Yafai sets sights on world title unification

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Kal Yafai hopes victory over Suguru Muranaka on Saturday will catapult himself into a world title unification clash later this year.

The Briton will make a first defence of his WBA world super-flyweight title against Japan’s Muranaka at the Barclaycard Arena in Birmingham on Saturday.

If Yafai (21-0, 14 KOs) keeps his unbeaten record intact this weekend, he wants to meet the winner of the Sept. 30 rematch between Thailand’s Wisaksil Wangek (43-4-1, 39 KOs) and Roman Gonzalez (46-1, 38 KOs), the Nicaraguan who lost the WBC title on a huge shock via a majority decision in March.

Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai exchange punchs during their Championship fight for Gonzalez’s WBC junior bantamweight title at Madison Square Garden on March 18, 2017 in New York City. Al Bello/Getty Images

Japan’s Naoya Inoue (12-0, 10 KOs) is the other main player in one of boxing’s most competitive divisions and he defends his WBO belt against Mexican Ricardo Rodriguez (16-3, 5 KOs) on May 21.

“It was a close fight and I hope Gonzalez wins the rematch so hopefully we can then get it on,” Yafai told ESPN.

“Whenever Inoue and Gonzalez are ready, I’m here and they are more than welcome to come to England to defend their titles. It’s a very competitive division with some big names and there are some big fights out there for me. I’m ready for these sort of fights now.”

Yafai earned a unanimous points decision over Luis Concepcion to lift his first world title belt in Manchester in December.

The 27-year-old, whose brother Gafal also fights on Saturday’s bill, admits he knows little about Muranaka (25-2-1, 8 KOs).

“I’m fighting back at home as the first world champion from the city in over 100 years and bringing world championship boxing back to the Barclaycard Arena [formerly the NIA] which I want to turn into my fortress,” Yafai said.

“I don’t know a great deal about him but what I do know is that he’s a tough guy who throws a lot of punches. He’s undefeated in 11 years and he’s going to be confident.

“He will try to put a lot of pressure on me and put me on the back foot. He’s used to boxing in Japan and the atmosphere in Birmingham will be different, so hopefully that will work well for me.”

Yafai’s family came from Yemen to settle in Britain like his hero Naseem Hamed, the entertaining world featherweight champion from 1995 to 2000. “I used to love watching Naz, coming from a Yemeni background myself like him. He was a hero for all of us British-Yemenis,” Yafai said.

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