By Jake Donovan
Shinsuke Yamanaka turned back the challenge of Vic Darchinyan with a 12-round points win Friday evening at the International Forum in Tokyo, Japan.
Scores were 116-112 (twice) and 117-111 in their bantamweight title fight.
Darchinyan fought the early rounds like a fighter who knew he wouldn’t get a decision on the road. The brash Armenian –based in Australia – was the aggressor early on, while Yamanaka did his best to play keep-away in his first title defense. Yamanaka managed to get within punching – or at least jabbing – range in the second, circling away from Darchiyan’s power side as he worked the stick.
The strategy produced mixed results in the ensuing rounds. It was enough to maintain distance, but lacked the power to prevent Darchinyan from charging forward. Yamanaka was caught with several lefts in the third, including one that put the Japanese southpaw in retreat mode late in the round.
Momentum swung back and forth over the course of the next three rounds, with scoring depending on your preference. Darchinyan was the clear aggressor and landing the more telling blows, while Yamanaka was landing in combination but without much conviction.
Darchinyan actually enjoyed a slight lead on one card through four rounds while even on the other two. The former two-division champ rode that wave into what appeared to be a big fifth round, but its ending proved to be a game changer.
What appeared to be a clash of heads left Darchinyan cut and bloodied. Unfortunately for the challenger, the cut was ruled to be caused by a punch when the ringside physician was summoned to survey the damage as time was called in the sixth.
The dynamic of the fight changed dramatically from that point onward. Darchinyan was wild in his attack, while Yamanaka wisely kept his distance and boxed his way into the lead. The defending champ stayed true to the term “make ‘em miss, make ‘em pay,” using his defense as offense as Darchinyan was largely ineffective in his attack.
Yamanaka was up on all three scorecards through eight rounds (77-75 twice and 78-74), but Darchinyan refused to lie down. The visiting challenger enjoyed a big ninth round but it proved to be his last hurrah. Yamanaka rocked Darchinyan with a right-left combination early in the 10th and hurt him again with a left hand late in the round.
Another right hand had Darchinyan buzzed in the 11th round. Rather than attempt to go for the kill, Yamanaka instead treated the sequence as grounds to coast to the finish line. The tactic left a glimmer of hope for Darchinyan to make something dramatic happen in the final round, but could do no better than chase after a retreating Yamanaka before the clock eventually read all zeroes.
Yamanaka now improves to 16-0-2 (11KO). The win marks the first defense of the bantamweight belt for the hometown southpaw, who acquired the belt after stopping Christian Esquivil in the 11th round of their vacant title fight last November.
While it’s unclear what big fights Yamanaka lands after adding a notable name to his resume, the more pressing question is where the challenger goes from here.
Darchinyan falls to 37-5-1 (27KO) after the loss, his second straight. The former flyweight and super flyweight king has led an amazing career, but the losses are beginning to pile up. Darchinyan, who turned 36 in January, is now 0-3 in bantamweight title fights. Previous cracks at a belt in a third weight class resulted in losses to Joseph Agbeko and Anselmo Moreno, dropping a wide decision to the latter this past December.
While his future is in doubt, the prospects of Takahario Ao never looked brighter. The Japanese southpaw made the third defense of his super featherweight belt with a 12-round decision over Terdsak Kokeitgym (nee Jandaeng) in a spirited affair.
Open scoring remains a mixed bag (though mostly unfavorable in terms of public opinion), but proved to be a bit deceptive in the televised walkout bout. A close fight was suggested through four (38-38 on all three cards) and eight rounds (76-76 even, 77-75 and 78-74 Ao), yet wound up a landslide in favor of the defending super featherweight titlist.
That’s not to say Ao didn’t deserve the win. The champ – celebrating his 28th birthday – did enough throughout the fight to swing close rounds in his favor, which proved huge in a fight that didn’t produce any knockdowns.
Kokeitgym proved to be a game and scrappy challenger throughout. Every time it appeared as if momentum was in Ao’s favor, the Thai southpaw would come roaring back with a power surge.
Ao was effective to the body, particularly with his left hand shooting under Kokeitgym’s jab. The body attack led to several big moments for the titlists, opening up opportunities for his right hook upstairs as well as he threatened to pull away in the middle rounds.
With the fight seemingly very much on the table through eight rounds, Kokeitgym came on strong in the ninth, sending Ao in retreat after landing in combination upstairs. Ever the champion, Ao bit down and seized control down the stretch, including a dominant 10th round that proved to be the final nail in the coffin in regards to the scorecards.
The crowd on hand was on pins and needles throughout the evening, but raucous in its applause in the championship rounds. Both fighters left it all in the ring, but Ao managed to provide just a little more damage in nearly every exchange.
Ao improves to 23-2-1 (10KO) win the win, his sixth straight since suffering a considerable setback against Elio Rojas in July ’09. It’s also the third defense of his second title reign, which began with a points win over Vitali Tajbert in Nov. ’10.
Kokeitgym falls to 46-4-1 (31KO) with the loss, snapping an 18-fight unbeaten streak dating back to 2008. All four of his losses have come in sanctioned title fights or elimination bouts, having previously dropped decisions to Steven Luevano, Juan Manuel Marquez and Joan Guzman.
In the televised opener, former two division champ Hozumi Hasegawa keeps his career afloat after scoring a 7th round knockout over previously unbeaten Felipe Carlos Felix.
Hasegawa hadn't fought since his title-losing knockout at the hands of Jhonny Gonzalez nearly one year ago to the day, marking his second knockout loss in the span of three fights. The veteran southpaw looked sharp in dismantling Felix, closing the show strong.
The lone knockdown of the fight came moments before its conclusion in the seventh. Though Felix beat the count, he was in no condition to continue. Hasegawa picked up on this, with the ensuing attack proving to be enough to convince the referee to step in and mercifully end the contest.
The official time was 2:28 of round seven.
Hasegawa rediscovers the win column for the first time in 17 months as he improves to 30-4 (12KO). The former bantamweight king enjoyed brief success at featherweight before running into Gonzalez last April. The loss was eerily similar to that of his knockout defeat against Fernando Montiel, enjoying a lead before getting caught cold in the fourth round of both fights.
Some of the old magic appeared to be back though time may not be on his side at 31 years old and now beyond his optimal prime.
Whatever his fate, it’s more promising than is the case for his most recent victim. Felix heads home with his first pro loss as he drops to 18-1 (10KO). The bout was his first outside of his native Mexico.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter:@JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]