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Little Giants Shinsuke Yamanaka and Wanheng Menayothin Win in the Orient

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Shinsuke Yamanaka and Wanheng Menayothin Win – Two of the best fighters in the Orient – and the world – posted wins in their home countries of Japan and Thailand this week.

The world’s undefeated #1 bantamweight, Shinsuke Yamanaka was pitted against Venezuelan hard man Liborio Solis in Japan on Friday.  Yamanaka, 24-0-2 at bell, defended both that undefeated status and his position as the premier fighter at 118lbs; that said, it seems a long time since his back-and-forth thriller with Malcolm Tunacao, a fight he won by twelfth round stoppage, and after his last contest with the highly ranked veteran Anselmo Moreno, a boring joust which sent the few interested parties in the western media up in arms and yelling robbery, I personally felt he needed to make a statement against Solis.

In fairness, I should say that I scored the Moreno fight a draw personally, and don’t think of a card for Yamanaka unreasonable, but the fight was an awkward exchange of single punches and difficult angles.  Solis seemed a good opponent, then, to bring out the best in Yamanaka.  Aggressive, and armed with a certain intimidating wildness, for all that he isn’t a huge puncher, the Venezuelan seemed the right man to overcome Yamanaka’s “wait-and-see” posturing.  This did not prove the case in the first round with Solis seeming to want a look at his opponent and Yamanaka taking advantage to get his southpaw left started, a punch he hardly landed on Moreno.

In the second, a quickly formed right-hook as Solis stepped in bought Yamanaka a flash knockdown and seemed to place the Japanese in total control; but Solis wore the look of a man determined to go home with, at the very least, a story to tell.  Pressure, and an untidy, winging attack brought Solis a flash of his own in the opening seconds of the third, a direct right hand putting a disorganized Yamanaka on the seat of his trunks.  Yamanaka was unhurt, but Solis didn’t seem to care, and he came firing out of the neutral corner, bashing and lashing Yamanaka across the ring. The world’s #1 bantamweight seemed unsure how to handle this tornado of ineffective yet dangerous punching and by turns gave ground, held, and hit Solis back.  By the end of the round he seemed to have regained control, only to be flashed for a second occasion by another Solis right; clearly embarrassed he was up at 1 having surrendered his lead on the cards.

Yamanaka remained aggressive in the fourth, which impressed me.  By the end of the seventh the fight had been established as something more akin to what we had expected to see from the beginning; a consummate Yamanaka performance defined by elegant footwork and fine punch-selection.  Solis had his moments, as in the sixth, during which he landed a hard punch and followed it up by scything his way through a non-existent field of corn, but showed little to trouble Yamanaka in earnest.

Solis arguably took the eighth on aggression but perhaps worn by Yamanaka’s wonderful left to the body, he visited the canvas again in the ninth round.  A beautifully timed and unusually short right-hand dropped the Venezuelan for a short count.  Finding himself once more well behind on the cards, that Solis made the effort through the tenth, eleventh and twelfth to keep bringing the fight to Yamanaka was impressive; he may even have won the tenth.  He left with little to show for it, however, dropping the decision 117-107 on all cards; a wide but not unreasonable margin of victory.

The day before in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, the world’s #2 strawweight Wanheng Menayothin was in action against the Japanese, Go Odaira (12-4-3 going in).  Menayothin, 40-0 at bell, was a prohibitive favorite with a relative novice in the other corner, but there were signs that Odaira might provide reasonable, if not stiff competition.  He gave the highly ranked and perennial fight-of-the-year contender Katsunari Takayama all he could handle for seven rounds before succumbing at the end of 2014, and returned to winning ways with a knockout win of the Japanese national title at the weight in 2015.  Menayothin, I think, will only lose to a fighter of prestigious power, of which there are none at 105lbs currently, or a fighter of prestigious speed, although it must be pointed out that a combination of world-class jab and functional quickness has allowed the Thai to out-box many faster opponents.

Nevertheless, I was hopeful, if not expectant, that Odaira might surprise us with a testing, if not a winning performance.  This hope was dispelled by the first round which, in keeping with Menayothin’s style, was one of fistic curiosity.  He likes to look at his opponents in the first round, applying gentle pressure in order to take a measure of their artillery.  This is what I mean when I say power is key to solving Menayothin; if you can’t make him respect you, at a minimum, he is going to come for you.  Normally this happens in the second – against Odaira, he didn’t even wait his customary three minutes and was catching his man with sickening regularity with a drilled right hand normally heralded by the establishment of his jab.

Shinsuke Yamanaka and Wanheng Menayothin Win

This did nothing to discourage Menayothin’s stalking pressure which is normally underpinned by great discipline; disciplined defense, disciplined punch selection and disciplined, functional footwork that is surprisingly adept at bringing him into range against taller, longer opponents.  Here, he abandoned that discipline to an extent, abandoning the jab in favor of the right and it undermined his offense.  Odaira was able to slip and duck and run from trouble all the while firing back with his inelegant but persistent punches.

Odaira was boxing in a pattern, however, allowing himself to be moved back to the ropes and corners before sliding and ducking his way out of danger.  In the third, Menayothin half-feinted all the way inside, committing to nothing, before throwing a right hand punch across himself as Odaira tried to escape to his own right.  The blow landed with the type of crispness that often brings a reaction and this one tumbled Odaira to the canvas like a sprinter hemorrhaging out of the blocks, all motion and stumble.  Up at three, the Japanese appeared more rattled than legitimately hurt.  Menayothin remained steady – disciplined – with his pursuit, preferring single shots, every one of which was cheered lustily by the partisan Thai crowd.

The two played cat and mouse in a depressingly one-sided fourth round before Menayothin dropped the boom in the fifth.  Odaira had a little surge at the opening of the round but Menayothin remained absolutely consistent and in the end, pretty much just bludgeoned his opponent to the canvas.  If the first knockdown held a certain flour-down-the-chute elegance, the second was sheer brute, the inevitable begun by a left-hook and ended by a series of thudding right hands that saw the referee wave the contest off without a count.

This was not vintage Menayothin, although he got the job done more quickly than fellow strawweight Takayama and with only the occasional loss of that steel-trap discipline.  Menayothin, surely, is ready for better things and with the strawweight division relatively stacked at the moment, the time, surely, is ripe.  Divisional #1 Hekkie Budler and he would stage an excellent fight, I suspect, countryman CP Freshmart would make for an intriguing all-Thai dust-up and Takayama, too, would make a fine opponent could he or Menayothin be tempted into leaving home in pursuit of what would be one of the most fascinating clashes of style imaginable in boxing right now.

Yamanaka, meanwhile, did what was expected of him and returned to the world of thrills and spills that, at least for me, defined him prior to the Moreno fight.  I make #4 bantamweight Jamie McDonnell, out of Doncaster, England, his most interesting potential opponent although the two men’s respective power-bases and straps make this meeting unlikely.  Skilled southpaw Juan Carlos Payano, of the Dominican Republic would be another fascinating match, as would an all-Japanese affair between Yamanaka and superstar Naoya Inoue, who lurks below at 115lbs.

Both Yamanaka and Menayothin have options, but neither man has boxed outside his home country; aged 33 and 30 respectively, it’s probably time to take those options.

 

Check out a results video for this fight at The Boxing Channel

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A Conversation with Legendary Phoenix Boxing Writer Norm Frauenheim

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It seems all along that Norm Frauenheim was destined to become a boxing writer.

Two critical elements were at play that led the 75-year-old scribe to that profession.

“I was always interested in boxing, even as a kid,” said Frauenheim who spent 31 years with the Arizona Republic beginning in 1977. “I’m an Army brat. I was born in January 1949 on a base, Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, a city I didn’t really see until I hit the NBA road covering the [Phoenix] Suns for more than a decade starting in 1979-80.”

Frauenheim, a longtime correspondent for The Ring magazine who writes for various boxing sites such as boxingscene.com and 15rounds.com, added more background: “One of the many places I lived was Schofield Barracks on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu from 1962 to 1966,” he continued. “I delivered The Stars & Stripes to troops with the 25th Infantry Division, which was headed to Vietnam, along with my dad.

“Anyway, boxing and Schofield have long been linked, mostly because of a novel and film, ‘From Here to Eternity’ (the James Jones novel starring Frank Sinatra on the big screen). The troops were still boxing, outdoors, at the barracks along my newspaper route. I was 13 to 17 years old. I’d stop, watch and get interested. I’ve been interested ever since.”

