Yafai hoping win leads to title defense in U.S.

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Junior bantamweight world titleholder Kal Yafai has a mandatory defense against Sho Ishida staring him in the face Saturday, but he cannot help himself to think about what might be next, which is a potentially much bigger fight.

England’s Yafai will fight Ishida on the undercard of unified heavyweight titleholder Anthony Joshua’s mandatory defense against Carlos Takam at Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, but he says he believes a victory will lead him to a major fight in the United States on HBO, which has invested heavily in the junior bantamweight division, also known as the super flyweight division.

“I know what I’m up against and have to do on Saturday,” Yafai said. “I try not to think about possible big fights in America at this stage. I know they are within touching distance, but I have a job to do beforehand, which is my obvious priority. HBO have invested in the super flys and look set to continuing doing so.

“I’ve always wanted to fight in America. I’m potentially just one fight away from doing so now. I live the life, and I’ll be doing everything in my power I retain my title.”

Because of its association with former pound-for-pound king and four-division world champion Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, HBO got into the 115-pound division business when he moved up from flyweight last fall.

On Sept. 9, HBO put on a tripleheader of fights in the division, dubbing the card “Superfly.” In the main event, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai knocked out Gonzalez in the fourth round to retain his world title, a rematch of Sor Rungvisai’s controversial decision win March 18. Also on the September card, Japanese sensational Naoya Inoue made his United States debut and retained his version of the title by sixth-round knockout of Antonio Nieves, and former unified flyweight titlist Juan Francisco Estrada outpointed former junior bantamweight titleholder Carlos Cuadras in a close title elimination bout to earn a mandatory shot at Sor Rungvisai.

The show was a hit for HBO and at the gate at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, and the network is formulating plans for a “Superfly II” card as soon as February.

With a win Saturday, Yafai (22-0, 14 KOs), 28, very well could make an appearance on that card and defend against Nicaraguan legend Gonzalez (46-2, 38 KOs).

“It was a bit surprising to me that Rungvisai done the double over Gonzalez,” Yafai said, referring to Sor Rungvisai winning both fights against him. “It was a great show. Hopefully, I’ll deal with Ishida and then get involved in the next ‘Superfly’ card.”

It seems like a good bet because his promoter, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, has started doing business with HBO in recent months. But first Yafai wants to put on a good performance against Ishida (24-0, 13 KOs), 25, of Japan.

“I’m excited to fight on such a huge card and show my skills. I can’t wait now,” Yafai said. “I’ve put a lot of work into my training as always. I’ve been training for about 12 weeks now. It’s been gym, eat, sleep and repeat, so we’re fully focused on the job at hand.”

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