by Cliff Rold
Sometimes once is not enough.
Almost exactly one year ago, two of the best bantamweights of their generation, and the last two standing from what was a stellar run for the class a few years back, locked horns for the first time. Japan’s Shinsuke Yamanaka retained his WBC title with a closely contested split decision over Panama’s Anselmo Moreno.
Opinions varied as to the validity of the decision. Many who saw the fight scored it close, a round or two edging it to one man or the other. Another contingent were vocal about seeing it as a clear win for Moreno.
These eyes side with those who saw it closer, but still favoring Moreno at 116-113. It wasn’t a battle where either man totally dominated the other. Yamanaka won. He didn’t quite beat him. All three judges had it 115-113. It was that sort of fight.
Now Moreno, in his seventeenth major title fight and eleventh on the road, has a second chance on Friday.
Will the better man emerge? Or is this merely chapter two in a rivalry?
Let’s go to the report card.
Titles: WBC Bantamweight (2011-Present, 10 Defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Height: 5’7 ½
Hails from: Tokyo, Japan
Record: 25-0-2, 17 KO
Rankings: #1 (BoxingScene, TBRB, Ring, ESPN, Boxing Monthly, Boxrec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 11-0, 7 KO
Current/Former World Champions Faced: 6 (Vic Darchinyan UD12; Tomas Rojas KO7; Malcolm Tunacao TKO12; Suriyan Sor Rungvisai UD12; Anselmo Moreno SD12; Liborio Solis UD12)
Previous Titles: WBA “Super” Bantamweight (2008-14, 12 Defenses)
Height: 5’6 ½
Weight: 117 ¾ lbs.
Hails from: San Miguelito, Panama
Record: 36-4-1, 12 KO
Rankings: #2 (BoxingScene, Ring), #3 (Boxing Monthly), #4 (TBRB), #5 (ESPN, Boxrec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 13-3, 3 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 8 (Felix Machado UD10; Tomas Rojas UD10; Wladimir Sidorenko UD12, SD12; Mahyar Monshipour SD12; Lorenzo Parra TKO8; Vic Darchinyan UD12; Abner Mares L12; Juan Carlos Payano LTD6; Shinsuke Yamanaka L12; Suriyan Sor Rungvisai UD12)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Yamanaka B; Moreno B+?
Pre-Fight: Power – Yamanaka B+; Moreno B-?
Pre-Fight: Defense – Yamanaka B; Moreno A- ?
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Yamanaka A; Moreno A
Since their first fight, both southpaws have been back in the ring once apiece. Moreno had the easier night, scoring a knockdown and casually outboxing former 115 lb. titlist Suriyan Sor Rungvisai. Yamanaka got a spirited challenge from former 115 lb. titlist Liborio Solis, scoring knockdowns in the second and ninth but being forced to come off the floor twice in the third.
For Yamanaka, being on the floor against Solis was a new title fight experience. He handled it with character and it’s unlikely to have much impact here. Solis, despite some technical flaws, can crack. Moreno’s biggest flaw has always been that, in a close fight, his power isn’t going to bail him out.
To make up for it, his exceptional defensive skill can’t take too much of the place of his offense. At his best Moreno is an underrated body puncher. The work he did on Vic Darchinyan was vicious. It’s something he didn’t do enough of in the first fight, perhaps because he didn’t have a ton of trouble finding the head of Yamanaka.
While there can be some contention in the first fight’s scoring, in particular an eleventh round that wasn’t unanimously scored for Moreno, Moreno could have done more. That’s not to say he didn’t do plenty. His boxing display in the middle rounds was a reminder of why he crept onto some of the vaunted pound-for-pound lists prior to his loss to Abner Mares. The head movement, jab efficiency, and counter punching he exhibited were textbook stuff.
Moreno was leading on all cards after nine rounds in a fight with open scoring. He just didn’t insist enough with the fight in the balance. For a guy who has been on the road so many times, he had to know how strong he needed to close. He also needed a better start. In their first fight, the early rounds were close. Moreno has sometimes been a slow starter. It cost him in a cut shortened loss to Juan Carlos Payano and it cost him against Yamanaka.
The lead he had after nine last time could have potentially been bigger with a faster start.
Against Yamanaka, could that memory cause him to make the wrong approach this time? Yamanaka is a bit of a headhunter, but he’s good at it. The veteran beltholder has legitimate power and his straight left may have been a reason for Moreno not to commit to the body more.
A more aggressive Moreno would mean a more susceptible Moreno. Yamanaka’s power can hurt him. Then again, we saw in the first fight that Moreno can also hurt Yamanaka. He had his man rocked in the ninth round last time but lacked a finishing touch. Of the two, the bigger knockout threat is the same and it’s the man defending his crown.
Could the effort to stay at 118 lbs. catch up to either man this time? Moreno briefly flirted with 122 lbs. against Mares and both men have frames that could carry extra weight. For now, the evidence of their first fight together, and only fights since, suggests both are still near enough to the top of their game. We should see another quality encounter.
One might even see this as a bit of history, depending on what perspective they draw their history from. Both this site and Ring rate Yamanaka and Moreno 1-2 in the class and will recognize the winner as the legitimate world champion. Bantamweight hasn’t had one of those since Bernardo Pinango left the class in 1987.
The pick the first time was Moreno. It remains the same the second time around. He’s the more versatile of the two fighters. He’s also the younger man and has shown there is youth still in him. Yamanaka is approaching a precipice age for a bantamweight and his legs haven’t been quite as reliable in his last two encounters. With open scoring, fans will again have an idea of how things are going all along. Last time it added to the drama of what was a fine chess match. This time, if Moreno doesn’t build a lead through eight, his chances will be slim. Neither man has ever been stopped so expect another distance fight. Japan is usually a place where fighters on the road get an even shake. This one might be another split decision, but it will favor Moreno who won’t let it slip away a second time.
And then they can do it one more time, once and for all.
Report Card and Staff Picks 2016: 33-10
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 [email protected]