One of the greatest in-ring action heroes of the 21st century has elected to call it a career.
Former three-division champion Akira Yaegashi has officially hung up his boxing gloves, announcing his retirement on Tuesday after 14 years in the pro ranks.
“Although I haven’t ever felt the limits of my physical strength, I’m no longer able to continue as an active boxer,” Yaegashi revealed during a video press conference, where the 37-year old from Yokohama, Japan was accompanied by promoter Hideyuki Ohashi and head trainer Koji Matsumoto. “The fans supported me, winning and losing. I couldn’t continue without your support.”
Yaegashi (28-7, 16KOs) has never disappointed on the entertainment front since turning pro in 2005. His first career title fight came just two years and seven fights into his pro career, resulting in his first defeat but also establishing his warrior spirit. Yaegashi came up well short in his June 2007 challenge of then-strawweight champion Eagle Kyowa, fighting more than 10 rounds with a dislocated Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) from a headbutt early in the fight and eventually hitting the deck in dropping a lopsided 12-round decision.
After suffering a second loss just two fights later, Yaegashi wound win eight straight along with his first major title. That moment came in his to-hell-and-back 10th round knockout of Thailand’s Pornsawan Porpramook to win the WBA strawweight title in what would land as the 2011 Fight of the Year and among the very best fights this century.
The title reign was short-lived, though lasting just long enough to create history.
Yaegashi didn’t manage a single successful title defense, losing his belt to then-unbeaten countryman and WBC 105-pound titlist Kazuto Ioka in June 2012. Their clash marked the first time ever that two reigning titlists from Japan met in a title unification clash, with the bout properly honoring the occasion in landing as one of the best fights of the year.
Neither fighter would again see strawweight, with Yaegashi moving up two weight divisions. The move reaped major dividends, dethroning countryman Toshuyki Igarashi to capture the lineal (and WBC) flyweight championship in April 2013. Three defenses followed before running into all-time great and then-unbeaten Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez, who became a three-division champion after stopping Yaegashi in the 9th round of their September 2014 clash in Tokyo.
An overly ambitious bid to capture a third divisional title instead produced a second straight defeat, as Yaegashi suffered a 7th round stoppage to Pedro Guevara in their December 2014 vacant 108-pound title fight.
The quest for triple-division title status hit paydirt exactly 52 weeks later, upending Javier Mendoza via wide unanimous decision. Yaegashi made two successful defenses before watching his title reign crash and burn in a shocking 1st round knockout loss to Milan Melindo in May 2017.
The stunning defeat prompted the first serious conversation amongst his team to strongly consider calling it career. Yaegashi instead took a lengthy break from the ring, coming back in 2018 to begin a three-fight win streak against modest competition. All three bouts took place at the junior bantamweight division, though there never arose a chance at becoming a four-division titlist.
Instead, Yaegashi would receive a shot at becoming a two-time flyweight titlist, as he emerged as the opponent of choice for long-reigning champ Moruti Mhtalane (39-2, 28KOs).
The December 2019 event marked a rare appearance on a televised medium accessible to a U.S. viewing audience. Having fought primarily on Fuji TV out of his native Japan throughout his career, Yaegashi’s title bid versus Mthalane was picked up by ESPN+.
For a few rounds, it appeared as though a chance existed of it serving as his last hurrah, boxing and utilizing far more lateral movement than his cult following had grown accustomed to witnessing in the ring. That’s not to say the bout was without its slugfest potential, as plenty of two-way exchanges ensued through the first six rounds. Mthalane took over for good in round seven, with an accumulation of punches forcing referee Mario Gonzalez to intervene at 2:54 of round nine.
It turned out to be last call for Yaegashi, although he plans to contribute to the sport and his community in plenty of other ways. He currently owns a restaurant along with serving as a mentor both as a boxer and a fitness guru to the next generation of Japanese athletes.
Yaegashi will remain engaged in the two entities which served him well throughout his unforgettable career. He will continue to train fighters at the Ohashi Boxing Gym along with serving as ringside expert analyst on the Fuji TV boxing broadcast team.
“I will take the first step in a new life,” Yaegashi gleefully declared.
For those with a vote, Yaegashi becomes eligible to appear on the International Boxing Hall of Fame ballot in 2022.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox