By Joe Koizumi
Photo: Boxing Beat
Unbeaten Japanese southpaw Shinsuke Yamanaka (16-0-2, 11 KOs), 118, successfully kept his WBC bantamweight belt as he managed to avert early attacks of formerly two-class titlist Vic Darchinyan (37-5-1, 27 KOs), 118, and scored with jabs and long lefts in later rounds, winning a unanimous verdict over twelve fast rounds on Friday in Tokyo, Japan. It’s an encounter of hard-hitting southpaws.
Steve Morrow (US) and Juan Carlos Pelayo (Mexico) both saw the hot affair 116-112, and Burt Clements (US) had it 117-111, all for the 29-year-old Japanese defending champ. The referee was Hector Afu (Panama) who handled the quick-moving game as if he was also a bantam.
For Japanese fans it was a sort of fantasy to watch such an internationally well-known fighter as Darchinyan. It was also marvelous that the less experienced Yamanaka thus unanimously defeated the Raging Bull after hard-battled rounds.
The loser Darchinyan gloomily said, “It’s a pity that Yamanaka didn’t show a manly attitude to fight face-to-face as he kept running and running.” But there will be no 118-pounders that may cope with him toe-to-toe in the world, if willing to win over him. Only the way to defeat Darchinyan must be to outspeed and outleg the Raging Bull. It was what Yamanaka did. He made best use of his footwork and had Darchinyan missing so repeatedly to have him consume energy at the early stage of the game.
The first four sessions were equally won by each contestant. Darchinyan was in command in the first and third, while Yamanaka in rounds two and four. Darchinyan, a 36-year-old awkward puncher, pressed the action from the start with roundhouse rights and lefts, but Yamanaka kept trotting like a matador to handle a wild bull. Yamanaka acquired the vacant WBC belt renounced by Nonito Donaire as he dispatched Mexican Christian Esquivel in eleven give-and-take rounds last November. He had to prove his championship wasn’t a product of a fluke. Darchinyan must be an ideal challenger to show his worth as the champion, though some experts castigated this dangerous booking of the formidable ex-champ Darchinyan in his first and furthermore voluntary defense.
After the fourth, the open scoring system showed it was such a competitive fight—38-38 twice and 39-37 for Darchinyan.
It was very unfortunate that Darchinyan sustained a deep gash under the right eyebrow when he received the champ’s left crosses midway in the fifth. The referee Afu had the nasty laceration examined in the fifth and again in the next, when we thought it would be stopped then and there. Vic’s cut was widely shown on the screen in the arena so that we were worried about a possible stoppage due to the injury though they so positively began to exchange solid shots each other. It was barely saved by Vic’s experienced cutman Angelo Hyder, who finely had his man go on fighting until the end. It’s a well-done job.
Yamanaka, standing 5’7” and just an inch taller, looked by far taller than the crouching stylist Darchinyan. The upright Japanese southpaw champ kept moving to-and-fro and side-to-side to frustrate the Raging Bull, who kept missing the target with his roundhouse punches. Darchinyan, from the seventh on, apparently became slowing down though he kept stalking the Fancy Dan. Yamanaka threw fast southpaw jabs and quick one-two combinations to the onrushing Darchinyan.
After the eighth, the official tallies were shown in favor of the Japanese matador—77-75 twice and 78-74.
It followed a similar pattern as the historical James Corbett-Jon L. Sullivan bout as the contest progressed. The footworker made the hard-puncher repeat missing so many punches that the latter became slow and exhausted. Now he looked just a shell of the once ferocious Raging Bull. Yamanaka, in the tenth, rocked Darchinyan with a strong right shot, and again almost toppled him with a vicious southpaw left in the eleventh.
“Please let me go in the last round,” so appealed Yamanaka to his cornerman Shin Yamato, ex-OPBF super-bantam champ. His corner strongly dissuaded the champ from doing such a dangerous and daft strategy despite a good accumulation on points. It’s logical enough. Then Yamanaka rode on a bicycle and went on a three-minute cycling. Darchinyan realized he was obviously behind on points, and therefore went all out for a come-from-behind knockout, swinging wild punches to the swift footworker. For Japanese fans it seemed a much longer three-minute cycling than it really was, but Yamanaka followed his corner’s game plan perfectly. After the twelfth round, a couple of judges gave a point to the Raging Bull, but that wasn’t enough to overcome Darchinyan’s deficits on points.
Darchinyan, the ageing veteran, showed his best to win, but Yamanaka fought an ideal fight to defeat the Raging Bull. Darchinyan became rather lazy although he kept going forward. He appeared greatly frustrated by Yamanaka’s refusal to exchange punches in the center of the ring. But it was a sort of strategy.
The winner and still champ said, “I believe I could prove I’m the champion if I beat such a formidable challenger as Darchinyan. Now that I’ve established my name, I wish to become stronger in my future defenses.”
His manager/promoter Akihiko Honda praised Yamanaka’s performance, saying “Perfect game due to our fight plan.”
