By Jake Donovan
For the first time since 2013, Akira Yaegashi began and ended a calendar year as a champion.
The all-action hero successfully defended his junior flyweight title for the second time, the latest coming in a 12th round stoppage of Thailand's Samartlek Kokietgym in their co-feature attraction Friday evening at Ariake Colisseum in Tokyo, Japan.
It was hardly your garden variety Yaegashi throwdown, which is to say neither the ring nor boxing trunks of either boxer were drenched in blood. Rather, it was a relatively tame night at the office for the 33-year old slugger, who was well in control from the opening bell and could have easily coasted to a landslide points win.
Of course, settling for the easy way out is just not in Yaegashi's DNA, Ahead by 11 points on two cards and nine on the third, the defending champ decided a third consecutive decision victory wasn't good enough for his fans. Rather, he floored the gas pedal and decided to make Kokietgym regret having accepted the pre-New Year's Eve assignment.
A power-punching flurry had Kokietgym cornered and in trouble. Yaegashi applied the finishing touches with a pair of right hands and a left hook that left his challenger defenseless and referee Gerard Whyte with no choice but to halt the contest.
The official time was 2:13 of the 12th and final round.
Kokietgym falls to 31-6 (12KOs) with the loss, his second at the world title stage. The 32-year old challenger - who'd won 14 straight heading into the night, including eight alone in 2016 - was halted in the 11th round of his Sept/ '14 junior flyweight title bid versus Naoya Inoue (who knocked out Kohei Kono in the main event of this evening's show).
Yaegashi lost his World flyweight championship on that same night, as he was stopped by Roman 'Chocolatito' Gonzalez in nine rounds. An ill-conceived decision to drop down in weight just three months later resulted in back-to-back knockouts as a competitive vacant title fight with Pedro Guevara went miserably south in a hurry when he was stopped in the seventh round.
It was the last time he tasted defeat, with Friday's triumph resulting in his fifth consecutive victory as he rolls to 25-5 (13KOs). The three-division champ -who previously served as a strawweight titlist in 2011-12 - will next set his sights on mandatory challenger Milan Melindo.
The bout aired live on Fuji TV in Japan.