For the final Closet Classic of 2021 we've gone to a man well known for his year ending bouts from right through the last decade and this is among his most forgotten, yet one of the bouts that really aged well. In fact looking back on the result now, around 8 years later, this may well go down as one of the best wins by one of the biggest Japanese stars of recent years and a win over a man that has gone on to do a lot in the sport himself. This is a Closet Classic that really ticks every single box that we can possible want a to have. It's action packed, it's exciting, it's between two notable names, it's between to men who were unbeaten and two fighters who went on to do bigger and better things with their career's. Welcome to something well worth watching!
Kazuto Ioka (13-0, 9) vs Felix Alvarado (18-0, 15)
Japanese star Kazuto Ioka is now synonymous with being involved in major bouts to end the year. Between 2011 and 2021 he featured in 9 bouts on New Year's Eve. Some of those were rather forgettable affairs, such as his victory over Jose Alfredo Rodriguez, and his non-title bout with Jean Piero Perez. Others however will live on for decades, such as his victory last year against Kosei Tanaka, and his compelling chess match with Donnie in 2018. Arguably his most ill remembered however came in 2013 when he defended the WBA "regular" Light Flyweight title against Nicaraguan puncher Felix Alvarado.
Before we take a look at Alvarado we really need to understand Ioka. He had won the WBC Minimumweight title in early 2011, he had defended that title twice before unifying with a win over Akira Yaegashi then left the division to move to 108lbs. In his first bout at 108lbs he beat the aforementioned Rodriguez for the vacant "regular" WBA title and defended it twice in 2013 before his end of year bout, his third bout to take place on New Year's Eve. By this point he was 24 years old, 13-0 (9), the new star of Japanese boxing and and had gone 7-0 (5) in world title bouts. He looked set to become the face of Japanese boxing, and he, and his team, knew they needed to find some suitable dance partners after 3 rather easy wins.
In Felix Alvarado we had an unbeaten puncher,with a 18-0 (15) record, also aged 24 and with a real point to prove. Up to this point Alvarado really hadn't been given chances. He had been wiping out opponents early since turning professional in 2010 and few had come close to even testing him. There was a chance that he was just the latest can crusher from Latin American, and we've seen a lot of those over the years, but there was also a chance that he was the next great Nicaraguan talent, and the man to follow Roman Gonzalez into becoming a world champion. Up to this point the only fighter to give him any sort of a test was Arnoldo Solano, who is still active as of 2021 and is currently fighting as a journeyman as high as Light Middleweight! This was his chance to prove he was a legitimate contender, and his chance to prove what he could do. An opportunity to prove that he was something special. Something those who follower the lower weights would see in the years that followed.
From the hype video that TBS showed this had the feel of something special. It had the feeling that Ioka was, for the first time since beating Yaegashi, in an actual test, and not just another easy win over and under-whelming Thai or a stylistically easy opponent. This was a dangerous fight. This was something that had the potential to go wrong if Ioka wasn't on point.
The fight started fast and within seconds the Alvarado was backing Ioka up. It seemed clear that Alvarado wasn't just a can crusher, but was a serious challenger, and he was looking incredibly strong and like a genuinely imposing fighter, in a division not too well known for it's physical fighters. Ioka tried to box, use the ring, and make the most of his faster feet, but Alvarado kept pressing, even taking some huge shots as a result. Although he took some bombs Alvarado never looked phased and instead just kept pressing, forcing Ioka to respond. Despite being the opening round this was not a feeling out round, and was instead a thrilling action round that saw Alvarado pressing through out and forced some brilliant action on the inside.
It was obvious, within just 3 minutes, that we were going to get fireworks to end 2013 and that we were sat watching something just a little bit special.
Whilst the first round was brilliant the action didn't relent in round 2. In fact the second stanza saw both men getting shots off, and saw more action up close. The quality as coming from Ioka, who landed some gorgeous shots on Alvarado, but the Nicaraguan looked like the Terminator shrugging off whatever Ioka landed and marching forward in an attempt to break Ioka's heart. Sadly for Alvarado he had several issues, the most notable of which was his accuracy, which was poor and his inability to avoid counters, which Ioka landed very cleanly and very consistently.
It was obvious that Alvarado's aggression, pressure and strength was hugely impressive, but his work was wild, crude and draining, for both him and Ioka. The incredible tempo to start the fight wasn't going to last forever. Despite that neither man seemed to slow down in round 3, as Alvarado continued his bull like forward march, whilst Ioka willing stood his ground more often and picked counter shots on the inside. It was a change in tactics from the champion, who likely realised being on his bike and boxing for 12 rounds would be incredibly tough, and it was a change that really helped make the fight even more exciting. Interestingly it also seemed like Ioka was standing his ground to make a point. He wasn't afraid of Alvarado's much vaunted power. He also managed to leave Alvarado with a badly swollen eye that needed a doctor to look over it before being allowed out for round 4.
Despite his face swelling, and almost fighting with just one eye, no one was going to stop Alvarado from making this into a war and in round 4 we ended up with a thrilling 3 minutes of inside action, with both men holding their feet and letting shots fly. Again it was Ioka's shots that landed clean, and seemed the more damaging, but Alvarado's tempo and work rate was incredible, even if he was stilling missing more than he was landing. The round flew by and it really was none stop action with Alvarado throwing so many power shots and showing absolutely no regard for the fact his eye was almost shut.
Ioka got back on his toes early in round 5, likely realising that Alvarado had a lot more in the tank than anyone could have expected, especially given the punishing shots he had taken and the huge number of shots he had missed with. By the end of the round however Ioka had decided to again work up close, and try to further damage the face of the challenger in an attempt to get his respect.Respect that Alvarado was simply not going to give, no matter how many big head shots he took.
As the rounds wore on Ioka and his team must have been wondering what Alvarado was made out of. He had taken bombs, he had eaten head shots, and body shots and kept coming forward. There was no quit in the guy who fought like a man who simply didn't feel pain. Thankfully Alvarado's toughness saw fans get another action packed round in the sixth as Ioka stood his ground, and the two let their hands go on the inside. One again Ioka's faster, crisper, more accurate shots caught the eye, but Alvarado took them and threw back. Alvarado was even caught by a bomb of a left hook, that would have finished off many in the division, and ate it like it was nothing.
Round 7 was another where Ioka got on his toes, boxed more, but still landed the better shots as we again saw Alvarado walking through some massive counter shots.
By round 8 it was clear Ioka was in a very comfortable lead, but Alvarado was simply not going away. He was going to be in this until he either turned things around, which was possible given his brutish power, or until the doctor stopped him due to the eye, or until the final bell. We'll leave you here, to enjoy the full fight without ruining the outcome too much more, but this is really a cracking fight that showed two styles that gelled really well and some amazing toughness and bravery from a man who looked, much of the fight, like he was out of his league but had absolutely no quit in him.
Although not the most competitive fight, this is an incredibly entertaining contest and one that shows just how much fun the Light Flyweight division has been over the last decade or so. If you've not seen this give it a watch, especially no we're about to end 2021!
(Note - Fight begins around 15:00 in to the video)
When we have some free time we're hoping to add a series of fun articles to the site. Hopefully these will be enjoyable little short features