by Cliff Rold
Just about a year ago, Shinsuke Yamanaka-Anselmo Moreno would have been a crystal clear showdown of the two best in the world at 118 lbs.
In 2015, things are a little murkier. Moreno’s long reign as WBA Bantamweight titlist ended under less than optimum circumstance last September. Matched with undefeated Juan Carlos Payano, an accidental head butt sent matters to the cards after only six rounds. The judges gave the nod to Payano.
There was certainly a case for that.
We’ll never know what Moreno might have done with six more rounds. What we do know is this: not all losses are the same and matters appeared close enough to go the other way. He lost but he wasn’t beaten. Inactive since that bout, Moreno hasn’t had a chance to show the world where he really is right now.
We’ll find out Tuesday.
Yamanaka will attempt to extend his reign as WBC beltholder against the best opponent of his career. Moreno, whose style doesn’t lend to people calling him out for chances, goes on the road in a title fight for the tenth time with his back to the wall.
They might not be a clear 1-2 but there isn’t a better fight to be made today at this weight. There aren’t many fights made all year that are better than this.
Let’s go to the report card.
Titles: WBC Bantamweight (2011-Present, 8 Defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Height: 5’7 ½
Hails from: Tokyo, Japan
Record: 23-0-2, 17 KO
Rankings: #1 (BoxingScene, TBRB, Ring, ESPN, Boxrec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 9-0, 7 KO
Current/Former World Champions Faced: 4 (Vic Darchinyan UD12; Tomas Rojas KO7; Malcolm Tunacao TKO12; Suriyan Sor Rungvisai UD12)
Previous Titles: WBA “Super” Bantamweight (2008-14, 12 Defenses)
Height: 5’6 ½
Hails from: San Miguelito, Panama
Record: 35-3-1, 12 KO
Rankings: #3 (BoxingScene, TBRB, Ring, ESPN)
Record in Major Title Fights: 13-2, 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)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Yamanaka B; Moreno B+
Pre-Fight: Power – Yamanaka B+; Moreno C+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Yamanaka B; Moreno B+
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Yamanaka A; Moreno A
In terms of speed, Moreno appears to have a mild edge but with little in the way of an edge in reach, and giving up a hair of height, it won’t decide the fight. Both men are very good at placing punches and have excellent timing. Yamanaka works well off the jab and, since winning the title, has demonstrated excellent finishing power. He rarely goes to the body though and that could be a problem here.
Moreno has never been much of a puncher.
The Panamanian’s most dangerous blows often come to the belly and that is a clear edge over Yamanaka. Moreno has the more varied punch selection of the two. He, like Yamanaka, works off the jab. Moreno likes to throw right and left hooks to the body along with sharp headshots. Where Yamanaka can be the perfect picture of 1-2 orthodoxy, Moreno is a fluid boxer.
Defensively, both are responsible. Yamanaka uses his feet and doesn’t just stay in front of his man. He goes right to left off the jab and picks spots to engage. Moreno has shown he can be hit against pressure fighters that upset his rhythm. Against a more orthodox approach, letting him solve the timing can be a bad idea. Moreno slips and parries like a poor man’s Pernell Whitaker when he’s on.
Could that be a problem for Yamanaka? Or could the deliberate offense of the Japanese titlist play right into Moreno’s hands? If he can time Moreno, he’s certainly shown the pop to hurt him if he can line up the left hand. If he can force exchanges, Yamanaka also has a potent right hook. It’s not as lethal as the left but if it blinds at the right time, the left will be coming with leverage behind it.
Yamanaka has never seen anything quite like Moreno. The reverse isn’t true. That doesn’t mean that Yamanaka can’t prove better than previous Moreno opponents who stand up and box. Yamanaka has been on a roll and motivation will be high. He’ll respect the foe and the opportunity to make a statement.
In a clash of southpaws, the head clash issues in Moreno-Payano should be mitigated. We’re likely to get a clean fight. Both men have faced enough quality competition to point to high intangibles. Neither has ever been stopped nor have they shown any quit. While he lost to Mares, Moreno responded to the dogfight forced on him with character. He hurt Mares late a couple times and made a close a fight that was getting away from him after a knockdown.
The biggest question for Moreno is inactivity. Moreno was sometimes rumored to struggle with weight in the past and he hasn’t had to boil down since Payano. If he can get to form, the travel won’t bother him. He’s used to being the road team.
Yamanaka’s response to getting tagged has been consistent. He looks to get even, but he’s never out of control. Yamanaka fights within himself as well as anyone in boxing, always disciplined and focused.
This is a clash of seasoned professionals still near their physical prime with something to prove in both corners. What more can we ask for?
Yamanaka will at have the comfort of home, fighting at the Ota-City General Gymnasium in Tokyo. No matter how used to travel Moreno is, not having to do it is a bonus. Moreno to his credit was already in Japan last week getting acclimated to his surroundings.
Yamanaka is favored here but this corner likes the upset. Moreno is going to have to establish himself early and make Yamanaka guess. It could be fairly even at the halfway mark but the body shots of Moreno, if he applies them consistently, will matter down the stretch. Working from angles, Moreno should have his best outing since his win over Darchinyan. Yamanaka’s penchant for head hunting at a moderate pace will work against him as Moreno piles up points and Japan has been a pretty fair place in terms of traveler’s getting earned decisions.
The pick here is Moreno by decision in a solid technical clash that may not deliver fireworks but will provide plenty for the clinical eye.
Report Card and Staff Picks 2015: 71-19
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]