KAL YAFAI THRASHES LUIS CONCEPCION — The great unknown going into what seemed on paper an already unknowable confrontation between Luis Concepcion (drops to 35-5) and Kal Yafai (now 21-0) was the impact of Concepcion’s weight. The WBA strapholder was stripped on the scale after coming in two pounds over the 115lb superfly limit and the question was, had he killed himself in a failed attempt to make the weight or had he gathered unto himself an advantage by gunning for a poundage that provided him greater comfort? Only Concepcion knows the answer just as only he knows if losing the strap he had campaigned for ten hard years to raise affected his outlook come the fight itself. All that can be said without fear of contradiction is that if Yafai (pictured in the red trunks) boxes on for another fifteen years, he won’t have an easier night than this one.
Concepcion, who entered the ring wearing an Iron Man mask, was heroic, perhaps, in his insistence but in every other area he was utterly outclassed by a fighter who looked two whole classes apart. Concepcion entered the ring ranked the #5 superfly in the world, but he’s left it unmanned. Judge’s scorecards of 120-108, 119-108 and 117-110 did not flatter Britain’s first super flyweight strapholder, just as the #5 ranking did not flatter Concepcion at the opening bell. Away wins over the likes of Kohei Kono and David Sanchez cemented his place in the top five.
Now, it is Yafai who will step into the top five. In previewing the fight I wrote that “under-matched British fighters” often box with “the arrogance of the untested”; well, Yafai wore that same arrogance while undergoing that test, and it was justified. Faster, more powerful and technically superior to his smaller looking opponent he simply turned a high-class boxing contest into a one-sided spar.
Three rounds breezed past seemingly in seconds as Yafai repeated a fast-footed circling round-up of the Panamanian veteran to bag each of them with ease. Nervous of the changes in fortune that plagued Andy Ruiz boxing earlier today in New Zealand, I was alive to the possibility of Concepcion altering the contest in the fourth with some freewheeling, fast moving dipping on the inside, but even here, where he might have been expected to impose himself upon Yafai, he found himself second best. Kal was just too fast, too sure.
Consistently coming up short with the one-two, Concepcion found himself on the receiving end of repeated and, at this level, insulting lead rights as the Brit added another threat to his whistling left hook. Squabbling inside was better for Concepcion but I’m not sure he won even a single minute of the first six rounds.
Nevertheless, he looked salty, trying to force his way past the referee to get to Yafai after being separated in the sixth, the closest round of the first half of the fight. In the seventh, Concepcion had perhaps his finest moment of the fight, making Yafai miss wide with a right before spreading his arms as if to ask “what?”, but the gesture would have been much more fitting had it gone in the other direction. Concepcion had done literally nothing to trouble his much more inexperienced opponent. On the other hand, a body to head combination seemed to have Concepcion troubled in the eighth.
Smiling, Yafai returned to his toes for that round, boxing conservatively but still out-landing Concepcion when they returned briefly to the trenches. Concepcion’s best punches of the fight found a home in the ninth, a right hand lead followed by a right uppercut and I thought, perhaps, he just nicked this round. The point was lost to him in the tenth, however, when he briefly hit the canvas after a left-right-left power punching combo, helped to his backside by a tangle of feet.
As I watched Yafai coast to the eleventh I considered that his stamina was now irrefutably proven, but that Concepcion hadn’t issued a proper chin-check. I hoped to see one, but it will apparently take a better fighter than the fifth best in the weight class to perform it. This led, naturally, to consideration of what Mr. Roman Gonzalez and Mr. Naoya Inoue will make of the twenty-seven year old Birmingham man. Unlikely to be alarmed even by this masterclass, I suspect both a Nicaraguan and a Japanese eyebrow will have been raised in consideration of possible meetings. Rarefied air was stirred tonight. That is never without consequences.
I snapped out of this reverie in time for the twelfth. Concepcion, I think, won this round, giving him two on my card. It was a strange performance from the former belt-holder. He looked determined, fueled, but slower, weaker and less skilled than his younger opponent. I suspect bantamweight will not suit him; if his time at superfly really is over, his time may be over full stop.
For Yafai, it’s the foothills of the super flyweight mountaintop. This division is boxing’s own Everest. Whether or not Yafai is equal to climbing it is a question for another day. What we know, though, is that Britain has another world-class prospect on its hands.
Big nights lie ahead.
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