Masataka Taniguchi got it right the second time around.
The opening leg of a title fight doubleheader saw the WBO strawweight title change hands as Taniguchi stopped Wilfredo 'Bimbito' Mendez in the eleventh round Tuesday evening at Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo. The locally-based Taniguchi floored Mendez in round two and let his hands go along the ropes to force referee Nobuto Ikehara to stop the contest at 1:08 of round eleven.
The show was among the few on the remaining boxing schedule in Japan to survive the year-end cut. A nationwide effort to minimize the spread of coronavirus variant Omicron prompted government officials to close the borders to foreign travelers beginning November 30.
Mendez (16-2, 6KOs) was already in country by that point, arriving ahead of the ban though originally to acclimate to his new surroundings well ahead of his third title defense.
It was good enough to allow the fight to proceed as planned, though largely to the benefit of Taniguchi who served as the aggressor throughout the affair. Mendez was dropped by a straight left hand in round two, beating the count but already well behind on the scorecards early in the fight.
Taniguchi continued to take the lead, determined to win a major title on his second try. His lone other bid came in February 2019, suffering a twelve-round loss to Vic Saludar who in turn conceded the WBO title to Mendez in his very next defense.
Mendez fell into a deeper hole after suffering a point deduction for excessive holding in round six. The defending titlist from Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico tried in vain to punch his way back into the fight, though unable to do much more than keep pace with his determined challenger.
A last ditch effort by Mendez saw a strong close to round ten, with Taniguchi briefly stunned but remaining upright. Taniguchi pushed past the late surge to go on the attack in round eleven, twice pummeling Mendez along the ropes.
Mendez survived the initially flurry, only to find himself trapped in a corner before the fight was mercifully halted. The loss ends his lengthy but frustrating title reign that saw two previous title defenses fall through during fight week.
Tuesday's affair was Mendez's first fight since the pandemic, ending his seven-fight win streak and title stay as he falls to 16-2 (6KOs). It also reduces the title count in Puerto Rico to only two—unified WBC/WBO/IBO featherweight queen Amanda Serrano (41-1-1, 30KOs) and WBO junior flyweight titlist Jonathan 'Bomba' Gonzalez.
Taniguchi advances to 15-3 (10KOs), extending his current four-fight win streak. The 27-year-old southpaw is now one of eight current major titlists from Japan, including unified WBA/IBF bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue (21-0, 18KOs) who faces Thailand's Aran Dipaen (12-2, 11KOs) in the Abema TV Pay-Per-View main event.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox