For this edition of "What a Shock!" we're looking at a relatively recent bout between two men who both had genuinely notable careers, and are both active at the time of writing. This upset wasn't a massive one, but was certainly a surprise, especially with the bookies who saw one man as the very clear favourite, and the eventual winner as the clear under-dog.
May 7th 2014
Bodymaker Colosseum, Osaka, Osaka, Japan
Kazuto Ioka (14-0, 9) Vs Amnat Ruenroeng (12-0, 5)
At the time of this bout Japanese fighter Kazuto Ioka was a real star of the lower weights. He had won his first world title in just his 7th professional bout, before unifying the WBC and WBA Minimumweight titles and then winning the WBA Light Flyweight title. In just 14 bouts he had already beaten Oleydong Sithsamerchai, Juan Hernandez, Akira Yaegashi and Felix Alvarado. Aged 25 he was seen as being in his pomp, and was out growing the Light Flyweight division.
With his body maturing and growing Ioka then looked to become a 3-weight world champion, doing what his uncle Hiroki tried to do during his career, and moved up to the Flyweight division. In his first bout at Flyweight he challenged the tricky and slippery IBF champion Amnat Ruenroeng, who had actually beaten Ioka in the amateurs.
At this point in time Amnat wasn't particularly well known as a professional fighter. He had won the world title a few months earlier, beating Rocky Fuentes for the vacant title, but that was his only win of any note. Not only was he untested at the highest level but he was also 34 years old, an age that is ancient for a Flyweight, and this was set to be his first bout outside of Thailand. In fact he was travelling not just out of Thailand for the first time but was heading to Ioka's backyard, with this being Ioka's 13th bout at the Bodymaker Colosseum, which was previously known as the Prefectural Gymnasium in Osaka.
Given his age, his lack of top tier experience and travelling for the bout the odds were stacked against against Amnat. The bookies knew that things were stacked against Amnat, and the British ones made him a 3/1 under-dog for the bout whilst Ioka was a 2/9 favourite. Even with the move up in weight Ioka was expected to be too good for Amnat, who was taking a massive step up in class.
To begin the bout both men looked to find the range with their jab, and it quickly became apparent that Amnat was the crisper fighter, with the longer arms and the quicker handspeed. He seemed to manage to control the distance well for large portions of the opening round. When he was backed up, later in the round he looked very composed under Ioka's pressure and also looked the more physically imposing man, pushing Ioka around when he needed to. Despite looking the more skilled and quicker man, Ioka was the one coming forward and being the aggressor.
Ioka continued to press forward in round 2, but he was regularly tasting jabs on his way in, pressing with limited success, and having no real answers when Amnat let his hands go in short but crisp combinations. As the rounds went on the handspeed, reach and combinations of Amnat continued to score at ease against Ioka. Ioka was struggling to get close, was struggling to get his shots off and struggling to make his pressure count for much. He had moments but struggled round after round to have any sustained success.
In the middle rounds Ioka tried to turn the bout around, and had more success than he had earlier on, but still struggled to build moment. When he won rounds he seemed to win competitive ones, and rarely stamped his foot on the fight, with Amnat always responding. Even when he pinned Amnat on the ropes, as he did for many of the middle rounds, Ioka was still being caught by clean counter shots and having his aggression used against him. He looked the aggressor, and the man putting so much effort into everything he did, but the relaxed, calm counter punching of Amnat really caught the eye of the judges, with his uppercuts being fantastic.
In round 10 Amnat was deducted a point, as he hit on the break. This was one of the first times we had seen some of the sneaky, dirty tricks that Amnat had in arsenal which he would later become well known for. Despite the deduction he looked the more relaxed fighter whilst Ioka looked like he was the one chasing the bout, as if he knew he had to do more. He may have been at home but that didn't assure him of victory, like it might in some countries, with 3 neutral judges scoring this bout.
The desire to turn the tables from Ioka was clear in round 11, when he raced at Amnat to begin the round, again forcing the Thai backwards, but again taking clean, accurate counter shots as he came forward. It was clear that the strength, power and physicality that Ioka had at the lower weights wasn't helping him here. Instead Amnat was able to tie him up when he wanted, which he did repeatedly in round 11, further frustrating the Osaka local.
Ioka seemed to know he needed a knockout at the end of round 11, and came out for the final round with aggression in mind, landing a nice body shot early and pressing hard through the round. He knew he needed to get inside, and get to work up close, neutralising the reach of Amnat. Sadly for Ioka Amnat also seemed to know that, and tied him up when he got close, stifling Ioka's aggression.
After 12 rounds it seemed like a close bout, but one where Amnat had fiddled his way to victory, even with the point deduction. It wasn't pretty, but the clean punching of Amnat early on, and the counters in the middle of the bout had put him in the lead early on. A lead that he protected with some ugly tactics late on. It was a performance that he seemed confident was enough to earn him a victory, whilst Ioka looked less confident in his corner. In fact Ioka looked like he knew he hadn't quite done enough.
Then we got the scorecards. The first went to Ioka 114-13, and got a roar from the crowd. The second went to Amnat, 115-1112. Then we had the third score, 119-109, a completely bizarre score either way. There was then had a pause, before the announcer confirmed that the title was staying with Amnat.
Amnat would later go on to record 4 more defenses of the title before losing it to John Riel Casimero in 2016. In the years that followed he would compete at the Olympics and in Kickboxing whilst also becoming a high class gatekeeper in Thailand, where he is still an active fighter.
As for Ioka he would later go on to win the WBA Flyweight title and the WBO Super Flyweight title, becoming the first Japanese man to become a 4-weight world champion, and despite this loss has remained one of the most significant figures in Japanese boxing.
Note - Fight begins about 11 minutes into the video below.
Thinking Out East
With this site being pretty successful so far we've decided to open up about our own views and start what could be considered effectively an editorial style opinion column dubbed "Thinking Out East" (T.O.E).