The fight pitted Japan's Katsunari Takayama, the IBF champion, against Mexico's Francisco Rodriguez Jr, the WBO champion. We knew it was going to be good, in fact we knew it was going to be great. And if we're being honest the fight exceeded even our high expectations in many ways, though one thing did leave us with a sour taste, more about that later however.
Going in the bout was going to be decided on two things. Did Takayama have the speed and stamina to out work, out move and out land Rodriguez? And did Rodriguez have the power and strength to hurt Takayama? At the end we ended up having both questions landed in the affirmative leading to a thoroughly compelling and action packed fights that, if compubox was in use, could have set punch number records.
In the opening round it was clearly Takayama's speed and movement that decided who won it. Rodriguez looked slow and sloppy though very strong as the pro-Mexican crowd chanted "Chihuas", the Mexican's nickname. In the second round however things became more competitive with Takayama starting the round very well before being rocked in the final 30 seconds or so. Takayama was already being warned for holding, despite the holding being kept to a real minimum, and was already being forced to stand his ground and trade. Although we gave Takayama round 2 we could understand others scoring it to Rodriguez, it was one of those plain old "swing rounds".
Unfortunately for Takayama round 3 wasn't a swing round as the Japanese fighter was dropped. He was up as quickly as he was down but the round was still going to be a 10-8, though he did make a good effort of trying to erase the knock down, in fact if he was at home the chances are he may have managed to have won the round making it a 10-9. Away from home however that never really happens.
Although rounds 1 and 3 were clear cut not many of the others were and rounds 4 and 5 were both swing rounds impossible to call for certain either way. Takayama tried to win them on work rate alone, unloading flurries to the body up close ad measuring with a jab as he picked his raids carefully whilst Rodriguez tried to claim them with the heavy handed assault that he's going to make his trademark over the decade. Both rounds really were rounds that you could argue for either man with great give and take.
Going into round 6 the scorecards really could have said anything. They could have been 48-47 to Takayama or 49-46 to Rodriguez depending on your reading of the fight. In fact it could well have been 49-48 if you'd have scored the 3 close rounds in the most fair manner you could, giving them each as 10-10 rounds, and we know it's rare but they really were impossible to split.
In round 6 we saw Rodriguez charge at Takayama in the early stages as he moved through the gears for the first minute of the round. Amazingly however for the final 2 minutes Takayama backed up the Mexican in what looked to have become a clear round for the Japanese fighter and a major turning point with Rodriguez then looking very tired. The exhausted look on Rodriguez continued in round 7 as Takayama appeared to easily bag another round and appeared to be on his way to unifying the titles. Rodriguez looked all in as if his assault to begin round 6 was him cashing in his chips.
Amazingly the Mexican suddenly looked refreshed in round 8 as he hurt Takayama at several points. Takayama was looking ready to go as the fight swung, yet again. By the end of the eighth it seemed almost certain that Takayama was on his way to being stopped and his usually bouncing toes were now flat feet, his work rate has dissipated and he appeared to be kept in the fight on heart alone.
The heart of Takayama seemed to kick in again in round 9 as he was forced to stand and trade almost from the off as Rodriguez came out in search of a stoppage. Luckily for Takayama he was able to recoup his legs a little bit as Rodriguez continually threw some wild shots that missed by a mile, though when he connected Rodriguez really did look to hurt the Japanese fighter who stood his ground for the last 40 seconds as the two men went toe-to-toe. They started round 10 as they ended round 9, stood in front of each other unloading shots, showing reckless abandon in he search of that punch that would drop their foe and help them to victory. At the end of the round both men seemed to be looking for hail Mary's.
Going in to the championship rounds it seemed like the fight had swung just enough in the favour of Rodriguez that the titles were going to stay in Mexico. Suddenly however at the start of round 11 drama, and a little bit of controversy, struck as Rodriguez went down in his corner. Was it a knockdown or a slip? It was ruled a slip though on replay it was a hard one to call and had it been ruled a knockdown it would have neutralised the one scored by the Mexican in round 3. By the end of the 11h the knockdown/slip question was all but forgotten as the men stood trading and flailing punches at each other. It was insane as both men just stood firing bombs at each other as if the fight needed to be won by knock out.
The final round saw Takayama slip in exactly the same corner as Rodriguez's incident in the previous round. That slip was early on but for the following 2 minutes they men against stood toe-to-toe trading, bombing each other and trying to score the stoppage they may well have felt they needed. They were fighting themselves to a standstill as the insane and hyper-active fight continued to be fought in the most impressive of manners. It was a war and it was amazing to watch.
After 12 rounds the general view here was that Rodriguez had nicked it by a round or two, being helped by the crowd to just sneak the majority of the swing rounds. When the first score was read out as 116-111 we nodded in the agreement, then a score of 119-109 was read as our stomachs turned before a final card of 115-112 made us nod in agreement. The cards, which all favoured the Mexican seemed to get the right winner but we were left genuinely baffled by the wide card which seemed to be very off, even for a bout that had as many swing rounds as this one.
Takayama looked dejected having failed in his attempt to collect the grandslam whilst Rodriguez rightfully celebrated winning what could go down as one of the fights of the year. Sensational bout.
Takayama, who fell to 27-7-0-1 (10) is now 2-3-0-1 on the road and may well think twice about ever fighting outside of Japan again. He has been a road warrior but may well feel that it's not worth travelling when some judges, such as John Madfis on this occasion, have seemingly marked their cards before the fight has began. In fact he may well call it quits or try to secure a rematch back in Japan. For Rodriguez, now 15-2 (10), this leaves him as one of the top dogs at 105lbs following back to back wins over Merlito Sabillo and Takayama.
As for the Minimumweight division we're now poised for a few interesting months. Talk of a rematch between these two is something Takayama and fans would likely love, WBA champion Hekkie Budler is set to defend his title against former WBC champion Xiong Zhao Zhong, current WBC champion Oswaldo Novoa is set to defend against the unbeaten Wanheng Menayothin in Thailand in November and we're also expecting a WBA interim title fight between Carlos Buitrago and Knockout CP Freshmart in October. Whatever happens in the coming months this division is going to be red hot at the top and possible deeper, especially if Kosei Tanaka gets his wish and gets a fight with OPBF champion Ryuji Hara. What a time to be a fan of the Minimumweight division.
(Image courtesy of Nakazato Boxing)