Kokeitgym - as well as the crowd on hand and viewers at home watching on TBS Japan - with a vicious body shot that put his opponent down for the night.
The official time was 2:52 of round nine.
Back-to-back Fight of the Year-worthy performances against Ioka last June and Pornsawan Porpramook eight months prior have earned Yaegashi a well-earned reputation as an all-action hero. Saturday's result earns the Japanese star his first official win since the war with Porpramook as he improves to 16-3 (9KO).
Kokeitgym suffers a second loss in his past three contests - both coming on the road in Japan - as he falls to 15-5-2 (3KO).
Yaegashi's return to the win column comes right on time - specifically less than a week following Ioka's stoppage win over Jose Rodriguez on New Year's Eve. The win puts Ioka in line for a shot at Roman Gonzalez' alphabet junior flyweight title (never mind the bogus interim title at stake in Monday's bout).
Whether that fight happens or Ioka goes on to fight for a vacant title, Yaegashi still has a way to go before seeking a shot at revenge or a second title reign in as many weight classes. All he can do in the meantime is keep pace.
Mission accomplished on Saturday afternoon.
Tags: Akira Yaegashi
In the televised co-feature, 19-year old upstart Naoya Inoue made quick work of Thailand's Ngaoprajan Chuwatana in their flyweight bout.
Inoue returned to the venue that housed his pro debut just three months ago. That bout came against 18-fight veteran Crison Omayao in a bout scheduled for eight rounds. He only needed four rounds to rack up his first win and knockout.
This time around, he only needed less than two minutes. A brutal left hook put Chuwatana (now 8-11, 8KO) down and out after just 1:50 of a fight once again scheduled for eight rounds.
The sky's the limit for Inoue, who improves to 2-0 (2KO). The teenage wunderkind was among Japan's brightest amateurs, despite his failing to secure a spot on the nation's 2012 Olympic Boxing squad. Still, he has already shown flashes of the brilliance that led to seven amateur titles prior to turning pro in October.
Both bouts aired live on TBS Japan.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: