Kal Yafai: ‘I’m not far away from the really big fights’
Earlier this month, Kal Yafai’s exceptional world title victory was unfortunately lost in the heavyweight fog of Anthony Joshua battering the hapless Eric Molina into submission and the subsequent hype surrounding AJ’s forthcoming superfight with Wladimir Klitschko.
Yafai, who is rated No. 6 by THE RING at junior bantamweight, picked up the vacant WBA 115-pound title on a stacked undercard. He posted an emphatic 12-round unanimous decision over Luis Concepcion and, to this reporter, who was ringside that night in Manchester, England, turned in the performance of the night.
Unbeaten in 21 fights and a former British and Commonwealth champion, Yafai was ascending levels to face an experienced operator who was determined to test him to the full. Concepcion had missed weight and lost his world title on the scales but the teak-tough Panamanian ventured to England with the sole intention of bursting Yafai’s perfect fistic bubble. He never came close.
“We knew he was going to walk on to punches but we had to be careful and avoid what was coming back,” Yafai told RingTV.com. “That’s just the kind of fighter Concepcion is; he’ll take one to give one. The main thing was to get into position to land like I did and then spoil his work, so he couldn’t land anything.
“There was only two ways that fight was going to go: If I didn’t perform, it was going to be a hard night where I won by the skin of my teeth, or if I did perform, it was going to be an easy night where I won by a wide decision. Luckily, I followed the game plan and the fight went exactly as I expected it to.”
Due to scheduling issues on the U.K. pay-per-view telecast, Yafai’s post-fight interview was dumped and it was somewhat disconcerting to watch the young fighter humbly make his way back to the dressing room moments after realizing a life’s work.
The traditional post-fight pageantry had been ignored but although he felt a touch slighted, the journey is just beginning for the sharp-shooting boxer-puncher. Yafai hails from Birmingham and he is the city’s very first world champion. Next up is likely to be a title scrap on home ground and then the sky is the limit.
“We’ll be looking to have a homecoming title defense at the end of April or the beginning of May,” revealed Yafai. “I’m really looking forward to that and I’m looking forward to getting back in the gym and working hard. The main goal now is to defend this world title successfully.
“I’m not far away from the really big fights. I can see me having a defense or two and then we’ll be looking at the biggest names available. I’ve got a brilliant promoter behind me (Matchroom Boxing) and brilliant TV (Sky Sports in the U.K.). We just need to see if these guys are willing to travel to the U.K. and I’m sure they will be. I’d love to fight in America but money is a big factor. It depends on the terms and the money involved. I’ll leave that all down to my team and see what they come up with.”
So what “guys” are Yafai talking about? The latest British world titleholder didn’t expand, so I thought it appropriate to prompt him by mentioning the great Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, who currently holds the WBC belt. Despite having a sense of himself and his own prospective value as a prizefighter, Yafai was quick to heap praise on the unbeaten Nicaraguan superstar.
“Gonzalez is a brilliant fighter,” said Yafai with respect. “You don’t become the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world for nothing. He’s brilliant and that’s someone I’d love to share the ring with in the future.
“I watched him fight Edgar Sosa in L.A. and I couldn’t believe how many Gonzalez fans there were. It was brilliant to see the Americans get behind him and he’s building a great fan base over there. If I can do that over here, then there are some huge fights to be made. It’s coming together all over the world in this weight division. It’s always been powerful in Asia and places like that but with Gonzalez fighting on HBO, everyone is taking notice.”
Asia’s top junior bantamweight is undoubtedly Naoya Inoue who, after only 11 fights, is already a two-division world titleholder. Was Yafai as flattering when it came to Japan’s leading 115-pounder, who also happens to be the reigning WBO junior bantamweight titleholder? Well, not quite.
“I was at the same (amateur) world championships as Inoue in 2011,” he said. “He was a light flyweight at that time and I was a flyweight. I know all about him and he’s a really good fighter.
“I just want to see how he performs in a big fight because the only name on his record is Omar Narvaez and he was almost 40 years old at the time. A lot of people are going on about Inoue but even though he looks like a talent, we need to see him in against a top opponent. I’m interested to see how he performs against Kohei Kono at the end of the month. To be honest, I think he stops him but then again, I’ve never really rated Kono.”
It’s all systems go for the uber-confident Yafai, who finds himself in a terrific position. The junior bantamweight division is currently hailed as one of the very best in the sport and that is a rarity. No longer are these little men confined to specific continents or countries. As Yafai himself hinted, the 115-pound weight class has gone global and fans are sure to be the beneficiaries of this exciting new change.
The new WBA junior bantamweight titleholder is only too happy to join in but only after he has enjoyed the holidays.
“I’m well over the 115-pound mark right now,” laughed Yafai. “Hopefully I stay in the 100s.”
Tom Gray is a U.K. Correspondent/ Editor for RingTV.com and a member of THE RING ratings panel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Gray_Boxing
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