Taniguchi says, “Make sure you make a mountain out of a molehill in every round. Even if you get into a clinch, make one or two moves until the break is called. You are the challenger. You are the challenger, and you must always be on the offensive.
Hitoshi Watanabe, 71, chairman of Watanabe Gym, called out to Masataka Taniguchi, 27, in the ring.
Taniguchi will challenge for the WBO minimumweight title on December 14 as the designated challenger for the world’s No. 1 ranking. It will be Taniguchi’s second attempt at the world title, having won 14 fights (9 KOs) and lost three to the then WBO champion Vic Sardar of the Philippines by a 0-3 decision on February 26, 2019. The current champion, Ulfredo Mendes (Puerto Rico), has a record of 16 wins (6 KOs) and 1 loss.
Taniguchi said immediately after his first loss in the world championship.
One judge scored the fight at 8 points, and the other two scored it at 6 points, so it was a complete defeat. At the end of the match, I felt I had done what I had to do, but when I reviewed the video, I found myself feeling frustrated, thinking, ‘Why didn’t I go for it here? But when I reviewed the video, I found myself getting frustrated, thinking, ‘Why didn’t I go for it here?
I was moving forward and aiming for the body, and my movements had become a pattern. Sardar had much more to draw from than I did, hitting, pulling, and hitting again. I should have ducked into the champion’s pocket and struck repeatedly there. I regret that.”
Taniguchi went on to win the Japanese minimumweight title challenger’s bout, the title match, and the title defense, moving up to No. 1 in the WBO rankings to challenge for the world title for the second time. Sardar, on the other hand, lost to Mendes by decision six months after he had defeated Taniguchi’s challenge, and fell from the title. The new champion, Mendes, had made two defenses, both by KO, and was set to face Taniguchi as his third challenger.
Taniguchi’s sparring partner that day was Ginjiro Shigeoka (22), a junior at the gym. Like Mendes, Shigeoka is a southpaw who turned pro after winning five high school titles, and is currently ranked 5th in the WBC minimum weight class.
Watanabe muttered to himself after watching the sparring between the two world rankers.
After watching the sparring between the two world rankers, Watanabe muttered, “It’s very good. The world’s No. 1 and No. 5 fight each other on a daily basis as rivals. I believe they will do it on December 14th.”
Watanabe was silent for a while and then spoke sincerely.
I remember March 21, 1988, when our fighters had a sparkling sparring session and won. Mike Tyson came to Japan and fought Tony Tubbs at the Tokyo Dome. In the prelude, Hiroyuki Yoshino won the Japanese welterweight title. He is the first Watanabe-gym champion. Later that night, middleweight Takeshi Yamato also became the Japanese champion. In Japan, the two heavyweights had been sparring day in and day out, trying to get the best of each other. It was too good to watch for free.
Yoshino won in the spotlight as the front-runner for Tyson. This time Taniguchi is also a front-runner for Naoya Inoue. I hope he will carry on the history of our gym.”
After four rounds of sparring, Ginjiro said, looking toward the world title in the same weight class.
In the first and second rounds, I was able to hit him with the counter right hook that I was aiming for, but in the third and fourth rounds, he didn’t let me do what I wanted to do. Taniguchi-san is very good at making corrections. I’m learning a lot from him.”
Wiping sweat off his face, Taniguchi also reflected.
Taniguchi wiped sweat from his face as he reflected, “I got hit by some fine punches in key places. Ginjiro is the opponent I learn the most from, and he makes me nervous. As a virtual Mendes, he would be a great partner.
From what I saw in the video, Mendes is more impressive in his skill than in his power. His upper body is soft, and he uses his technique to keep Sardar on point. When the fight starts, he will feel the pressure and difficulty. His punches are also likely to grow. This one wants to use his footwork well even at close range, rather than ducking Mendes’ punches with bodywork. I’m practicing with those points in mind.
Taniguchi began attending a boxing gym in the first year of junior high school, and in his second year of high school, he finished in the top eight at the Inter-High School Tournament. He went on to Ryukoku University, where he served as captain in his final year.
