Since beating Oleydong back in February 2011 Ioka (now 13-0, 9) has become one of the dominant fighters in the lower weight divisions. He has unified the WBC and WBA Minimumweight titles and moved up to Light Flyweight where he immediately captured the WBA title.
This New Years Eve see's Ioka, fighting for the third successive year on December 31st, attempt to make the 3rd and possibly final defense of his Light Flyweight.
Following back to back victories against limited but experienced Thai's Ioka is now expected to face a genuine test as he battles Nicaragua's unbeaten Felix Alvarado (18-0, 15). It may not be the Nicaraguan we all hoped Ioka would get in to the ring with this year, he's certainly in for a tough night to end the year.
Ioka, since claiming the WBA Light Flyweight title on New Years Eve 2012 has looked very impressive. He took apart Wisanu Kokietgym back in May before stopping an out classed Kwanthai Sithmorseng in September. Those fights however were against men who really didn't deserve a world title fight despite having a combined record of 86-9-3, neither was great and in fact neither was expected to test Ioka in any way at all.
In Alvarado however we have someone who looks like a bit of a monster. Alvarado is offensively minded, strong and comes to fight. If you try and stand off against Alvarado he is happy to walk you down, show you angles and then unload heavy shots in your direction. It's not always the smoothest of work but it's proven to be effective as he switches from head to body in an attempt to beat up his opponents.
Whilst Alvarado can be out boxed and can be made to look basic by some fighters, only 2 men have ever gotten close to beating him. Arnoldo Solano, who lost a disputed majority decision to Alvarado, and Eliecer Quezada, who lost by a very narrow unanimous decision.
The worrying thing for Alvarado is inexperience. Yes he has more fights than Ioka but his 18 fights to date have only accounted for 51 professional rounds. Less than 3 a fight. Alvarado has gone 10 rounds just once, and has only gone beyond 3 rounds thrice. With 7 opening round KO's and 15 KO's inside 3 rounds he's been used to getting opponents out early but when he's gone beyond 6 he has struggled with pacing.
Ioka, with just 13 fights, has already gotten 96 rounds under his belt which is more than 7 rounds a fight. He has also gone 12 rounds twice and 10 or more rounds on 4 occasions, including his memorable encounter with Akira Yaegashi. That is quality experience and something that gives Ioka a real edge here.
Although less of an offensive machine Ioka is wonderfully skilled with the ability to go forward, box off the back foot and pick his shots at will. He's one of those fighters who always appears to have that little bit of extra time and he uses it to great effect with one of the most beautiful straight right to the body in the sport today. He's not a monster puncher but he is a very clean puncher and his shots, from the jab to the uppercut are all delivered excellently.
Going in to this fight the key is who will be able to dictate the early tempo. If Alvarado can get on to the inside this could be a real war for 3 rounds with both men forced to take hard shots. If Ioka is still standing after 3 rounds however it's going to be very hard for Alvarado to get a victory with Ioka drowning him. Those first 3 rounds are the key for Alvarado.
If Ioka can control the pace and distance for 3 rounds with his jab and movement he'll wear Alvarado down in the second half of the fight before finishing the Nicaraguan, probably with a body shot. Whilst the first 3 rounds are the key for Alvarado we tend to think that the following 3 are the key for Ioka. If the Japanese fighter is still standing after 3 then rounds 5 and 6 particularly will see him taking over the fight.
It's the fact we have 2 very different scenario's that make this so interesting. One thing is for sure though, we'd be very shocked if this goes 12.
Interestingly the story coming out of Japan is that Ioka will be stepping up to Flyweight next year. The strong rumour is that he will be targeting WBC Flyweight champion Akira Yaegashi in what could potentially be another FOTY contender, like their first was in 2012. That would see this title becoming vacant, if Ioka is successful. With a number of fighters already wanting to get their hands on the belt including Naoya Inoue and Ioka's stablemate Ryo Miyazaki we may well see several great bouts coming as a result of this one.
For those wanting to tune in to this bout, it'll be on TBS in Japan and there is also talk about it being televised in Alvarado's homeland of Nicaragua. Unfortunately, once again, no Europe or American channel appear to have picked this up.