It feels like it was a very, very, very long time that we opened up the 2019 Treasure Trove, looking back on some of the best Asian action of 2019, and it's been a really fun time looking back on the year that was, though today we begin to close the treasure trove and begin to look forward. For those wondering, this will actually be the final 2019 Treasure Trove bout that we cover.
Originally the plan was to keep this going for 12 months, then move on to bouts from 2020. Unfortunately 2020 has been a horror of a year, and we thankfully had more than enough bouts from 2019 to cover over a year, in fact we've managed, quite easily, to exceed the 52 bout target we set ourselves for this series and although 2020 has not been the year we had been hoping for we feel we now have enough bouts to begin looking back at 2020.
With that said, lets take a look at the last of the 2019 treasure's in our trove!
Kazuto Ioka (23-2, 13) Vs Aston Palicte (25-2-1, 21)
For thos bout we head back to the summer of 2019, and focus on the Makuhari Messe in Chiba for a contest that pit former 3-weight world champion Kazuto Ioka against hard hitting Filipino Aston Palicte. It was a bout that saw both men looking to claim the WBO Super Flyweight title, a title they had come razor close to claiming in 2018, when both were denied by Filipino legend Donnie Nietes.
Of the two men Ioka was the much, much more well known. The Japanese 30 year old was a bona fide star in Japan, he had won world titles at Minimumweight, Light Flyweight and Flyweight, was the nephew of a boxing from the 1980's and 1990's, and had been groomed for success. Although his personal life had gotten a bit messy, with a public falling out with his father and a divorce from a popular musician, he was still one of the biggest draws in Japanese boxing. Coming in to this he was looking to become the first Japanese man to claim world titles at 4 weight classes, adding another piece of history to his brilliant, and often over-looked, career.
On the other hand Aston Palicte was a huge Super Flyweight, with spiteful power, and he looked like he belonged at least one weight class higher than Ioka, if not 2 or even 3. He was a 28 year old who had shown what he could do in 2018, when fought to a draw with Donnie Nietes, and was being groomed under the promotional stable of Roy Jones Jr to be a star. He ticked many boxes of a future world champion and many in the Philippines were tipping him as being too big, too strong, and too fresh for the smaller, but more skilled Japanese fighter.
This bout was rarely a war, but it was consistently intriguing, and the sort of fight where the ending felt like it could come at any moment.
From the off the size distance between the two men was clear, and Palicte looked much, much bigger than Ioka, who looked cautious. Despite giving away size Ioka was smartly using his speed, his movement and his experience to ease his way into things and get a read on Palicte's power and timing. By the end of the opening round both men were beginning to find their groove, with Ioka managing move through the gears just a little better than the Filipino.
In round 2 the pace was beginning to turn up a notch, with both men putting their foot on the gas slightly. It was clear that Palicte was the bigger puncher, but the skills, jab and counter punching of Ioka were off setting that power well. Despite that Palicte's reach was working well for him and he was catching Ioka at range, with his jab, and catching him coming in as well.
With both men getting a study on what the other had in the locker we began to see Ioka step into the reach of Palicte, showing great head movement to make Palicte miss, regularly, and judging the distance brilliantly. Palicte still looked the more dangerous man, but was, slowly, being out thought, out boxed, out sped and out manoeuvred. Palicte even got rocked from a left hook as Ioka's power told for the first time.
By round 4 the pace was solid, without being spectacular. This was tactical, cerebral, smart, patient, yet intense. The men were never far apart, neither man was negative as such, but neither seemed willing to take too many risks. Instead they were boxing smartly, and this was high level stuff with really intelligent work from both without fireworks ever being lit. What was really notable was the ring IQ of Ioka, who was really doing the subtle things well. He was making Palicte fight the wrong fight, he was making Palicte over think, and for fans who like smart boxing this was brilliant.
In round 6 we were beginning to see Ioka move up the gears again, he was starting to play with Palicte mentally. The Filipino was regularly coming forward, and Ioka was slipping and sliding in the pocket, catching Palicte coming in. Palicte tried to let his hands go, and had some success in the final minute, but Ioka took the play away quickly answering back almost immediately and forcing Palicte to back off.
In round 7 we saw Palicte putting his foot hard on the gas. He let it all hang out and it seemed like he felt it was his time. He had to turn the bout around and he was throwing the kitchen sink at Ioka. It was the change he needed to make and it saw him wobble Ioka for a moment. After 6 relatively interesting, but cautious rounds, the fight was coming alive and Ioka had to respond, which he did in the final minute of the round, with Palicte looking like he was feeling the pace of his effort.
After a thrilling round 7 the pace dropped off massively in round 8 as Ioka resumed control of the bout behind his boxing skills and Palicte paid the price of his big 7th round charge. With Palicte looking like he wasn't able to get his gas tank going again Ioka began to turn the screw, coming on the inside and using the left hand really well, Palicte had moments firing back, but was struggling to get any sustained success, and taking solid single shots himself.
In round 10 the solid, clean, accurate shots of Ioka began to add up as he let combinations fly. Those combinations landed clean and began to hurt Palicte who was left stumbling, reeling, and needed saving by the referee as Ioka went through the gears and showed exactly what he could do.
Although not the most exciting of bouts, or the biggest bout of the year, this really did have it all. It had skills, it was cerebral, it was smart, it was high level boxing. It had drama and action in round 7, it then had the skills and finishing instincts of Ioka who seemed to turn a switch in round 10 to force the stoppage.
This was the treasure that had a bit of everything. If you're here for a war unfortunately you need to dig deeper into the Treasure Trove, and in fairness we have included of wars in this series. But here we have something a little bit special, and something that saw Ioka become only the second Japanese fighter to win world titles in 4 weights, following in the footsteps of female star Naoko Fujioka.
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.