Most of the students who enter Ryukoku University on a sports recommendation come from the School of Business Administration or the School of Economics. However, I majored in history in the Faculty of Letters, and attended classes diligently while practicing. I wrote my thesis on the history of customs and manners in ancient China, including customs, political marriages, geisha, geiko, and maiko.
Physical education students should also learn well. If you’re a sports idiot, you’ll never make it in the world. The school culture was such that even if you attended class, if your score was not good enough, you would not receive credit. I think that was good for me. There are often people who say that boxers are stupid, but I have a strong feeling that I want to eliminate such voices. I learned to be disciplined when I set myself the challenge of studying both literature and sports. I feel that I have learned to be disciplined even after I became a professional boxer.
During his college days, he placed third in the All Japan Championships and second in the National Athletic Meet. He came to Tokyo after being scouted by Watanabe Gym together with Hiroto Kyoguchi, the current WBA light flyweight super champion.
Since then, I’ve been in friendly rivalry with Kyoguchi, who became world champion in his eighth fight and is still undefeated in two weight classes. To be honest, there was a part of me that was jealous. That’s why I had a hard time listening to his advice, even though he was giving it to me. I had a narrow view.”
Taniguchi lost both his debut fight for the Japanese title in his 7th fight and his 10th fight for the OPBF Oriental Pacific title. Although he used the defeats as fertilizer, it is true that his last world challenge was considered premature, as he had just won the WBO Asia Pacific title four months earlier. He was also impatient to catch up with Kyoguchi.
But when I challenged for the world title, I realized how much pressure Kyoguchi had to overcome. It’s just amazing, and I respect him. Since the Sardar fight, I’ve been able to hear Kyoguchi’s words naturally, without any hesitation. I have no hesitation in asking him questions.
Taniguchi began sparring in early October and plans to go through a total of 120 rounds in preparation for the Mendes fight, keeping in mind the “high quality” of his boxing.
Rather than sticking to my own boxing style, I’m going to fight by observing how Mendes struggles in the ring. I’d like to take action first and try to find a way to fight each time. I’m going to continue to do things that Mendes doesn’t like, and do them thoroughly. I feel that not giving him time to think will be the key to victory.
Also, I want to give the judges the impression that I’m going to come forward and get points. I don’t want to make the same mistake I made against Sardar. No matter how muddy or unattractive it is, I’m going to win. Just for that day, I’ll surpass the best man in the world.”
On the days between the Sardar fight on February 26, 2019 and his second challenge, Taniguchi said
I’m going to get one more step closer to my opponent. I’m going to take another step closer to him. Keep hitting the jab. Strengthen my mentality. Show up when you have to attack. Finish him off. I’ve been working on overcoming my issues, such as not taking punches too easily. It all happened so fast. That means it was fulfilling, wasn’t it? I’m proud of the fact that I started over from the Japanese title challenger’s match, and I’ve been building my career step by step. Mendes is wary of me because of my win over Sardar, but I’ve made progress in the past two years and ten months, so I’ll do whatever it takes to win.
What is Taniguchi’s view of being a prelude to a big match, as mentioned by Chairman Watanabe?
I’m really honored to be a front-runner for Naoya Inoue. Inoue will be fighting in Japan for the first time in two years, so the whole country will be watching. If I have a good fight there, people will remember me. I’m grateful for that.
I want to show a fight that will make people who haven’t paid attention to me in the past think, ‘Wow, this is amazing,’ or ‘I didn’t know there was such a fighter. I’d like to follow the precedent set by Hiroyuki Yoshino, one of my seniors at the gym, who made a name for himself as a starter for Tyson and became a star.
On December 14, all eyes will be on WBA/IBF bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue to see how he will handle IBF No. 4 ranked challenger Alan Daypaen. This time, Inoue is also likely to dominate in the early rounds.
The semi-finals are where Taniguchi will be given the opportunity to show the fruits of his 2 years and 10 months of hard work before Inoue steps into the ring.
Reporting and writing by： Soichi Hayashi