Little Giants Shinsuke Yamanaka and Wanheng Menayothin Win in the Orient

Shinsuke Yamanaka and Wanheng Menayothin Win – Two of the best fighters in the Orient – and the world – posted wins in their home countries of Japan and Thailand this week.

The world’s undefeated #1 bantamweight, Shinsuke Yamanaka was pitted against Venezuelan hard man Liborio Solis in Japan on Friday.  Yamanaka, 24-0-2 at bell, defended both that undefeated status and his position as the premier fighter at 118lbs; that said, it seems a long time since his back-and-forth thriller with Malcolm Tunacao, a fight he won by twelfth round stoppage, and after his last contest with the highly ranked veteran Anselmo Moreno, a boring joust which sent the few interested parties in the western media up in arms and yelling robbery, I personally felt he needed to make a statement against Solis.

In fairness, I should say that I scored the Moreno fight a draw personally, and don’t think of a card for Yamanaka unreasonable, but the fight was an awkward exchange of single punches and difficult angles.  Solis seemed a good opponent, then, to bring out the best in Yamanaka.  Aggressive, and armed with a certain intimidating wildness, for all that he isn’t a huge puncher, the Venezuelan seemed the right man to overcome Yamanaka’s “wait-and-see” posturing.  This did not prove the case in the first round with Solis seeming to want a look at his opponent and Yamanaka taking advantage to get his southpaw left started, a punch he hardly landed on Moreno.

In the second, a quickly formed right-hook as Solis stepped in bought Yamanaka a flash knockdown and seemed to place the Japanese in total control; but Solis wore the look of a man determined to go home with, at the very least, a story to tell.  Pressure, and an untidy, winging attack brought Solis a flash of his own in the opening seconds of the third, a direct right hand putting a disorganized Yamanaka on the seat of his trunks.  Yamanaka was unhurt, but Solis didn’t seem to care, and he came firing out of the neutral corner, bashing and lashing Yamanaka across the ring. The world’s #1 bantamweight seemed unsure how to handle this tornado of ineffective yet dangerous punching and by turns gave ground, held, and hit Solis back.  By the end of the round he seemed to have regained control, only to be flashed for a second occasion by another Solis right; clearly embarrassed he was up at 1 having surrendered his lead on the cards.

Yamanaka remained aggressive in the fourth, which impressed me.  By the end of the seventh the fight had been established as something more akin to what we had expected to see from the beginning; a consummate Yamanaka performance defined by elegant footwork and fine punch-selection.  Solis had his moments, as in the sixth, during which he landed a hard punch and followed it up by scything his way through a non-existent field of corn, but showed little to trouble Yamanaka in earnest.

Solis arguably took the eighth on aggression but perhaps worn by Yamanaka’s wonderful left to the body, he visited the canvas again in the ninth round.  A beautifully timed and unusually short right-hand dropped the Venezuelan for a short count.  Finding himself once more well behind on the cards, that Solis made the effort through the tenth, eleventh and twelfth to keep bringing the fight to Yamanaka was impressive; he may even have won the tenth.  He left with little to show for it, however, dropping the decision 117-107 on all cards; a wide but not unreasonable margin of victory.

The day before in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, the world’s #2 strawweight Wanheng Menayothin was in action against the Japanese, Go Odaira (12-4-3 going in).  Menayothin, 40-0 at bell, was a prohibitive favorite with a relative novice in the other corner, but there were signs that Odaira might provide reasonable, if not stiff competition.  He gave the highly ranked and perennial fight-of-the-year contender Katsunari Takayama all he could handle for seven rounds before succumbing at the end of 2014, and returned to winning ways with a knockout win of the Japanese national title at the weight in 2015.  Menayothin, I think, will only lose to a fighter of prestigious power, of which there are none at 105lbs currently, or a fighter of prestigious speed, although it must be pointed out that a combination of world-class jab and functional quickness has allowed the Thai to out-box many faster opponents.

Nevertheless, I was hopeful, if not expectant, that Odaira might surprise us with a testing, if not a winning performance.  This hope was dispelled by the first round which, in keeping with Menayothin’s style, was one of fistic curiosity.  He likes to look at his opponents in the first round, applying gentle pressure in order to take a measure of their artillery.  This is what I mean when I say power is key to solving Menayothin; if you can’t make him respect you, at a minimum, he is going to come for you.  Normally this happens in the second – against Odaira, he didn’t even wait his customary three minutes and was catching his man with sickening regularity with a drilled right hand normally heralded by the establishment of his jab.

Shinsuke Yamanaka and Wanheng Menayothin Win

This did nothing to discourage Menayothin’s stalking pressure which is normally underpinned by great discipline; disciplined defense, disciplined punch selection and disciplined, functional footwork that is surprisingly adept at bringing him into range against taller, longer opponents.  Here, he abandoned that discipline to an extent, abandoning the jab in favor of the right and it undermined his offense.  Odaira was able to slip and duck and run from trouble all the while firing back with his inelegant but persistent punches.

Odaira was boxing in a pattern, however, allowing himself to be moved back to the ropes and corners before sliding and ducking his way out of danger.  In the third, Menayothin half-feinted all the way inside, committing to nothing, before throwing a right hand punch across himself as Odaira tried to escape to his own right.  The blow landed with the type of crispness that often brings a reaction and this one tumbled Odaira to the canvas like a sprinter hemorrhaging out of the blocks, all motion and stumble.  Up at three, the Japanese appeared more rattled than legitimately hurt.  Menayothin remained steady – disciplined – with his pursuit, preferring single shots, every one of which was cheered lustily by the partisan Thai crowd.

The two played cat and mouse in a depressingly one-sided fourth round before Menayothin dropped the boom in the fifth.  Odaira had a little surge at the opening of the round but Menayothin remained absolutely consistent and in the end, pretty much just bludgeoned his opponent to the canvas.  If the first knockdown held a certain flour-down-the-chute elegance, the second was sheer brute, the inevitable begun by a left-hook and ended by a series of thudding right hands that saw the referee wave the contest off without a count.

This was not vintage Menayothin, although he got the job done more quickly than fellow strawweight Takayama and with only the occasional loss of that steel-trap discipline.  Menayothin, surely, is ready for better things and with the strawweight division relatively stacked at the moment, the time, surely, is ripe.  Divisional #1 Hekkie Budler and he would stage an excellent fight, I suspect, countryman CP Freshmart would make for an intriguing all-Thai dust-up and Takayama, too, would make a fine opponent could he or Menayothin be tempted into leaving home in pursuit of what would be one of the most fascinating clashes of style imaginable in boxing right now.

Yamanaka, meanwhile, did what was expected of him and returned to the world of thrills and spills that, at least for me, defined him prior to the Moreno fight.  I make #4 bantamweight Jamie McDonnell, out of Doncaster, England, his most interesting potential opponent although the two men’s respective power-bases and straps make this meeting unlikely.  Skilled southpaw Juan Carlos Payano, of the Dominican Republic would be another fascinating match, as would an all-Japanese affair between Yamanaka and superstar Naoya Inoue, who lurks below at 115lbs.

Both Yamanaka and Menayothin have options, but neither man has boxed outside his home country; aged 33 and 30 respectively, it’s probably time to take those options.


Check out a results video for this fight at The Boxing Channel

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-Kid Blast :

Good to see Matt still working the Asian circuit