Kal Yafai is ready for Suguru Muranaka, wants Roman Gonzalez
Just prior to Christmas, Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn wrapped a nice bow around WBA junior bantamweight titleholder Luis Concepcion and delivered him to unbeaten British star Kal Yafai.
Concepcion, from Panama, had, in fact lost, his title on the scales after coming in 2 ½ pounds over the 115-pound limit but Yafai was focused on the job at hand. He dutifully dazzled his veteran opponent with a virtuoso display to claim the vacant title via 12-round unanimous decision.
On Saturday, Yafai, who is rated No. 6 by THE RING at 115 pounds, takes on Suguru Muranaka in a hometown defense at the Barclaycard Center in Birmingham, England. Yafai (21-0, 14 knockouts) is heavily favored to defeat the Japanese challenger but insists that the 8-to-1 odds in his favor have not blunted his ambition or drive.
“I’m working even harder now,” said Yafai in an interview with RingTV.com. “It’s very hard to win the world title but it’s even harder to keep it. That’s why I’m training as hard as I can to make sure I stay at the top.
“It feels good being champion because I’ve achieved a lifelong goal. Not only that but I proved a lot of people wrong. When I first turned pro, there were a lot of people banking on me becoming a world champion but there were also a lot of people who thought I was a hype job.”
Yafai, a former amateur standout, who competed at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, is most certainly not a product of hype. He is a mobile boxer-puncher with quick hands and excellent variety. The 27-year-old is also a student of the game and diligently studies opposition in the lead up to fights.
“Muranaka looks tough and very aggressive,” said Yafai when asked for the lowdown on his next opponent. “He’s only got one game plan and that’s to put pressure on you and smother you for 12 rounds. That suits me fine, though.
“I’ll take the fight one round at a time and we’ll see what’s working. If I have to box the sh*t out of him all night, then I will. I don’t have any problem doing the exact same thing I did with Concepcion. However, if I see an opening, and he’s vulnerable, I will take him out.”
Muranaka (25-2-1, 8 KOs), ranked No. 10 by the WBA, is accustomed to fighting at home. All 28 of his professional contests have taken place at the same venue, the famed Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, against predominantly Japanese opposition.
“It’ll be a bit different in Birmingham,” laughed Yafai. “Not only is he coming to my hometown but it’s the first time that there’s ever been world championship boxing in the city. It’ll probably be very noisy and it could be intimidating for him.
“We’ll see how Muranaka deals with it. Some boxers deal with traveling and take it in their stride. I suppose if he doesn’t speak a word of English, he might think all the fans are cheering for him. Honestly, though, he’s probably going to come out and ask himself, ‘What the hell have I got myself into?’”
The last time I spoke to Yafai, he provided me with a detailed insight into the top practitioners in the junior bantamweight division. Since then, Roman Gonzalez, THE RING’s former pound-for-pound No. 1 fighter, lost his unbeaten record and WBC 115-pound title to snow-white underdog Srisaket Sor Rungvisai by majority decision.
“It was a great fight to watch,” said Yafai in earnest. “It could have gone either way but I though Gonzalez nicked it. I also thought that being the big name, being the champion and fighting on HBO would mean that Gonzalez would get the decision in a close fight. As I understand it, they’re having a rematch (reportedly Sept. 30 at The Forum in Inglewood, California) and I would favor Gonzalez to win next time.
“Despite the loss, Gonzalez remains the biggest name in the division. With myself, I can beat Muranaka on Saturday night and casual fans will say it was just another fight. With Gonzalez, he’s one of the top pound-for-pound fighters out there, plus there’s a lot more money involved. I’m hoping he wins the rematch because that’s the fight I want.”
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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