Full Report: Yamanaka dethrones WBO 105lb champ Fukuhara

By Joe Koizumi
Photos by Boxing Beat, Joe Koizumi

Fast-moving Ryuya Yamanaka (15-2, 4 KOs), 105, captured the WBO mini-flyweight belt as he made best use of swift footwork, averted retaliations of defending champ Tatsuya Fukuhara (19-5-6, 7 KOs), 104.75, scored well with sharp lefts and rights and earned a unanimous decision over twelve fast rounds on Sunday in Ashikita ward, Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan. Salven Lagumbay (Philippines) tallied the hot affair 116-112, Carlos Ortiz Jr. (US) and Surat Soikrachang (Thailand) 115-113, all for the challenger Yamanaka (no relation to former WBC bantam ruler Shinsuke). Eddie Claudio (US) refereed the speedy game of the lightest and smallest boxers very well.

Regardless of the difference on points, there might be no objection to Yamanaka’s victory and coronation due to his precision in scoring more effective punches throughout the contest. He seldom took any damaging blows from the champ.

Fukuhara, a southpaw infighter, took the initiative in early rounds, but Yamanaka, riding a highly technical bicycle, found his rhythm and range from the fourth on, controlling the fast-paced contest. Fukuhara displayed his last surge in the final session, which was pitifully too late to overcome his earlier deficits on points.

Having acquired the interim WBO belt by squeaking by Mexican Moises Calleros via split decision this February, Fukuhara, a local favorite making his initial defense, looked nervous and stiff from the outset, while Yamanaka, former OPBF 105-poound ruler, began to use his vaunted footwork to feel out the champ’s opening attack. The champ was aggressive, but missed the target with the challenger’s shifty mobility.

It was Yamanaka that countered the onrushing southpaw champ with crisp short left hooks, with which he averted Fukuhara’s follow-up attacks from the fourth on. His footwork and quick counters befuddled the champ, piling up points steadily. Fukuhara, however, responded to his hit-and-run strategy with body punches in combination.

From the fourth through the eleventh—except in round eight—Yamanaka was dominant on the tallies of more than two judges thanks to his more accurate counters despite the champ’s aggressiveness without precision. Busily moving to-and-fro and side-to-side, Ryuya, six years his junior at 22, displayed fine tactics to cope with the southpaw champ.

The local supporters of 2,800 at Shiroyama Sky Dome loudly hailing the defending champ, Fukuhara showed his last energy against the elusive challenger in the final stanza, when he apparently threw more punches and tried to turn the tables. Too late. It’s obviously Yamanaka’s night as he had studied the champ’s technical defects and outsmarted him well.

The newly crowned Yamanaka, a stablemate of WBA 122-pound champ Shun Kubo who will defend his belt against mandatory challenger Daniel Roman a week later, jubilantly said, “My senior Kubo encouraged me to enjoy fighting in my first world title bout. So did I. Our fight plan to outleg the champ was very successful. I’ve had no damage at all from the champ’s attacks that didn’t catch me.”

His manager/promoter Masato Yamashita said, “It’s due to a good and strong combination of Yamanaka and his trainer Eto supported by our team work.”

His trainer Eto reviewed his boxer’s victory, saying, “Ryuya devoted all himself to boxing from morning till night. He knows nothing but boxing. His remarkable concentration on training made him world champion.”

Ryuya’s mother Rie, 46, had six sons and daughters after her divorce, and worked very hard to bring them up by herself. She worked as sweeper, served in restaurants and engaged in various jobs to support her children. The eldest Ryuya gave up going up to a high school to raise his family. At the age of fourteen he entered Shinsei Gym that produced three-class world champ Hozumi Hasegawa. Since then, he has been exclusively coached by his strict trainer Hidenori Eto. His brother Daiki, 19, is also a boxer in the same gym.

The 17-year-old skinny kid with no amateur experience made a pro debut in 2012, scoring four wins in a row before he suffered a first defeat by an initial-round knockout at the hand of Kenta Shimizu in 2013. Having won three thereafter, Yamanaka dropped a hairline split nod to Filipino Roque Lauro in Kobe in August 2014. It was his second and last setback, and Ryuya kept on winning seven bouts, including an important triumph in an eliminator to gain the vacant OPBF minimumweight belt by impressively outclassing hard-punching Filipino Merlito Sabillo last November. Truly he has improved technically. He zoomed up to the top rank in the WBO ratings to be given a mandatory shot at the compatriot Fukuhara.

“I whole-heartedly dedicate this victory to my mother,” said the new champ. Well-done, good son!

Promoter: Honda Fitness Promotions.
WBO supervisor: Leon Panoncillo (US).

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