Shinsuke Yamanaka will fight in another world title bout. But for the first time in more than six years, he will walk into the ring without a championship belt.
Instead, the 35-year-old southpaw will try to regain the WBC bantamweight title from Luis Nery, who handed him his first professional loss last August.
The rematch is slated for March 1 at Ryogoku Kokugikan. On the same card, IBF super bantamweight champ Ryosuke Iwasa is scheduled to make his first title defense against 13th-ranked Ernesto Saulong of the Philippines.
The biggest motivation for Yamanaka（27-1-2, 19 KOs) for the upcoming fight will be to avenge his loss to Nery rather than to get the title back. That’s because of the way he was dethroned by the Mexican fighter and what happened to Nery after the match.
Yamanaka lost by technical knockout as his trainer stepped into the ring to protect the boxer, who was pounded by Nery’s punches in the fourth round. Yamanaka claimed, however, he was OK and could have come back to beat his young opponent.
Days after that, the WBC’s Voluntary Anti-Doping Association detected the substance zilpaterol in Nery’s system, which the boxer insisted that he acquired by consuming contaminated meat.
The WBC did not punish Nery and ordered the new champion to stage a rematch against the Teiken Gym boxer.
After the defeat, Yamanaka hinted at retirement, but decided to continue boxing. At the time, he publicly said that he would not necessarily have to face Nery. But the truth was, Nery was the only man Yamanaka wanted to fight right away.
“To be honest, I’ve been training thinking that I want to avenge the loss to (Nery),” Yamanaka said at a Friday news conference.
Yamanaka added that even when he was defending the title he had a challenger’s mindset. Obviously, he is the true challenger this time and it gives him genuine motivation.
“I couldn’t end my career that way,” said the Shiga Prefecture native, who would have defended his title for the 13th straight time to tie Yoko Gushiken for the Japanese record with a win in the first Nery fight. “I don’t have to worry about the title defense record any more. I decided to continue to fight with my own will.”
Yamanaka thinks he has a good shot at beating Nery, but he doesn’t underestimate the 23-year-old.
Nery triumphed over Arthur Villanueva of the Philippines in November to extend his unbeaten record to 25-0 (19 KOs).
Yamanaka, who has a signature left blow that has earned him the famous nickname “God’s Left,” said that he would not have to alter too many of his offensive skills. But defensively, he would have to reflect on the first bout against Nery, in which he and his trainers think that he needed to move more even while guarding Nery’s punches.
“There’s some easiness and difficulties when you face the same man twice,” Yamanaka said. “But the title has changed its place for this time, and I believe (Nery) has gained some confidence having become the champion and is getting his momentum going. So I know it’s going to be a tough fight. But I will overcome it and win. I have my own confidence as well.”
Meanwhile, it is intriguing that Yamanaka and Iwasa will be fighting in the same event at sumo’s sacred venue.
In 2011, Iwasa challenged for Japanese bantamweight title against Yamanaka and lost via a sixth-round TKO.
While Yamanaka rose to stardom and captured a world title, Iwasa endured some difficult challenges before he finally won the IBF title last September.
In 2015, he missed a chance to become a challenger for the IBF bantamweight title when his opponent got injured right before the match. Also that year, he failed to capture the same title in a TKO loss to Lee Haskins.
“I had some hard times after the Yamanaka fight,” said Iwasa (24-2, 16 KOs), who trains at the gym owned by former WBA super flyweight champion Celes Kobayashi. “But because I fought against Yamanaka, I have the belt with me now. Because I’d had tough times, I would absolutely like to defend it.”
The 28-year-old Saulong, who hails from the Philippines, has a 21-2-1 (eight KOs) as a pro. The Iwasa bout will be his first shot at a world title.