It's pretty fair to say that 2021 was a poor year. A really frustrating year that many of us would love to scrub from our memories. Sadly the disappointment of much of the year continued right through to the final world title bout of the year as WBO Super Flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka (28-2, 15) [井岡一翔] retained his title in a damp squib of a bout with fellow Japanese fighter Ryoji Fukunaga (15-5, 14) [福永亮次].
The bout, put on on short notice when Japoan closed it's borders and Fukunaga was a late replacement for Jerwin Ancajas, promised something. Especially given how Fukunaga had been gifted a win in October against Hayate Kaji. It seemed, in paper, like the idea bout for Ioka to show his counter punching skills, like he did a year again ago against the brilliant Kosei Tanaka.
Instead the bout had very much the feeling of an under-enthusued champion, taking on a domestic level challenger and simply going through the motions.
From round 1 it was obvious the two men were on totally different skill levels, but that the challenger was significantly hungrier for the bout than the champion, neutralising some of the skill difference. Fukunaga looked like someone who wanted to win, Ioka on the other hand looked like a man who was happy to go through the motions without coming close to top gear, or even second top gear.
Round by round Fukunaga had success with his jab, and landed the occasional big left hand, but they did little to get Ioka's respect, at least on the whole, whilst Ioka found holes for good combinations up top and the solid body shot. Sadly they were few and far between from the champion, but they were enough to take a lot of rounds. Fukunaga tried, and it's a good thing he did, but he was often lacking that bit of quality and his power looked toothless at world level.
Thankfully Fukunaga did do enough every tound to keep Ioka from falling asleep, but never did enough to make Ioka get out of cruise control,. He landed he landed some good left hands, but Ioka always took the play away with a nice combination, a good body shot and a glimpse of what he could do. It was like a parent playing with a child for the most part.
Sadly for Ioka we never came close to seeing the best of him. That, in the final rounds, was really disappointing and instead we saw Fukunaga come on strong, especially in round 11 as he seemed to hurt Ioka with a body shot, but it was too little too late and Ioka, whilst hurt, wasn't close to being damaged goods, seeing out the round, and cruising through the final 3 minutes en route to a decision victory, with scores of 118-110, 116-112 and 115-113
After 12 rounds Ioka was the clear winner, but he fought like someone happy to just get through the bout and eye bigger things in 2022, like the rest of us. Fukunaga, who was game but second best through out, put up a good effort but was clearly second best and really looked like he had nothing other than heart and determination to offer at this level. He tried to out box Ioka, which was a poor gameplan, even against an Ioka who looked completely unmotivated.
Fingers crossed 2022 will bring a major opponents for Ioka and will see Fukunaga face off in a rematch with Hayate Kaji, after their hugely controversial October bout. On this performance Ioka needs a top opponent to get the best from him whilst Fukunaga, for all his willing and determination, is missing world class traits.
World Title Results
Whether you like them or not World Titles add prestige to any bout as a result we've included the results of world title bouts in this special section.