In recent months Japanese boxing has been enamoured with the prodigious talent of Naoya Inoue, the new wonder child of Japanese boxing. Prior to Naoya's emergence as such an outstanding young fighter the Japanese boxing world was celebrating the exceptional talent of Kazuto Ioka (14-0, 9) another young, talented and ambitious young man who was creeping on to the fringes of the pound-for-pound lists.
Ioka, like Inoue, was making his name from very early in his career. He became a Japanese national champion in just his 6th bout before winning a world title in his 7th contest, setting a then new Japanese national record.
The combination of boxing ability, power, speed, and natural intuition in the ring all made Ioka look like a star of the future. A man who was a world champion seemed like to be much more.
Around 16 months after winning his first world title Ioka unified the WBC and WBA Minimumweight titles by defeating Akira Yaegashi. It was just his 10th bout but it was clear that Ioka was something special, even if you did feel he was a little bit lucky to actually get the decision over Yaegashi.
Rather than stay at Minimumweight Ioka set his sights on bigger challenges and quickly moved up to capture a Light Flyweight title. As the WBA Light Flyweight champion Ioka defended the belt 3 times with only Felix Alvarado giving him any kind of a fight.
Now Ioka's attention turns to the Flyweight division where he will attempt to claim the IBF title and become just the second Japanese fighter to be a 3-weight world champion. In the opposite corner to Ioka will be former amateur rival Amnat Ruenroeng (12-0,5) who notably beat Ioka in the 2008 King's Cup in Bangkok.
Whilst Ioka is one of the best in Japan and is a man on a march through the divisions Amnat is a man who is looking for redemption and is proof of what boxing can do to help reform someone. He has gone from prisoner at the dregs of society to a world champion, a hero for his people and a man representing Thailand at the highest level in his sport.
Amnat hasn't had the life of Ioka. He wasn't groomed to be a boxing star following in his uncles footsteps, he wasn't paid vast sums at a young age to become a world champion. Instead Amnat has had to fight hard to get to where he is. He had to turn around his life to go from criminal to boxing champion.
Whilst some will criticise the way in which the Thai won the IBF Flyweight title, taking a decision over Filipino veteran Rocky Fuentes for the vacant belt which had been stripped from Moruti Mthalane, few will criticise his ambition to become a world champion despite starting his professional journey aged 32.
Thanks to Thai promotional outfit Amnat has been able to quickly rise through the ranks and claim a world title, a belt he'll be defending for the first time when he faces Ioka in what looks almost certain to be the toughest bout of his career so far.
Interestingly whilst the men have had different journey's to get to where they are they are relatively similar in their traits. Both are technically good boxers, both are fast, often much faster than their rivals, and both seem to like having space to work with. Unfortunately for the Thai it's where they are different in the ring that we feel this bout will be won and lost.
Amnat hasn't really got much in terms of power or experience. He has done 12 rounds thrice but only the one against Fuentes was really fought at anything close to world level and for that bout Amnat won based on his style and home advantage as opposed to his world class skills. Fuentes was slower than Amnat, less energetic and easier to tag, it made life easy for Amnat to rack up some early rounds and use Funetes's pressure against him. In the middle rounds however Amnat did appear to be feeling the pace and altered his tactics to include less offensive work and more movement. The change helped him take a decision at home though likely wouldn't fair as well on the road.
Quick with his hands and his feet Amnat is a good boxer but here he's facing someone equally as fast though with a lot more to his boxing. Ioka can can box with his speed, he can fight an inside war, as shown in his performance with Alvarado, he can go 12 rounds at a high pace, but most importantly he can take guys out. Ioka's body shots are amongst the best in boxing and when they land opponents know about it, they start to slow and and become sluggish. We expect those body shots to be the difference here with Ioka slowly breaking down the champion who by round 8 or 9 will be looking very uncomfortable before folding soon afterwards.
We imagine that this will look like a game of high speed chess early on but Ioka will take over as the bout develops and come out on top having had a very strong middle section of the fight. His stronger over-all game and his youth will be too much for the much older champion.
(Images: Top courtesy of Boxmob.jp, bottom courtesy of http://www.kiatkreerin.com)
(Video below courtesy of Kiatkreerin.com)
World Title Previews
The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.