March 1, 2018. Tokyo, Japan. Tonight, Luis Nery defeated Shinsuke Yamanaka in their rematch at the Ryogokukokugikan stadium in Tokyo by a second round TKO. The fight was initially meant to be for the WBA bantamweight title but Nery, failing to make weight, forced his victory to effectively be ruled null and void. The fight was surrounded in controversy before it even begun and ended with a bang as Nery’s power and speed blew the aged Yamanaka away.
The fight was scheduled for twelve rounds but by the end of the first, Yamanaka was in danger and barely made it out on his feet. He was felled once but it was ruled a slip. Seconds later he was down again. The second round got much, much worse as he was downed three more times before the referee put a stop to the fight. Nery was stronger, sharper, and was on another level in terms of brutality. Shortly after the fight was over, Yamanaka announced that this was his last endeavor into the square circle; a vicious end to a decorated career. Nery, on the other hand said he would stay in the bantamweight division and issued something that resembled an apology to Yamanaka in the post-fight press conference. Why would Nery need to be apologetic? The reasons are as follows.
It started before the fight when Nery had managed to thoroughly get under Yamanaka’s skin on both the previous day’ weigh-in and the morning of the fight itself. At Wednesday’s weigh-in, Nery vacated the belt he was meant to be fighting for by default as he came in a whole 2.3 kilograms (5.07lbs) over the maximum weight. If Nery’s plan was to destabilize Yamanaka, it worked as he was seen crying before heading back to his changing room. Crying over your opponent not making weight may seem excessive, but considering the context, one could easily empathize with him. Firstly, had Yamanaka beaten Nery in their first fight, he would have equaled the record for the Japanese fighter with the most successful defenses of a world title. He had to first deal with that disappointment only to then learn after the defeat that Nery had tested positive for a banned substance. The WBA did not void the result of the fight but instead ordered the rematch. As if that wasn’t bad enough, by not making the weight and by being so excessively over the limit, Yamanaka must have taken this as a blatant sign of disrespect. By coming in at more than five pounds overweight Nery had an unbelievable weight advantage. So much so that conspiracy theorists could hypothesize that Nery had perhaps made a decision to exchange the belt for a huge weight advantage thereby gaining the win and taking the purse. He would have known that Yamanaka would have felt the pressure to go ahead with the fight as it was being held in his homeland of Japan and because of the big build up here. It is also worth remembering that Yamanaka, even prior to the first Nery fight, would have had retirement on his mind. To add insult to injury, at an additional weigh-in that was held the morning of the day of the fight, Nery strolled in-front of the media looking smug holding a Starbucks Frappuccino and New York cheesecake.
Sporting fans in Japan are on the whole extremely, well, sporting. But as Nery entered the ring tonight, the boos rang out loud. This was because it was a generally accepted consensus that Nery had been disrespectful in the extreme when his opponent throughout his career has shown nothing but grace. Nery will go home happy that he ‘got the job done’, but you would hope that he takes away some understanding that he has lost a lot of moral credibility in the process by tainting the career of a great fighter with two controversial victories. For those fans who believe in winning at all costs, there is nothing to be debated. But for those of us that believe sport should and also needs to be about more than that, then tonight’s fight, as exhilarating as it was, left an unnecessarily bitter taste in the mouth, and for that reason, congratulations is a difficult word to utter in the presence of Luis Nery at this time.
In the meantime, Shinsuke, we bid you Farewell. You were a credit to the sport you dedicated your life to.
Photo Credit: Rishad Marquardt