by Cliff Rold
On Friday, the fight of the week will take place at the International Forum in Tokyo, Japan. Contested for the WBC Bantamweight belt, one fighter has a chance to get his name some global juice while the other has a chance to extend his time as a player near the top.
The latter is the more familiar to U.S. readers. Vic Darchinyan has been a fixture on the boxing landscape for most of a decade, the rare standout among the smaller classes to make a dent in America’s boxing conscious. His challenge of Yamanaka will be his third attempt at a major title in a third class, twice having fallen short at 118 lbs. against Joseph Agbeko and Anselmo Moreno.
Bantamweight generally has been a tough class for Darchinyan with three of four career losses occurring since rising on the scale after title stints at 112 and 115 lbs. Part of the struggles has been about quality of competition as Darchinyan was part of what was a minefield at Bantamweight. There is also the clock. He’s not getting any younger and, after taking a thumping his last time out, is this Darchinyan’s last chance?
Is Shinsuke Yamanaka good enough to ask?
Let’s go to the report cards.
Title: WBC Bantamweight (2011-Present, 1st Attempted Defense)
Previous Titles: None
Height: 5’7 ½
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 118.6 lbs.
Hails from: Tokyo, Japan
Record: 15-0-2, 11 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #8 at Bantamweight
Record in Major Title Fights: 1-0, 1 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 0
Previous Titles: IBF Flyweight (2004-07, 6 Defenses) ; IBF Jr. Bantamweight (2008-09, 2 Defenses); WBC/WBA Jr. Bantamweight (2008-10, 3 Defenses); Lineal World Junior Bantamweight (2008-11, 3 Defenses)
Height: 5’5 ½
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 117.3 lbs.
Hails from: Sydney, Australia (Born in Armenia)
Record: 37-4-1, 27 KO, 1 KOBY
BoxingScene Rank: #4 at Bantamweight
Record in MajorTitle Fights: 12-3, 10 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 8 (Irene Pacheco, Victor Burgos, Dimitri Kirilov, Cristian Mijares, Jorge Arce, Tomas Rojas, Rodrigo Guerrero, Yonnhy Perez)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 4 (Nonito Donaire, Joseph Agbeko, Abner Mares, Anselmo Moreno)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Yamanaka A-; Darchinyan B
Pre-Fight: Power – Yamanaka B; Darchinyan A
Pre-Fight: Defense – Yamanaka B+; Darchinyan B-
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Yamanaka B+; Darchinyan A
Yamanaka will stand taller than Darchinyan, literally and stylistically, and has a quick jab and feet. They could make him a hard target if he chooses to box, and Yamanaka would be foolish to do otherwise. The freshly minted titlist knows how to mix up the aim of his southpaw stick and throws some nice, patient combinations behind it. He’s not in the same league as Moreno defensively, but Yamanaka does display nice reflexes and good head movement. If he’s boxing and moving, Darchinyan could struggle to catch him.
The biggest gap between these two isn’t physical even if Yamanaka will be the quicker man in the ring. The gap, a chasm really, is experience. Despite entering off of a defeat, Darchinyan has seen almost everyone there was to see from 112-118 in the last eight years. Only some of the very best have beaten him and only two of those, Donaire and Moreno, did it in style. If he approaches Yamanaka the same way he did those men, the Japanese battler will get the best of what Darchinyan has at 36 and, so far, he hasn’t shown a steep decline.
That doesn’t mean Yamanaka can’t win anyways. No one has big wins until they get them and Yamanaka has made solid progress in recent outings. His win over Christian Esquivel for the vacant WBC strap was fairly dominant and he’ll have the home crowd on his side this weekend. He’s got solid pop too, with nine straight stops (though mostly against development level competition).
Does Yamanaka have the beard? Darchinyan may not be the knockout artist at Bantamweight he was at Flyweight, but he can still crack. Between losses to Mares and Moreno, he beat all hell out of former 118 lb. titlist Yonnhy Perez, dropping him in the second, cutting him, and winning on an early decision. Darchinyan still believes in that power.
Yamanaka must be ready to avoid becoming a believer himself.
Before getting to the pick for this weekend, and beyond the stellar competition Darchinyan’s faced over the years, here is one more note: Darchinyan will fight in the fifth country of his career this weekend. While he has largely fought in either Australia or, since moving to the championship level the U.S., Darchinyan has also made starts in the Philippines and Armenia. Not many fighters his size, forced to play the part of niche attraction, can say they’ve traveled as much.
Will this be the last noteworthy trip? Yamanaka presents some real problems. He’s not super young for a fighter, but he’s certainly younger here and with less miles. Darchinyan could still be good and get outboxed here, even before one wonders if he will finally began to slip the way small men often do at much earlier ages.
Yamanaka is a good fighter facing off with a man who has had a borderline great career. It’s a career Yamanaka can aspire to, and he can begin that with a win on Friday. His height, speed, and hometown edges make him the pick for what might be seen outside Japan as a mild upset. He won’t stop Darchinyan, but he’ll do enough to get the points nod.
Report Card Picks 2012: 12-3
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]