It was by luck that Wilfredo ‘Bimbito’ Mendez managed to get ahead of the curve for another major health crisis.
The reigning WBO strawweight titlist from Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico made his way to Japan over the weekend, three days prior to a forthcoming nationwide ban issued to all incoming foreign travelers. Japanese government officials plan to keep the ban in place for one month beginning Tuesday, November 30 as a precautionary measure to help prevent the spread of Omicron, the latest coronavirus variant which was first discovered in South Africa less than a week ago.
News of the border lockdown could affect the year-end boxing schedule in Japan, with at least three shows featuring title fights due to take place in December.
Mendez is due to make the third defense of his title versus Tokyo’s Masataka Taniguchi, who enjoys hometown advantage for a December 14 title fight doubleheader at the famed Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo. The bout comes in supporting capacity to three-division and reigning WBA/IBF bantamweight titlist Naoya Inoue (21-0, 18KOs), who faces Aran Dipean (12-2, 11KOs), assuming the Thai challenger is in country and clears quarantine in time.
The supporting cast has done its part to prevent any such delays.
“My managers Raul Pastrana and Jose De La Cruz insisted that I arrive in Japan far enough in advance to acclimate,” Mendez told BoxingScene.com. “Their schedule is 12 hours ahead (of Puerto Rico); we want to make sure we are ready to present the best fight possible.”
The timing works out well for Mendez, who will be cleared from mandatory quarantine in time to participate in fight week activities. The bout is his first since the pandemic for Mendez (16-1, 6KOs), who has already seen two title defenses fall through during that stretch.
Mendez was forced to withdraw from a planned fight with Alexis Diaz, suffering from a stomach bug leading to vomiting mere hours after making weight for their scheduled bout last December in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Efforts to make his way to the ring this past August 14 once again fell apart during fight week, this time with his challenger Carlos Buitrago pulling out of the fight. Nicaragua’s Carlos Buitrago suffered from dehydration in a failed effort to get down to the strawweight limit, leaving Mendez stranded without a challenger in Frisco, Texas.
It will be quite a statement if his first fight since the global spread of Covid came during its latest potential scare.
“I never stopped training during those 22 months out of the ring,” insists Mendez. “I had two fights canceled; hopefully the third time’s a charm as we are (here in) Japan to bring the Puerto Rican flavor.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox