Later this week we'll see Japan's Kazuto Ioka battle against Aston Palicte for the WBO Super Flyweight title. With that bout coming up it seems like this is a perfect time to talk about Kazuto Ioka's most notable bout to date, his 2012 battle with Akira Yaegashi, a true Closet Classic and a major bout in Japanese boxing history. The bout holds a unique status in Japan, and despite being relatively recent the bout has notable sub-story behind it, regarding the mentors of the two men involved. As well all the stories surrounding it, the bout also managed to deliver, in a big way.
Kazuto Ioka (9-0, 6) vs Akira Yaegashi (15-2, 8)
In the late 1980's Japanese boxing had a number of notable fighters making their way to the top of the sport. They included Hideyuki Ohashi and Hiroki Ioka, who both debuted in the mid 1980's and has success in the 1990's, with Ioka becoming a 2-weight champion and Ohashi becoming a 2-time Minimumweight champion.
When they were both professionals Ioka and Ohashi both held Minimumweight world titles, though not the same time, and a bout between the two would have been huge for Japan, pitting Osaka against Kanagawa.
When both Ohashi and Ioka ended their careers they set up gyms, and have had a lot of success as gym owners. Among their star hopefuls were Akira Yaegashi, the big hope of the Ohashi gym, and Kazuto Ioka, Hiroki Ioka's nephew. Both were former stand out amateurs, both were tipped to be stars and in 2011 both held world titles at the same weight, Minimumweight.
Kazuto Ioka, then 23 years old, had raced away to the WBC Minimumweight title, winning the belt in early 2011 when he stopped Oleydong Sithsamerchai, in what was just his 7th professional bout. He had managed to make a couple of defenses, including one over future Flyweight title holder Juan Hernandez. With those wins he had already a star in the Japanese scene, and a man who was starting to get spoken about the hardcore fans, who were impressed by the fact he had ended the reign of Oleydong, who was 35-0-1 when Ioka dethroned him.
Akira Yaegashi on the other hand was 15-2, he had held OPBF and Japanese titles before winning the WBA title in an incredible bout with Pornsawan Porpramook in July 2011. For what it's worth that bout will be covered in a future Closet Classic article. He hadn't managed to make a defense of the title since beating Pornsawan but was was well regarded by those in the know in Japan, and had himself challenged for a world title in his 7th bout, losing to Eagle Den Junlaphan in that title effort due in part to a nasty injury to his temporomandibular join.
With the two men holding world titles the bout was made, it was the first, and still only, time two world titles, from different bodies, were unified in a bout between two Japanese fighters, and it was an incredible bout. It mixed skills, excitement, heart, determination and two different styles.
In one corner we had Ioka, a brilliant young boxer-puncher who had a sensational array of shots and fantastic ring craft. In the other we had Yaegashi, an aggressive, swarming fighter, who picked his spots and launched 2-handed flurries, using his speed to get shots off and try to get away.
The bout started quickly but really grew and grew as it went on, taking on a personality of it's own and pushing both fighters all the way. Ioka, for the first time, was being pushed hard by a fighter determined to upset him, Yaegashi on the other hand was forced to fight with some horrific facial swelling around his left eye. As they began to tire their footwork began to slow whilst their output remained high and the bout really was something incredibly special. It's not an all out war but it's a thrilling, highly skilled battle that every fight fan deserves to watch before Ioka's up coming contest.
Amazingly since this bout both men have become 3-weight champions, picking up titles at Light Flyweight and Flyweight, and both are looking to add Super Flyweight titles to their collections. Ioka get his second shot at a Super Flyweight title when he faces Palicte, whilst Yaegashi is hoping to get his first shot at 115lb title later in the year.
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