Asian scene: Taguchi wins light-fly unification
In Marcus Bellinger's latest round-up, wins for Ryoichi Taguchi, Hiroto Kyoguchi, Naoya Inoue and Ken Shiro were among the most significant action in Asia in December...
Mark John Yap retained his OPBF bantamweight title for the second time as he recorded a tenth-round stoppage over Seizo Kono in Osaka on 3 December.
On the same day, also in Osaka, a crossroads battle of once touted prospects Kazuki Tanaka and Hikaru Marugame saw the former overcome the latter via seventh-round stoppage.
After his world title defeat to Kal Yafai in May, Suguru Muranaka returned to take on Ken Achiwa at the Korakuen Hall on 6 December. Muranaka scored a knockdown in the opening stanza but was then drawn in to an all-out war and after eight rounds the knockdown proved to be the difference with all three cards reading 76-75 to Muranaka.
Super flyweight Aston Palicte moved closer to a world title shot as he took out former world title challenger Jose Alfredo Rodriguez in five rounds on 8 December in Texas. It was a crunching uppercut to the body that brought a halt to proceedings and capped off an excellent display from the Filipino who got rid of Rodriguez quicker than Jerwin Ancajas and Kazuto Ioka.
Kenichi Ogawa pulled off a sizable upset in claiming a split decision over Tevin Farmer for the vacant IBF super featherweight belt in Los Vegas on 9 December. Ogawa got off to a positive start in the opening round before Farmer’s superior speed, movement and skill set took over for the rest of the first half of the bout.
Ogawa finally had some more success, landing the right hand in the seventh and it was the man from Japan who was trying to make a fight of it until the final bell. Farmer looked to have done enough despite coasting for much of the second half of the contest but it was Ogawa who prevailed with cards of 116-112, 115-113 cancelling out a 116-112 tally for Farmer. The verdict caused a huge amount of debate with many thinking that Farmer was robbed whilst others favoured the come forward approach of Ogawa.
Undefeated prospect Masayoshi Hashizume faced his biggest test in a while as he was up against Kota Fujimoto in Osaka on 10 December. Hashizume was in charge for the first couple of rounds before being put down in the third and after eight rounds he had clung on for a majority draw with score totals of 77-77, 76-76 and 77-75 to Fujimoto. It’s clear that facing a string of Thai novices has stunted the growth of Hashizume and going forward he needs to be matched far more appropriately.
Mark Anthony Barriga chalked up his eighth straight victory as a professional, winning a ten-round unanimous decision versus Glenne Calacar at the Makati Cinema Square Arena in Metro Manila on 16 December. Barriga scored a knockdown in round four but was happy to box his way through the rest of the encounter and won by scores of 97-92 (twice) and 98-91. The 24-year-old is set for a big 2018 with a world title eliminator a distinct possibility and a tilt at a world strap certainly not out of the question.
Genesis Servania put his loss to Oscar Valdez behind him as he blew away a Thai foe in just 37 seconds in Ishikawa on 17 December. Hiroki Okada moved a step closer to a potential world title shot as he recorded a sixth-round stoppage over Jason Pagara for the vacant WBO Asia Pacific 140lbs belt at the Korakuen Hall on 19 December. After coming in overweight and being beaten comprehensively Pagara is at a real crossroads in his career whilst Okada should be in line for a world title eliminator some time in 2018.
TJ Doheny put himself in the mandatory position for Ryosuke Iwasa’s IBF super-bantamweight strap by taking a 12-round split decision over Mike Tawatchai in Thailand on 20 December. The scores were 117-111, 116-112 and 113-115.
Hinata Maruta bounced back from his loss to Hidenori Otake on 21 December as he won via first-round KO over a Thai debutant in Thailand.
Vijender Singh capped off a solid 2017, winning a shutout ten-round decision over Ernest Amuzu at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaypur on 23 December.
Reiya Konishi retained his Japanese strawweight title, claiming a lopsided points victory over Kenta Matsui in Kobe on Boxing Day. The judges' totals read 99-90 twice and 99-92 and Konishi has stated his intentions to vacate the belt and pursue a world title crack up at light flyweight.
The main post-Christmas action from Japan began at the Bunka Gym in Yokohama on 30 December as Naoya Inoue and Ken Shiro blasted out their overmatched foes to retain their respective world titles.
Inoue brutally dismantled Yoan Boyeaux in three rounds in what was his last defence of his WBO super-flyweight strap. The Frenchman attempted to box on the outside in the opening round but, after a fairly quiet three minutes, Inoue detonated a big right hand and then a beauty of a left hook dropped the challenger hard with the bell coming just in time.
Having felt the power, Boyeaux wanted no part of Inoue and played keep away in round two whilst the champion hunted down his pray. A sickening body shot saw Boyeaux take a knee early on in round three and, despite his brave efforts to continue, two knockdowns later and a relentless drubbing of the midsection brought proceedings to a halt and Inoue had prevailed in emphatic fashion.
After his failure to entice any of the other top fighters at 115lbs to face him, Inoue is now moving up to bantamweight and has Zolani Tete in his sights in what would be a fascinating encounter.
Click here to watch Inoue vs Boyeaux
Shiro got the impressive performance he desired on his terrestrial TV debut as he took out Gilberto Pedroza in four rounds to retain his WBC 108lbs strap. The champion was happy to fight at range in the opening stanza as the challenger swung for the fences but was made to miss wildly.
Shiro began to target the body in round two and open up more offensively and this continued into the third as the man from Japan really began to show off his full array of combinations. A counter right hand shook Pedroza early on in the fourth before the Panamanian was down from a cracking body shot. A follow-up attack saw the contest come to a finish and the BMB Gym fighter had really shined to viewers in Japan who were seeing him for the first time.
2017 has been a breakout year for Shiro after scoring high level wins over Ganigan Lopez and Pedro Guevara and hopefully he will be given more live TV appearances in 2018.
Click here to watch Shiro vs Pedroza
Also on the Ohashi bill, Satoshi Shimizu scored multiple knockdowns on the way to a seventh-round stoppage win over Eduardo Mancito to retain his OPBF featherweight crown for the first time and Takuma Inoue won a ten-round decision over Kentaro Masuda by scores of 98-92, 97-93 and 96-94.
Attention then switched to Tokyo on New Year’s Eve as a light-flyweight unification between Ryoichi Taguchi and Milan Melindo headlined a world title triple header from the Ota-City General Gymnasium.
Melindo looked sharp from the off and narrowly edged the first couple of rounds. Taguchi began to find his range in round three before the first of a number of head clashes left Melindo cut. After an untidy fourth Taguchi built on his success in the fifth, especially with the right hand, before Melindo responded well in the sixth as things were warming up nicely with it all to play for going into the second half.
Taguchi then took control over the next two rounds, using his extra height and reach to great effect and Melindo was becoming more and more frustrated, possibly as a result of the cuts. After a scrappy ninth which Melindo may have just took, Taguchi went up another gear in the last three rounds as we were treated to some fabulous toe-to-toe action as both men poured out their last reserves.
Although at times the contest was messy, there were enough thrilling exchanges to make it a captivating affair and at the final bell the right man was declared the winner with Taguchi taking a unanimous decision with scores of 117-111 twice and 116-112.
Next up for the now unified champion is a clash with South African Hekkie Budler which should take place sometime in the first half of 2018. Despite the loss, 2017 was a memorable year for the Filipino who can certainly come again in a crowded 108lbs division.
Click here to watch Taguchi vs Melindo
Sho Kimura defended his WBO flyweight strap for the first time against mandatory challenger Toshiyuki Igarashi. The challenger got off to a bright start as he outboxed the champion over the first two stanzas. Kimura’s aggression finally had an impact in round three with body shots slowing down the legs of Igarashi whose eyes were showing visible signs of damage after round four.
Igarashi managed to create some space for himself and make Kimura miss in round five, but the Teiken southpaw was soon dragged back into a close quarters battle in round six. Despite fleeting moments of success Igarashi was now being broken down by a relentless Kimura and after narrowly surviving round eight things eventually came to an end in round nine with Igarashi being saved by the referee.
Kimura is one of the more remarkable and overlooked stories of 2017, having caused one of the biggest upsets by defeating Zou Shiming in China and backing it up with a victory over a former world champion who had never been stopped before - the 29-year-old is now a significant figure at 112lbs. Igarashi, meanwhile, subsequently announced his retirement.
