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Nishida over-comes Rodriguez to become IBF Bantamweight champion!

Just moments ago we saw Japan crown their latest world champion (either male champion #99 or #100 depending on whether you include Satoshi Shingaki*), as Ryosuke Nishida (9-0, 1) [西田凌佑] made the most of his mandatory title shot and dethroned Puerto Rican Emmanuel Rodriguez (22-3, 13) of the IBF Bantamweight crown.

From the opening round Nishida looked to control the distance, using his long jab to pick off at Rodriguez who was being forced to come forward more than he would have liked. This led to a number of clean shots at range for Nishida. The usually polished Rodriguez was having moments, but looked really uncomfortable and almost as if he wasn’t expecting to be out jabbed. The best single shots were from Rodriguez, but the consistency through the round seemed to edge to Nishida. The second round was much like the first as the accuracy and consistency of Nishida was out doing the bigger single shots of the champion.

Round 3 was something of a better round for the champion, but still one that seemed to be edged by the challenger, who was growing in confidence, despite the fact the champion was starting to warm into things.

In round 4 Nishida seemed happy to fight up close a brutal left hand to the body from Nishida dropped Rodriguez, who beat the count but was clearly hurt from the shot. Following the knockdown Rodriguez spent much of the round trying to do enough to get Nishida to give him time to recover, something Nishida refused to do. Instead of keeping it long Nishida took the fight to Rodriguez, trading shots up close, and returning to the body regularly, knowing he could hurt his man. In round 5 we saw much the same approach from Nishida, though it had mixed success with Rodriguez having moments up close with his own crisp, accurate uppercuts. For the first time in the fight it seemed like Rodriguez managed to get Nishida’s attention, with the challenger on the ropes, before Nishida tried to finish the round strong and take the play away from the defending champion, who probably took the round.

Rodriguez came out aggressive for round 6, with Nishida being backed up early, and it seemed, for a moment, that Rodriguez was going to go on the hunt. It wasn’t long however until Nishida got back to what had worked early on, creating space, using his long shots and essentially luring Rodriguez in. Like the early rounds this saw Rodriguez land the better single shots, and he landed quite a lot of them, as he began to build some momentum. Knowing Rodriguez was building a foothold Nishida again mixed up his tactics, and began to close the distance, going to the body again up close and trying to land a blow like he had in round 4. It left him at risk of taking uppercutts from Rpodriguez, but the tactic seemed to work as he out worked Rodriguez, and started bullying the Puerto Rican around the ring, mixing up shots to head and body. It was  clear, when they were up close, that Rodriguez had to work harder for less pay than Nishida who used the round well as he tried to take away the momentum that Rodriguez had started to build in round 5.

Round 8 saw the men again standing toe to toe for much of the round, as the tempo, from both, seemed to increase. It seemed like Nishida had began to feel he could stop Rodriguez, and Rodriguez had decided he needed to step on the gas to get Nishida’s respect again, and force the Japanese fighter to back off. Nishida continued to feel like he had what was needed to take out Rodriguez in round 9 as he went on an all out assault from the start of the round, and it was starting to look like Rodriguez was wilting in front of us, though he saw out the storm and tried to fire back.  As the round went on Nishida refused to give much breathing space, backing Rodriguez up a number of times, with Rodrigues trying to go tit for tat up close.

Nishida continued to press the action in round 10, as he stood up close, letting his hands go and continued to try and break the will of the champion, who showed his fighting spirit by firing back. It was a brilliant back and forth through much of the round but Nishida was physically imposing himself, pushing Rodriguez backwards. They were both trading thrilling bursts of shots in 3 and 4, with Rodriguez having the quick punchers, and Nishida seemingly having the more hurtful ones. Notably the right eye of Nishida was almost closed by the end of the round.

Once more the fighters clashed head to head to start the round, with both now visibly looking tiring from the high tempo back and forth exchanges. The round was marred with a lot of holding, and leaning on each other as the tempo of the previous 10 rounds took a toll. Despite that both continued to let shots go up close, Rodriguez landing flashy combinations up top, Nishida mixing in body and head work, neither man looking hurt by what the other threw but eating a lot of leather regardless.

In round 12, which many felt would be a decisive round going in, Nishida started hot, pressing the action, and letting everything he had in the tank go at Rodriguez. Rodriguez once again sought to respond, rather than be the aggressor from the off. It looked, in many ways, that Nishida wanted to take it out of the hands of the judges, whilst Rodriguez was looking to see out the final bell. Nishida’s aggression kept coming, wave after wave of attacks, only thwarted by Rodriguez’s clinching. As the round began to tick away Rodriguez began to let his hands go, trying to steal the round late, but it was nowhere near enough to take the round as Nishida pressed in the final 10 seconds making sure to secure the round.

After 12 rounds we went to the score cards, and all 3 judges had it in favour of the Japanese fighter, scoring it 115-112, twice, and 117-110, to give Nishida the Unanimous Decision win. Notably he did look pretty swollen in the face as he gave an interview in the ring, and the short, crisp, head shots he ate from Rodriguez did leave their mark, but overall he was simply the busier, more accurate man, the bully, and the one who controlled the tempo and distance of the action. As for Rodriguez this shouldn’t be the end for him. He is still one of the best in the division and should, as planned, be in attendance for the May 6th super show at Tokyo Dome, maybe not to get one of the winners unification bout, as he’d hoped for, but to scout possible future opponents, in a potential return to Japan, where fans were certainly won over by his performance here.

(*The count for Japanese world champions include non-Japanese born, Japanese based fighters, who were fighting out of Japanese gyms, such as Takeshi Fuji, Yuri Arbashakov, Orzbek Nazarov,
 Eagle Den Junlaphan and Jorge Linares; Shingaki isn't included in some counts as the IBF weren't recognised by the JBC at the time).

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