Akira Yaegashi showed the spirit of a champion to even get in the ring with Roman Gonzalez. And he fought with championship mettle Friday before his home crowd in Japan.
But Gonzalez is the true, lineal flyweight champion now, the king of the best division in boxing, and we should be talking about him as perhaps one of the five best fighters in the world.
Larger offensive fighters like Gennady Golovkin and Sergey Kovalev get more hype, just because they’re bigger and fighting on HBO. Gonzalez is more proven than them both, hits just as hard, has that similar kind of versatile, accurate arsenal and is faster.
He brought all that to bear on Yaegashi in an ultra-professional, composed attack. Yaegashi controlled the early half of the 1st round with his jab, but it didn’t take long for Gonzalez to find a home for his ridiculous uppercut when he would get Yaegashi cornered for even a second.
The two men traded tactical approaches thereafter, all of it high-level work. In the 3rd, Yaegashi blazed in and out, tightening his defense and turned when he got cornered, only to get caught by a left hook. By the 4th, he appeared to realize he was going to have to stand his ground, and it was good enough to pick up the 5th round on my card as Gonzalez’s pace slowed. But the consistent up-and-down, two-handed assault re-emerged in the 6th, and by the 7th and 8th Yaegashi was looking totally outgunned.
Somehow, demonstrating the kind of toughness he has relied on to get him this far in his career, he stayed on his feet, even when the referee couldn’t (he slipped to the canvas in the 8th). In the 9th, all of the punishment finally caught up to him. A combination with — of course — an uppercut doing the most damage put Yaegashi down, and the ref waved it off, properly.
The weekend of kickass flyweights continues Saturday with Juan Francisco Estada vs. Giovani Segura. The winner is the obvious next guy for Gonzalez to face. After beating Yaegashi, Gonzalez walked around the ring with him, holding up his hand in respect. If he took the challenge of Estrada or Segura, he’d be further honoring the spirit of the man he just beat to become champion.