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
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.