Japan's fighter of year: Yamanaka

Bantamweight titlist Shinsuke Yamanaka has never fought outside of his home country of Japan and certainly isn't a well-known figure to American boxing fans, but he is one of the best 118-pounders in the world.

The 31-year-old Yamanaka (20-0-2, 15 KOs), a southpaw, has made five title defenses since knocking out Mexico's Christian Esquivel in the 11th round in November 2011. In 2012, in his first two defenses, Yamanaka outpointed Vic Darchinyan and knocked out Tomas Rojas, both former junior bantamweight titleholders.

Yamanaka made three more defenses in 2013, knockouts of Malcolm Tunacao, Jose Nieves and Alberto Guevara. It was a strong year for Yamanaka, who this week was selected jointly by the Japan Boxing Commission and the Japanese boxing writers as the Japanese Boxer of the Year for 2013. He received 21 of the 34 total votes for the award.

Junior lightweight titlist Takashi Uchiyama (21-0-1, 17 KOs), who made two of his eight defenses in 2013, was the runner-up (11 votes). He knocked out Jaider Parra in the fifth round in May and then survived a 10th-round knockout to easily outpoint Daiki Kanenko on New Year's Eve in Tokyo.

Kazuto Ioka (14-0, 9 KOs), the outstanding junior flyweight titlist, was third (2 votes), coming off a 2013 in which he made three successful defenses after winning his belt in late 2012.

Several other awards were handed out, including rookie of the year, which went to middleweight Ryota Murata (2-0, 2 KOs), the 2012 Olympic gold medalist, who turned pro in August. We should see him in the United States at some point because he is co-promoted by Top Rank.

The Japanese fight of the year award went to Uchiyama-Kaneko.