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Milan Melindo, Ryoichi Taguchi set to unify junior flyweight world titles

Milan Melindo drops Akira Yaegashi en route to lifting the IBF 108-pound title in May 2017. Photo by Naoki Fukuda
Fighters Network

Two of the junior flyweight division’s title belts will be unified when IBF titleholder Milan Melindo and his WBA counterpart Ryoichi Taguchi meet on New Year’s Eve at Ota-City Gymnasium in Tokyo, Japan.

The fight was announced jointly by Melindo’s promoter ALA Promotions and Watanabe Promotions, which represents Taguchi, at conferences in the Philippines and Japan on Thursday.

It’ll be Melindo’s first fight back in Japan after shocking Akira Yaegashi with three fast knockdowns in the first round to lift the title this past May, and his first time back in the ring since overcoming two bad cuts to retain the belt by split decision over Hekkie Budler on September 16 in Cebu City, Philippines.

Edito Villamor, the trainer of Melindo (37-2, 13 knockouts), says the cuts have healed and that the 29-year-old from Cagayan de Oro City, Philippines returned to sparring a week ago for what could be a career-defining fight.

“This is a great fight between two world champions and this is the dream of Milan to fight any world champions of the organizations,” said Melindo’s trainer Edito Villamor. “We need to win in every round impressively and convincingly.”

Taguchi (26-2-2, 12 KOs) has made six title defenses over three years, including a split-draw against Carlos Canizales last New Year’s Eve before stopping Robert Barrera in nine rounds in his most recent defense in July. The 30-year-old from Tokyo has been unbeaten since losing a decision to Naoya Inoue, the current WBO junior bantamweight titleholder and one of the sport’s pound-for-pound best talents, in 2013.

The fight will be presented by ABS-CBN in the Philippines and TBS Television in Japan, Michael Aldeguer of ALA says.

“The unification opportunities have always been in our radar as we always try to make the big fights,” said Aldeguer. “It was not easy putting this fight together but it was worth the wait.”

The announcement comes just weeks after an announcement by the  IBF ordering Melindo to face Budler again in a rematch of their optional title defense. Budler’s manager Colin Nathan said that they’re being assured of first crack at the winner of the unification fight, the first in the division since Kazuto Ioka and Yaegashi brought the WBA and WBC belts together in 2012.

Taguchi is rated No. 2 by THE RING at 108 pounds while Melindo is rated No. 3. Kosei Tanaka, the WBO titleholder, is the No. 1-rated contender while the WBC belt is held by Ken Shiro.