By Cliff Rold
By the time many are reading this, the results will likely be in.
Thursday in Japan, the early morning hours for fans in the US, the rematch between Mexico’s undefeated 23-year old Luis Nery (25-0, 19 KO) and Japan’s 35-year old former bantamweight titlist Shinsuke Yamanaka (27-1-2, 19 KO). It was supposed to be Nery’s second defense of the WBC belt he won from Yamanaka last August.
Then Nery stepped on the scale.
Yamanaka will have a chance to win the belt back on Thursday. Nery won’t be defending it.
The bantamweight limit is 118 lbs.
Nery initially weighed 123 lbs.; on a second attempt it was 121 lbs.
Think about this: the next division up from bantamweight is Jr. featherweight with a limit of 122 lbs. If Nery had been the WBC champion there, he’d have missed weight and needed the extra time to keep his belt.
Reports and pictures from the weigh show off a Nery who looks less than his best. Maybe he’s sick. Maybe the struggle to make the 118 lb. limit has gotten to him. Regardless, a reigning bantamweight titlist showed up inside the featherweight limit.
There’s no excuse for that.
After the career he had, Yamanaka deserves better than the mess that has been his business with Nery over the last year. This isn’t a first offense. When Nery stopped Yamanaka and handed the veteran his first loss last year, it came back that he failed PED testing for the drug Zilpaterol.
Zilpaterol is a banned substance under the World Anti-Doping Agency, a drug used to increase cattle size that has anabolic benefits in human users. While some sports allow athletes with asthma a therapeutic use exemption for the drug, Nery was allowed to keep his title without one.
Nery fell under what can best be described as the ‘beef exemption.’ Due to issues with zilpaterol and clenbuterol contamination of beef in Mexico, Nery became the latest fighter allowed to get away with a bad test.
One could logically ask: doesn’t this risk a free pass for any fighter training in Mexico to use those banned substances and then just say they ate bad beef later?
Now we can ask a different safety related question: when fighting a guy over a decade younger who has already stopped you once, is it fair to ask a fighter to step in for a rematch where the guy blew weight by more than a division?
Yamanaka definitely deserved better.
He had a lengthy, distinguished title reign from 2011-17. Impressive wins against still impressive versions of Vic Darchinyan and Anselmo Moreno, and quality defenses against former champions like Malcolm Tunacao and Liborio Solis highlighted his time as the WBC champion. Yamanaka made twelve defenses before Nery knocked him off the throne.
He made weight for every one of those fights and made it again for this rematch. He tested clean for all of them as well.
Yamanaka deserved to lose without this cloud of doubt.
Yamanaka went out on his shield the first time and may do so again in the rematch. He should be able to walk away knowing he wound up there fair and square. Five pounds and a dirty test might not allow for that peace of mind.
It’s a shame too for fans that have invested in Nery to now. Mexican viewers and those who watched his rise in the US on BeIn Espanol broadcasts were genuinely excited for the first Nery-Yamanaka fight. He’s a very talented, skilled young fighter. Despite the previous test, there had been some benefit of the doubt given in speculating about future bouts for Nery against the likes of Naoya Inoue or any of the potential risers from the hot 115 lb. class.
Now, win or lose on Thursday, Nery will carry question marks for a while.
On the specific issue of dramatic weight misses, boxing simply has to find a way to address this problem better. It’s happened too often in fights at the championship level in recent years. Networks don’t cancel fights when this happens; perhaps they should. Sanctioning bodies don’t threaten the sort of penalties that can change things.
Just missing weight by a pound or so, when all best effort was made, is different than when a fighter is so far over it leaves doubt about how hard they tried. There is unfortunately economic incentive not to try too hard when it’s a struggle. For a young fighter outgrowing their division, is it too cynical to wonder if taking the easier path to a win is better than risking a loss when another title shot may only be a small division jump away?
Perhaps Yamanaka gives comeuppance to the whole circumstance on Thursday. It feels unlikely. He’d been showing signs of decline before the Nery loss and 35-year old bantamweights rarely turn back the clock, especially against younger men with power who come in a division over the limit.
It’s an unfair turn in a too often unfair business.
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]