Age is one of the most imprecise ways to judge a boxer.
Some fighters, even great fighters, have seen their peak come and go before their 20s are far along. Others may not be their best selves until their early 30s. Take two men with recognizable names, both closer to 40 than 20, and one might assume both are at similar places in their careers.
Monday in Japan (ESPN+, 3:55 AM EST), it might be the case at flyweight but on paper it looks like a case where the technically older man will enter younger in fistic miles. It’s part of an interesting card from Japan that will also feature the return of Roman Gonzalez, middleweight Ryoto Murata, and exciting Jr. flyweight Ken Shiro.
37-year old South African Moruti Mthalane is some boxing politics and management issues away from what might have been a now ten-year reign as IBF flyweight titlist. Plagued by inactivity when the division was as hot as it had been in a generation, Mthalane continues to plug along and makes his second straight start in the land of the rising sun.
Mthalane never got a chance to share a ring with Roman Gonzalez, Brian Viloria, or Juan Francisco Estrada. It’s a shame because he hasn’t suffered a defeat since a highly competitive cut stoppage loss to Nonito Doanire in November 2008. He’s overdue for a big fight and running out of time to get one. Could 2020 deliver the opportunity?
To make it a question worth asking he’ll have to get by former three-division and lineal flyweight champion Akira Yaegashi. Since being stopped for the first time in his flyweight title loss to Gonzalez in 2014, Yaegashi has gones 8-2 and been stopped two more times. This is likely Yaegashi’s last title shot and could be his gold watch appearance.
If it is, fans owe a debt of gratitude for what Yaegashi has given over the years. His strawweight fights with Pornsawan Porpramook (the 2011 BoxingScene and ESPN Fight of the Year) and Kazuto Ioka, and his valiant losing effort to Gonzalez, are among the highlights of what has been a warrior’s ledger.
Win or lose, Yaegashi isn’t one who could be accused of short-changing the fans or himself. He should be considered an underdog here despite riding three straight stoppage wins since a first round loss to Milan melindo. Does Yaegashi have it in him to find one more dramatic victory?
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Titles: IBF flyweight (2018-Present, 2 Defenses)
Previous Titles: IBF flyweight (2009-14, 4 Defenses; Stripped/Vacated)
Height: 5’3 ½
Weight: 112 lbs.
Hails from: KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Record: 38-2, 25 KO, 2 KOBY
Press Rankings: #2 (TBRB, Ring, ESPN, Boxing Monthly), #4 (BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 8-1, 5 KO, 1 KOBY
Last Five Opponents: 114-31-8 (.771)
Current/Former World Champions Faced: Nonito Donaire TKO by 6; Julio Cesar Miranda UD12; Zolani Tetet TKO5; John Riel Casimero TKO5
Previous Titles: WBA minimumweight (2011-12); Lineal/WBC flyweight (2013-14, 3 Defenses); IBF light flyweight (2015-17, 2 Defenses)
Weight: 112 lbs.
Hails from: Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan
Record: 28-6, 16 KO, 3 KOBY?
Press Rankings: Unrated
Record in Major Title Fights: 8-5, 3 KO, 3 KOBY
Last Five Opponents: 101-33-5 (.745)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Eagle Kyowa L12; Srisaket Sor Rungvisai TKO3; Pornsawan Porpramook TKO10; Kazuto Ioka L12; Toshiyuki Igarashi UD12; Edgar Sosa UD12; Roman Gonzalez TKO by 9; Pedro Guevara KO by 7; Javier Mendoza UD12; Milan Melindo TKO by 1
While not as quick as he once was, Mthalane continues to be a handful behind a long jab, smart combination punching, and steady defense. Against Yaegashi, his edge in reach is nearly five inches despite the two men matching up at the eyeball. The defending titlist still knows how to close the show. Yaegashi will be at risk, his punch resistance having declined over the years, but his best chance is to attack and look for a mistake from Mthalane. When he chooses to attack will matter. Against Melindo, he was caught cold and given the miles he’s absorbed he’s likely to take shots better after a few rounds to shake loose. The feeling here is Yaegashi doesn’t have the artillery or boxing skills to overcome the slicker and more rounded Mthalane and that likely would have been the case even five years ago. On Monday, it probably means one more honorable effort from an easy hardcore fan favorite as Mthalane moves on in victory looking for a twilight cap to his career.
Rold Picks 2019: 69-19
Additional Monday Picks
Ken Shiro TKO Randy Petalcorin
Ryoto Murata TKO Steven Butler
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 firstname.lastname@example.org