The persistence of Masataka Taniguchi, a boxer who rose from defeat to become a world champion | FRIDAY DIGITAL

The persistence of Masataka Taniguchi, a boxer who rose from defeat to become a world champion

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Masataka Taniguchi is the new WBO minimumweight title champion after his 11th round TKO win over Mendes (Photo: Hiroaki Yamaguchi)

It was around 9:10 p.m. on December 14, 2021. In the press room of Ryogoku Kokugikan, a press conference was being held for Naoya Inoue, who had defended his WBA/IBF bantamweight title. Masataka Taniguchi, carrying a suitcase in his right hand, ran up the stairs beside the entrance.

Taniguchi, who was in the semi-finals of the Naoya Inoue vs. Alan Dipaeng fight, had just won the WBO minimumweight title a few hours earlier and was the new champion.

When I called him out, Taniguchi said.

I’m very happy. But I’m still dreamy and light-headed.

He pointed to his suitcase and asked if it contained the belt he had just won. The new champion responded with a smile.

The new champion smiled and replied, “No, I was able to wrap it around me in the ring, but then Mendes took it away.

Taniguchi won his second world title challenge with an 11th-round TKO over Puerto Rican champion Wilfredo Mendes; in his first attempt on Feb. 26, 2019, he was dominated in the ring by Filipino champion Vic Sardar and lost a one-sided decision. Six months later, on August 24 of the same year, Mendes beat Sardar to win the title, welcoming Taniguchi as the third challenger.

With an eye on challenging for the world title again, Taniguchi has spent the past two years and nine months trying to improve his skills, starting from the Japanese minimum weight class challenger tournament. The camp’s problem with Taniguchi is that he is too gentle, so he can’t take chances. If he doesn’t learn how to box to finish, it will be the same thing over and over again. Taniguchi was aware of his own issues and went to training, but it was his colleague Hiroto Kyoguchi, the current WBA light flyweight super champion, who kept encouraging him.

The two were the same age and had fought each other as amateurs. Taniguchi was captain of the boxing team at Ryukoku University and Kyoguchi was captain of the boxing team at Osaka University of Commerce, and they crossed gloves six times, with Taniguchi winning two and losing four.

Taniguchi was more than a little jealous of Kyoguchi, who had debuted at the same time and had sashayed up the stairs undefeated.

By the time I made my first attempt at the world championship, I had lost to two Japanese fighters. Kyoguchi always called me his rival and gave me positive words. However, I was unable to listen to him honestly. The Sardar fight made me realize how mentally painful it is to fight a world title match. Now, I respect Kyoguchi from the bottom of my heart, as he has gone through the training ground of world fights 7 times out of 15 fights. It was only after I experienced a world title match that I was able to listen to his words honestly.

On a daily basis, Kyoguchi says to Taniguchi, ” You’ve been training harder than me. There’s no way you can’t be a world champion. I’m sure you can win.”

Taniguchi also went back to the drawing board and worked diligently to overcome his weaknesses until he got his second chance in the Japanese minimumweight title match and defense of the same title.

After seeing the video of Mendes, Kyoguchi said, “The champion has deep pockets, so he’s probably further away than you imagine. Don’t force the punches, just take a couple of steps, close the distance, and give him a touchy jab. When Taniguchi was about to lose about three kilograms in the last week of sparring after 120 rounds, he offered him coconut water, saying, “It contains potassium, which helps the body to release water and is perfect for weight loss.

I really appreciated it. I really appreciated it,” he said, “and he was my sub and my second. He’s the current world champion, and he understands me well, so he was very encouraging.

Taniguchi is pictured with Hiroto Kyoguchi (right) after winning the title (joint photo)

I did everything I could. I did everything I could. I’m in the best condition.

“I did everything I could.

Taniguchi went into the ring for the Mendes fight saying, “In the Sardar fight, I was scared by the national anthem, thinking, ‘Is this a world title fight? I felt like I was being overwhelmed by the pressure. But this time, as I listened to the national anthem, I felt honored. I said, “I’m finally here. I’ve been working so hard to beat this guy,’ and it was like a switch was flipped on.”

The challenger moved well from the start. He used his upper body softly to get a rhythm. The challenger moved well from the start, using his upper body softly to get into a rhythm, and keeping a low posture to measure the distance between him and the champion.

The challenger moved well from the start, using his upper body to create a rhythm.

