To kick off the month of September we'll see WBO Super Flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka (26-2, 15) make a third successive mandatory defense of his title, as he takes on Mexican warrior Francisco Rodriguez Jr (34-4-1, 24), in a mouth watering bout that is sadly going under-the-radar. And will sadly be held in front of an empty arena as the affects of Covid19 on Japanese sport continues to take it's toll. On paper the bout is a genuinely excellent one between one of the sports most talented boxers and a thrilling all action warrior, and the styles of the two fighters should gel to provide us with a sensational bout.
For those who have lived under a rock for the last 10 years we do perhaps need to talk about just how good Kazuto Ioka is, and also what's been going on in his life in the last few months.
The highly skilled man from Osaka had boxing in his blood, with his uncle being a multi-time world champion and his father also being a professional fighter. When he made his professional debut, aged 20, he was put on the fast tracked and groomed for success, something that came incredibly quickly. Within 18 months of his debut he beat Masayoshi Segawa to claim the Japanese title at 108lbs. Just a few months later he went on to stop Thailand Oleydong Sithsamerchai, who was then 35-0-1, to claim the WBC Minimumweight title. Soon afterwards Ioka unified the WBC and WBA titles, beating Akira Yaegashi, before moving up the weights and winning titles at Light Flyweight, Flyweight and most recently Super Flyweight. Along the way he has beaten a real who's who of the lower weights, Juan Hernandez Navarrete, Felix Alvarado, Juan Carlos Reveco, McWilliams Arroyo and mostly recently Kosei Tanaka. Were it not for Naoya Inoue, and his incredible career, Ioka would be regarded as the king of Japanese right now. Instead he's playing the role of backing singer to The Monster, but wants to change that with bouts against some of the top guys in the sport.
Sadly since beating Kosei Tanaka at the end of 2020 Ioka has been embroiled in a feud with the JBC, who leaked details of a failed drug test. A drug test that suggest Ioka had taken multiple banned substances including marijuana, an illegal drug in Japan. Ioka was later cleared, complete, with revelations that the testing had not followed normal protocol, and was likely tainted and damaged by the fact his sample wasn't frozen and hadn't been kept properly. Later leading the JBC to clear him, and take responsibility. That however will be a very notable sub-story coming into this bout, and there will be a lot of questions about how that may effect Ioka ahead of this bout, his first since that saga.
In the ring Ioka is one of the best fighters on the planet, and deserves a high pound for pound ranking, though maybe just misses out on a top 10 slot. The talented Japanese boxer is a fantastic body puncher, a very intelligent fighter, with good ring craft, and a very versatile tool set. We've seen him box, we've seen him play counter puncher, we've seen him pressure and we've even seen him play the role of a puncher over the years. Again Tanaka he played the role very good counter puncher, neutralising the speed of Tanaka well with his timing and just a fight earlier he pressured Jeyvier Cintron, and used his body shots to neutralise a much bigger, faster man. There are holes in Ioka's game, but they are few and far between, and with Ismael Salas acting as his trainer, a lot of the focus is on understanding his opponent, and building a game plan to beat them. That really is Ioka's biggest strength, his adaptability, and the fact he can be an enigma when he needs to be.
Whilst Ioka is a major player in the sport the same can't be said of Rodriguez, though it did once seem like he was well on his way to being a true star of the lower weights. Like many Mexican fighters he started young, debuting in 2010 at the age if 18, and he reeled off 8 straight wins, 7 by stoppage, to begin his career. In 2012 he suffered his first loss but bounced back quickly and was 14-1 (12) when he got his first real bout of note, against a then 35-0 Roman Gonzalez. Rodriguez put up a fine effort, but was stopped in 7 rounds by Gonzalez. For a young fighter to have given his all against Gonzalez, in Nicaragua no less, this was a loss that showed what Rodriguez had to offer the sport and just 6 months later he went on to stopped WBO Minimumweight champion Merlito Sabillo to claim his first world title. Just 5 months later he went on to defeat Katsunari Takayama in arguably the best fight of 2014, to unify the WBO and IBF titles. At that point in time he looked like one of the hottest young things in world boxing but sadly a move up in weight saw his career hit a snag, suffering an unexpected draw to Jomar Fajardo, and losses to Donnie Nietes and Moises Fuentes. That left him desperately needing to rebuild. And rebuild he has! In fact he's won his last 15 bouts, with 11 stoppages, beating the likes of Ramon Garcia Hirales, Yohei Tobe, Hernan Marquez, Oswaldo Novoa and Martin Tecuapetla during that run.
In the ring Rodriguez isn't a smart fighter. He's not an intelligent boxer, or a crafty counter puncher. Instead he's a pretty intense, in your face, aggressive warrior, coming to have a fight. Although not a huge puncher in terms of 1-shot power, Rodriguez is a brute, his pressure, work rate and tenacity often being too much for opponents Watching him we see a fighter who isn't technical, he isn't accurate, and he's not the most natural of boxers. But he is a fighter, who lets combinations go, uses head movement and does a very under-rated jab, which he uses well to dictate moments. At his best however he's a warrior on the inside, through uppercuts, hooks and switching his attack between head and body. He's developed more as a boxer, rather than a bully, over the years, but is still at his best as a bully with grinding pressure.
Whilst Rodriguez has tried boxing more in recent years we don't see him applying that approach here. He would come off second best for almost every second of every round. Boxing a master boxer like Ioka is not a good idea, unless you are also a master technician. Instead we expect to see Rodriguez trying to apply pressure, and make this a tear up on the inside. Although it's not in Ioka's best interest to fight that type of fight, we do expect the Japanese star to hold his feet a lot and make this into a tear up for the TV viewers.
Sadly with no fans in attendance we don't expect this to feel like a world title fight, but we do imagine a lot of excitement, and it'll be a fight we wish had fans in the venue.
After 12 rounds we're expecting a wide and clear win for Ioka, though we do expect him to have a lot of questions asked of him, and for Rodriguez to show no quit at all. The Mexican will be there from the opening bell to the final seconds, and he'll be putting in an honest shift, but coming up short.
Prediction - UD12 Ioka
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.