It’s time for Kal Yafai to twist in a sticky division
Yafai is Britain’s current longest-reigning champion but is yet to enjoy a career-defining moment.
Kal Yafai recorded the fifth defence of his WBA super flyweight crown last night at the Dunkin Donuts Center, Providence, with Norbelto Jimenez the latest name to be added to the Briton’s list of underwhelming victims.
Since claiming the vacant world title against Luis Concepcion in 2016, Yafai has struggled to land that big fight in the division, settling for a string of opponents with a limited threat at the 115-pound limit. Outings in Cardiff, Fresno, and Monte Carlo have underlined Yafai’s relative obscurity on the world stage as a titlist, with the 30-year-old looking to twist in the super flyweight division at the end of this year.
An incident-ridden defence on Saturday night saw Yafai land a 119-107, 118-108, 117-109 decision against a game Jimenez who was on the wrong end of a couple of low blows throughout the fight. A cut to the head of Yafai in the early stages of the fifth round — due to an accidental clash of heads — was enough to ignite the challenger’s fire through the middle stages, who, without any real game plan, was able to frustrate the attacks of Yafai making the champion look a little ugly at times.
Yafai’s reluctance to stick behind his jab in a controlled manner is a testament to the path he wants his career to take next. The unbeaten West Midlander was looking for a statement win from the opening bell tonight, constantly holding his feet and seeking a left hook finish, much to the disappointment of his conservative corner.
Despite loading up in the fight, Yafai’s conditioning allowed a continuous pace to be deployed throughout the championship distance. The champion was still seeking the stoppage in the final round which saw Jimenez dropped (or thrown) by a questionable left hook — it would end up being nothing more than a footnote in a fight that was a frustrating watch for all involved.
Yafai is now looking to springboard his name into the conversation of “big fights” at super flyweight, with plenty of names drawing significant interest.
“It wasn’t easy, fighting in front of a very hostile crowd,” stated Yafai. “I have a bone to pick with Eddie Hearn, my promoter. He put my fight in the United States for the second time. I am fighting in Providence, but little did I know that it is full of Dominicans!”
“I won easily, now on to the big fight,” Yafai went on to express. “I want Estrada, Rungvisai, Chocolatito, Ancajas, Ioka. Those kinds of guys have to be next.”
With Matchroom USA announcing the signing of Juan Francisco Estrada this weekend, a unification bout on DAZN looks the most likely route for Yafai. Yafai’s hometown, Birmingham, has generally been regarded as the second city of the United Kingdom, but despite this, the 30-year-old hasn’t got that diehard fanbase to fall back on. The lure of a US unification will probably take precedence over attempting to bring one of the super flyweight stars to British soil.
With Srisaket Sor Rungvisai also under the Matchroom banner, a fight with the 47-5-1 Thai warrior would also gain significant interest worldwide, as well as proving straightforward to make. However, since losing his titles to “El Gallo” in April this year, Rungvisai is an unnecessary risk for Yafai to take currently, as he looks to dip his toes in the deeper 115-pound waters.
Until Yafai makes this expected step up, it’s hard to gauge where he sits amongst the bustling super flyweight division. The vulnerabilities shown against his mandatory challenger last night may well be enough to open the door in late 2019, with the next 18 months sure to define Kal’s career.