Kenshiro Teraji retained his championship in an early Fight of the Year contender.

The defending lineal/WBC/WBA junior flyweight king turned away a stiff challenge from Carlos Canizales to eke out a majority decision win in their terrific action fight. Judge Jeremy Hayes (113-113) had the fight even through twelve furiously paced rounds, overruled by judges Jun Bae Lim (114-112) and Omar Mintun (114-112) for Teraji in their Amazon Prime-Japan/ESPN+ main event Tuesday at EDION Arena in Osaka, Japan.

Canizales jumped out to a promising start. Teraji reached with his jab but was forced to adjust as Canizales scored with his left hook and aimed to set up his overhand right.

Teraji scored the bout’s first knockdown late in round two. Canizales connected with a left hook but was not prepared for the immediate response. A right hand to the temple threw off the equilibrium of Canizales, who attempted to wrap Teraji around the waist. He instead grabbed his legs as both fighters fell to the canvas. Referee Luis Pabon picked up the count as Canizales made it to his feet and out of the round.

The momentum was short-lived for the defending champ. Teraji was overconfident and defensively irresponsible late in round three. Canizales exploited the situation and landed a left hook. Teraji was buzzed and forced to touch the canvas. Canizales landed a right hand that served as window dressing as the knockdown was called by that point.

Two-way action ensued in round four. Both fighters landed blistering shots at close quarters. Canizales landed with his left hook. Teraji responded with a crushing right hand as he dodged a counter left.

Both fighters picked up the already furious pace in the fifth. Teraji opened the round with a pair of right hands to drive Canizales into the ropes. A body shot also got through for Teraji. Canizales responded strong in the second half of the round and managed to land enough right hands to force Teraji to stop punching in the closing seconds.

Teraji gained the upper hand in rounds six and. Canizales continued to plow forward and landed his power shots but was visibly showing signs of fatigue.

Teraji remained composed and landed several right hands in a punishing seventh round. Canizales enjoyed a mid-round flurry and scored with his uppercut. It came as he fought with his mouth agape as Teraji punished the visiting challenger late in the frame.

Canizales struggled to find his second wind as his activity rate dramatically decreased in the eighth. Teraji used his jab to work his way inside and land right hands behind it. Canizales targeted the body, to which Teraji responded with a left hook upstairs. Canizales let his hands go at the end of the round and beyond as he landed a right hand after the bell.

Teraji landed right hands to the body in round nine but he was never able to fully turn away his determined challenger. Another late blitz by Canizales forced the defending champion on the defensive. Canizales charged ahead with a left hook and right hand to snap back Teraji’s head.

Canizales was recharged at the start of a punishing tenth round. The gritty Venezuelan dug to the body and came back up top. Teraji landed his straight right hands but could not make the necessary defensive adjustment to prevent Canizales from enjoying a much-needed momentum shift. A low blow by Teraji briefly paused the action but Canizales regrouped and carried the action in yet another strong finish to a round.

Teraji bounced on his toes at the start of the eleventh round. Both fighters landed with their jab. Teraji failed to put together the combinations that worked earlier in the fight. Canizales fought through a bloodied nose and let fly his left hook. Conversely, Teraji failed to throw his right and spent the final fifteen seconds on the move as he exclusively fought behind his left jab.

The same tactic was applied by Teraji in the twelfth and final round, a surprising move given it seemed the fight was hanging in the balance. Canizales did his best to close strong and sway the judges on the road. His corner lifted him in the air at fight’s end, of the belief that the unified championship changed hands.

He fell just short.

Teraji advances to 23-1 (14KOs) with the victory and is now 14-1 in title fights spanning two reigns. Tuesday’s victory marked the fourth overall defense of his current reign and third as the unified and lineal champion.

Canizales (26-2-1, 19KOs) snapped a four-fight win streak which followed the end of his secondary WBA junior flyweight title reign. He previously held the ‘Regular’ version of the belt but was stopped in the sixth-round of a stunning May 2021 upset defeat to Esteban Bermudez in Mexico.

A technical decision win over unbeaten Daniel Mattelon last June positioned Canizales for another title shot. He previously fought then-WBA junior flyweight champ Ryoichi Taguchi to a twelve-round draw in their December 2016 meeting in Tokyo.

Teraji’s lone setback came in a September 2021 tenth-round knockout defeat to countryman Masamichi Yabuki. The fight that was delayed by two weeks after Teraji tested positive for Covid. He effortlessly avenged the defeat with a one- third-round knockout in their March 2022 rematch to regain his WBC title. Teraji then unified the WBC and WBA belts with a stunningly one-sided, eighth-round knockout of unbeaten countryman Hiroto Kyoguchi.

A bid to further unify the division fell through when WBO titlist Jonathan ‘Bomba’ Gonzalez (27-3-1, 14KOs) fell ill and withdrew from their planned clash last April 8. Teraji instead fought unbeaten Anthony Olascuaga, whom he stopped in the ninth round at Ariake Arena in Tokyo. The same venue hosted his ninth-round knockout of former two-division champion Hekkie Budler last September, followed by his latest victory on Tuesday to retain his championship.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for X (formerly Twitter): @JakeNDaBox