Last year was a huge one for Japanese boxing, with fighters like Hiroto Kyoguchi and Daigo Higa bursting into the world scene, and there was a great string of results for the county which ended the year as one of the dominant forces in global boxing. The year's final show saw Ryoichi Taguchi (27-3-2, 12) [田口良一] defeat Milan Melindo to unify the WBA, IBF and Ring Magazine Light Flyweight titles. Today, almost 6 months later, Taguchi returned to the ring to try and make his first defense, taking on former WBA Minimumweight champion Hekkie Budler (32-3, 10).
Budler, who had actually lost to Melindo last year in an IBF title fight, started this fight like a man possessed and quickly took the fight to Taguchi. The Japanese fighter tried to respond but often seemed to slower fighter and was about half a step behind the busier, more aggressive and eye catching Budler. The South African kept up the intense pressure through the first half of the fight, badly hurting Taguchi in round 4 and bursting his nose in what was a really strong round for the challenger.
Budler's success came from getting inside on Taguchi and working the combinations, with Taguchi struggling to return fire. The movement of Budler was fantastic as he ducked out out of the way of headshots and turned Taguchi, giving him angles that the champion simply couldn't respond to. Taguchi tried, and battled through the bloodied nose, but really struggled to match the out put and success of the challenger.
By the mid-way point it seemed like Taguchi was going to need something very special to turn the fight around and he wasn't really looking like he was able to do it. He was having success with big single body shots, but wasn't really able to follow that up.
The second half of the fight saw the pace slow down, and this helped Taguchi, who managed to hurt Budler in round 9, and leave the challenger with a bloodied nose. It was the first clrar round for Taguchi in some time and although Budler fought back well after being hurt, it was a very clear round for the champion. Taguchi build well on that success and seemed to do just enough to take round 10 and 11.
Knowing he had to be behind, even if it was close, Taguchi went all out in round 12 and quickly hurt Budler before sending him down, in a decision ruled as a slip. Taguchi would continue to press and attack through the entire round whilst Budler was in survival mode, holding, spoiling and taking punishment as Taguchi hunted a remarkable come from behind win. Sadly though for him he couldn't get the stoppage and we went to the cards.
Whilst waiting for the cards Budler's crash to the canvas was reviewed and reversed into a knockdown, which it hard originally looked like, but still even with the 10-8 in his favour Taguchi simply hadn't done enough, and the judges all had the bout 114-113 in favour of the South Africa.
With the win Budler becomes a 2-weight champion and Japanese boxing misses out, again, on what could have been a massive domestic unification bout between Taguchi and WBC champion Ken Shiro.
Whilst last year was a big one for Japan this year has been a faltering and frustrating one. The country has seen Kenichi Ogawa being stripped of the IBF Super Featherweight title, for what was seemingly a skin medication, Daigo Higa lose the WBC Flyweight title on the scales, and now Taguchi's loss here. There is still time left to finish this year on a high, and demand for a rematch between Taguchi and Budler has already began, but it's not been a good few months for Japanese boxing.
On a huge day for boxing fans around the globe it could be said that fans in the Philippines got the perfect start as they got two brilliant bouts on Pinoy Pride 42, the second of which saw a local hero retain a world title, despite suffering massive cuts over both eyes.
The champion was IBF Light Flyweight kingpin Milan Melindo (37-2, 13), who narrowly defeated South African challenger Hekkie Budler (31-3, 10) in a really dramatic, and engaging contest.
The fight started slow and the 4 rounds were tactically changed rounds with Melindo looking to unleash his counter punches and Budler waiting back, trying to figure out a point of attack. That saw the challenger look to jab, and look to unleash combinations on the inside, though he got punished for both. The one massive incident during those early rounds was a monstrous low blow from Melindo that sent Budler down in a heap.
In round 5 it seemed like Budler finally found something to go with as he upped the pace, and Melindo responded in kind in a round that suddenly saw the fight come alive. Through the round it seemed like Melindo was the bigger puncher, but Budler certainly seemed to land more and seemed to be the one forcing the action as it suddenly looked like we were on for a tear up.
Sadly the action completely died in round 6, arguably the worst round of the fight. Despite the action dying off the end of the round saw the drama begin as a huge headclash left Budler cut over the left eye, with the cut being a long, deep one. The cut could have stopped the fight, and in round 7, when the doctors inspected it, it did look like we were going to have an early conclusion.
Thankfully the doctor decided to let the fight go on and in round 7 Budler had a great round and it seemed things were turning his way, with the cut clearly bothering Melindo. To his credit Melindo fought back fantastically in rounds 8 and 9, as he escaped another inspection.
With the fight finely balanced Melindo suffered yet again, as the two traded blows and their heads connected again. This time it was Melindo's right eye that was left with a gash over it and a bad swelling that made it seem like he was essentially blind in the eye. The swellings drove on Budler in round 11 and although Melindo was clearly fighting with his sight impaired the Filipino had his moments, including a massive right hand late on. It wasn't enough to take Melindo the round but continued to prove he was the power puncher in there.
