2023 had to be disappointing for lineal and unified WBA/WBC junior flyweight champion Kenshiro Teraji (22-1, 14 KO). He will find out if fortune shines more favor in 2024, starting on Tuesday (ESPN+, 4 AM EST). 

Anything in contrast to 2022 would have been a tough act to follow. Kenshiro avenged his lone career loss with a third round knockout of Masamichi Yabuki to regain the WBC crown. He followed it with a blazing domination of WBA titlist Hiroto Kyoguchi, stopping his national rival in seven.

The only thing left for Kenshiro, 32, was to complete unification of the 108-pound division, a feat that has never been accomplished. Birthed by the WBC in 1975, the division has seen some great fighters with long, Hall of Fame title reigns in Yoko Gushiken, Jung-Koo Chang and Myung-Woo Yuh. Michael Carbajal and Giovanni Segura won classic, “Fight of the Year” unification contests.

No one in any of the eras that have passed, with two, three, or four major recognized belts, has ever secured all the straps around one waist.

Kenshiro was intending further aim at the accomplishment last year. Best laid plans and all that…

An April date with WBO titlist Jonathan Gonzalez (27-3-1, 14 KO) was scuttled when Gonzalez fell ill. Gonzalez ultimately missed the entire year. Kenshiro settled for a gutsy near-prospect in Anthony Olascuaga. The follow-up reminded how good the champion is, pitching a near shutout before stopping former titlist Hekkie Budler. 

Still, there are two belts out there separating Kenshiro from a little piece of history. Gonzalez, 32, will resume his career in March with a defense against Rene Santiago (12-3, 9 KO). Kenshiro-Gonzalez still seems a logical destination if both clear their pending obstacles. On Tuesday, Kenshiro’s will come in the form of 30-year old Carlos Canizales (26-1-1, 19 KO).

Canizales is a serious contender in the class who earned his crack at the title in the ring. Since a stunning knockout loss to Esteban Bermudez in 2021, Canizales has won four in a row. In his last bout, accidental headbutts resulted in a cut and an early trip to the scorecards. Undefeated Daniel Matellon lost points along the way in the fight, leaving narrow edge for Canizales in a closely contested battle. 

Can the younger man knock the champion off course?

The fight should be worth getting up for to find out. Kenshiro might not be as famous as countryman Naoya Inoue, or as accomplished as countryman Kazuto Ioka, but he’s proven to be an elite and exciting talent during a wonderful era for Japan. His performances as champion, with nine knockout wins (four in a row currently) and a knockout loss in 14 title fights, has meant thrills along the way.

A battle of two men who score plenty of knockouts, and have proven they can be knocked out, is a pretty easy sell even if, stateside, it means getting the coffee brewed early. 

If Kenshiro wins again, he’s right where he’s been since the Kyoguchi win. The clock is always ticking in boxing but two wins can mean two belts. Gonzalez isn’t the only option. The IBF belt shockingly changed hands last year when Adrian Curiel (24-4-1, 5 KO) scored a one-punch knockout of then-undefeated Sivenathi Nontshinga (12-1, 9 KO). Curiel will face Nontshinga again in an immediate rematch in February.

There will also be the issue of mandatories. Shokichi Iwata (11-1, 8 KO) is looming, ranked number one by the WBC currently with a fight on Saturday against former strawweight titlist Rene Mark Cuarto. Kenshiro’s path to undisputed might not be a straight line.

But there is a path, just as there was all thorough 2023. To get there, he has to get through Canizales. If he does, the chance to be the first of his kind at junior flyweight will remain the summit in sight. 

Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.  He can be reached at roldboxing@hotmail.com