Click here to watch Kimura vs Igarashi
Hiroto Kyoguchi made a real statement in stopping talented Nicaraguan Carlos Buitrago in his first defense of his IBF strawweight bauble. Kyoguchi was immediately on the front foot taking the fight to Buitrago who was landing but simply didn’t have the power to prevent the champion from continuing to march forward.
After four rounds Buitrago needed to change the pattern of the fight but Kyoguchi never relented and was landing with more and more regularity with hard hooks and uppercuts. Buitrago was becoming more and more ragged and it was now only a matter of time until Kyoguchi got the stoppage and in round eight the referee rightly intervened.
One last piece of news emerged on New Year’s Eve as Kazuto Ioka officially announced his retirement just before midnight local time. The announcement had been long rumoured due to a major falling out between Ioka and his father. It ends the career of one of Japan's biggest boxing stars from the last five years and Ioka regularly headlined shows in Osaka, pulled in big live crowds and TV audiences and was one of the main spearheads of the now regular end of year cards from the land of the rising sun.
Now on to the early fight schedule for 2018 and Jorge Linares and Lucas Matthysse headline a bill from the Forum in California on 27 January although neither bout looks appealing on paper. Linares aims to keep his lightweight trinket against Mercito Gester who at one point was highly touted but has done nothing to justify those claims. The Filipino was widely outpointed in his previous world title attempt by Miguel Vazquez back in December 2012 and at 30 this could be his last shot at the big time. Matthysse faces Teerachai Kratingdaenggym who is taking a giant leap up in class despite his glossy looking 38-0 record and the 25-year-old Thai hasn’t previously beaten anyone near the calibre of the heavy-handed Argentinian.
Jerwin Ancajas enjoyed a fruitful 2017, scoring three knockouts on the road and his feats saw him earn a two-year six-fight deal with promotional powerhouse Top Rank. His first fight for the US outfit comes on 3 February from the Bank of America Center, Corpus Christi, Texas when he faces Israel Gonzalez. The defending IBF 115lbs champion should have few issues with his Mexican challenger, whose best victory on paper was against a completely faded Ramon Garcia Hirales.
The next day sees a homecoming for explosive flyweight king Daigo Higa who squares off against Moises Fuentes for the former’s WBC flyweight title in Okinawa. Higa lived up to the lofty expectations placed upon him by many in 2017 and the 22-year-old is aiming to equal the Japanese record of consecutive KOs set by Tsuyoshi Hamada which stands at 15.
After a brief reign as WBO strawweight champion, which included a KO win to bring down the curtain on the career of Ivan Calderon, Fuentes moved up three pounds north and held Donnie Nietes to a draw in March 2013. He was then hammered in nine rounds by Nietes in their May 2014 rematch and on the last day of 2016 the Mexican was destroyed in five rounds by Kosei Tanaka in five rounds for the vacant WBO 108lbs belt. The 30-year-old avenged a split decision loss to Ulises Lara but going up against Higa who is without doubt one of the most destructive fighters in the game looks an impossible task.
Ryo Matsumoto finally gets a shot at world hardware when he faces super bantamweight titlist Daniel Roman at the Korakuen Hall on 28 February. The hard hitting Ohashi southpaw has overcome hyperthyroidism, avenged his only loss and is now chomping at the bit to prove his credentials at the world class level and a win would open up a number of intriguing all-Japanese dust-ups. For Roman it’s a return to the scene of his biggest triumph when he broke down Shun Kubo in nine rounds and he’ll be brimming with confidence when he heads off to the land of the rising sun.
The rematch for the WBC bantamweight title between Luis Nery and Shinsuke Yamanaka has been set for the Kokugikan in Tokyo on 1 March. Nery travelled to Japan last August and snatched the title away from the long reigning champion but then failed a drugs test. A subsequently investigation from the WBC allowed the Mexican to retain his title as an intake of tainted meat was given as the reason for the failed test however, this explanation drew much cynicism from many fans.
A second world title bout on the bill sees Ryosuke Iwasa defend his IBF 122lbs trinket for the first time against Ernesto Saulong. Iwasa will be aiming to build on a career best display which saw him emphatically snatch the title away from Yukinori Oguni last September. Saulong has had some decent wins on the Filipino circuit but the 28-year-old simply hasn’t fought at this level but sparring in the build up with Jerwin Ancajas should help him.
Stay tuned for my 'ones to watch' article very soon in which I identify five Asian fighters to keep an eye on in 2018.