By Jake Donovan
Jose Nieves has touched down in Tokyo, exactly one week ahead of his August 12 title challenge against unbeaten Shinsuke Yamanaka.
The bout marks the first time Nieves (22-2-3, 11KO) fights for a major title, as well as his first prizefight outside of the United States or his native Puerto Rico.
“I’m excited for this opportunity,” said Nieves, who arrived with his team - trainer Jose Bonilla, cutman Luis Brenas, Ruben De Jesus and Felix “Tutiking” Zabala III of All Star Boxing, Inc - on Monday afternoon, local time. “I have tremendous respect for (Yamanaka), but I am ready for this fight and prepared to become the bantamweight champion of the world.”
Nieves fights under the All-Star Boxing banner and is a fixture on the Boxeo Telemundo series. The Puerto Rican boxer has won five straight, all of which has aired live on Telemundo. His current win streak includes a pair of thrilling points wins over Cuauhtemoc Vargas and a 9th round knockout of Danny Flores earlier this year, a fight where both fighters touched the canvas before Nieves put him away for good.
Yamanaka (18-0-2, 13KO) has been on a tear since becoming bantamweight titlist, having successfully defended the title three times thus far. Included among the batch is a points win over former two-division champ Vic Darchinyan, a Knockout of the Year contender in his 7th round drilling of Tomas Rojas last Novemver, and an impressive 12th round stoppage of perennial Top 10 contender and former flyweight king Malcolm Tunacao earlier this year.
Nieves and his handlers are well aware of the credentials that the defending champion carries. It only made the team that much more anxious to make the journey halfway around the world.
“Beat the best to become the best, isn’t that what everyone always claims,” promoter Felix ‘Tuto’ Zabala Jr. rhetorically asks. The Florida-based promoter has been on quite the journey himself, having amassed more than 24,000 air miles throughout Asia as part of a tour to lend support to the growth of boxing in that corner of the world.
The extended air trip will be well worth it if and when his fighter’s dream is realized next week.
“We’re coming home with the bantamweight title. I don’t have a question in my mind about it,” Zabala promises. “Yamanaka is the best bantamweight champion in the world. We recognize that. After this fight, Nieves won’t be a contender anymore – he will be the best bantamweight in the world.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox