By Jake Donovan
It took everything Shinsuke Yamanaka had in his proverbial gas tank, but the unbeaten bantamweight champion managed to edge Panama's Anselmo Moreno by split decision Tuesday evening in Tokyo, Japan. Photos by Sumio Yamada.
Scores were 115-113 (twice) for Yamanaka and 115-113 Moreno. BoxingScene.com had the fight scored 116-112 Moreno, who left the ring in disgust as Yamanaka was hailed the winner.
The early rounds were typical of Moreno's style, which has always been an acquired taste. It clearly didn't bode well for the former champ on the judges' cards, even if he was putting in the better work in his first fight since losing his title nearly one year ago. Yamanaka was the more aggressive fighter, which often is enough to win a close fight in Japan, no matter the judges (all three were from the United States, for what it's worth).
For those who can appreciate pure boxing, Moreno was winning the battle of the jabs and also causing Yamanaka to throw up air balls whenever attempting to land his straight left. The local favorite made adjustments in round three, catching Moreno clean with a left hand to the jaw, by far the best punch of the fight to that point.
Yamanaka's aggression was enough to take the lead on two of the three scorecards through four rounds. While many scoff at open scoring, it actually seemed to benefit both fighters on this particular evening. Two judges had Yamanaka ahead 39-37, while the third judge had it 38-38 even.
It was enough to prompt Moreno to pick up the pace, putting in his best work of the fight - and arguably in years - during the middle rounds. Yamanaka was always going to win the battle of power punches, but had no response when Moreno was able to open up his stance and follow up his jabs with long left hands.
The surge by Moreno was enough to pull even (76-76) on two cards and move ahead 77-75 on the third after eight rounds. The crowd didn't like it one bit; neither did Yamanaka, who went on the attack in round nine.
Unfortunately for the defending champ, his aggression served to his detriment as Moreno enjoyed his best round of the fight in round nine. A right hook had Yamanaka visibly shaken for the first time in the bout, but - digging deep like the champion that he is - returned the favor one round later.
This was where Moreno appeared to have left the fight on the table, although his cult following had him far enough ahead to where it shouldn't have mattered. Yamanaka briefly stunned the former champ in round 10, only for his rally to be thwarted when his mouthpiece became dislodged. Time was called to reinsert the gumshield and while action quickly resumed, the break was enough of a momentum killer to deny a dramatic finish in the final 30 or so seconds of the round.
Based on open scoring through eight, the fight was very much on the table in the championship rounds. Neither fighter seemed to have enough left to provide clear-cut separation, leaving their respective fates in the hands of the judges.
Even with all things taken at face value, what could have ultimately lost the fight for Moreno was an apparent knockdown that was ruled a slip by referee Michael Griffin. Yamanaka appeared to go down at the same time as a punch landed on the inside, but was summoned by the referee to rise to his feet.
A clinchfest marred the final four minutes of what was a tactically beautiful fight to that point. Such exchanges force judges to score according to ring generalship and any clean punches that may get through during such sequences.
In the end, judges David Sutherland (Oklahoma) and Mauro DiFiore (Chicago, Ill., by way of Italy) believed it to be Yamanaka, who moves to 24-0-2 (17KO). The win - for better or for worse - marks the 9th defense of his bantamweight reign which will approach four years in November.
Moreno did enough over the final four to hold pace on the scorecard of judge Oren Shellenberger (Dallas, Texas), the lone judge who had the ex-champ even through four, ahead after eight and winning in the end. It wasn't enough for the visiting fighter, who falls to 35-4-1 (12KOs).
The bout aired live on Nippon TV in Japan.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com.
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