On April 22nd we'll see WBO Minimumweight champion Masataka Taniguchi (15-3, 10) [谷口将隆] make his first defense, as he takes on the hard hitting Kai Ishizawa (10-1, 9) [石澤開] in a mouth watering match up that promises explosive action. For Taniguchi the bout is a chance for him to build on his big win over Wilfredo Mendez late last year, and notch a second victory over Ishizawa whilst also keeping his title. As for Ishizawa, the bout is about much more than the belt, and for him the contest seems personal as he attempts to avenge the sole defeat on his record. With a bit of history between the two men we expect this to be something of a personal bout, and quite possible one of the real hidden gems for the month.
Of the two men the more accomplished is Taniguchi, clearly. He was a notable Japanese amateur before turning to the professional ranks, and there was a lot of expectations on his shoulders. He, and fellow Watanabe Gym fighter Hiroto Kyoguchi, were seen as the next generation of fighters at the gym, and the men to replace the likes of Takashi Uchiyama, Ryoichi Taguchi and Kohei Kono. Both were rushed to notable fights, but sadly for Taniguchi he would come up short in his bigger bouts, losing against Reiya Konishi, Tsubasa Koura and Vic Saludar. Despite those losses it was clear he was a real talent, who had the tools to go all the way, but just fell short in bouts with the most on the line. Tellingly however he has rebuilt and used those losses to build his hunger, which has resulted in him winning his last 4 bouts, including his victories over Ishizawa in 2019, a win over Hizuki Saso for the Japanese title in 2020 and his win over Mendez last year for the WBO title.
In the ring Taniguchi is a very high level boxer-puncher, with under-rated body punching, good shot selection and an impressive array of technical skills. He's not a huge puncher, or the mot aggressive, the most physically imposing, but he's a very solid boxer, who can do everything, very well without being excellent in any specific area. As a fighter he's proven to have a solid chin, good work rate, a good engine and be willing to dig deep late in bouts. Sadly though whilst he is very good his flaws can be targeted, and his lack of being incredible in any area does leave him with areas where opponents can target him. For example Vic Saludar was too strong, and managed to force Taniguchi to back up a lot, however he will given anyone a tough bout and with his confidence at an all time high, it's fair to say only genuine world class fighters will be able to beat him. He has, after all, improved a lot from his losses.
Aged 25 Kai Ishizawa is a nightmare for the division, as he continues to develop from a young man with terrifying physical strength and power, into a man in his prime years. He is very much a fearsome individual and arguably the most dangerous man in the 105lb weight class. He turned professional without much fan fare, joining the likes of Junto Nakatani at the MT Gym, but quickly started to build a reputation for himself with his power, aggression and eye catching style. Things were boosted when he stopped Tatsuro Nakashima and then claimed the Japanese Youth title with an impressive win over Yuga Inoue. Sadly for Ishizawa his winning run came to an end in 2019 when he was beaten by Taniguchi, though since then he had gone 4-0 (3) and claimed the Japanese national title, with a win over Katsuki Mori this past January.
Unlike many Minimumweights Ishizawa doesn't get into the ring to just win, but instead win inside the distance. By pressing, bullying and pounding his opponents in the pursuit of a stoppage. He typically fights behind a tight, high guard, presses forward, and looks to break opponents down with his physicalpressure, heavy hands and brutal shots. He mixes things up nicely, to head and body, and makes fighters wilt under his pressure. So far only two fighters have survived the distance with him, Taniguchi and Yuni Takada, and coming in to this bout it's clear that Ishizawa doesn't want Taniguchi to repeat the act. He will also have learned form that loss, and will now know that against a fighter liek Taniguchi he really can't wait like he did in the first fight, and instead needs to be more intense, get closer, and let his hands fly more willingly.
As seen in their first bout, there is no denying that Taniguchi is the better boxer. He's more agile, uses straight punches well, picks his shots excellently and is all round a more complete fighter than Ishizawa. He managed to neutralise Ishizawa for stretches in their first bout, and although Ishizawa was always dangerous it was a pretty clear win for Taniguchi.
For things to change here Ishizawa will need to make Taniguchi uncomfortable. He will need to get close, rip the body more, and get his uppercuts off. He will need to push Taniguchi on to the ropes, take his movement away and get to work. If he can do that, he stands a genuine chance of avenging his loss and claiming the WBO title.
