Time to time fans of the Sweet Science get reminded that their beloved sport can act just as horrifying as glorifying. We like to identify ourselves with the good stories that happen in boxing but hate to see when the rude and unforgiving face of it shows up.
When Shinsuke Yamanaka got demolished in just over four minutes by a giant Luis Nery Thursday night at the Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo, we were forced to go through the latter route. And it was just partly caused by the actions that happened inside the squared circle.
In fact, the downside of one of the most accomplished Japanese fighters in the new century happened to kick-in well before his most recent encounter.
Yamanaka (27-2-2, 19 KO), who secured the WBC bantamweight belt vacated by then-P4P short-listed Nonito Donaire in November 2011, made 12 successful defenses of his strap until last summer. With that, he was on the verge of tieing Yoko Gushiken’s record for the most consecutive title defenses by a Japanese titleholder.
The first signs of his decline came in 2016 when the Tokyo-based champion got dropped twice against Liborio Solis and once by the hands of Anselmo Moreno. Still, he managed to pocket a lopsided decision over the former and won the vacant WBC and The Ring magazine title in the latter in a thriller that ended with Yamanaka beating the fighting heart out of fellow great Moreno.
Last August, however, the Japanese boxer had to engage with mandatory challenger Luis Nery (26-0, 20 KO), a young and undefeated kid from Tijuana, who could easily borrow the nickname of Erik “El Terrible” Morales as his wild, offensive-oriented style is similar to a tornado that comes from the direction of the largest city of Baja California, Mexico.
After a tense first round, the participants traded occasional bombs in round two; each hurt the other once. Nery then became more aggressive, hurt the defending champion with a massive right hook in the fourth and stopped him with an intensive follow-up barrage in the same stanza.
For the first time after a boxing match, Yamanaka looked lost and lonely. No one really protested about him considering retirement. Then it was announced that Nery produced a positive drug test with a banned substance called Zilpaterol.
The former champ changed his mind and was pushed on to get his just due rematch against the boxer who caused the lone red blemish on his record. More so, The Ring reinstated the Tokyo resident as their champ after the B-sample matched its predecessor in approving the slip of Nery.
Yamanaka should have gotten better treatment after always representing the sport in a humble way during his successful career. At least, the Gods of pugilism, or the powers that be in the sport in the jungle called professional boxing, were presented another opportunity to give a fair shake to one of the true servants of the game.
Anticipation, though, quickly turned into disappointment after the official weigh-in ceremony for the rematch. Yamanaka stepped to the scale ripped and ready. Nery did not.
The Mexican, in fact, acted as he was preparing to make weight for a featherweight fight instead of a bantamweight one with 123 pounds. He came back two hours later to make it inside the super bantamweight limit of 122 pounds, weighing 121, three pounds over the limit. At that point, it was time for him to say goodbye to his green-and-gold belt.
However, the WBC title was still on the line for Yamanaka to take it with a victory over his overweight foe.
“It seems strange to me that the WBC green belt is in front of Nery, not before me on the desk,” said the Japanese former titlist during a press conference on fight week.
As his motivation was evident, Yamanaka had to take the fight despite it being against an opponent who did not only beat him once, not mentioning the strange background of that get-go, but now also being much bigger than him.
Yamanaka tried to settle his southpaw jab early in round one, but the fight literally ended after the first landed power punch by the Mexican. It was like a spectacle between a light heavyweight and a welterweight. Every single punch of Nery visibly hurt his counterpart.
The Japanese went down twice in round one though referee Michael Griffin ruled the first one as a slip. Nery floored his wounded foe thrice in the next frame, ending matters at 1:03.
Nery went to the corner of his opponent after Yamanaka was helped to rise from the floor to a chair. No words needed. Everything was on the face of the Japanese while he was giving a long, hard look in the eye of his counterpart.
For Nery, the future can hold an immediate move to super bantamweight; in fact, he already switched divisions going into this bout.
For Yamanaka, the end of the road is right where he is. He officially announced his retirement at the post-fight press conference. It is never easy to say goodbye to a sport that one dedicated his whole life to, especially after the sport of boxing, in the form of Luis Nery, repeatedly cheated on the Japanese in ugly and disgusting ways.
Also on this Tokyo card, IBF super bantamweight champion Ryosuke Iwasa defended his crown for the first time since winning it with a masterful performance against Yukinori Oguni last September.
Iwasa (25-2, 16 KO) took on twice-beaten Ernest Saulong, a Filipino challenger who stood No. 13 on the January rankings of the IBF. The Japanese champion took an early lead thanks to his mobility, hand-speed, and activity.
Saulong (21-3-1, 8 KO) tried his best to weather the storms of his more talented counterpart and gave an honest performance to the Japanese audience with his brave overhand right shots. The best work of the Filipino came in round eight, a frame that this writer credited to him.
After twelve fast rounds, the judges scored it 120-108, 119-109, 118-110, all for the defending champion. Iwasa will most likely return later this year in a mandatory defense against Australia’s TJ Doheny. The No. 1 rated Doheny has a tune-up fight later this month in Boston.
On the undercard, former two-division WBC champion Takahiro Ao had his return to the ring for the first time since his 2015 TKO defeat turned No Decision by today’s WBO lightweight titlist Raymundo Beltran.
Ao (27-3-1, 12 KO) won a hard-fought eight-round decision over former champ Gamaliel Diaz. Veteran Diaz (40-19-3, 19 KO) grabbed the WBC super featherweight belt by outpointing Ao in 2012.
The Japanese fighter got rocked with a left hook in the opening stanza and returned the favor in round three when he dropped Diaz with a southpaw one-two. Scores were 79-74, 77-74, 77-76 for Ao.
Diaz announced his retirement following the fight. Ao, who was far from the fighter he used to be, had an emotional post-fight ring interview. It is currently unclear if he is planning to continue his career.
The main event reportedly soaked roughly 7 million pairs of eyeballs in Japan, a decent number for an in-week boxing show on the island.
Editor’s note: On Friday, March 2, the World Boxing Council announced that it was formally suspending Luis Nery indefinitely. That means that he cannot compete for a WBC title and his name has been dropped from the rankings. The WBC previously imposed no punishment for his failed drug test, accepting his explanation that it was the result of consuming tainted meat. Nery is free to fight for other organizations.
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