By Jake Donovan
Strawweight titlist Katsunari Takayama travels to Mexico this weekend, where he will face fellow beltholder Francisco Rodriguez Jr. in a bout that marks just the 5th unification bout in the history of the division.
It’s fitting that such a rare occasion also comes with a fresh set of ring officials for both fighters. Veteran referee Samuel Viruet has been named third man for the bout, which takes place at Arena Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico. His last title fight appearance came in Sergey Kovalev's 7th round stoppage of Cedric Agnew in their light heavyweight bout this past March in Atlantic City.
In the event that the bout goes to the scorecards, the fate of both fighters will be placed in the hands of ringside judges Glenn Trowbridge, Waleska Roldan and John Madfis. All four officials are from the United States; none have ever worked a fight involving either fighter.
Takayama (27-6, 10KOs) welcomed with open arms the decision for the Japanese Boxing Commission to recognize the International Boxing Federation (IBF) after three decades of resistance. The ruling allowed the strawweight titlist to return home a champion after having hit the road in five straight fights, all of which were sanctioned by the IBF.
Saturday’s bout marks Takayama’s second trip to Mexico, the first coming in a title winning effort versus Mario Rodriguez last March. The bout was the last of the aforementioned five-fight road trip, having since twice defended his belt at home, including a 12-round decision over Shin Ono in May.
Rodriguez Jr. (14-2, 10KOs) emerged as a champ in emphatic fashion, scoring a 10th round stoppage over previously unbeaten Merlito Sabillo in March. The 21-year old has spent nearly his entire career at home in Mexico, with the exception of 7th round knockout loss to Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez last September in Nicaragua. Three straights win have followed.
The unification bout is the first for the division since Kazuto Ioka scored a 12-round split decision over Akira Yaegashi in their June ’12 war. The occasion marked the first time in history in which two titlists from Japan met in a unification bout.
Ricardo Lopez, often regarded as the greatest strawweight of all time, was involved in the division’s other three unification bouts. The Hall of Famer scored a 5th round knockout over Alex ‘Nene’ Sanchez in Aug. ’97, before engaging in a pair of closely contested wars with Rosendo Alvarez in 1998, his final two fights as a strawweight before moving up to junior flyweight.
Saturday’s bout will air live on TV Azteca in Mexico and beIn Sports in the United States.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox