By Cliff Rold
105 lbs. is a division without a clear leader or even much of an identity today. By Sunday, it will likely have improved on both fronts. Even with the easy skepticism wrought by having too many titles and too few genuine champions, there remains a certain romance to unification fights between the titlists of separate organizations.
A single unification might not tell the world who the very best in a given division is, but it gets us a step closer. It also often produces extra fireworks. Unification often means a little extra to the participants. They express that in leather.
This weekend’s unification bout looks like impending violence of the best kind. Both participants have shown themselves open to action. Can they exceed expectations and produce heat in the dog days of summer?
Let’s go the report card.
Title: IBF Minimumweight (2013-Present, 2 Defenses)
Previous Titles: WBC Minimumweight (2005)
Weight: 105 lbs.
Hails from: Osaka, Japan
Record: 27-6, 10 KO, 1 KOBY
Record in Major Title Fights: 4-4 (5-4 including interim title fights)
Rankings: #1 (BoxingScene, BoxRec), #2 (TBRB), #4 (Ring)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 6 (Isaac Bustos UD12; Eagle Kyowa L12; Yutaka Niida L12; Roman Gonzalez L12; Nkosinathi Joyi NC 3, L12; Mario Rodriguez UD12)
Francisco Rodriguez Jr.
Title: WBO Mini-Flyweight (2014-Present, 1st Attempted Defense)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 105 lbs.
Hails from: Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico
Record: 14-2, 10 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 1-0, 1 KO
Rankings: #4 (BoxRec), #5 (TBRB), #6 (BoxingScene, Ring)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 2 (Roman Gonzalez TKO by 7; Merlito Sabillo TKO10)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Takayama B+; Rodriguez B-
Pre-Fight: Power – Takayama C; Rodriguez B
Pre-Fight: Defense – Takayama C+; Rodriguez C
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Takayama B+; Rodriguez B+
Speed is a big factor in this fight and may speak to why it got made from the Rodriguez side. Takayama at his best was a very quick-handed fighter. That speed has shown some decline. It was still there in the war with Mario Rodriguez that gave Takayama his current title. Fast forward just two fights, to his most recent defense against Shin Ono, and Takayama appears to have begun to lose a step.
His punches, while still quick, were less so and he sometimes appeared a bit sluggish on offense. It’s understandable. A professional since 2000, and a top contender for most of that time, Takayama has picked up mileage. His first title loss, to the very good Kyowa, was almost a decade ago. The brutal loss to Roman Gonzalez, where he battled well for long stretches of the fight, was in 2009.
The Mario Rodriguez fight, wherein Takayama came off the deck early to outwork the Mexican titlist on the road, may have been the sort of exacting affair that puts a longtime stalwart at the brink.
If Takayama’s speed has ebbed, Rodriguez may have conversely found a way to maximize his strengths by moving to Strawweight (or Minimumweight…or Mini-Flyweight…the division not only lack s a clear face, it lacks a distinct name).
Like Takayama, Rodriguez got the worst of it against Gonzalez and was less competitive in his defeat. However, that loss came at Flyweight (112) where Gonzalez has appeared even quicker and more dangerous than he did at 105 and 108. Whereas Takayama has fought almost exclusively at 105, most of Rodriguez’s fights have been at Flyweight if not a pound over. He’s the younger, larger framed of the two.
Boiled down to 105, his experience with larger men showed in his title win over Sabillo. The undefeated Philippine entered the favorite. He was never really in the fight. Attacking to the body and following with thudding right hands, Rodriguez executed a relentless pressure approach. He dropped Sabillo in the second and won almost every round, dishing out a relentless beating.
He’s going to be a physical test for anyone as long as he can continue to make 105.
Takayama, even slowing down, is still quicker than Sabillo and that will be a factor. His speed isn’t just about his hands. Takayama has a frenetic style that incorporates constant movement without ever becoming a sprint. He’s in, out, and around. His defense is all about his legs and when he can dictate space, he’s hard to catch. When he can’t, he’s often wide open as has been the case in most of his losses.
In terms of intangibles, each man has been stopped just once but both have faltered against their most upper echelon competition to date. That they are in the position they are now speaks to perseverance for Takayama and progress for Rodriguez, both positive attributes.
So what happens?
This looks like a pick ‘em fight going in (BeIn Espanol, 11 PM EST). Can Rodriguez’s pressure overcome Takayama’s frenzied attacks? Is Takayama in decline? There should be great fun in finding out. The younger, bigger man has home advantage in Mexico. Takayama has overcome that before but he has a tougher test this time.
The guess here is the Ono fight was what it appeared to be. As the fight wears on, Takayama is going to have a hard time getting away from Rodriguez’s body attack and the punishment will start to mount. Takayama is a proud fighter, and he’s going to fire back, but he doesn’t appear to have the sort of power that can halt Rodriguez’s forward momentum. In a fan friendly battle, the pick is Rodriguez on a late stoppage.
And with more clarity to be found after the fight, the interested can begin to speculate if this fight can become a trend and maybe, just maybe, the winner can share a ring with South Africa’s WBA titlist Hekkie Budler (26-1, 9 KO) to clear up just who the face of the division really is.
Report Card Picks 2014: 32-15
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org