We have forever made a point of not doing our annual awards until the year is over, it doesn't make sense to do them until the final bell for the year has been rung, and it's actually a bit disrespectful to do the awards when numerous possible contenders have still got to fight. That was proven today when we had another FOTY contender and arguable the comeback fighter of the year.
The bout in question saw the amazing Akira Yaegashi (23-5, 12) claim the IBF Light Flyweight crown with a stirring performance against Javier Mendoza (24-3-1, 19) and mount an incredible comeback after back-to-back losses in 2014. Not only did he return to claim the title, and become Japan's 3rd 3-weight world champion* but he did so with a performance that summed up his entire career in 36 action packed, bloody and exciting minutes.
From the opening round it was clear that this wasn't going to be a typical boxing bout. There was no feeling out round, instead the pace started fast with Yaegashi using his incredible speed to make Mendoza look like a clumsy fool. Yaegashi hammered the body, landed counters and looked like the younger man despite being the better part of a decade older than Mendoza.
Yaegashi's speed continued to carry him through the first 3 rounds with out any real problems at all. All the problems were Mendoza's and the most notable of those was the fact he was wobbled on the bell to end round 2 as Yaegashi landed numerous straight right hands.
It was until round 4 that Mendoza seemed to really have a break through as he started the round fast and had the early success to build form. Yaegashi took it in his stride however and stood and traded with Mendoza in an action packed sequence of testicular fortitude. The success that Mendoza had in round 4 grew through the middle rounds with the 5th round being close, just like rounds 6, 7 and 8. A case could be made for Mendoza to have won any of them, though they were all competitive.
It seemed during those competitive rounds, especially in round 7, that Yaegashi was beginning to tire and that Mendoza had plenty left in the tank. The reality however was that that was all Mendoza really had and Yaegashi had taken it and fired back every time, despite starting to show the scars of war, with swelling around his face and blood seeping from his eye.
It seemed, that if Yaegashi was going to lose it would be due to a doctors stoppage due to his facial damage, in round 9 however Mendoza joined him in the damage stakes with a nasty cut of his own. That cut seemed to deflate Mendoza who was himself looking like a fighter who knew he wasn't going to be able to change things. Whilst Mendoza was looking tired and flat footed Yaegashi appeared to have a second wind and was bouncing on his toes, further adding insult to injury.
Mendoza would try and turn the action around in round 10 but Yaegashi managed to control the distance and tempo making life very easy for himself overall as he countered the jab of the defending champion and landed huge straight shots. For Mendoza time was running out and it seemed like he summed one final effort to fight in round 11, a round in which he seemed to hurt Yaegashi before almost being stopped himself as Yaegashi unloaded a huge attack on the bell, an attack that seemed to have Mendoza reeling and badly hurt. After the bell Yaegashi roared on the crowd and it looked clear that he knew the title was staying in Japan.
The final round started with Yaegashi looking like a man who knew the win was his and for the first 30 seconds or so he was skipping around, making Mendoza look silly. Then the warrior kicked in and Yaegashi took the fight back to Mendoza, rocking him, hurting him and almost stopping him in the final minute as he unloaded. Mendoza, to his credit, survived the storm but did look like a man who was happy to back track and hear out the final bell.
The scorecards were never in doubt with Yaegashi claiming a wide unanimous decision with scores of 120-107, 119-109 and 117-111, and cementing his place among the modern legends of Japanese boxing. His feat of being a 3-weight world champion has matched that of former rival Kazuto Ioka and Koki Kameda, and it's fair to say that his fights, including this one, will live on long after he has retired.
*Technically he's the 4th Japanese fighter to claim 3-weight titles after female fighter Naoko Fujioka also accomplished the feat.
Later on Saturday night Filipino fighter Milan Melindo (32-2, 12) got his second world title fight as he took on IBF Light Flyweight champion Javier Mendoza (24-2-1, 19), unfortunately for the talented Filipino it resulted in his second loss. A disappointing technical decision in a bout that was marred by head clashes.
The first of those head clashes happened in the early moments of the bout, a result of the Orthodox Vs Southpaw stances. Despite the clash early on the rest of the opening round was relatively well fought, with the only real drama coming from an accidental low blow by Melindo late on. Sadly for Melindo things didn't look good for him overall as Mendoza seemed to walk through his shots, other than the low blow, as he tried to force his fight on to Melindo.
Through the second round it was clear that Mendoza was more than just a wild slugger, he was actually a capable boxer puncher and although he didn't have the speed of his challenger he simply seemed to big and too strong. Melindo had his moments though all often it was the heavier blows of Mendoza that really left a lasting impression. The same was also the case in the third round as Mendoza continued to take the fight to the Filipino.
The 4th round was essentially fought in a phone booth with Mendoza refusing to give Melindo any space. The close action was essentially Mendoza's dream and although Melindo again had his moments they were fleeting with his most notable punches being low blows. The first of the low blows say Melindo receive a clear warning to keep them up whilst the second, after the bell, seemed deserve a point deduction, though it didn't come.
The 5th round against saw Mendoza taking the action to Melindo and although the pace of the fight seemed to drop off slightly it was again a round that saw Melindo struggle to have more than just a few moments. The Filipino was backed on to the ropes numerous times through the round where Mendoza took the opportunity to land some fearsome shots. Sadly for Melindo he was again dropping below the belt with a number of shots, for which he was eventually deducted a point.
The start of the 6th was good for Melindo who seemed to have real success fighting fire with fire but unfortunately headclashes left both men cut. Melindo was cut over the right eye, in what immediately looked to be a nasty one. More headclashes followed with Mendoza suffering a cut around his left eye. Sadly the cut to Mendoza's eye forced an early finish with the doctor ruling him unfit to continue.
Due to the headclashes we went to the scorecards and there was no real doubting the winner with Mendoza taking a clear win on all 3 cards.
This set back for Melindo is a big one though we suspect he can bounce back from it and remain a relevant contender. For Mendoza this was a great win and we'd really like to see him in with Ryo Miyazaki, stylewise that would have FOTY contender written all over.
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.