Kenshiro Teraji has once again firmly established himself as the class of the junior flyweight division.
Two knockdowns paved the way for Teraji to stop countryman Hiroto Kyoguchi in the seventh-round of a rare unification bout between reigning titlists from Japan. Teraji floored Kyoguchi in rounds five and seven, the latter producing a stoppage at 2:36 of round seven to defend his WBC junior flyweight title and claim the WBA belt in their ESPN+/DAZN/Amazon Prime-Japan/ESPN Knockout main eventTuesday evening (local time) at Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
The long desired unification bout required Teraji to regain the WBC title he stunningly lost in a tenth-round upset knockout loss to countryman Masamichi Yabuki last September, ending a four-plus year title reign. It was theorized that he never fully recovered from Covid which initially delayed the bout by 12 days, the logic seeming to apply as Teraji emphatically avenged his lone defeat in a third-round knockout in their rematch on March 19.
Both fights took place in Teraji's Kyoto hometown, before making the six hour trek to Saitama. The venue is much closer to Kyoguchi's hometown of Tokyo, though Teraji has largely loomed as a cult favorite among the sport—and proved to be the superior fighter in the ring, where it ultimately mattered most.
Teraji used constant lateral movement in the opening round, while Kyoguchi employed a more direct approach. Kyoguchi landed right hands straight down the middle, to which Teraji responded with a hit-and-move approach while working largely behind a purposeful jab.
Both fighters continued to work behind the jab in a faster-paced round two. Kyoguchi mixed in left hooks and uppercuts to the body. Teraji was the busier fighter, throwing upstairs through and round Kyoguchi’s high guard.
Kyoguchi made his presence felt seemingly every time he landed a power punch. However, his counterpunching approach worked against him as Teraji’s constant activity and effectiveness in splitting Kyoguchi’s guard helped the two-time WBC titlist bank early rounds.
Already the aggressor, Teraji dialed up the pressure and work rate in round four. Kyoguchi always seemed to be a punch behind before finding success in the final 30 seconds of the round. Teraji adapted even during that sequence, landing to the body and coming back up top.
Teraji delivered the bout’s first knockdown, setting the table for a Round of the Year contender. Teraji floored Kyoguchi with a straight right hand less than one minute into round five. Kyoguchi beat the count but was forced to brave a volley of punches from his countryman for the next 90 seconds. Teraji seemed to pull away, only for Kyoguchi to come storming back in the final 30 seconds, driving the WBC champ to the ropes. Both fighters stumbled to the canvas in the closing seconds of a three-minute classic.
Action understandably slowed in a low-volume sixth before quickly picking up in round seven. Teraji went back on the attack, shooting his jab and following with straight right hands down the middle. Kyoguchi was forced on the defensive, momentarily not offering any response. Teraji was mindful of Kyoguchi’s counters, picking off a right hand and coming back with a combination.
Kyoguchi landed a pair of right hands late in the round to the delight of the crowd, but it proved to be his last stand. Teraji cracked the soon-to-be-vanquished WBA champ with a right hand down the middle, driving Kyoguchi into the ropes which broke his fall. The sequence was enough to prompt an immediate stoppage, as Teraji was properly celebrated as the king of the junior flyweight division.
Kyoguchi suffers his first career defeat, falling 16-1 (11KOs). The now former two-division titlist was previously 8-0 in title fights but his WBA junior flyweight reign plagued by inactivity due to the pandemic and inactivity. Tuesday’s bout was just his sixth at the weight, spraypainted over a near four-year stretch.
Teraji improves to 20-1 (12KOs), prevailing in just the second-ever unification bout between reigining titlists from Japan. The lone other occasion came more than ten years ago, when Kazuto Ioka edged Akira Yaegashi to unify the WBC/WBA strawweight titles in their June 2012 thriller.
The magnitude of the event admittedly got to Teraji, especially early in the contest.
“I was well prepared in training camp, but to be honest I was nervous entering the ring,” confessed Teraji. “This really meant a lot to me.”
The hope is to further unify the division. Jonathan ‘Bomba’ Gonzalez (27-3-1, 14KOs) defended his WBO junior flyweight title with a twelve-round, unanimous decision over Shokichi Iwata (9-1, 7KOs) in the evening’s co-feature. The Puerto Rican southpaw will have to gain approval from the WBO to enter a unification bout straightaway, as the sanctioning body ruled last week during its annual convention that he is overdue to make a mandatory title defense.
Sive Nontshinga (11-0, 9KOs) is the division’s other title claimant, winning the IBF belt in a twelve-round thriller over Hector Flores on September 3, on the road in Hermosillo, Mexico. However, the placement of the two title fights on Tuesday's card made it clear the preferred direction.
“I want to unify the titles,” insisted Teraji. “I want to fight Bomba Gonzalez next.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox
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