In the beginning of the third linearity of the junior flyweight division and capitalizing on the wave of Japanese boxing popularity, Ryoichi Taguchi became The Ring Magazine champion and only the third unified champion in the division’s history, since its inception in 1975, when he defeated Milan Melindo last New Year’s Eve to unify the IBF and WBA titles in Tokyo.
The Edokko (a person born and raised in Tokyo) is a by-product of the Watanabe Gym and has always sought the toughest fights (though not always being afforded that pleasure). Taguchi tried to bring pride to a gym that, for the better part of his career, centered on Takashi Uchiyama, the former WBA junior lightweight beltholder who made 11 successful title defenses. Fighting out of his shadow and being a habitual undercard rider, Taguchi hasn’t admitted it but the chip on his shoulder was always evident.
In the lead up to his 2015 New Years Eve bout against Luis de la Rosa, in his second successful WBA junior flyweight title defense, during another Uchiyama undercard, this writer spoke to Taguchi. He was seated at the far end of the table that saw Uchiyama and Uchiyama’s opponent that week, Oliver Flores, taking center stage, at the event’s last official press conference. A former sparring partner, Akira Yaegashi from Ohashi Gym, had just won the IBF junior flyweight title the night before and, unbeknownst to Taguchi, had just spoken to me an hour before about his future plans. My underhanded question to get the ball rolling was put to both Taguchi and Yaegashi, regarding any desire to unify the division, preferably against one another.
Taguchi’s response become a similar one I’d hear over and again from him over the now-almost three years. His underlying tone of absolute assuredness with impressions of impatience that screamed from the end of that long table, although actually in a dignified and respectful manner, told me he absolutely wanted to unify the division and challenge Yaegashi.
I informed him that his counterpart didn’t share the same sentiment because of a willingness to fight someone new, rather than someone with whom he had shared the ring in sparring on so many occasions. This surprised Taguchi, while the media and Uchiyama laughed, as they knew all too well the very colorful and mellow candor of the Yaegashi character, who is filled with jokes. All Taguchi could say was that they hadn’t sparred in over a year and it shouldn’t be a problem. However the moment had passed and he knew he’d need a new route to a unification.
Taguchi continued his path for what would become a not-so-silent obsession at bringing history to his division and becoming the star of his gym that eventually put all its resources behind him once Uchiyama retired in 2016. An all-Japanese unification bout was tentatively planned to star Taguchi opposite rising pugilist Kosei Tanaka, in a massive New Years Eve event. Unfortunately Tanaka would suffer two broken orbital bones in a final bout before the scheduled unification and they had to scuttle the event.
In a bit of irony and coming full circle, Yaegashi was floored in the first round by Milan Melindo in May of last year, losing his IBF title by TKO. Searching for his own validation in the form of a respected payday and credible opposition, rather than less attractive mandatory options, Melindo agreed to the year-end invitation to Tokyo afforded by Watanabe Gym.
Taguchi went on the realize his dreams that New Years Eve and successfully ascended in the process to the respected main event of the evening, on which he had appeared on four previous occasions, all undercards to his former stablemate. Not blinking and welcoming the bigger target whom would invite tougher opposition, Taguchi quickly agreed to plans that were in place before the win and accepted former strawweight beltholder Hekkie Budler for a spring defense.
A hard fight that saw Taguchi drop the South African visitor in the sixth, eventually ended in a unanimous decision loss with scores 114-113 across the board. The loss was Taguchi’s first since 2013, when he lost a decision to Naoya Inoue for the Japanese junior flyweight title – Taguchi (27-3-2, 12 knockouts) has never been knocked out and is one of only two opponents to not suffer that KO fate from Inoue, The Ring Magazine’s No. 7 pound-for-pound fighter.
Having held the WBA title for three-and-a-half years with seven successful defenses and unifying the division, it seemed like Taguchi could call it a career at the age of 31. Noting the closeness in the Budler decision, Taguchi believes he’s still got life left in him yet and wants to take another run at the title. A return is in the works for the end of the year, after he turns 32.
Taguchi took time to answer RingTV.com’s questions through Shuji Aoki:
Nick Skok: Are you planning to or wanting to fight again this year and when?
Ryoichi Taguchi: I have been planning to fight again at the end of this year. However the date is still unknown.
NS: Do you want a Budler rematch and is your promoter trying to get you that?
RT: Yes! I want to avenge the Budler loss and the president (Watanabe) is trying to get this fight to fruition.
NS: If the Budler rematch doesn’t happen, the next biggest fight available is against WBC beltholder Ken Shiro. Is that a fight you want?
RT: I will follow the decision of the president. However if the rematch with Budler is not viable, I am willing to fight with Ken Shiro.
NS: You’ve lost two other fights in your career. How has this loss affected or motivated you, in a different manner than the previous two? Obviously this time, you were a unified champion and the stakes were higher.
RT: It has been motivating for me to recapture the title that I lost. Therefore I am not depressed; I’m only motivated.
NS: You’ve been a unified and Ring Magazine champion. That sort of success is hard to achieve in this sport but you did it. What final goals, if any, do you still have?
RT: For the time being, I will move to the flyweight division, if I don’t get a Budler rematch. However getting back the lost title is vital.