Mendes’ movements were just as I imagined, but his punches were harder than I expected, especially when they hit the body. However, I felt, ‘This punch won’t knock me down. I used a jab to the right shoulder, a jab to the chest, a jab to the body, a fast jab, and a strong jab. I was conscious of hitting the chest and stomach, mixing in feints without hitting the face hard.

I also tried to take action first and not stay in the same place. When my opponent came out, I would take a step back. I was determined to thoroughly outbox him at close range.

Towards the end of the second round, Taniguchi made a major breakthrough. He landed a left cross and took Mendes down.

It wasn’t the shot I was aiming for,” he said. My body reacted naturally. I had been practicing over and over again to hit him from above without opening my shoulders. That downing gave me a mental advantage and made the match more enjoyable. I was able to put the fight in the position I wanted. I was able to get close to Mendes and put myself in a position to win. However, Mendez was also very tenacious. I felt that he came into his own when he got close to me.

Taniguchi made his best bout on the stage of the world title match.

There was a difference in speed between me and Mendes. I was able to get the better of him with my moment-to-moment movements, such as blocking after I finished punching and returning after feinting.

However, I was also cut down a lot in the middle rounds. Mendes was skillful with his body strikes in close combat. His punches were more accurate than powerful. But I was also able to move forward when it was tough. My opponent didn’t like that.”

In the eighth round, Mendes suffered a cut above his right eye.

In the eighth round, Mendes suffered a cut above his right eye, “I think it was a left hook off a jab. When I first saw the video of Mendes, I knew I could engage him. But I also knew that if I couldn’t get into my range, I would lose.

I’m clumsy, so I’m not the type to fight with momentum. I put into action what I had experienced and the strategy I had developed.

Taniguchi, who controlled the pace of the fight from start to finish, held out his hands in the 11th round and told the fans in attendance, “From here on, it’s a battle of feelings. Give me the power! and left the corner.

Then, after a series of jabs and one-two strikes, Taniguchi wobbled the champion and rushed in without hesitation. It was a desperate rush that seemed to dispel his past complaints of not going for chances and not being able to take him down.

He showed no sign of his weakness, saying, “I can’t take chances because he’s too soft.

At 1:08 of the same round, the referee intervened between the two fighters and declared the fight over. Taniguchi becomes the new champion.

The finish was cool. I tried to hit him with light punches, but at high speed. He didn’t like the stomach, so I went for it. I was able to finish Mendes, and I felt like I grew up. I was able to break out of my shell. I became an idiot, willing to use up everything I had. That’s the difference from two years and nine months ago. I took the three defeats I suffered and turned them into fertilizer for me to win the title.

I’m not the type of guy who stacks cardboard boxes high. I’m the kind of fighter who builds a solid foundation by piling up thin sheets of paper. But, I will get stronger and stronger. Like Takashi Uchiyama and Hozumi Hasegawa, I aim to become a champion who can impress the people who watch him. And I want to be able to make young people who see me fight think, ‘I want to try boxing too.

Hitoshi Watanabe, the chairman of the gym to which the new champion belongs, recalls the early spring of 2016 . When he had dinner with Taniguchi and Kyoguchi, who were about to graduate from college, he said to them, “Let’s both work hard in Tokyo so that we can become world champions.

Kyoguchi won the National Athletic Meet, while Taniguchi was second at the National Athletic Meet and third at the All Japan Championships. Taniguchi finished second in the national championships and third in the All Japan championships. I’ve seen good things in Taniguchi, but he’s not the elite amateur who won all the titles. As a professional, it was my job to see how far I could take him. He did a great job.

Taniguchi also looks back.

When I started boxing, WBA super featherweight champion Takashi Uchiyama and WBA light flyweight champion Ryoichi Taguchi were there, and I saw firsthand how stoic the professionals were in their approach to boxing. And then there was Kyoguchi. Now, a gem of a fighter, Ginjiro Shigeoka, who is ranked 5th in the WBC in the same weight class, has also entered the gym, and there is a push up. That kind of competition in the gym has helped me improve several levels. Every day is a learning experience.

After a short rest, Masataka Taniguchi will start running toward his first defense. From now on, he will be pursued, so what will he show in his next fight as the new champion in 2022? Let’s see his further evolution.

  • Interview and text by Soichi Hayashi Photography Hiroaki Yamaguchi

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