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
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