With the bout close, and with Melindo's face a swollen and cut mess, the final round was always going to play a major role and both fighters knew it. Budler came out hot, unfortunately was dropped in the first 30 seconds. He got back to his feet, complained about it being a trip and then they went to war, with Melindo seemingly hunting a stoppage then Budler turning the tables until they were just trading back and forth in a round that should in contention for round of the year.
When the knockdown occurred it did seem like it would play a massive role, and that proved to be the case when the cards were read, with scores of 115-113 to Budler being over-ruled by scores of 115-112 and 117-110 for Melindo.
With the win Melindo secures his first defense, but he will be out of the ring for quite some time due to the cuts he suffered, which were both nasty ones. Potentially he could be back in time for a mandatory in 2018, or perhaps see an interim champion crowned whilst he recovers.
Although the Light Flyweight lacks the respect it deserves this was the second world title fight the division has seen this week, and like the first it was a thrilling and dramatic defense, with the winner over-coming serious facial damage. Sadly though it could mean that two champions are out of action until 2018.
The Minimumweight division continues to enthrall us almost weekly and it did it again this past Saturday in Monte Carlo as China's Xiong Zhao Zhong (24-6-1, 14) put up a great effort in a close and hard fought loss to South African slickster Hekkie Budler (27-1, 9), the current WBA Minimumweight world champion.
The bout saw Zhong fighting in Europe for the first time whilst Budler returned to the scene of his previous defense, an 8th round KO against Pigmy Kokietgym, and it also saw Zhong impressing with a very gallant performance against one of the division's most talented fighters. In fact despite Budler's edge in talent and speed he was put until a lot of pressure, especially early one when Zhong managed to drop the South African champion.
Unfortunately for Zhong the knockdown was effectively neutralised the following round as the taller and rangier Budler began to use his physical tools to his advantage and dropped the diminutive Zhong late in the round.
The subsequent rounds, rounds 4-6, were close with neither man really getting the upper hand in what were really competitive rounds. They could have been scored either way though Budler certainly appeared the more skilled whilst Zhong was the more willed. It was the will and toughness of Zhong that was keep the rounds competitive though unfortunately for him that will couldn't help him in the second half of the fight as the champion found his groove and racked up the rounds needed to retain his titles.
For Zhong this is his second loss this year, following a very disappointing blow out defeat to Oswaldo Novoa. Unlike that defeat he was always competitive here and in fact his performance suggests that Novoa is actually the better and more dangerous fighters in what is quickly becoming one of the sports most must watch divisions, and we suspect it could get even better next year with a possible fight between Budler and someone like Kosei Tanaka or Katsunari Takayama both of which would be fantastic fights.
The first of the major fights this Saturday was in Monaco as Thailand's Pigmy Kokietgym (52-7-2, 22) challenged South Africa's Hekkie Budler (26-1, 9) for the WBA Minimumweight title.
Pigmy, fighting in his second title fight, started slowly and it appeared clear that he was trying to figure out the taller, younger and faster looking champion. Unfortunately for Kokietgym he never really managed to get going and every time he had some success it was quickly neutralised by Budler who fired back every time he needed to.
The only real success Kokietgym had early on was landing counter right hands which Budler could see coming a mile away to avoid or take the sting away from the shots and a very low shot that seemed to hurt Budler more than anything else Pigmy landed.
Although he had had some limited success Kokietgym managed to pick it up in round 3 as he began to find a new gear and get to work on the champion, cutting the distance and unloading for the first time. It showed that Budler was there to be tagged and if a fighter could force him back Budler was poor on the back foot. It was clear however that Kokietgym lacked the pop needed to really force Budler back at will.
Kokietgym began round 4 as he had fought round 3 though at the end of the round an assault by Budler made him touch down. It swung the round from a 10-9 to Pigmy to a 10-8 to Budler.
The short success of Pigmy's seemed to come to a near instant end after the debatable knockdown and quickly Budler took control of the fight winning the 5th round with better boxing and aggression that seemed to begin to slow down the 32 year old Thai. From then on it was beginning to become more and more about Budler who won a competitive round 6 though began finding the body of the Thai with some notable consistency
It was the body shots of Budler that eventually dropped Pigmy in round 7, at the very end of the round. Pigmy managed to get up but the damage was done and Budler jumped on the Thai from the bell to start round 8, Budler, looking for the finish, dropped Pigmy twice more a he kept on a relentless assault that eventually saw Pigmy taking the count and concede the bout to the better fighter.
Although it was a brave effort from the Thai it was clear the fighters were in different leagues. Interestingly however this moves a possible showdown between Budler and Katsunari Takayama one step further. If Takayama can over-come Francisco Rodriguez Jr in August there seems to be plans to match the two in October, possibly in Monaco on a show very similar to this one.
Interestingly this fight was televised in the UK on Boxnation. It was their first ever fight at 105lbs and hopefully it will lead to more Minimumweight title fight being shown on the channel, hopefully including the aforementioned Takayama/Budler contest.
(Image courtesy of Golden Gloves)
World Title Results
Whether you like them or not World Titles add prestige to any bout as a result we've included the results of world title bouts in this special section.