By Jake Donovan
Their first clash ended with a heated debate over the final outcome. The sequel, however, ended with Shinsuke Yamanaka sending an emphatic reminder to the boxing world that he is - indeed - still the best bantamweight on the planet.
The long-reigning titlist delivered perhaps the biggest win of his career, stopping Anselmo Moreno in the 7th round of their wild rematch Friday evening in Osaka, Japan. Five knockdowns came of the night, with both boxers down early before Yamanaka floored Moreno twice in round seven in forcing the stoppage win.
With the win, Yamanaka also gains recognition as the World (lineal) bantamweight champion, as he and Moreno were the top two ranked boxers in the division in the BoxingScene.com ratings. The feat establishes a lineage in the division for the first time since 1988, ending the longest active gap in the sport (28 years) between genuine world champs.
Many questions arose after their first fight right around this time one year ago. It appeared as if Yamanaka - less than three weeks shy of his 33rd birthday at the time - had aged overnight, as many believed Moreno did enough over the course of their 12-round boxing match to reclaim a piece of the bantamweight throne.
Instead, Yamanaka left the ring a split decision winner, but no longer carrying the shine as the elite bantamweight in the world.
He's once again found the glow.
It was never easy for the southpaw, who was making the 11th defense of the title he won nearly five years ago. Moreno came out firing in the opening round, a clear indication that he intended to leave nothing to chance after coming up just short in Tokyo one year ago. His bravery came at a price, however, as Yamanaka floored the former bantamweight titlist from San Miguelito, Panama late in round one - a round that Moreno was clearly winning prior to that point.
In fact, Moreno was the superior boxer through the first four rounds, as he was up on two of the three scorecards to that point as revealed through open scoring. A knockdown of his own in round four paved the way for the early lead, as Yamanaka was dropped for the third time in his past two fights - again lending to the suggestion that perhaps his years of superiority are perhaps coming to a close.
The southpaw put an end to that argument immediately upon rising from the canvas. Instead it was the 31-year old Moreno who quickly began to fade. Yamanaka permanently turned the tide beginning with a knockdown in round six before coming out with knockout intentions in round seven.
A straight left hand deposited Moreno to the canvas in the first 30 seconds of the frame, to which he never fully recovered. Yamanaka never let up, immediately going on the attack and once again putting him on the deck. Referee Daniel Van de Wiele recognized a deflated boxer in front of him, this time opting to wave off the contest without issuing a count.
The official time was 1:09 of round seven.
Yamanaka runs his record to 26-0-2 (18KOs) with the win, while racking up his 11th consecutive title defense. His five-year anniversary coming up in November, the veteran southpaw - who turns 34 in October - is second only to unbeaten, unified middleweight champ Gennady Golovkin for the longest current title reign in the sport.
Moreno once knew that feeling, having racked up 13 successful defenses during a title reign that lasted more than six years. The 31-year old comes up short in his second bid at becoming a two-time titlist as he falls to 36-5-1 (12KOs), having now suffered three losses in his past four starts. The fall began with a disupted loss to Juan Carlos Payano, losing his title on a technical decision after a cut over Payano's eye forced a medical stoppage after six rounds.
HOZUMI THE CULT HERO
Akira Yaegashi, meet Hozumi Hasegawa.
The loyal boxing fans in Japan will have to make room in their hearts for two cult heroes, as Hasegawa resurrected his incredible - though believed to be fading - career with a 9th round stoppage of Hugo Ruiz in a major upset Friday evening in Osaka, Japan. .
Hasegawa was a step ahead in most of the exchanges in the evening's chief support, but still had to fend off a late rally from Ruiz before forcing the now exiting super bantamweight titlist from Mexico to retire on his stool prior to the start of round ten.
With the win, Hasegawa (36-5, 16KOs) now becomes a three-division champ. His run is similar to that of another all-action hero in Yaegashi, having jumped two weight classes for his second title before coming back down in weight to win the third, and also doing so on his second try.
Ruiz (36-4, 32KOs) loses for the second time in his past three fights, with his lone world title win wedged in between. The knockout artist from Los Mochis - who turns 30 next Wednesday - claimed the crown in a 1st round injury stoppage of countryman Julio Ceja in their rematch this past February after having previously suffered a knockout loss last August.
Hasegawa previously enjoyed a lengthy bantamweight title reign and a brief stint as a featherweight beltholder, before twice attempting to claim super bantamweight hardware. His first bid at becoming three-division champ resulted in a 7th round knockout loss to Kiko Martinez in April '14, having suffered three knockdowns along the way.
This time around, the 35-year old was able to overcome the worst moments of the fight to dish out savage punishment of his own. The final three minutes of the fight lands in the Round of the Year category, as both boxers traded vicious punches in round nine. It was last call for Ruiz, who appeared to be gassed but managed to rock Hasegawa with a right hand, prompting him to go on the attack.
Fans in attendance watched with their collective hearts in their throat, but Hasgawa rode out the storm and turned the tables in the final minute of the round. Fittingly, he strolled back to his corner with a gushing cut over his left eye, but still willing to soldier on.
The same cannot be said of Ruiz, whose trainer stood in front of him prior to the start of round ten, an indication that the visiting boxer was done for the evening.
With that development came perhaps the proudest moment in an already incredible boxing career.
"It's like a dream come true," said Hasegawa of becoming a three-division champ, joining Yaegashi, Kazuto Ioka and Koki Kameda on the short list of boxers from Japan to do so.