by Cliff Rold
There is beauty in boxing that would be ugly anywhere else.
On Tuesday in Japan, we saw one of those moments. Longtime bantamweight champion Shinsuke Yamanaka was under heavy fire. A younger, stronger man was putting all sorts of leather to him but he hadn’t fallen. He was still throwing.
Shinsuke Yamanaka wasn’t going to go easy.
A responsible corner stepped in to make the choice for him. The referee waved the fight off and the realization set in. As his corner embraced Yamanaka, a look of pain, exhaustion, and grief crossed his face.
After almost six years, in his fourteenth title fight, Yamanaka learned what it meant to lose. The proverbial agony of defeat in his expression at that moment was every bit the reminder of how much sacrifice, heart, and dedication it takes to reach the top of the fight game as could be seen in the celebration of Luis Nery.
Boxing has such savage beauty.
Let’s go to the report card.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Yamanaka B; Nery B+/Post: Same?
Pre-Fight: Power – Yamanaka A-; Nery B+/Post: A-; A-?
Pre-Fight: Defense – Yamanaka B; Nery B/Post: B-; B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Yamanaka A; Nery B+/Post: A; A
Make no mistake: Tuesday belonged to Mexico’s Luis Nery. The bantamweight division may belong to him for the foreseeable future. It’s still too early to say how good Nery might be but he’s had the look of someone with a little extra for quite some time.
In battering the veteran king of his class, Nery fulfilled his early promise. Only 22 years old, he’ll always be able to say he was a champion. Now we find out how high his ceiling might be. What was seen against Yamanaka is encouraging.
Nery took some big time shots from a fighter with genuine knockout power, particularly in the second round. Yamanaka buckled Nery at one point, and caught him in an exchange near the end of the round. Nery took to the shots and kept coming forward.
Part of that is an element still being refined. Nery has good defense and it can get better. There is a whisper of a young James Toney in his approach, the way he slides his upper body as he gets into position for combinations; his counters in very small spaces. Nery’s aggression still gets him caught harder and cleaner than is always safe, but he’ll mature in that respect. Nery keeps his chin well tucked in the meantime.
After taking the Sunday punch of Yamanaka, Nery did what a younger man with the right talent should: he steamrolled the older man. In the third, and more violently in the fourth, Nery began to find a home for volumes of shots to the head and body.
Yamanaka, whose legs have been less stable in recent vintage, kept his feet and wits about him. He couldn’t stop the beating. He was clearly loading up early and often, looking to scare the younger man under control but it wasn’t to be. It was a brave effort from a champion who always gave fans their money’s worth.
Last September, Yamanaka won what BoxingScene selected as the 2016 Fight of the Year, an epic rematch with Anselmo Moreno that saw both men on the floor. Less than a year later, that fight’s OK Corral feel seems more evident. The old gunslinger has met a faster draw after his defining showdown.
2017 has been a year about new faces in so many divisions. At bantamweight, every major title has changed hands this year. No one was as impressive in their coronation as Luis Nery. With a cast at 118 lbs. that includes the exciting Zhanat Zhakiyanov and Zolani Tete, and a cast three pounds below as good any in all of boxing, we’re not going to have to wonder how good Nery can be.
We’re going to find out sooner than later.
Report Card Picks 2017: 26-12
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]