By Cliff Rold
It will begin in the wee hours of Friday morning here in the US. They’ll be wide awake and ready for a big night in Tokyo. A good fight is a good fight no matter where, or when, one is.
This has all the makings of a good fight.
Two of the game’s proven thrillers will lock horns in boxing’s most exciting current division with the World Flyweight Championship on the line. The challenger has never lost. The champion enters having won 13 of his last 14, the lone loss a narrow decision in a 105 lb. unification contest.
Both in their prime and on a roll, this is must-see stuff for anyone who knows that boxing doesn’t stop where US television coverage too often ends.
Let’s go the report card.
Title: Linear/TBRB/Ring/WBC World Flyweight (2013-Present, 3 Defenses)
Previous Titles: WBA Minimumweight (2011)
Height: 5’3 ½
Hails from: Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan
Record: 20-3, 10 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 5-2, 2 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 6 (Eagle Kyowa L12; Srisaket Sor Rungvisai TKO3; Pornsawan Porpramook TKO10; Kazuto Ioka L12; Toshiyuki Igarashi UD12; Edgar Sosa UD12)
Previous Titles: WBA Minimumweight (2008-10, 3 Defenses); WBA Light Flyweight (2010-13, 5 Defenses)
Hails from: Managua, Nicaragua
Record: 39-0, 33 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 9-0, 5 KO (10-0, 6 KO including interim title fights)
Rankings: #1 (Ring), #5 (BoxRec), #6 (ESPN), #8 (BoxingScene, TBRB)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 5 (Yutaka Niida TKO4; Katsunari Takayama UD12; Ramon Garcia KO4; Juan Francisco Estrada UD12; Francisco Rodriguez Jr. TKO7)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Yaegashi A-; Gonzalez B
Pre-Fight: Power – Yaegashi B-; Gonzalez A
Pre-Fight: Defense – Yaegashi B-; Gonzalez B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Yaegashi A; Gonzalez A
Gonzalez has been in a bit of a holding pattern since moving up to Flyweight for good in 2013. Not the sort of fighter most go looking for, he bided his time and snared this mandatory crack at Yaegashi. Since the bruising decision over Estrada, he’s been a wrecking ball with five straight knockout wins, the best of them a walkthrough of the then-future unified Strawweight titlist Rodriguez.
His most potent offensive piece is the body attack that gets it all going.
Gonzalez is brutal to the body, punishing opponents and placing his shots well. He’s not the fastest fighter but his timing is what the stopwatch can’t clock. Since moving to Flyweight, his speed has appeared to improve though; just a bit more snap than in lower classes. It is perhaps a reflection of not having to burn so many pounds. Working off a stiff left jab that varies in speed, Gonzalez also has a hammering straight right to the head, a heavy left hook, and he works a good uppercut when in close. No one at a time knockout artist, Gonzalez fires in combination making him harder to defend against.
All of those weapons will be needed against the clever, always brave Yaegashi. Yaegashi made his biggest impressions in wars with Porpramook and Ioka. He’s shown some additional elements at Flyweight. He mauled Igarashi for the title, used his hand speed and movement against Sosa, and in his last outing took turns pressing the action and playing the countering marksman.
It is his excellent hand speed that is the biggest threat to Gonzalez. Yaegashi doesn’t always put everything into his shots, but they get to target suddenly. His last win, a knockout of Odilon Zaleta, came on an explosive right hand Zaleta never saw coming. Will he use his speed at short range or make it work in forcing Gonzalez to come to him?
One would assume the wiser choice is the latter.
Yaegashi is willing to go to the body, and can sometimes focus an attack there when he has an opponent on the back foot. It’s not where he typically goes first. Against Gonzalez, a trench war would be a tricky proposition. With his hands often high, Yaegashi is already open to body shots and Gonzalez will happily be in his ribs.
Yaegashi’s best hope to win likely comes in a scenario where he contains firefights and keeps Gonzalez off balance. It worked in the Sosa fight. Sosa kept coming but Yaegashi used that against him, boxing more than brawling for the impressive victory. Gonzalez will present a different challenge. He showed in fights like his win over Takayama that he knows how to slow down a faster moving target.
Both men can be hit. Gonzalez isn’t bad defensively but his desire to inflict punishment means willingness to take some leather. Yaegashi can be a sucker for the right hand. It’s hard to imagine Gonzalez won’t force a serious fight in more rounds than not on Friday. If that is the case, it’s going to be about how much Yaegashi can take and whether he can answer Gonzalez’s power with enough connecting volume to retain the title.
Roman Gonzalez might be one of the 4-5 best fighters in the world but, before he is genuinely crowned on that level, let’s see how does with the speed of Yaegashi. No, this isn’t the first time he’s seen speed. Takayama was a speed challenge as well. Yaegashi’s game is different, more focused and less kinetic. How he approaches Gonzalez will determine where the challenge lies. The champion has used his legs and the ring more in some recent fights and against Gonzalez it’s the rational approach. Gonzalez is going to have to find him. The thinking here is Gonzalez's pressure and body work will slow Yaegashi down and bring out the warrior that made fights with Porpramook and Ioka so memorable. It will be Yaegashi's downfall. In what on paper is a fantastic clash, Gonzalez will add his third divisional crown with a late stoppage.
Report Card Picks 2014: 35-17
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]