By Cliff Rold
In the span of a few days, we had an undisputable career saving effort in one division and a disputed outcome in another in a clash of two of that division’s best in recent years.
Altogether, good boxing all around.
In Mexico last Saturday, former Flyweight titlist Luis Concepcion was staring into the career abyss. He showed more discipline than his norm, at least early, and laid a beating on streaking David Sanchez at 115 lbs. He may not topple top talents in the class; titlist Carlos Cuadras already has his way with Concepcion earlier this year.
There’s still plenty of guys Concepcion can make fun fights, and decent pay, with.
In Japan on Tuesday, former WBA 118 lb. titlist Anselmo Moreno made clear that rumors of a decline were misplaced. In his best performance since thrashing Vic Darchinyan, Moreno appeared to do enough to wrest the WBC crown from Shinsuke Yamanaka. He left instead with a split decision loss and a strong argument for an immediate rematch.
Let’s go to the report cards.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Yamanaka B; Moreno B+/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Power – Yamanaka B+; Moreno C+/Post: B+; B-
Pre-Fight: Defense – Yamanaka B; Moreno B+/Post: B; A-
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Yamanaka A; Moreno A/Post: Same
In a clash of cerebral Bantamweights, Moreno-Yamanaka was the sort of high-level chess one might expect. It was no action classic, nor did it appear to be going in. That didn’t mean a lack of action. They kept a high pace until things got muggy in the last round and a half. Rounds nine and ten supplied drama with both men letting in all hang out.
At the end, it should have been Moreno with his hand raised. That it wasn’t may have come down to what more he could have done in the first five rounds. This scribe scored the contest 116-113, or 7-4-1 with the final round even. Most, but not all, in the press who watched the fight saw Moreno winning.
Where does the dissension show itself?
For the visiting Moreno, the early going left room for doubt and Moreno didn’t do enough to close the show. He was getting off first with the jab but he didn’t really start to open up with more consistent offense until the sixth. That allowed single left hand efforts from Yamanaka, even if blocked, to play to the local crowd that cheered whenever he got close.
From round 6-9, it was a clinical reminder of how good Moreno can be when he gets into the zone. Below Floyd Mayweather and Guillermo Rigondeaux, there may not be a finer pure boxer right now. Working from angles and making Yamanaka miss, Moreno had Yamanaka hurt in round nine and had a lead on all official cards with three rounds to go (by one round on two cards and three on another).
This was an open scoring bout. He knew he needed at least three rounds late going into the ninth. Moreno didn’t insist enough. It matters that he should have been farther ahead after nine. It doesn’t negate that he knew he wasn’t.
There were some who thought Moreno should have been credited with a knockdown in the eleventh. Careful review of the tape on YouTube shows Yamanaka appeared to be slipping on the ring paint already so good non-call by the referee. Moreno still appeared to win the round. On two of three official cards he did not. Yamanaka surely won the tenth and the clinching final round was an easy one for a judge to give the champion even if no one really deserved it.
It’s troubling that rounds like the first and eleventh, both of which seemed to favor Moreno, didn’t unanimously go his way. It’s just as troubling that he would let himself get sucked into trading clinches with the fight up for grabs. He should have won. He could have done more to make sure he did.
That said, the fight displayed the limits of Yamanaka’s game. He threw the occasional body shot but it was awkward when he did. Yamanaka’s game is all about the targeted head shot and he’s fairly defanged if the left is taken away. In a rematch, it would be interesting to see if Yamanaka can do a better job disguising the blow. It would also be interesting to see if Moreno could open up like he did in the middle rounds a little earlier.
Let’s hope a rematch is forthcoming. This was a clash of the two most accomplished Bantamweights of recent years and we got a good scrap. After the fight, they still stand out from the crowd. Let’s find out, definitively, who the better man is.
Tuesday didn’t accomplish that.
Speed: Sanchez B; Concepcion B/Post: Same
Power: Sanchez B+; Concepcion B+/Post: B; A
Defense: Sanchez B-; Concepcion C/Post: C-; C
Intangibles: Sanchez B+; Concepcion B/Post: B; B+
Concepcion has a bad habit of fighting with his hands down and daring opponents to trade. He didn’t do that against Sanchez early on and it paid big time. Keeping his hands up, and shooting straight down the pipe, Concepcion landed flush in the first and dropped Sanchez hard.
Sanchez never really recovered.
While he dug deep and made it an exciting fight in the middle rounds, Sanchez’s legs always seemed unsteady after the first. Concepcion lapsed into defensive laziness but with Sanchez winging more than planting, the Panamanian could take the best of the incoming.
The hell unleashed in round ten was a perfect closing touch. Bloodying the nose of Sanchez, Concepcion had him on the floor again and dished out as nasty a three minutes as anyone could endure. The corner of Sanchez did the right thing not letting him come out for round eleven. They could have waved it off during the round.
Sanchez, only 23, is back to the drawing board. He had only recently begun to improve his competition and Concepcion was supposed to be, like Juan Alberto Rosas before him, a former titlist notched to the post past their sell-by date. It didn’t work out that way and the beating taken may mean a long time before Sanchez steps up again.
For Concepcion, it’s a big win when he had his back to the wall. His loss to Cuadras was ugly. This win served to sort of a draw a line in the top heavy Jr. Bantamweight class between titlists like Cuadras, Naoya Inoue, McJoe Arroyo, former titlist Zolani Tete, and everyone else.
Everyone else versus Concepcion could be a lot of fun.
Report Card and Staff Picks 2015: 71-20
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]