Milan Melindo: ‘Destroy Ryoichi Taguchi’s left body shot and he’s nothing’
Bundled in winter clothes and wearing a surgical mask through Narita Airport, Milan Melindo arrived in Tokyo, Japan, on Tuesday afternoon, ahead of his title unification fight this Sunday against Ryoichi Taguchi. The first thing on his mind wasn’t strategy or checking into his hotel.
“I’m just looking for food,” said Melindo (37-2, 13 knockouts), the IBF junior flyweight titleholder, who will meet the WBA claimant Taguchi (26-2-2, 12 KOs), on New Year’s Eve, at Ota-City General Gymnasium.
“I don’t need to think about the fight. I only need to focus on it the day of the fight. No stress, no thinking about stuff. For now I’m just focused to the day when I get my weight.”
Melindo had been just two pounds over the weight limit when he left training camp in Cebu City, Philippines, earlier that day, he says. Prior to his most recent fight, a split decision win over Hekkie Budler in September, Melindo had to return to the scale after coming in over the limit. He took just one week off after that fight, in which he sustained two serious cuts, one over each eye, before resuming training.
He says the cuts are fully healed and he’s looking forward to returning to the country where he finally became a world champion in his third opportunity, when he stopped Akira Yaegashi in the first round, last May, after scoring three quick knockdowns.
“When you’re an underdog and the crowd is cheering for your opponent, it gives you more strength,” said Melindo, who is two years younger than Taguchi, at 29.
Taguchi will be making his seventh title defense and will be in a title fight on New Year’s Eve for the fourth straight year. In his most recent fight, in July, Taguchi broke Robert Barrera down with steady body work before referee Russell Mora halted the bout along the ropes in the ninth round. Melindo believes that if he can nullify Taguchi’s best weapon – the left hook to the body – he can nullify Taguchi.
“He’s only got one strength, the left body shot. If you destroy that left body shot, he’s nothing,” said Melindo, who is THE RING Magazine’s No. 2-ranked contender at 108 pounds, while Taguchi is rated No. 1. The bout will also fill the vacant THE RING Magazine junior flyweight championship.
Melindo says he sparred nearly 200 rounds for this camp with his ALA gym mates Donnie Nietes, Jonas Sultan, KJ Cataraja and others, going 16 rounds twice and 12 rounds six times. He also worked six-minute rounds during his gym work, on top of plyometric training, with conditioning coach Pio Solon.
“I’m prepared for stamina, no problem,” said Melindo.
Melindo had pushed for unification fights since he first won the title, viewing it as his own way to leave a legacy behind as a fighter. Nonito Donaire Jr. and Brian Viloria remain the only fighters of Filipino heritage to have successfully unified titles before and he’d like to add his name to that list.
“It’s another way to become a legend. Manny Pacquiao is an eight-division world champion and Donnie Nietes has been champion for a long time. Mine is another way, being a unified king champion in my division,” said Melindo.
“He’s ready to take anyone in his path to reach his goal. He wants to make history and he wants to do it now. We can see how badly he wants it. There’s no turning back,” said trainer Edito Villamor.
Melindo-Taguchi will be one of three title fights on that card, with Sho Kimura (15-1-2, 8 KOs) defending the WBO flyweight title against compatriot and former RING flyweight champ Toshiyuki Igarashi (23-2-3, 12 KOs), and Hiroto Kyoguchi (8-0, 6 KOs) putting his IBF strawweight title on the line for the first time against Carlos Buitrago (30-2-1, 17 KOs).
Two more championship bouts are scheduled for the day before, December 30, at Bunka Gym in Yokohama, Japan, with WBO junior bantamweight beltholder Naoya Inoue (14-0, 12 KOs) making what is expected to be his final appearance at 115 pounds, against Yoan Boyeaux (41-4, 26 KOs), and WBC junior flyweight titlist Ken Shiro (11-0, 5 KOs) against Gilberto Pedroza (18-3-2, 8 KOs).
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