Ioka was fighting in his second Flyweight title bout and found himself up against talented Argentinian Juan Carlos Reveco (35-2, 19), a tough and determined boxer puncher from Mendoza, Argentina. Reveco was himself a 2-weight world champion and a man who had been in fine form winning his last 18 bout, including a victory in a previous visit to Japan against Masayuki Kuroda and a very impressive stoppage of the then interim champion Yodmongkol Vor Saengthep last December.
To us this was one of the most anticipated fights of the year and one that had been talked about for about a year. It was a clash of talented, exciting fighters with differing styles and a lot at stake. For all intents it was a must win for both and it was also a bout that had a sense of possible redemption for Ioka following his loss to amnat Ruenroeng last year in, an IBF Flyweight title bout, his first title bout at Flyweight.
Ioka's problem against Amnat was that he couldn't really get going and the Thai managed to find ways of shutting him down, time and time again. This time around Ioka got going from the off and found a home for his jab almost immediately and he kept Reveco at range during the opening rounds. Reveco tried to slip it but had little success in a very good opening round for the Japanese challenger. From then on though things became a bit tough with rounds 2,3 and 4 being incredibly close. Reveco was determined to get inside and unload flurries whilst Ioka was hoping to use his jab and keep the champion at range. Nether man could have things completely their own way and both managed to make a claim to any of those 3 rounds. We had given 2 of those 3 to Ioka though could easily have seen them go to Reveco.
In round 5 the challenger refound his groove, at least in the early portion of the round. Reveco seemed to wait, biding his time before turning it up late in the round to try and steal it, it was however too little too late for Reveco who, on our card, was 4-2 down.
Reveco seemed to sense that something had to change and he made those changes in round 6 as he put his foot on the gas and started to really take the fight to Ioka with several lovely crisp flurries. It was a really poor round from Ioka who struggled to land anything of note and it seemed that it was the champion who had found another gear. Round 7 was another one for the champion who had quickly close things up on our score card and shown that he had the will to win and the ability to put Ioka under fierce pressure. It was impressive from the champion who was fighting his fight and making Ioka look second best.
The champion tried to continue his success in round 8 but Ioka began to adjust, using his feet to act as the matador to Reveco's bullish assaults. It was the sort of change Ioka needed as the champion was coming on strong and building his momentum. The tactics weren't the prettiest from the Japanese fighter but worked enough for him to repeat them in the 9th round with Reveco failing for find the success he had had just a couple of rounds earlier.
Going into round 10 it was all to play for, we had it 6-3 to Ioka bout could easily have seen it going 6-3 to Reveco with a number of those early rounds being to close to call either way.
It seemed like it was the defending champion who felt the need to change things and in round 10 he really stepped up again in what was one of the fights best rounds with both men landing solid shots as they momentarily traded on the inside. It was a spectacular round though it was quickly forgotten as the 11th outshone it in every way with Reveco seemingly doing enough to take both rounds, though an argument could certainly be had in regard to the 11th. It seemed clear that neither man was sure they'd done enough and that they were going to have to dig deep with shots traded on the outside and the inside.
With rounds 10 and 11 both picking up the pace there was no doubting that round 12 had the potential be the best of the bunch and that's exactly what we got as the two men traded blows, and showed off what they were about. Reveco went all out trying to turn the fight around, as if he knew he had to do something more than the home town hero, Ioka managed to shift between holding his own in exchanges of blows and landing clean accurate counters. Watching Ioka here it was clear he was proving he could do everything he needed to, though at times it left us wondering why he seemed reluctant to trade earlier on. The round was so good that the TYC Sports commentator, Argentinian TV channel, expressed his admiration for the action with an exclamation of "Fantastico", a viewed shared by us and many others.
With the amount of close and highly competitive rounds there seemed to be no clear cut way to call the bout. TYC Sports had the Argentinian well ahead, 116-112, though they had seemed very pro-Reveco through the bout giving Reveco a lead of 78-74 after 8 rounds. We had had it 115-113 to Ioka though could certainly see the same score in favour of Reveco.
Slowly the cards were read out with scores of 114-114, 115-113 and 116-113, giving Ioka a majority decision that was received by tears from his team who know how valuable this win was to his legacy.
For some the result was controversial though in reality it was a bout that was close either way. The momentum shifted several times, the action was high quality from both, many rounds were very competitive and overall the fight was sensational. It was a highly skilled and action heavy fight that saw both men change their tactics throughout. Ioka's jab early saw him taking the lead, Reveco combinations and aggression saw him coming back into things, the Ioka was forced to use his feet before Reveco found a way to cut the distance.
A rematch between the two wouldn't be a bad choice though we expect that Ioka has other plans. The division is a stacked one with bug names, exciting contenders and a lot of good looking match ups. Showdowns with domestic rivals such as Suguru Muranaka and Koki Eto appear to be appealing, a fight with Brian Viloria would be mouth watering, a rematch with Felix Alvarado would also be an exciting proposition. If he's wanting an easier first defense a possible showdown with Noknoi Sitthiprasert may be interesting given Noknoi's run of form which has included more than 50 straight wins.
It really is an exciting time to follow Ioka, though it seems almost certain that we won't see him competing at Super Flyweight. He still seems a bit unsure of himself as a Flyweight and although he seems to have the size to fill into a very good Flyweight we don't seem him really looking comfortable against any of the division's top guys, such as Juan Francisco Estrada or Roman Gonzalez. Those wanting to see an all-Japanese super fight between Ioka and Naoya Inoue will almost certainly be left wanting and in fairness it would appear to be a huge mismatch in favour of Inoue, who is simply too big and too strong for Ioka. Thankfully though with so many exciting options our there Ioka could well be busy with some great fights and not need to look towards his fellow star for a major bout.
(Image, from a post fight press conference, courtesy of boxingnews.jp)
*Note Japanese licensed promoted fighters Roman Gonzalez and Jorge Linares, both of Teiken, have also become 3 weight world champions.