We, in Japan, have had only eight world bantam champions through our long history. The first world bantamweight title bout was seen in 1960, when Mexican champ Jose Becerra barely kept his unified belt against ex-Olympian Kenji Yonekura by a split verdict (146-142, 147-141 and 143-148) over fifteen close rounds at Korakuen Baseball Stadium—before 17,000 spectators. Yonekura, an excellent footworker, seemed to have outlegged and outmaneuvered the hard-punching Becerrra, but he should have thrown a little more punches to win more points. It was the very turning point that our Japanese boxers became more fighters than outboxers.
The second was a brief affair where undefeated Eder Jofre, Brazil, flattened hard-punching southpaw Katsutoshi Aoki in agony with wicked body shots at Kuramae Sumo Arena—before 10,000 witnessed. Jofre was simply too strong and excellent for Aoki.
The third was a historically famous and fantastic upset of Fighting Harada over Eder Jofre at Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium—before 10,000 people—in May 1965. It was such a hairline split decision: Jay Edson (US) 72-71 for Jofre, Masao Kato (Japan) 72-71 for Harada, and scoring referee and ex-world champ Barney Ross (US) 71-69 for Harada. Thus, Harada dethroned the “golden bantam” Jofre by inflicting his career-first defeat. This reporter, then only 18, was really moved by the unbelievable and unexpected upset.
The fourth world bantam go was held before 12,000 spectators at Japan Martial Arts Hall (Nippon Budokan)—in November 1965—when Fighting Harada scored his initial defense by defeating Alan Rudkin from Liverpool by a unanimous verdict (74-66, 72-70 and 74-65) over fifteen unanimous rounds. Harada decked Rudkin with a countering right uppercut in the first round to have the upper hand despite the British challenger’s retaliation.
The fifth was a grudge fight between Harada and Jofre at the Martial Arts Hall in Tokyo in March 1966. Jofre made a good start to regain his belt, but Harada took back the initiative from the third round onward, steadily piling up points. Harada kept his world bantam belt for the second time by a close but unanimous nod (69-68, 71-68 and 71-69) over fifteen rounds before 13,000 witnesses. Harada was penalized for headbutting midway in the fifth.
The sixth was also a grudge fight of Fighting Harada who, four years before, suffered a TKO defeat at the hand of Mexican counterpuncher called “magician at the ropes” Jose Medel. Harada, in January 1967, gave a return to Medel with his world throne on the line to avenge his previous defeat. It was a very tactical fight as Harada, usually a fighting machine, entirely fought cautiously to avert Medel’s vaunted counters to outpunch the legendary Mexican, winning a unanimous nod (74-67, 73-67 and 72-67) over fifteen rounds at Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium.
The seventh was Harada’s fourth defense against highly vaunted Colombian Bernardo Caraballo in July 1967. Though regarded as the most dangerous challenger, Caraballo suffered a knockdown in the first round and Harada dominated the proceedings all the way though Caraballo was in command only in rounds eight and nine. The verdict was unanimous (72-66, 72-68 and 71-68).
The eighth was Harada’s farewell to the world bantam belt, as he had to face a substitute for Jesus Pimentel, the top contender with 61 stoppages out of 66 victories, Lionel Rose from Australia in 1968. Rose was only ranked the sixth, and many people including Harada might have underestimated the Australian aborigine. It was a close fight as decided by a majority decision (72-72, 72-70 and 72-69) for Rose. In round nine we witnessed a very strange knockdown of Harada. The champ took a flash knockdown, jumped up and landed a solid right to Rose, who hit the deck harder than Harada. The Japanese referee Toyama took the count against Harada who hit the deck earlier than Rose. It then reminded this reporter of the old fight where Ad Wolgast knocked out Mexican Joe Rivers after a double knockdown in 1912. Harada had a serious weight problem, and moved up to the featherweight category thereafter.
The ninth was also a controversial fight at the Martial Arts Hall in Tokyo on July 1968. Unbeaten ex-Olympic gold medalist Takao Sakurai floored defending champ Lionel Rose with a smashing southpaw left in the second, but Sakurai, a very cautious counterpuncher, tried to keep his lead on points thanks to the knockdown only to forget to attack more as the challenger, losing a hairline majority verdict (72-77, 72-70 and 72-72) over fifteen.
The tenth was one of the most dramatic world title bouts witnessed in Japan. In October 1971, at Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium, Mexican Ruben Olivares came here to defend his belt against Kazuyoshi Kanazawa whom Mr. Knockout had once finished in only two rounds in Mexico two years before. What a fight! Kanazawa desperately attacked the Mexican champ and almost had him on the verge of knockout in the thirteenth. But Kanazawa almost exhausted himself as he went all out for a kill in that round. In the fatal fourteenth, Olivares dropped the already exhausted Kanazawa three times to completely flatten the Japanese for the count in the fourteenth session. After the thirteenth, it had been so close as 62-60, 63-61 for Olivares and 64-64. It’s the most furious battle ever seen in world bantam title bouts held in Japan.
Watching the Yamanaka-Darchinyan bantam title bout, this reporter became a little nostalgic and remembered the good old days.
Promoter: Teiken Promotions.
WBC supervisor: Albert Leon (US).