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Naoya Inoue and Ryoichi Taguchi lead a golden era in Japanese boxing

Naoya Inoue. Photo by Naoki Fukuda
01
Jan

In the west, Cinco De Mayo and Mexican Independence Day are circled in the boxing calendar for big fights. In Japan, it’s year-end showdowns which have become the custom.

This year, there were two shows featuring five world title fights.

In Yokohama on Saturday, Ken Shiro easily retained his WBC junior flyweight title for the second time with a fourth-round stoppage of Gilberto Pedroza. However, most of the crowd were there to see Naoya Inoue blast his way through yet another challenger. “Monster” did just that, blitzing poor Yoan Boyeaux in three to retain his WBO junior bantamweight title.

On Sunday, Sho Kimura retained his WBO flyweight title in Tokyo by stopping Toshiyuki Igarashi in nine and Hiroto Kyoguchi retained his IBF strawweight belt with an eighth-round stoppage over Carlos Buitrago. However, it was the junior flyweight unification clash between WBA titleholder Ryoichi Taguchi and IBF counterpart Milan Melindo that was the showpiece. In a hotly contested encounter, Taguchi recovered from a slow start to win a 12-round unanimous decision. The victory also saw Taguchi claim the vacant RING championship at 108 pounds.

Five world title fights all won by Japanese nationals in what surely must be labelled as a golden era for boxing in the country. However, some big tests do lie ahead.

The hard-hitting Naoya Inoue has passed the eye-test and cracked THE RING’s Top 10 pound-for-pound list over the past year. However, his opposition has hardly been top drawer. Of his seven title defenses, since dethroning Omar Narvaez in December 2014, only Kohei Kono (TKO 6) was ranked in THE RING top 10. The other six fighters were decidedly average: Warlito Parrenas (TKO 2), David Carmona (UD 12), Petchbarngborn Kokietgym (KO 10), Ricardo Rodriguez (KO 3), Antonio Nieves (RTD 6) and Boyeaux (TKO 3).

Inoue’s team have attempted to make 115-pound unification bouts with Kal Yafai and Jerwin Ancajas, who hold WBA and IBF titles respectively, but negotiations came to nothing.

Earlier this week, Inoue told RingTV.com that the Boyeaux fight would likely be his last at 115 pounds with a move to bantamweight imminent. That sets up mouth-watering matchups with the likes of Shinsuke Yamanaka, Zolani Tete, Ryan Burnett and Luis Nery.

Ken Shiro (12-0, 6 KOs) won the WBC 108-pound title in May with a razor thin majority decision over Ganigan Lopez and followed it with the same result against Pedro Guevara in September. Shiro needed an easy night and that’s exactly what he got against Pedroza at the weekend.

Next up for Shiro will be a Lopez rematch and it will be interesting to see what improvements are there. Should he prevail, a massive unification clash with Taguchi could be somewhere down the line.

Ryoichi Taguchi. Photo by Naoki Fukuda

A year ago, Ryoichi Taguchi (27-2-2, 12 KOs) struggled to a draw against Carlos Canizales. He’s now the unified junior flyweight champion. Following this career-best win over Melindo, he’s likely to receive bigger paydays. He’s also inching closer to Yoko Gushiken’s record for most successful world title defenses by a Japanese fighter.

According to Japanese boxing luminary Hitoshi Watanabe, Taguchi will next face former WBA strawweight titleholder Hekkie Budler, who gave Melindo fits last September. Hammer-fisted Nicaraguan contender Felix Alvarado is also in the shakeup to face Taguchi.

Sho Kimura (16-1-2, 9 KOs) was selected to face then-WBO titleholder Zou Shiming in July because he was viewed as an easy defense. Kimura proved to be anything but, stopping the ultra-popular Chinese double Olympic gold medalist in 11 rounds.

Igarashi, the WBO’s No. 1 challenger, was Kimura’s first defense and, on paper, this looked like an even matchup. It wasn’t even close. Kimura is regarded by many as the weakest of the champions at flyweight, but this win proves the Shiming victory was no fluke. Kimura’s come a long way from the debutant who was stopped in the opening round in 2013. Amazingly, he still works full-time hours as a delivery driver before attending the gym.

Hiroto Kyoguchi (9-0, 7 KOs) has come into prominence following a strong 2017. The 24-year-old power-puncher won a domestic title early in the year, defended once and then scored a 12-round unanimous decision over tough Mexican Jose Argumedo to lift the IBF 105-pound title.

Sunday’s opponent, Buitrago, simply could not withstand the withering body attack of Kyoguchi who may very well be the best strawweight in the world. Hopefully Kyoguchi can lure one of the other world titleholders into a unification bout.

Happy New Year one and all!

 

Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him on Twitter @AnsonWainwright

 

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