On New Year's Eve we saw WBO Super Flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka (26-2, 15) put in one of his career defining performances as he stopped Kosei Tanaka in 8 rounds to record his second defense of his title. The 4-weight Japanese world champion went into the bout as the under-dog with the bookies, though pulled out an excellent win over the younger man who was looking to etch his name in the history books. The bout saw Ioka drop Tanaka twice and force referee Michiaki Someya to save Tanaka midway through round 8.
With the win now under his belt and with Ioka able to look forward, towards the future, we thought there was no better person to look at for one of our regular Five For articles.
For those new to this series this is where we look at five potential bouts for a fighter to take next, looking at who’s available and who would make the most sense for the fighter at hand, in this case Ioka.
For the sake of this, and given what is expected in 2021, we will not be including Juan Francisco Estrada, Roman Gonzalez or Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. They are obviously 3 men we would love to see Ioka take on next, but the reality is that their calendar for the next 9 months are so will make them unavailable, with Gonzalez Vs Estrada II booked for March and Srisaket expected to take on the winner. Ideally however Ioka Vs the winner of that trio would certainly be the bout we want at the end of 2021 in the now traditional New Year’s Eve show from Japan.
1-Jerwin Ancajas (32-1-2, 22)
The obvious #1 choice for Ioka’s next bout, all things considered, is IBF champion Jerwin Ancajas with the bout seeing the two men unifying the WBO and IBF titles around the Summer or Autumn time. The two men are the two champions sitting outside of the Gonzalez Vs Estrada situation and the only chance either will get to unify before the very end of 2020. The match up would be a compelling one between a technically excellent Ioka and a very sharp and naturally bigger Ancajas, who would also bring his southpaw stance to the fight. For Ioka this really is a chance to unify, to return to a US ring and a brilliant opportunity to showcase what he can do against a man who is somewhat known to an American fan base. As for Ancajas it would help silence some of his critics who have condemned his long, but incredibly poor, IBF world title reign. For both men it would be a big bout, and given the situation with Gonzalez, Estrada and Srisaket, there really aren't that many big bouts out there at Super Flyweight.
2-Francisco Rodriguez Jr (33-4-1, 24)
If Ioka can’t secure a big unification bout with Ancajas he’ll likely want to face someone who can make him look good, can bring the action and make for an exciting fight. With that in mind Mexican warrior Francisco Rodriguez Jr seems to tick a lot of boxes, and could, potentially, be lured over to Japan for a Summer fight. Rodriguez is a former unified Minimumweight champion, like Ioka, he’s also well respected in Japan thanks to his 2014 FOTY bout with Katsunari Takayama, and he makes for fun battles. He would be the very clear under-dog against Ioka, where natural size and boxing skills would play a big factor, but he would make for very fun action. It’s also worth noting that Rodriguez is expected to become the #1 contender when the WBO re-issue their rankings, and this would be a great chance to request an early mandatory, get it out of the way and have Ioka free for New Year’s Eve with no obligations to defend against anyone in particular.
3-Charlie Edwards (16-1-0-1, 6)
We’re thinking a little bit outside of the box here, but bear with us a moment as we try to explain why Ioka should consider Charlie Edwards. Throughout the history of boxing only one Japanese world champion has ever won a world title bout in Europe, and that was Naoya Inoue when he stopped Emanuel Rodriguez in Scotland. Notably Inoue’s WBA “regular” Bantamweight title wasn’t on the line for that bout, meaning no Japanese fighter has ever defended a world title in Europe. For Ioka there’s a great chance here to travel over to England and take on former WBC Flyweight champion Charlie Edwards, create another little bit of history and improve his global profile. With Edwards being promoted by Frank Warren the bout would get UK TV exposure on BT Sport and ESPN+ in the US would likely pick the bout up, building Ioka’s profile on both sides of the Atlantic. It would also open the door wider for the Ancajas fight, with Ancajas being promoted by Bor Arum and having his fights aired on ESPN+. Admittedly we suspect Ioka would prefer to fight in either Japan or the US, but he has been a man who has chased his place in history, and becoming the first Japanese fighter to successfully defend in Europe would be another big historical moment in his legacy.
4-John Riel Casimero (30-4, 21)
As mentioned a moment ago Ioka has chased history. He won the first unification bout between Japanese world champions from two world title bodies, when he beat Akira Yaegashi, he was the first male Japanese 4 weight world champion and he was involved in the first world title fight between 2-Japanese multi-weight world champions. With that in mind a move up to Bantamweight wouldn’t be the biggest surprise for Ioka before his career is over. At Bantamweight there is a very logical option there for him, and that would be WBO champion John Riel Casimero. Physically the two men are about the same size, they are very similar in age and in terms of legacy they are both multiple weight world champions, with Casimero being a 3 weight champion himself. If Ioka wants to make a splash at 118lbs this is a very logical bout to make, and a relatively simple one to make.
Now before we get into our fifth choice we really need to explain why we’ve ignored the proverbial elephant in the room at Bantamweight, the Ioka Vs Naoya Inoue bout. This is a fight we’ve seen mentioned for years though is one that might as well be forgotten about now as there is no way TBS would allow Ioka to fight on Fuji TV, and Fuji won’t allow Inoue to go the other way. The only way this bout could happen is if it was in the US, with WOWOW broadcasting it live whilst TBS and Fuji make do with some form of tape delay. It’s possible, but highly unlikely.
5-Khalid Yafai (26-1, 15)
Former WBA Super Flyweight champion Khalid Yafai hasn’t fought since losing the WBA title to Roman Gonzalez in February 2020. Despite that loss Yafai could be a very interesting opponent for Ioka for a potential US bout, as he looks to establish himself as premier fighter in the division. The trio of Gonzalez, Estrada and Srisaket are all aligned with DAZN, and so too is Yafai, via Matchroom Sports, so for Ioka to try and make a super fight more appealing he may also need to affiliate himself with DAZN in the West. To do that a bout with Yafai on the service in mid 2020, potentially on the same card as Srisaket Vs the Gonzalez/Estrada winner, would really help build up the Super Flyweight super fight, and help showcase Ioka to a US audience, many of whom missed his bout with Tanaka. Yafai wouldn’t be the toughest test out there, and Gonzalez really did give him a beating, but it may well be the smartest move form Ioka and team if they are wanting to grow his profile in the US. A bout in the US looks to be a smart move for Ioka, especially given how US broadcasters turned their nose up at his bout with Tanaka, and Yafai gives him that option here.
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).