MILAN Melindo set out for Japan a day after Christmas, with hopes high of being crowned a unified champion before the year comes to an end.
The 29-year-old Filipino wrapped up his three-month training camp ahead of his face-off with Ryoichi Taguchi on Dec. 31 for the unified world junior flyweight title.
Melindo and the small contingent of the Cebu-based ALA boxing stable that included trainer Edito 'Ala' Villamor arrived in Tokyo, Japan late Tuesday afternoon after a four-hour flight from Cebu.
Villamor said Melindo, who holds the International Boxing Federation (IBF) version of the belt, is raring to add Taguchi's World Boxing Association (WBA) title to his collection in his bid to prove he's the best fighter in the 108-lbs division today.
"You can see he's pouring out everything to make his dream come true," said Villamor, who once challenged for a world titile himself. "It's amazing how he has improved as a boxer."
The traditional Japanese New Year's Eve title bout is set at the Ota City gymanasium in the heart of Tokyo.
While Melindo (37-3, 13 KOs) has already proven himself capable of winning on a foreign land, the Filipinos' camp is leaving nothing to chance.
"We're now focusing on our mental toughness. We're reviewing our fight plan again and again," said Villamor.
It was also in Japan where Melindo finally crowned himself as world champion seven months ago when he destroyed Akira Yaegashi inside one round to frustrate the partisan crowd inside the Ariake Colosseum also in Tokyo.
While he successfully defended his title against former world champion Hekki Budler in Cebu last September, Taguchi is a totally different animal altogether.
The Japanese fighter, 31, has been a champion for three years now and has won five of his last six title fights, only settling for a draw against Carlos Canizales in last year's New Year's Eve championship bout.
Taguchi's record stands at 26-2-2 with 12 KOs.