By Joe Koizumi
Photos by Boxing Beat
Out of the world title tripleheader on New Year’s Eve in Japan, the first two were announced by Watanabe Promotions on Friday. WBA light-flyweight champion Ryoichi Taguchi (26-2-2, 12 KOs) will participate in a unification bout with IBF ruler Milan Melindo (37-2, 13 KOs) of the Philippines in a sensational encounter at the Ota-City General Gymnasium in Tokyo.
Taguchi, an elongated boxer-puncher, captured the WBA belt by lopsidedly defeating Alberto Rossel three years ago, and has technically improved to keep his belt against tough opposition on six occasions. Melindo, from Cebu, once failed to win the IBF belt on a technical decision loss to Javier Mendoza in Mexico in 2015, but stunned the Japanese crowd with an unexpected first-round demolition of defending titlist Akira Yaegashi (conqueror of Mendoza) last May. Since then, Milando experienced a tough defense in eking out a split verdict over Hekkie Budler this September. Taguchi says, “I respect Melindo’s real power, but wish to unify the two belts to prove my strength.”
In a companion title go, newly crowned IBF 105-pound champ Hiroto Kyoguchi (8-0, 6 KOs) will square off against the mandatory challenger Carlos Buitrago (30-2-1, 17 KOs) over twelve frames. The Nicaraguan Buitrago will make his fourth attempt to win the world belt since he split-drew with WBO titleholder Merlito Sabillo in 2013, lost twice to WBA kingpin Knockout CP Freshmart on points in Thailand in 2014 and 2016. Despite his less experience, Kyoguchi, a hard-punching youngster who admirably acquired the world title in just 15 months since his professional debut, confidently predicted, “I’ll try to defend my belt by a knockout victory.”
Surprising was that Watanabe Promotions transshipped from TV Tokyo to TBS Television with both networks having annually broadcast world title bouts on the very last day of the year to expect higher audience ratings since majority of our people usually stay at home and watch television.