Akira Yaegashi vs. Roman Gonzalez: Preview and Prediction for Title Fight

Briggs SeekinsFeatured ColumnistAugust 31, 2014

Akira Yaegashi vs. Roman Gonzalez: Preview and Prediction for Title Fight

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    Shizuo Kambayashi/Associated Press

    This Friday in Tokyo, WBC and lineal flyweight champion Akira Yaegashi defends his title against Roman Gonzalez, as the undefeated Nicaraguan superstar makes a bid to become a world champion in his third division. 

    Gonzalez is one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world, ranked No. 9 by The Ring. Fighters in the lowest divisions rarely get the respect they deserve, but Gonzalez is a special case who should break out and garner bigger recognition with the media and fans. 

    But first he's got to claim a title at 112 pounds. And he'll have to do it on the road, in front of the champion's home crowd. 

Tale of the Tape

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    Toru Takahashi/Associated Press
    Per Boxrec     Akira Yaegashi     Roman Gonzalez
    Record:     20-3, 10 KOs     39-0, 33 KOs
    Height:     5'3.5"     5'3"
    Reach:     63.5"     63"
    Weight:     112 lbs     112 lbs
    Age:     31     27
    Stance:     Orthodox     Orthodox
    Hometown:     Yokohama, Japan     Managua, Nicaragua
    Round:     177     164

    Although he's four years younger, Gonzalez has fought nearly twice as many professional fights as Yaegashi. But due to his extremely high KO percentage, he's actually fought fewer rounds. 

    Gonzalez is moving up in weight class here, but Yaegashi's height and reach advantage is negligible. 

    The fight is taking place in Yaegashi's home country, on the other side of the planet from Gonzalez's native Nicaragua. But I'm not sure that will be much of a factor for the experienced, two-division world champion.

Main Storylines

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    Jeff Bottari /Getty Images

    In 2012, Yaegashi failed in a bid to capture the WBA and WBC strawweight titles when Kazuto Ioka beat him by unanimous decision. Yaegashi then jumped up seven pounds to flyweight and captured the WBC title from Toshiyuki Igarashi in April 2013.

    Yaegashi has defended the belt three times since, with his most notable win coming last December against the veteran former champion Edgar Sosa. Yaegashi is a talented fighter. He wouldn't be where his is in the sport otherwise.

    But even though Yaegashi is the champion, Gonzalez is the headliner in this fight. The undefeated, two-division champion is a legitimate superstar in the sport, even if his size has kept him from achieving fame on the level he deserves.

    Still, Gonzalez has begun to gain attention. He's finally broken into most pound-for-pound top-10 ratings in the past year. At 27, he should have some big years left ahead of him.

    He needs to handle his business against Yaegashi this weekend. But if he can collect that belt in a third division, the future should be bright for Gonzalez. 

Strengths

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    Jeff Bottari /Getty Images

    Roman Gonzalez is a rugged, pressure fighter with dangerous power in both hands. He uses good head movement and level changes to avoid punishment in the pocket. 

    Gonzalez is a terrific combination puncher, throwing crisp, fluid shots from a dizzying variety of angles to both the body and head. He is equally outstanding at getting off first and countering.

    Akira Yaegashi has good lateral movement on the outside. He has a strong sense of range and uses his quick feet to get out of trouble. 

    Yaegashi is an excellent counterpuncher. His hand speed is outstanding, and he does a terrific job of anticipating his opponents' punches and disrupting them. 

Weaknesses

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    Shizuo Kambayashi/Associated Press

    Roman Gonzalez is an extremely well-rounded fighter. He has no serious weaknesses that I can see. For a fighter who presses into the pocket, he avoids taking damage very well. 

    The big question mark for him at this point is how he will handle the move up in weight and how much of his power he will bring with him. The jump from strawweight, where he started, to flyweight is only seven pounds. But that's a significant percentage of body weight for a 112-pound fighter. 

    Akira Yaegashi has a tendency to lunge a little bit when he moves into an offensive posture. He'll risk catching a nasty uppercut or short overhand if he does it against Gonzalez, and that could be the beginning of the end of the fight. 

    Yaegashi also keeps his hands very low, especially on the outside, where he is comfortable. But a fighter who can match his speed and timing, like Gonzalez, could drive him backward quickly and score heavily on him when his hands are down.

Roman Gonzalez Will Win If...

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    Gonzalez needs to cut off the ring on Yaegashi and limit the champ's ability to move effectively on the outside. Yaegashi is a strong counterpuncher, so Gonzalez needs to string his punches together quickly, leaving little space for Yaegashi to get off. 

    Gonzalez is a strong body puncher, and he's going to need to use that in this fight. If he can pound at Yaegashi's torso, it should slow the champion down as the fight goes along. 

    I've seen Gonzalez use a slick lead hook to the body/lead uppercut to the head combination before. That could be a valuable tool in this fight.

    Gonzalez always does a good job letting punches go from a variety of angles. Yaegashi is a wide-open fighter defensively, and Gonzalez should be able to find openings if he keeps throwing from every angle. 

    Gonzalez should remain patient but pour on the aggression when he can hurt Yaegashi or catch him backing up.

Akira Yaegashi Will Win If...

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    Shizuo Kambayashi/Associated Press

    Akira Yaegashi is comfortable fighting on the outside and has a strong sense of distance. That's good, because he's going to need to be able to stay away from Gonzalez's onslaught. 

    Yaegashi needs to keep a busy jab and use it to slow Gonzalez's offense. Gonzalez throws heavy punches from a lot of angles, but Yaegashi is going to need to figure out some way to disrupt the challenger's flurries. 

    Yaegashi should also try to tighten up his defense a bit against Gonzalez. He's got to bring his hands back to good defensive position, or Gonzalez will start tagging him with his second, third and fourth punches in a combination. 

    Yaegashi is going to need to use a ton of movement, but he's got to be careful he's moving back at angles. If he lets Gonzalez start to push him straight backward, he'll get swarmed and overwhelmed.

Prediction

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    Jeff Bottari /Getty Images

    Akira Yaegashi is the best fighter Roman Gonzalez has faced in awhile, since probably Juan Francisco Estrada in November 2012. But I'm not convinced Yaegashi is a world-beater. There is a lot of fortuitous coincidence involved in the Japanese star ending up with a world title. 

    Yaegashi won the belt from Toshiyuki Igarashi who took it via split decision from Sonny Boy Jaro, a journeyman who happened to catch longtime champion Pongsaklek Wonjongkam at an ideal time in his descent. 

    Yaegashi turned in a nice performance last year against veteran Edgar Sosa. But Gonzalez is a clear cut above Sosa. At this point, he's earned his status as a legitimate pound-for-pound superstar. 

    Fights can be very hard to predict in the lowest weight classes, where coverage is often scant. This is Gonzalez's frst major fight at 112 pounds, but Yaegashi is a former 105-pounder himself. 

    Gonzalez is moving up in weight and has an extremely long flight in front of him before he even climbs into the room. So I am hesitant to predict a knockout, even though Gonzalez has a history as a knockout machine. 

    Still, I think he'll win by wide margins to capture a world title in his third division. He might even stop Yaegashi late. 

    The day after Gonzalez fights Yaegashi, WBA and WBO flyweight champion Juan Francisco Estrada defends his belts in Mexico City against former world champion Giovani Segura. A winner vs. winner bout following this weekend would unify three of the major belts at flyweight. 

    It just might bring some much-deserved attention to the 112-pound division.