by Cliff Rold
It wasn’t a classic but, as is often the case, unification brought out some of the best of both men involved. In the end, Japan’s Ryochi Taguchi made his seventh WBA title defense, and added the IBF title at 108 lbs. in the biggest win of his career to date. He’s the first unified titlist at Jr. flyweight since Giovani Segura defeated Ivan Calderon in the 2010 fight of the year.
Not a bad way to spend New Year’s Eve.
For the 31-year old from Japan, it shows how little an early loss or two can matter. Prodigious talent Naoya Inoue won a decision over him in August 2013, Taguchi’s second career setback at that point. Since then, he’s 9-0-1 with two major titles to show for it.
Ending a dark horse run for fighter of the year from his opponent was icing on the cake.
Let’s go the report card.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Melindo B; Taguchi B/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Power – Melindo C+; Taguchi B-/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Defense – Melindo B-; Taguchi C+/Post: C+; B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Melindo B; Taguchi B/Post: B; B+
Melindo was having a career year. Even in defeat, his 2017 will be hard to top. His first round stoppage of Akira Yaegashi to win a title and narrow, nasty scrape with Hekkie Budler in defense, were the two best wins of his career. Against Taguchi, he showed the heart of a champion late as he tried to hang on and turn the tide before time got away.
After a couple close opening rounds, Taguchi built a lead using his jab more, and more wisely, than is often his tendency. Taguchi looked like the significantly bigger man in the ring, despite their near matching official weights. He fought like it too, using his height and length and stopping Melindo from finding his range. Melindo’s best chance was for Taguchi to press and walk into his very good jab.
Taguchi didn’t oblige and Melindo struggled to consistently find the head of Taguchi even though his body work was solid. Accidental head clashes opened cuts over both of Melindo’s eyes before the fight was half over, making the task even harder. Taguchi took a nasty butt and cut to the side of the head later in the fight.
The final three rounds were the most memorable of the night. A furious tenth round kicked it off with both men trying to hurt and finish the other. Taguchi got the better of it but Melindo showed no quit. Both tired and bloodied, they gave fans a violent show in the final six minutes.
So what now for both? Melindo has shown to be more effective at 108 than 112 lbs. and can look to pursue a rematch later or chase one of the other beltholders in the class. Taguchi may pursue another beltholder as well. An all-Japan showdown with WBC titlist Ken Shiro is probably the biggest, richest fight available at Jr. flyweight right now. The 25-year old Shiro is only 12-0 but he’s more than ready for anyone at his weight and both men look like a trip up the scale to flyweight may call sooner than later.
If it can be made, Taguchi-Shiro would be an excellent addition to a 2018 already filling up with quality.
Report Card Picks 2017 – Final: 46-18
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]