Katsunari Takayama vs. Francisco Rodriguez Jr.: The Biggest Fight of the Weekend

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Katsunari Takayama vs. Francisco Rodriguez Jr.: The Biggest Fight of the Weekend
Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images

The biggest fight this weekend won't be on Showtime. 

It won't feature a Ukrainian heavyweight by the name of Vyacheslav Glazkov either. 

Ironically, the biggest fight on display this Saturday will feature the sport's smallest competitors.

In a promising Fight of the Year candidate and IBF and WBO minimumweight title unification bout, Katsunari Takayama takes on Francisco Rodriguez Jr. on August 9 in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. An impressive showing will make the winner the No. 1 strawweight in the world. 

When control of an entire division is at stake, fight fans should take notice.

But fighting in boxing's smallest weight class, 105-pounders are far too familiar with being snubbed by the mainstream fanbase. 

However, this is one fight that no fan of the gloved arts should miss.

 

When: Saturday, Aug. 9 at 11 p.m. ET

Where: Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico

TV: TV Azteca in Mexico and beIN SPORTS (available on all major cable providers) in the United States

 

Always fearless, Takayama (27-6-0-1, 10 KO) has flirted with control of the strawweight division for nearly 10 years now since defeating Isaac Bustos way back in April 2005 for the WBC minimumweight title. He hasn't been knocked out since 2003 and has his eyes set on making history this weekend. With a win over WBO champion Rodriguez Jr., Takayama would become the first ever Japanese boxer to win a version of all four of the major world titles.

And if Takayama has to make the journey to his opponent's home turf to do so, that's not a problem for him. Fighting in his enemy's backyard has never been an issue.

On three separate occasions, the Japanese champion has travelled to South Africa, twice to face off with a prime Nkosinathi Joyi. He would lose to the South African in early 2012 but beat Mario Rodriguez (who stopped Joyi in seven rounds) a year later for the IBF minimumweight belt.

If Takayama, the No. 2-rated strawweight in the world, according the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, can return to Mexico this weekend and beat Rodriguez Jr., he'll have a deeper resume than any active strawweight including "The Hexecutioner" Hekkie Budler, who is currently ranked No. 1 largely because of his consistency, having only lost one bout in his 27-fight career.

"El Chihuas" Rodriguez Jr. (14-2, 10 KO) turned 21 years old just last month. He also goes by "Titanium," and he put that moniker to the test when he, only 20, fought pound-for-pound claimant and ferocious-punching Roman "El Chocolatito" Gonzalez in September of last year.

At the flyweight limit of 112 pounds, Rodriguez Jr. demonstrated a fierce high-output style and cutthroat resilience, exchanging heavy leather with the sport's foremost combination puncher, only to be subjected to a questionable referee stoppage in the seventh round. 

Two wins and six months later, El Chihuas met up with the unbeaten Merlito Sabillo for the WBO minimumweight title. Sabillo—ranked No. 10 by the TBRB—is a hyperaggresive swarmer who gave the strawweight division's head-to-head most talented fighter Carlos Buitrago the toughest fight of his career, holding the Nicaraguan phenom to a split-decision draw.

When Rodriguez Jr. pulled off a big upset and completely beat Sabillo senseless on the way to a 10th-round TKO victory, boxing caught glimpse of what might be the future of the 105-pound weight class. That future might come as soon as this weekend if he can get by his Japanese adversary. And elite wins over both Sabillo and Takayama (in addition to taking Gonzalez's best shots) would be clearly better than anything Budler has on his resume, which includes a win over a faded Joyi. 

It won't be easy. Takayama holds a distinct advantage in experience. Ten years his opponent's elder, he has participated in 18 more pro bouts and 199 more rounds than the Mexican. This includes trading punches with an incredible six men who have laid claim to being the very best minimumweight in the world at one point or another: Eagle Den Junlaphan, Yutaka Niida and the aforementioned Bustos, Gonzalez and Rodriguez.

As it turns out, that might not be all that beneficial.

In boxing, the lower the weight division, the faster you age. Takayama will turn 32 in less than half a year, and that's ancient at 105 pounds. Outside of Takayama, just two other strawweights featured in TBRB's top 10 are 31 or older (Xiong Zhao Zhong and Ganigan Lopez). This showed in Takayama's most recent bout against a third-rate fighter in Shin Ono three months ago.

Against his Japanese countryman, Takayama struggled down the stretch. Ono was able to bully Takayama through the middle rounds, and had it not been for two knockdowns in Rounds 10 and 12, Ono could have easily received the nod from the judges.  

Nevertheless, Takayama is 3-1 over his last four fights dating back to Oct. 2012. His only blemish was a split-decision loss to Mateo Handig, fighting in the latter's native Philippines. If not for the point deducted from Takayama midway through the fight, he would have received no less than a draw. 

Over the same time period, Rodriguez Jr. is 6-1, and his only loss came to one of the best fighters in the world, Roman Gonzalez. On the back of a massive win over Sabillo just five months ago, the 21-year-old is carrying a surge of momentum into the biggest fight of his life. 

Similar to the shellacking that Naoya Inoue—also just 21—gave former light flyweight champion Adrian Hernandez this past April to reign supreme at 108 pounds, if Rodriguez Jr. can pull off the remarkable win over Takayama, 2014 would be a revolutionary year for boxing's two lightest weight classes.

But if experience prevails and Takayama wins, strawweight still would have an excellent poster child for the all-out excitement and "never back down" attitude that makes the lower weight divisions so special.

Takayama and Rodriguez Jr. take center stage Saturday night. Delightful violence is their forte, and they'll be an absolute treat to watch.

Provided anybody actually does. 

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