Ryoichi Taguchi and Milan Melindo fight for a piece of history on Sunday
Sometimes it takes a different route to reach the same goal. Ryoichi Taguchi and Milan Melindo were both dreaming about super-fights and struggled to secure them, until they realized they have to turn to one another. They will face each other in a historic 108-pound title unification, on December 31, at the Ota-City General Gymnasium in Tokyo, Japan.
WBA junior flyweight world champion Taguchi, 26-2-2 (12), was originally seeking a huge unification fight with countryman and then-WBO titlist Kosei Tanaka through the better part of this year. The participants virtually agreed on all terms for a tango on the traditional Japanese New Years Eve cards.
The last hurdle in front of the match-up was a voluntary defense by Tanaka against Thailand’s Rangsam Chayanram in September. Tanaka eventually got the stoppage after a tougher than expected brawl, seeing both fighters hit the canvas. After the fight, however, doctors discovered that Tanaka sustained two fractured orbital bones. The unification against Taguchi was off.
Milan Melindo, 37-2 (13), has had his best year, in his whole career, in 2017. In May, the Filipino fighter traveled to Tokyo, Japan, to face IBF 108-pound beltholder Akira Yaegashi. It was clear for all who knew Yaegashi that Melindo needed to give 110% to dethrone his warrior-hearted counterpart. Indeed, Milan did bring his A-game and shocked the whole world when he landed a left hook to the temple, followed by a short right cross to the chin, that dropped the Japanese champion. Melindo kept pushing his wounded foe until he produced two more knockdowns, thus becoming a world titlist in less than three minutes of fighting.
Right after he grabbed the IBF belt, Melindo made it clear that his goal is to unify all the belts in the light flyweight division. Until he could find his first unification dance partner, the Pinoy pugilist successfully defended his belt by decision against former strawweight champ Hekkie Budler in a war of attrition, that saw Melindo get badly cut above both of his eyes. After Budler, Melindo again announced he is thriving for a unification.
When athletes dare to be great, they are willing to fight whomever they have to in order to reach greatness. After Tanaka fell out due to injury, Taguchi kept focused on securing a big fight against any of the available top 108-pounders. That quickly brought him to Melindo. Negotiations shortly culminated in a contract for a December bout.
The winner of Taguchi-Melindo will unite the WBA and IBF belts at junior flyweight. But it is not just a regular unification bout, at least not one by the standards of the division, in which the fight is scheduled to take place.
The 108-pound division was established in 1975 to serve as a platform for smaller-framed fighters whom had struggled against heavier foes at flyweight, 112 pounds. Though it had a couple of better years, junior flyweight was always a division where beltholders liked to hang on to their thrones rather than risk them against fellow titlists.
Because of that, in 42 years of existence, the class saw only two unifications. The first came in a super-fight between WBC king Humberto Gonzalez and IBF champ Michael Carbajal in 1993. The second was in 2010 between WBA beltholder Giovani Segura and WBO titlist Ivan Calderon.
”Hands down, this will be a war,” Edito Villamor, Melindo’s trainer, told UCNLive.com when asked about Sunday’s unification.
Villamor may look like someone who tries to generate some interest around the bout for his protege but even if part of him says that to promote the fight, he also shares a great truth.
When fighters at junior flyweight decided to challenge themselves, they meant it. Both Gonzalez-Carbajal and Segura-Calderon were exceptional fights and even more. They were knockdown-filled wars that won ”Fight of the Year” awards by THE RING Magazine in 1993 and 2010, respectively.
These match-ups were also responsible for the lineality in the division. When Carbajal stopped Gonzalez in their first bout, he became the first ever lineal champion at junior flyweight, while its most recent is Giovani Segura, until his move up in weight, in 2011.
The bout between Taguchi and Melindo will elevate a new champion by THE RING Magazine as the participants are rated No. 1 and No. 2 at 108 pounds by the publication and, with it, will begin a third reign of lineality at the weight.
”This is an important fight, not just for us but to all the Filipinos and fans in general. It is a proud moment to be part of such a historic fight. This fight is good for the division but it is also good for boxing at large,” declared Villamor.
It is hard to argue with that logic. Taguchi-Melindo is a historic title unification for the 108-pound division and a fight that can open the door for future unifications in the class as WBC beltholder Ken Shiro has already made sure he would like a matchup with the new THE RING/IBF/WBA champion.
At the same time, the bout can also serve as a reminder of the sport’s well-being.
Important match-ups in boxing can only be made when fighters are brave enough to challenge themselves in order to make their dreams come true.