by Cliff Rold
History is close.
With one more win, Shinsuke Yamanaka can tie for the most consecutive title defenses of any fighter, in any division, in Japanese history. Thirteen defenses would equal Hall of Famer Yoko Gushiken, a fantastic Jr. Flyweight in the 1970s.
Looming even larger is another number: 16.
Sixteen is how many times in a row Orlando Canizales successfully defended the IBF bantamweight title in the 1980s and 90s. Yamanaka gets closer every time he leaves the ring with the belt he showed up with.
Prior to stopping Carlos Carlson in March, Yamanaka endured the three toughest defenses of his reign. Two fights with Anselmo Moreno, and a battled with Liborio Solis in between, saw Yamanaka being forced to do things uncommon during his championship tenure.
Yamanaka proved he could close late for the coin toss decision; he displayed the heart and will to come off the floor, return the favor, and walk away victorious. The aging warrior answered questions and enhanced his place in bantamweight history.
Now he faces another question: can Yamanaka hold off a young lion who looks like a real threat? Does the Japanese kingpin still have too loud a roar to give up his place at the head of the 118 lb. pride? Everyone in the US can find out live at 7 AM EST/4 AM PST on BeIn Espanol.
Let’s go to the report card.
Titles: Lineal/Ring World Bantamweight (2016-Present, 1 Defense); WBC Bantamweight (2011-Present, 12 Defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Height: 5’7 ½
Hails from: Tokyo, Japan
Record: 27-0-2, 19 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 13-0, 9 KO
Current/Former World Champions Faced: Vic Darchinyan UD12; Tomas Rojas KO7; Malcolm Tunacao TKO12; Suriyan Sor Rungvisai UD12; Anselmo Moreno SD12, TKO7; Liborio Solis UD12
Title/Previous Titles: None
Hails from: Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico
Record: 23-0, 17 KO
Rankings: #3 (Boxing Monthly), #5 (Boxrec), #6 (ESPN), #7 (TBRB), #8 (ESPN), #9 (BoxingScene)
Record in Major Title Fights: 1st Major Title Fight
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 0 (Defeated former interim titlist David Sanchez)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Yamanaka B; Nery B+?
Pre-Fight: Power – Yamanaka A-; Nery B+?
Pre-Fight: Defense – Yamanaka B; Nery B ?
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Yamanaka A; Nery B+
A few years ago, one might have pointed to Yamanaka as having an edge in speed. At this point, that advantage probably, and only narrowly, goes to Nery. It’s an advantage that could grow as the fight moves on and the action begins to take what toll it will on the older man.
In a battle of southpaws, both of whom count on the knockout more than the judges, Nery’s speed edge can be self-mitigated by recklessness. Nery found himself on the deck a couple fights ago against Raymond Tabugon. He had the outmatched Filipino on the defensive and backing up and never saw the shot coming back. Nery beat the count, and won the fight, but has he learned what he needed to?
Against Yamanaka, being open for a blind power shot is an invitation to hit the showers. To be sure, this is the best foe of Nery’s career and it’s not close. Nery looks dangerous and shows great promise; his mandatory status here may not be fully earned on merit but it gives us a match that appears compelling.
Looks can be deceiving. This is the proving ground.
Nery needs to be defensively responsible and he can. While he seems to prefer pressing and coming forward, Nery can also be hard to hit and box at distance when he needs to. He rolls the shoulder well and slips shots in a relaxed way that leaves him ready to fire back.
Yamanaka isn’t much a body puncher. His attack will be about precision, accuracy, and pop. While he can be a headhunter, it’s because he’s good at it. Yamanaka throws a nice jab, a pretty straight left, and a wicked right hook. Yamanaka may make up for any loss of speed and prime simply because he’s more efficient and beats the sometimes looping shots of Nery to target.
Does he still have the legs to keep Nery off in a long fight? Even Carlson had Yamanaka hurting and holding on in the fifth round. Yamanaka is winning as much with guile as he is physicality these days. Nery, a dozen years younger, might be able to punch right through guile.
Yamanaka feels like a fighter teetering on the brink. He doesn’t respond as well to shots as he once did and Nery has the sort of style, strength, and power to exploit it. He’s been one of the better champions in the sport for a long time, the sort of consistent force that only begins to get the full global respect he’s due when his prime is already behind him. Nery has question marks about his chin still and a pick on him would be a bit of an eye test guess.
That’s what is happening here. The swarming attack, and subtle countering ability, of Nery, along with a likely heightened defensive mindset in his first title shot, will allow Nery to go on the road to Japan and begin to fulfill the promise he’s shown. Both men may have to come off the floor before it’s done, but Yamanaka’s legs the last few fights look like many an aging fighter before him. The pick is Nery by stoppage in a fight worth getting up early for.
Report Card Picks 2017: 25-12
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]