Notably though we see Ishizawa again struggling to get into range and get his shots off. What we're expecting is for Taniguchi to keep things long, use his quicker legs early on, take some steam out of Ishizawa in the first 4 or 5 rounds. Hold when he needs to. In the second half a more tired Ishizawa will be slower anyway, and from there Taniguchi should be able to pick, poke and prod his way to either a decision win or a late stoppage.
Prediction - TKO12 Taniguchi
This coming Tuesday the Kokugikan will play host to two world title bouts. One of those is the much anticipated return to a Japanese ring for the Monster Naoya Inoue, the other however is a bout that is getting over-looked, but will likely be a compelling and competitive bout, not something we're expecting of Inoue's contest.
That bout is a WBO Minimumweight mandatory title bout, as defending champion Wilfredo Mendez (16-1, 6) takes on Masataka Taniguchi (14-3, 9) in a very, very intriguing match up that could help shake up a division that has been disappointing lacking in action the past two years. The bout will be Mendez's third defense since beating Vic Saludar for the title back in August 2019, but his first bout in almost 2 years, with his last one being back in February 2020 against the very limited Gabriel Mendoza. For Taniguchi the bout will be his second world title bout, and he'll be looking to build on a 3 fight winning run at domestic level.
Aged 25 Mendez is one of just two current world champions from Puerto Rico, with the other being Jonathan Gonzalez, and he is really carrying the flag for a country that has such a rich boxing history. He is a talented southpaw, who has been a professional since 2016 and has fought through the Americas, with bouts in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia and Panama. He has also beaten a number of notable names, with two wins over Axel Aragon Vega, who gave Hiroto Kyoguchi a tough test earlier this year, and his career best win over Vic Saludar. He's an awkward, skilled, fast fighter, but one who lacks power and has gotten lucky at home a couple of times, notably in his second bout against Vega back in late 2019. Sadly he has, as mentioned, been inactive recently, and this is set to be his first bout in Asia, two things that could be pivotal here against Taniguchi in Tokyo.
In the ring Mendez, known as "Bimbito" is a southpaw who likes to keep range, makes the most of his jab, and fights at distance, often on the back foot. He's slippery, he has solid defensive skills and a good boxing brain, as well as good size for a fighter at 105lbs. Sadly though he does seem to lack power and conviction in his own arsenal, fiddling away at times, rather than asserting himself. It's worked, mostly, for him so far, but there is a real question mark over whether his tactics would have the same success away from home, where judges are perhaps less likely to give him rounds based on his jab, and somewhat negative movement. He has got nice shots in his arsenal, but all too often he doesn't seem to have the belief to use them, and instead moves and jabs.
Aged 27 Masataka Taniguchi is one of the more talented Minimumweights out there, but also a man who has just fallen short in a number of bouts during his career. He turned professional at the same time as Hiroto Kyoguchi, and the two were pretty much on the same type of trajectory early on with Watanabe Gym viewing the two as future stars of the gym.
Sadly whilst Kyoguchi has gone from strength to strength Taniguchi has had slip ups, such as his 2017 loss to Reiya Konishi, in a bout that as tight and as close as they come with Konishi taking a narrow majority decision. Similarly his second loss was equally as close and competitive, just 7 months later, against Tsubasa Koura. With a modicum of good fortune he could have taken wins in both of those bouts. His third loss, in 2019, was a clear one to Vic Saludar, and showed that whilst he was good, he wasn't good enough at that point to be a world champion. Notably however since that loss he has improved, notably, ans reeled off 3 of his best wins to date, beating Kai Ishizawa, Hizuki Saso and Tatsuro Nakashima, whilst winning and defending the Japanese Minimumweight title. He now seems a more determined, more polished and more compete fighter than ever before and he's learned from his set backs.
In the ring is a boxer-puncher, with an aggressive mindset, a mindset that has really come about following his losses where a little bit more aggression would likely have made a difference. He presses well, and he's intelligent, bringing intelligent pressure into the ring, looking for holes, and then making opponents pay. Although not a concussive puncher, few Minimumweights are, his straight left hand gets respect from opponents and does damage, especially with how clean he lands it. Although an aggressive fighter, he's not a reckless one, instead he's a really deliberate one, and what he throws usually lands on the target. Whilst he is a good offensive fighter, his foot work can be a bit flat, and against Mendez that could be an issue, and his punches, whilst sharp, aren't the quickest.
