Last two standing
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - January 2, 2018 - 12:00am

After Milan Melindo lost the IBF lightflyweight crown to WBA champion Ryoichi Taguchi in a 108-pound unification duel in Tokyo last Sunday, the Philippines is down to only two world titlists as the curtains fell on 2017. IBF flyweight king Donnie Nietes and IBF superflyweight ruler Jerwin Ancajas are the remaining Filipinos sitting on the throne.

At the end of 2016, there were four Filipino world champions – WBO welterweight titlist Manny Pacquiao, interim IBF lightflyweight king Melindo, Ancajas and WBO bantamweight ruler Marlon Tapales.

Melindo and Taguchi figured in a bloody 12-round brawl at the Ota City General Gymnasium in metro Tokyo. Melindo’s cornermen Edito and Edmond Villamor and Michael Domingo flew home to Cebu yesterday. Melindo will arrive with his girlfriend Miki, a Filipina nurse who has lived in Tokyo for 10 years, tomorrow.

There was no question Taguchi deserved the victory as he took the championship rounds. The three judges saw the Japanese ahead on their scorecards. Francis Jackson of the Virgin Islands and Panama’s Ignacio Robles both had it 117-111 while Nicaragua’s Gustavo Jarquin scored it 116-111. The bout was supervised by Argentina’s Anibal Miramontes for the IBF and Italy’s Renzo Bagnariol for the WBA. Referee was American Mark Nelson who was the third man in the ring in the Jeff Horn-Pacquiao fight in Brisbane last July.

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Melindo seemed to get the better of the exchanges in the early going but after looking sharp in the ninth round, couldn’t cope with Taguchi’s change of strategy in the last three stanzas. Edito Villamor, who acted as Melindo’s chief second, said Taguchi upped his workrate to a high level as the fight came to a climax.

“Taguchi kept pressuring the fight, using his jab, body punch and uppercut with more combinations,” said Villamor. “It wasn’t that Milan lost steam. Grabe ang suntukan nila sa last four rounds. Hindi lang na-maintain ni Milan yung ginawa niya sa ninth round. Dapat na-maintain ni Milan yung winning pace para manalo. Nag-change din ng strategy si Taguchi from the 10th round up to the last.”

Villamor raised an alarm signal at the end of the eighth round. “I told Milan after the eighth kung hindi niya makuha ang last four rounds, talo na tayo,” he said. “Ang nakuha lang niya yung ninth at ang 11th was close. Hindi nag-boxing si Taguchi. Talagang bloody fight. Both fighters were cut from headbutts. Si Milan, malalaki ang mga cuts niya compared to his cuts in previous fights and they were new cuts on his face. He had three cuts and the biggest was near his right eye.”

Melindo repeatedly tried to penetrate Taguchi’s guard with body shots and aggressive tactics. He had some success in the first few rounds but Taguchi seized control down the stretch, taking the initiative in stopping the Filipino in his tracks. Melindo gained the admiration of the Japanese fans for his courage, never retreating despite his face transformed into a crimson mask. Taguchi, however, was the better man that night.

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Japanese matchmaker Joe Koizumi filed this report on the fight: “Taguchi had a tough time coping with the shorter but sharper Melindo in earlier rounds but almost swept the second half by utilizing his advantage in height (four inches) and reach (two inches) ... they often made head collisions to see Melindo bleeding from gashes over both eyebrows and Taguchi from a cut on the forehead ... in later rounds, Melindo was visibly fading and slowing down only to have Taguchi take the initiative to pile up important points down the stretch.” Taguchi, 31, improved his record to 27-2-2, with 12 KOs and is now the unified WBA/IBF lightflyweight king. Melindo, 29, scaled 107 1/2 pounds and Taguchi 107 3/4 for the fight.

Villamor said Melindo’s future plans will be discussed with ALA Boxing president Michael Aldeguer. “Hindi ko pa alam sa ngayon kung ano ang mga options ni Milan,” he said. “Sa 108 pounds, no problem in making weight but if there’s an opportunity sa 112, he can move up.” If Melindo had won, his options were to stake the IBF crown against South Africa’s Hekkie Budler in a rematch or battle WBC champion Ken Shiro in another unification showdown.

The loss to Taguchi dropped Melindo’s record to 37-3, with 13 KOs. His three losses were inflicted in world title fights. In 2013, Melindo was outpointed by Mexico’s Juan Francisco Estrada in a WBO/WBA flyweight double title bout in Macau. Two years later, he bowed to Mexico’s Javier Mendoza on a unanimous sixth round technical decision in an IBF lightflyweight championship match in Ensenada. Melindo was docked two points for low blows in the bloody donnybrook where both fighters suffered nasty cuts.

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