Frauenheim added: “From there, my father and family shipped to Fort Sheridan, then a base north of Chicago where I spent one year and graduated from high school “Then my dad went back to Vietnam and I went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville (1967 through 1971) and graduated with a major in history. I was also a competitive swimmer, pre-Title IX.

“Competitive swimming is also at the roots of my sportswriting career. I was frustrated that Vanderbilt’s student newspaper didn’t cover us. I offered to do it. The newspaper agreed. I don’t swim as well as I used to. I look at a surfboard and look at the waves I used to take on and wondered what in the hell I was doing. It’s a lot safer to be at ringside.”

After a more than five-decade stint covering boxing, Frauenheim is glad that the manly sport is still around but with more outside competition.

“It’s surely not the [Muhammad] Ali era. It’s not the Golden 80s, either. It’s a fractured business in a world with more and more options for sports fans. MMA is just one example,” he said. “Boxing is not dying. It has been declared dead, ad nauseam. I read the inevitable obits and think of an old line: Boxing has climbed out of more coffins than Count Dracula.

“Still, the sport has been pushed to the fringe of public interest. But it’s been there before. Resiliency is one of its strongest qualities. It’ll be around, always reinventing itself.”

In some respects, boxing, like the other sports, has always been dependent on rivalries like the NBA’s Celtics versus Lakers, which drives the public’s interest and storylines.

“[Larry] Bird-Magic [Johnson] was basketball’s Ali-[Joe] Frazier,” Frauenheim says. “It transformed the league, setting the stage for Michael Jordan. It can happen again, in boxing or any other sport.”

Boxing is still the same but with tweaks here and there.

“When I started, championship bouts were 15 rounds instead of 12,” said Frauenheim who began his journalism career in 1970 at the Tallahassee Democrat and worked at the Jacksonville Journal before being lured in Phoenix. “There were morning weigh-ins instead of the day-before promotional show. There was also a lot more media. A big fight in Vegas meant all of the big media people were there. The last time that happened was Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2015, a fight that failed to meet expectations and I think eroded much of the big media’s appetite for more,” continued Frauenheim whose byline has appeared in USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.

Mexican legend Saul Alvarez is still a major draw, but there are others on the horizon who are ready to step in and take over like the undefeated super middleweight David Benavidez.

“The clock is ticking on Canelo’s career, and I think he knows it. At this point, it’s about risk-reward. The 27-year-old Benavidez is too big a risk. Canelo, I think, looks at Benavidez and thinks he’ll beat him. I don’t think he would,” Frauenheim noted. “Benavidez is too big, has a mean streak and possesses a rare extra gear. He gets stronger in the late rounds.

“Even if Canelo wins, there’s a pretty good chance that Benavidez hurts him. There’s still a chance Canelo-Benavidez happens. But I think it’ll take some Saudi [Arabian] money.”

Boxers stand alone in the ring, literally and figuratively, but have a small supporting crew.

This makes them unique compared to baseball, football, basketball and hockey.

“Boxers are different from any other athlete I’ve ever covered. It’s why, I guess, boxing has been called a writer’s sport. There are plenty of NFL and NBA players who have grown up on the so-called mean streets,” Frauenheim said. “But they have teammates. They don’t make that long, lonely walk from the dressing room to the ring.”

Stripped naked, boxers are an open book, according to Frauenheim.

“They can be hard to deal with while training and cutting weight. But after a fight, no athlete in my experience is more forthcoming,” he said. “Win or lose, they just walked through harm’s way in front of people. In my experience, that’s when they want to talk.”

Selecting a career highlight or highlights isn’t easy for Frauenheim, but he tried.

“There are so many. I was there for the great Sugar Ray Leonard victory over Thomas Hearns [1981], a welterweight classic,” he recalled. “A personal favorite was Michael Carbajal’s comeback from two knockdowns for a KO of Humberto Gonzalez in 1993, perhaps the best fight in the history of the lightest weight class. I was also there for the crazy, including Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield’s “Bite Fight” and the “Fan Man” landing in the ring like the 82nd Airborne Division midway through a Riddick Bowe-Holyfield fight behind Vegas’ Caesars Palace.”

