By Jake Donovan
Japan has yet to play host to its first sanctioned IBF title fight, but Katsunari Takayama remains on a quest to become the second from his nation to win such a crown.
The strawweight contender embarks on his fifth consecutive road trip in his pursuit of alphabet hardware as he faces defending 105 lb. titlist Mario ‘Dragoncito’ Rodriguez this Saturday in Guasave, Sinaloa, Mexico.
Also on the Televisa-televised card, Raul ‘Rayito’ Garcia faces Pedro Guevara in a junior flyweight elimination bout (labeled by the WBC as a silver title fighgt). In undercard action, Oscar Molina – a member of the 2012 Mexico Olympic boxing squad - fights for the second time in three weeks and the third time overall since turning pro in late January.
The timing of Takayama’s latest title shot is peculiar, as the fight was secured months before the Japanese Boxing Commission agreed earlier this month to honor the IBF as a recognized championship entity. Prior to the announcement, the JBC only honored title fights from the WBC and WBA, the oldest two sanctioning bodies in the sport.
Such a stance has led to fighters such as Takayama (24-6, 10KO) hitting the road in pursuit of available title shots. The 29-year old had never left Japan in 26 previous fights before fighting three straight times in South Africa, winning a title eliminator in Sept. ’10, before coming up short in two separate shots at then-unbeaten champion Nkosinathi Joyi, who in turn was defeated by Rodriguez last year in Mexico.
Saturday’s bout marks the first defense for Rodriguez (15-6-4, 11KO). Takayama intends to make it his last days as champ and has no reservations about visiting the lion’s den – or in this case, the Dragon’s lair – in hopes of winning a title and one day defending in Japan.
“I did not come to Mexico to enjoy the beaches, I’ve come for the world title,” insists Takayama, who arrived in Mexico this week and held a workout Tuesday afternoon. “It has been a dream of mine since his childhood and Rodriguez will not stand in my way.
“If blood has to flow, then blood will flow. But I will be champion on Saturday evening. I spent many hours traveling here, but I’ve had enough time to recover. There are no issues with altitude because we are at sea level. There no excuses; I will be world champion and go into the pages of boxing history.”
Because of its nation's decades long stance against recognizing fights in Japan involving the IBF and WBO, fighters from Japan have seen limited opportunities to contend for titles in either organization. Japanese fighters such as Takayama were free to travel outside the country, but had little incentive to bring a belt home without the opportunity to defend it in front of their countrymen.
To date, Satoshi Shingaki is the only fighter from Japan to win an IBF title, claiming the vacant bantamweight belt with an 8th round knockout of Elmer Magallano in April '84.
The feat itself went unrecognized by the JBC, refusing to sanction the show due to the title at stake. The same was the case for Shingaki's failed title bid against Dodie Boy Penalosa in Dec. '83, as well as his lone successful title defense in Aug. '84 before losing the title to Jeff Fenech in 1985 on the road in Australia.
With such a ban lifted and the JBC honoring such title fights, Takayama is more motivated than ever to come out on top after three failed attempts at alphabet glory. Prior to the two fights with Joyi came a failed bid at home in July ’09 against Roman Gonzalez. Home or away, winning is the only outcome he envisions taking place.
"I'm a professional, I have to come in weight and ready for the fight,” Takayama insists. “The long journey is not an excuse because the great champions are crowned wherever. I’ve come for the title and anyone who saw me train (Tuesday) knows so.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox