By Joe Koizumi
Photos by Naoki Fukuda
Lanky Japanese speedster Ryoichi Taguchi (27-2-2 12 KOs), 107.75, unified the WBA and IBF 108-pound belts when he displayed a late surge to pound out a unanimous decision over Filipino Milan Melindo (37-3, 13 KOs), 107.5, over twelve hard-fought rounds on Sunday in Tokyo, Japan. The official tallies were as follows—Gustavo Jarquin (Nicaragua) 116-112, Francis Jackson (US) and Ignacio Robles (Panama) both 117-111, all in favor of Taguchi. The referee was Mark Nelson (US) who handled the fast-paced unification bout very well.
The WBA ruler Taguchi had a tough time coping with the shorter but sharp IBF counterpart in earlier rounds, but the Japanese almost swept the second half by utilizing his advantageous height and reach. They often made head collisions to see Melindo bleeding from gashes over both eyebrows and Taguchi from a cut on the forehead. In later rounds Melindo was visibly fading and slowing down only to have Taguchi take the initiative to pile up important points down the stretch.
The 5’6” Taguchi, four inches taller than Melindo, didn’t take advantage of his height and reach at the outset, but exchanged punches with the Filipino champ who had dethroned Akira Yaegashi by a first-round demolition last May. Ryoichi said, “This fight depends on heart versus heart. I believed so. So, I mixed it up with Melindo at first.”
It was Melindo handled by Edito “Ala” Villamor (who once failed to win the WBC 105-pound belt from Ricardo Lopez via an impressive knockout loss in Las Vegas in 1963) that displayed sharp combinations in the close quarter in the opening session, but Taguchi responded to a mix-up in earlier rounds since each connected with good shots. It wasn’t good enough, however, for Taguchi with advantageous height and reach to stay so close to the Filipino left hooker.
All the judges gave Melindo only the first and fifth and Taguchi the other four in the first six sessions with the Japanese champ leading by two points after the first half.
From the seventh on Taguchi began to use his footwork to keep his distance, landing overhand rights and right uppercuts to the onrushing Melindo. The lanky Japanese champ was apparently in command in rounds seven and eight.
The ninth saw Taguchi sustain a cut on the left-side skull that began streaming blood with Melindo coming forward with short and accurate combinations. Milan dominated the round.
It’s Taguchi that showed his best in round ten when he accurately connected with vicious left hooks to the side of the belly that prompted Melindo to clinch him to keep him from throwing more body shots. The Japanese champ also landed solid overhand rights to the shorter Filipino and obviously took the leadership over his foe.
His trainer Yuta Ishihara encouraged Taguchi after the ninth, “Without winning all three rounds you will lose this fight!” Taguchi felt he was on the verge of defeat due to a fake information by his chief second, and went all out for a victory to have him at bay. Milando, on the other hand, revealed his fatigue and fading speed though he still tried to mix up with the taller and fresher WBA champ.
The loser Milan praised his rival, “He (Taguchi) didn’t give up. His left shots to the body were effective. He showed a good fight worthy of a victory as unified champion.”
The jubilant victor Taguchi said, “Melindo was tough, but I thought I could finish him in later rounds, but he withstood my all-out attacks. I’m happy to win this important fight.”
Before Taguchi, in Japan, we previously had only two unified champions in Kazuto Ioka and Katsunari Takayama, both 105-pounders. In the very last fight of 2017 we witnessed Taguchi accomplish an admirable achievement. Few remember that Taguchi forfeited his Japanese national 108-pound belt to upcoming youngster named Naoya “Monster” Inoue in his only fourth pro fight in 2013. It might be Taguchi’s honor that he then showed such a good performance against Inoue despite his defeat on points (94-97, 93-98 and 92-98). It’s great in retrospect that his manager/promoter Hitoshi Watanabe, just four months later, produced an opportunity for Taguchi to win the WBA belt against Alberto Rossel exactly three years ago from this day. Taguchi became a hero on the very last day of 2017.
WBA supervisor: Renzo Bagnariol (Nicaragua).
IBF supervisor: Anibal Miramontes (US).