Three boxers set the tone and backdrop for Frauenheim’s illustrious tenure as a writer.

“Roberto Duran is the greatest lightweight ever. His lifestyle sometimes got the best of him. That was evident in his infamous ‘No Mas’ welterweight loss to Sugar Ray Leonard in New Orleans,” he said of that November 1980 bout. “He told me that he took the rematch, on short notice, because of the money. “Women-women-women, eating-eating-eating, drinking-drinking-drinking,” he told me in an interview of what he had been doing before Leonard’s people approached him for an immediate rematch of his Montreal victory. But take a look at Duran’s victory in Montreal [June 1980]. Watch it again. On that night, there’s never been a better fighter than Duran.”

Frauenheim added another titan to that short list: “Leonard, who is the last real Sugar,” he said, and ended with the only eight-weight division king. “Manny Pacquiao, an amazing story about a starving kid off impoverished Filipino streets. He was a terrific fighter, blessed with speed, power and instinct. Add to that a shy personality unchanged by all the money and celebrity. He is an example of what can still happen in boxing. He’s the face of the game’s resiliency.”

That’s quite a trio, and they’re the best of the best that Frauenheim’s seen and covered from ringside.

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Aaron McKenna and Kieron Conway Victorious in Osaka

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Aaron McKenna scored a 10th-round stoppage of Jeovanny Estela today (Monday, July 15) in Osaka, Japan. The bout was one of four scheduled 10-rounders in the middleweight division in a revamped Prizefighter Tournament with a $1,000,000 prize at stake for the winner.

One of two fighting brothers from the little town of Smithborough in County Monaghan, Ireland, the undefeated (19-0, 10 KOs) McKenna (pictured) was well ahead on the scorecards when the referee stepped in and halted the match at the 2:02 mark of the final round. He entered the ring a 4/1 favorite over Estela (14-1), a 23-year-old Floridian of Puerto Rican descent who began his pro career at 147.

McKenna’s opponent in the next round (at a date and place to be determined) will be England’s Kieron Conway (21-3-1, 6 KOs) who scored a seventh-round stoppage over China’s obscure Ainiwaer Yilixati (19-2). All three of Conway’s losses were to opponents who were undefeated when he fought them with two of those setbacks occurring on Canelo Alvarez undercards.

Two Japanese fighters – Riku Kunimoto and Kazuto Takesako – were victorious in the other bouts and will meet in the semifinals.

Local fan favorite Kunimoto, recognized as the middleweight champion of Japan, advanced to 12-1 (6 KOs) with a fifth-round stoppage of countryman Eiki Kani (8-5-3). This was a rematch. The two fought earlier this year in Nagoya with Kunimoto registering a fifth-round TKO.

Takesako (17-2-1, 15 KOs) registered the lone upset on the card with a hard-earned decision over England’s Mark Dickinson. It was the first pro loss for Dickinson who had only six pro fights under his belt but was a highly decorated amateur. The scores were 98-92, 97-93, and 95-94.

The next fight for Kunimoto will be another rematch. Takesako saddled him with his lone defeat, knocking him out in the first round at Tokyo’s venerable Korakuen Hall in May of 2021.

The tournament, co-sponsored by Matchroom and televised on DAZN, offers an aggregate $100,000 per event for knockouts. McKenna, Conway, and Kunimoto scooped up $25,000 apiece.

Aaron McKenna, his brother Stephen, and their father/trainer Feargal McKenna were the subjects of a story that ran on these pages. Stephen McKenna (14-0, 13 KOs) returns to the ring next month against 14-2 Joe Laws on a BOXXER promotion that will air on Sky Sports in the UK.

Aaron McKenna entered the Prizefighter Tourney as the pre-fight favorite and Matchroom honcho Eddie Hearn has indicated that he will be in line for a world title shot if he wins his next two matches.

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Results and Recaps from Philly where ‘Boots’ Ennis Stomped Out David Avanesyan

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PHILADELPHIA, PA — On what Matchroom Boxing Promotions called the most important night in Philadelphia boxing in over 40 years, Jaron “Boots” Ennis (32-0, 29 KOs), the current IBF welterweight champion from the city of Brotherly Love, attracted a larger-than-expected crowd of 14,119 to the Wells Fargo Center where he stopped David Avanesyan who was pulled out after five rounds. In Avanesyan (30-5-1, 18 KOs), Ennis looked to impress on two fronts, both commercially and critically.

It didn’t take long for there to be some excitement after Ennis landed a clean jab that caused Avanesyan to stagger momentarily. Ennis turned southpaw and the action stopped after Ennis landed a low blow. Rounds two and three saw both fighters decide to fight on the inside. Ennis was able to land crisp upper cuts while only getting hit with a few shots in exchange. After four rounds, the evidence was clear that Avanesyan was getting hit with clean shots as his face started to get busted up. Avanesyan had a moment when he landed a right hand that got the attention of the crowd and Ennis.

In return, Ennis continued to press forward, this time behind a straight left and combinations. A huge overhand left floored Avanesyan who rose to his feet. Round five ended with Ennis landing some clean power shots that had Avanesyan looking deflated. The ringside physician called an end to the fight after the conclusion of round five.

After the fight, Ennis agreed that he would love the opportunity to fight Terence Crawford if Crawford were to win next month, this despite not having the type of performance that he would have loved to have had after having a year-long lay-off. Eddie Hearn mentioned that he would love to have Ennis return to Philadelphia sometime in October or November if the Crawford fight can’t be made in a possible unification fight.

Other Bouts

After three pedestrian rounds, what sounded like it would be a grudge match between Jahlil Hackett (9-0, 7 KOs) and Pete Dobson (16-2) finally turned into a fight in the fourth. With both fighters finally warming up, Hackett used his jab to continue to work his way inside to land power combinations. Dobson was forced to back up into the ropes and take shots after a large lump formed on his forehead above his left eye.

The action settled down after the sixth round with Hackett taking total control. He continued to work behind an educated jab that stunted any offensive attack that Dobson tried to muster. After all ten rounds, two of the judges saw the fight 97-93, while the third had it 96-94 all in favor of Jahlil Hackett.

Skye Nicolson (11-0, 1 KO), the 2020 Tokyo Olympian and current WBC featherweight champion, utilized her skills in every way to defeat Dayan Vargas (18-2, 12 KOs). All three judges scored the fight 100-90 after Nicolson completed the shutout in dominating fashion through her command of range with a sharp jab and lateral movement. Moving forward unification fights and a possible move up in weight may force Nicolson to face the type of opposition that could make for more entertaining fights in the future.

Light heavyweight action kicked off the main portion of the DAZN telecast. Jersey City native Khalil Coe (9-0-1, 7 KOs) made short work of Kwame Ritter (11-2). After an uneventful first round, Coe started to close the distance to start the second round and as a result he landed a hard straight right that hurt Ritter. A left hook dropped Ritter and he fell backwards into the ropes. When he got up, Coe was able to swarm him with hard shots and the referee called a halt to the action with just one second remaining in the second round.

Former world title challenger Christopher “Pitufu” Diaz (29-4, 19 KOs) made quick work of the game but clearly overmatched Derlyn Hernandez (12-2-1). A short-left hook hurt Hernandez and the seasoned Diaz took his time applying the follow-up pressure that forced the referee to wave off the action at the 2:36 mark of the second round. Diaz stated prior to this comeback fight that he’s looking for one more run towards a world title.

Christian Carto (23-1, 17 KO’s) looked impressive in three rounds of action against Carlos Buitrago (38-14, 22 KOs). Both fighters were happy to exchange from the opening bell. Carto took the punches he was hit with well and was able to return fire with combinations that caught and dropped Buitrago to start round three. A series of well-placed power combinations hurt Buitrago as the round came to an end, which prompted the referee to stop the bout at the end of the round.

A pair of Boots Promotions fighters kicked off the night with entertaining bouts:

It took all six rounds to decide the Ismail Muhammad (5-0, 1 KOs) Frank Brown (3-5-2) fight. Brown pressed the action early and caught the cold Muhammad in an exchange knocking him down for the first time in his career. Muhammad rose to his feet and proceeded to work the gameplan to get himself back into the fight. Muhammad scored his own knockdown in the fourth round and finished the fight strong to earn the unanimous decision victory by scores of 58-54 twice and 57-55.

Dennis Thompson (1-0) won his professional debut at bantamweight with a unanimous decision over the game Fernando Valdez (1-8).

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