By - George Delis (@Delisketo)
On New Year’s Eve, we close 2020 with a bang, as Kazuto Ioka puts the WBO Super Flyweight crown on the line against the man who aims to steal his thunder and become the 2nd ever Japanese 4 weight world champion, Kosei Tanaka.
Kazuto Ioka (25-2/14 KOs) is without a doubt one of the most decorated boxers that has come out of the land of the rising sun. A 10 year veteran, Ioka has had his fair share of wars.
His first major test arrived in 2011 when he challenged the unbeaten Kittipong Jaigrajang (35-0 at the time) for the WBC Strawweight title. Jaigrajang was champion for 4 years and had 6 title defenses under his belt. The Japanese hopeful went toe to toe with the Thai fighter, even knocking him down as early as in the second round and then once more in the fifth, with a lethal body blow, sealing the deal and becoming a world champion at only 21 years of age. Ioka defended his championship twice the same year, against Juan Hernandez Navarrete and Veerawut Yuthimitr.
6 months later, he was involved in a unification bout with the WBA champion and fellow rising star, Akira Yaegashi. Their careers shared many similarities. Yaegashi was also an accomplished amateur, with a record of 56-14, and had also won the National Sports Festival back in 2002. Both men brought their A game that night, knowing what was at stake. An epic back and forth affair, that brought the fans to their feet, ended with Ioka earning the unanimous decision and leaving Osaka with 2 belts.
Having conquered the Strawweight division, Ioka decided to move up a weight class and faced Jose Alfredo Rodriguez for the vacant WBA (Regular) Light Flyweight title. Rodriguez was the former interim champ, with 28 wins and only 1 decision loss. The Japanese prodigy systematically picked him apart with body shots and hooks, dropping him thrice for the win as well as for his second divisional title reign, where he enjoyed another long run, marking 3 successful defenses over Phissanu Chimsunthom, former world champion Ekkawit Songnui and Felix Alvarado (current IBF Light Flyweight champion).
After securing the WBA Flyweight title in a close encounter with Juan Carlos Reveco, they rematched on NYE of 2015 and as usual, Ioka’s body work was the key factor, stopping Reveco in the 11th round, in what was once again a very even fight. As Flyweight champ, he made five successful title defenses, over the likes of Roberto Domingo Sosa, Juan Carlos Reveco (as mentioned above), Keyvin Lara, Yutthana Kaensa and Nare Yianleang. His toughest one had to be against Kaensa. The interim WBA champion, with a perfect record of 16-0, shocked everyone when he knocked Ioka down, with a fast counter hook, in the second round. Ioka had never been dropped before in his career. Kaensa kept the pressure on for the majority of the fight, giving the local favorite a bigger challenge than expected. The tables turned however as Ioka put the Thai boxer down with a liver shot in the seventh round and proceeded to finish him off by keep punishing his body even more.
Ioka would go on to make history in 2019, when he fought Aston Palicte for the vacant WBO Super Flyweight title. The veteran dragged him into deep waters, wearing his opponent down, until he finally hurt the Filipino with 2 massive straight rights, followed by a plethora of punches, forcing the stoppage and becoming the 1st (male) Japanese boxer in history to win world championships in 4 different weight classes. Now, Ioka’s unique accomplishment is being threatened by a young and cocky fighter, who looks to create a legend of his own.
A bright star on the rise, Kosei Tanaka (15-0/9 KOs) has been on the fast track since the beginning of his career, winning the Oriental title in just his 4th professional bout, after defeating the then top ranked Ryuji Hara.
5 months removed from that breakout performance, Tanaka became the WBO Strawweight champion, with his sole defense being against Vic Saludar. Tanaka’s aggressive nature almost proved to be his downfall as he was repeatedly getting tagged by the Filipino challenger, losing the fight on the scorecards and even suffering his first knockdown, before stopping Saludar with a liver shot to retain his belt. (Saludar eventually won the title in 2018)
Tanaka would then move up to Light Flyweight and once again captured gold, putting on a boxing clinic against 2 weight champion Moises Fuentes. He comfortably defended the WBO championship over knockout artist Angel Acosta, but had a rough time against Rangsan Chayanram. Much like the Saludar fight, his fighting style got him in serious trouble. Not only he got dropped in the opening round, but even when Tanaka returned fire and finished Chayanram in the later rounds, he had sustained serious injuries during the battle, which led him pulling out of the much anticipated unification title bout with Ryoichi Taguchi.
Upon his return to the ring, this time at Flyweight, he outclassed the then unbeaten Ronnie Baldonado, earning a shot at Sho Kimura. In what was a fight of the year candidate, both men went to war for 12 rounds, throwing fists repeatedly, with Tanaka getting the better of these exchanges. In the end, the unstoppable prodigy received the majority decision and was crowned a 3 division champion, at only 23 years of age.
As fate would have it, his initial defense would be against the man he was meant to meet back in 2017, Ryoichi Taguchi. The former WBA & IBF champion looked like an old fighter here, unable to match Tanaka’s speed and power, getting peppered with hooks and jabs on numerous occasions, losing his second world title fight in a row and retiring shortly after. Tanaka proceeded to dispatch mandatory challengers Jonathan Gonzalez, dropping him 4 times with body shots and then Wulan Tuolehazi, whom he knocked out with a beautiful double uppercut combo. One year later to the day, Tanaka will make his Super Flyweight debut against a battle tested champion, in what could very well be the most important fight of his entire career.
Overall speaking, Ioka is the better boxer. He has a good defense, likes to keep his distance and throws sharp jabs and left hooks. He also puts together excellent combinations, attacking the head and the body seamlessly, leaving almost no space for his opponents to work on an effective offense of their own. On the other hand, Tanaka is definitely the faster and stronger of the two. Moreover, it seems like he’s gaining more KO power as he moves up each weight class. His only weakness has to be his reckless abandon style. In his latest fights though, Tanaka has showed a more composed side of his, but you never know when he’s going to throw caution to the wind again. If he does, Ioka will be there to punish the youngster for his impudent behavior.
At the end of the day, no matter what happens, this is promised to be an exciting clash between 2 of the best boxers in Japan today. Will this be a passing of the torch? Or will the “old king” manage to hold on to his throne a little longer? We will find out on New Year’s Eve!
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.