For Mendez his key to victory is forcing distance, staying away and fighting behind his jab, and moving. Taniguchi on the other hand will be looking to press and pressure the champion, whilst taking his legs away with good body shots. Who ever can control the distance here should win. Sadly for Mendez we suspect his inactivity and the fact he's fighting in Japan, in less than ideal circumstances, will be a major issue. We suspect he'll start well, but as the bout goes on his tank will empty, and when that happens we suspect Taniguchi will come on strong, and eventually get to his man, breaking him down late in the bout.
Prediction - TKO10 Taniguchi
The Minmumweight division has continued to go under-the-radar in recent years despite some amazing fighters, and fights, down at 105lbs. On February 26th we'll get another potentially sensational fight as Vic Saludar (18-3, 10) defends the WBO title against Japanese challenger Masataka Taniguchi (11-2, 7), in what has the potential to be a FOTY contender.
The 28 year old Saludar claimed the title last year, when he defeated Ryuya Yamanaka in an underrated 12 round bout back in July, exactly 5 years after his debut. That was his second world title fight, after suffering a KO loss to Kosei Tanaka back at the end of 2015. In both bouts the Filipino showed how good he was, and showed that he was a strong, powerful, hard hitting fighter with real ambition. He was technically the most rounded fighter, but more technical than many give his credit for. He was accurate, exciting, and very determined.
After turning professional in 2013 Saludar had been tipped for big things. His career took a hit early however when he pulled out of his third bout, suffering a fractured hand against Powell Balaba just 4 months after his debut.He would rebuild to get the shot at Tanaka and drop Tanaka before being stopped himself, whilst well up on the scorecards. He would then begin a charge towards a second world title fight. That charge hit a bump when he lost to Toto Landero, but he bounced back from that defeat and ended up defeating Yamanaka, and sadly forcing Yamanaka to retire following a small brain bleed.
Although his record is 18-3 (10) Saludar is a huge puncher. He dropped Tanaka, he dropped and badly hurt Yamanaka. He's not the type of guy you choose to get into a war with, and instead you attempt to outbox him, take advantage of his technical flaws and win rounds, hoping to make the most of his mistakes. He's perhaps not the toughest fighter out there, but it did take a beauty of a body punch from Tanaka to stop him, but he is rather rugged.
Taniguchi also has a misleading record, with 2 losses in his first 13 fights. He could however be 13-0 (7) and nobody would have criticised the decisions, with both of his losses coming in razor thin majority decisions. Not only have they come by the narrowest of margins, but they have also come at a very high level. His first loss was to the then 12-0 Reiya Konishi in a Japanese title fight, whilst the second was to the then OPBF champion Tsubasa Koura, who was 11-0. Those losses have come to fighters who are going to be in the world title mix for years to come.
Taniguchi turned professional at the same time as Hiroto Kyoguchi and both were expected to be on a similar career trajectory, with Watanabe matching them on the same shows early in their careers. Since then Kyoguchi has become one of the faces of Japanese boxing, becoming a 2-weight champion. Taniguchi hasn't quite had the same success, suffering his two losses and also suffering some injuries, that have slowed his rise. He did however, claim his first title last year, winning the WBO Asia Pacific title in November in Thailand to open up this fight.
Taniguchi is a skilled boxer-puncher, with a good output, a real toughness and an exciting style that should make for a thrilling clash with Saludar. He's also a fighter who has solid power, a determined mentality and nice variety to his punches. We'd go as far as to say that Taniguchi is the better pure boxer, whilst Saludar is the bigger single puncher. Taniguchi is however a southpaw, and that may prove to be a key factor.
We're expecting a highly skilled chess match with knights removed, and shotguns replacing them. We can't help but imagine both will be unloading bombs, looking to take the other out. We believe the better skills of Taniguchi will prove to be a key for him, but Saludar will certainly be able to hurt the challenger if he lands cleanly, and there will always be a real sense of danger when he connects.
We see this being a close and competitive bout, but we do see Taniguchi doing enough to take the take in a clear, but very hard fought, decision.
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.