By Jake Donovan
Shinsuke Yamanaka watched two titles change hands in the hours leading up to his bantamweight title defense. The defending champ made sure to avoid such a dubious hat trick, battering mandatory challenger Malcolm Tunacao en route to 12th round stoppage Monday evening in Tokyo, Japan.
The bout served as the main event of a tripleheader of title fights, giving all fighters involved plenty of incentive to step up their game and steal the show.
Takashi Miura and Akira Yaegashi set the bar exceedingly high for the main event fighters, both claiming titles in supporting bouts. Miura floored Gamaliel Diaz four times en route to a 9th round stoppage to win a belt in the super featherweight division, while Yaegashi battered Tokiyushi Igarashi in a landslide decision to claim the lineal flyweight championship.
Still, Yamanaka was not to be outdone, scoring three knockdowns of his own against Tunacao en route to a big stoppage win in their own title fight thriller.
Tunacao earned the right to fight for the title with a big knockout win over Christian Esquivil late last year. The 7th round stoppage win saw the 32-year old Filipino at his most dominant, even more so than when Yamanaka had to climb off the canvas to beat the same fighter for a vacant bantamweight belt a year prior.
Such results didn’t immediately translate in this head-to-head matchup. Yamanaka struck early, delivering a two-fisted attack that saw Tunacao twice floored and nearly knocked out before the end of the third round. The punishment hardly stopped there, as Yamanaka continued to take the fight to the challenger while piling up rounds.
Tunacao enjoyed his first big break in the seventh round, briefly stunning the defending titlist early in the frame. Yamanaka was legitimately shook as he was forced to cover up and fight in reverse for the first time in the fight.
The momentum swing wasn't unappreciated by Tunacao, who looked up in the sky while saying a quick prayer in between rounds. The Filipino challenger came out purposeful in round eight, suddenly confident he could start claiming rounds and chip away at Yamanaka’s early lead. Scores of 77-74 (twice) and 77-73 through eight rounds reminded both fighters that there was plenty of boxing left in the evening.
As soon as he was able to punch his way back into contention, Tunacao suddenly found his chances once again slipping away. Yamanaka caught his second wind and took control down the stretch. Tunacao continued to dance as hard as he could, but was unable to replicate the mid-rounds success he enjoyed against the defending champion.
Harsh reality set in during the championship rounds for the 35-year old challenger. His right eye bloodied and a gas tank rapidly emptying out, Tunacao suddenly bore the look of a fighter content with merely crossing the finish line just a few rounds after still believing he had a shot at the upset.
Yamanaka wouldn't even give his mandatory contender that much satisfaction, stepping up several notches in the 12th and final round. Tunacao found himself on the canvas for a third time, though willing to get up and play out the string. Referee Michael Griffin disallowed that from happening, calling it a night to prevent an already battered challenger from absorbing any more punishment.
The official time was 1:57 of round twelve.
Yamanaka retains his title and unbeaten record as he improves to 18-0-1 (13KO). Tunacao, a former flyweight champ, sees an 11-fight win streak come to an end as he falls to 32-3-3 (23KO), though not for a lack of trying.
The bout served as the third defense of the title Yamanaka claimed in Nov. ’11, knocking out Esquivil in 11 rounds after being floored himself in their vacant title fight. His win at the time merely represented “a fourth titlist” in a division that claimed the likes of Nonito Donaire, Abner Mares and Anselmo Moreno.
Donaire and Mares have since moved onward and upward, while Moreno continues to wrestle with the decision of whether to stay at bantamweight or remain at 122, where he came up just short in last year’s thriller with Mares.
Yamanaka, meanwhile, continues to establish himself as the class of the bantamweight division. His 2012 campaign was a breakout year of sorts, scoring a big win over former two-division champ Vic Darchinyan, followed by a Knockout of the Year Entry after putting Tomas Rojas down and out in the 7th round of their title fight last November.
On a night where belts changed hands and following a weekend that saw countryman Koki Kameda once again struggle in his own title defense, notice was served that Shinsuke Yamanaka is long removed from the days of just being a fourth divisional titlist. That distinction has less to do with whom has left the division and everything to do with how far he has come along in his still very young career.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox