By Joe Koizumi
Photos by Sumio Yamada
Unbeaten Japanese speedster Hiroki Ioka (14-0, 9 KOs), 106.5, successfully kept his WBA light-flyweight belt as he proved too smart, sharp, speedy, smooth and skillful for previously unbeaten Nicaraguan Felix Alvarado (18-1, 15 KOs), 106.75, overcome the challenger’s constant aggressiveness with his “Mantequilla” defense and “Miguel Canto” counters, winning a unanimous decision over twelve fast rounds on Tuesday in Osaka, Japan. The official tallies were as follows: Carlos Sucre (Venezuela) 119-110, Pinit Prayadsab (Thailand) 119-109 and Sergio Caiz (US) 115-113, all for Ioka (pronounced E-Oh-Car). The referee was Eddie Claudio (US).
This reporter celebrates his 50th anniversary in writing boxing reports in 2014. A seventeen-year-old fan in Japan sent a letter to “Mr. Boxing” Nat Fleischer, the founder and editor of The Ring Magazine (then called “The Bible of Boxing”) to point out some minor mistakes in his writing on Asian boxing scene. Mr. Fleischer kindly replied to my humble letter, saying, “How about reporting results in Japan to contribute to The Ring?” Since then, he kindly coached and advised me how to write boxing reports by sending back my poor reports with red ink. Almost fifty years have passed, and my reports might have improved a little better than the young fan started writing. Graham Greene wrote a novel titled “England Made Me” but it is true that Nat Fleischer made Joe Koizumi in Japan.
Should I not have been a fight scribe, I would have written novels or produced movies in my life. But boxing is so attractive and fascinating like a beautiful lady that prevents me to do any other things than watching fight after fight. After fifty years since I have found myself nothing but an addict that knows nothing but boxing.
This reporter, formerly a mechanical engineer, hereby would like to apply a movie or novel technique named “flashback” in this article. The flashback is to insert an old scene into a current narrative. In modern movies or novels, time isn’t necessarily moving forward linearly but may be turning around between the past, present and future like in famous movies “Citizen Kane” directed by Orson Welles or “8 1/2” by Federico Fellini.
To make a short story long, this reporter starts this article with Kazuto Ioka’s uncle and formerly two-time world champ Hiroki who fought in 1986 through 1998. Kazuto, 21 years his junior, is a son of Kazunoi Ioka, Hiroki’s elder brother, who had a brief professional career.
Hiroki was a lanky boxer with a height of 169 centimeter (about 5’7”), who’s taller than Kazuo (164.8 cm, that is, 5’4 1/2”). Hiroki, in 1987, became the WBC’s first minimumweight champ by defeating Thailand’s Mai Tomburifarm in Osaka. It was in his ninth pro bout that the 18-year-old youngster did the achievement. It was the shortest reach to a world throne at that time until it was broken by Joichiro Tatsuyoshi and Nobuo Nashiro (both of whom gained the belt in the eighth pro outing), and then renewed by Kazuto Ioka (who did it in his seventh; this is the current Japanese record of the shortest career to acquire the world throne). The Japanese record of the youngest world champ is still kept by Hiroki, who was only 18 years and nine months when he gained the first belt.
To make a long story short, Hiroki Ioka kept the WBC 105-pound belt twice before he lost it to Thai southpaw Napa Kiatwanchai in 1986. He moved up to the 108-pound category and surprisingly dethroned previously unbeaten Hall-of-Famer Myung-Woo Yuh but forfeited his belt after two defenses to the ex-champ Yuh in a rematch in 1992. His manager Hiroaki Tsuda made his best effort to make Hiroki the first in Asia to win three belts in as many different classes (eventually it was accomplished by Manny Pacquiao). But Hiroki, a tall and lanky speedster, failed no less than four times in acquiring his third belt, losing to WBA flyweight champs David Griman (TKOby8), Sean Sor Ploenchit (TKOby10), Jose Bonilla (TKOby7) and WBA junior bantam titlist Satoshi Iida (L12; by a majority decision).
For his nephew Kazuto, boxing is a grudge fight to fulfill Uncle Hiroki’s dream of acquiring the triple crown. Hiroki, with his elder brother Kazunori, established his gym in order to cultivate youngsters in Osaka, where Ioka is a very household name among the general public. Hiroki (whose overall mark was 33-8-1, 17 KOs) describes Kazuto as more vastly talented than he, as we agree in terms of power punching, no jinx against southpaw opponents (Hiroki wasn’t good at fighting such southpaw opposition as Napa Kiatwanchai), better chin and excellence in fighting at the close range.
It’s time to go back to the present. Again this film director starts this article with post-fight interviews of both contestants. The loser Alvarado, a sore loser whose left eye was completely closed, said, “I hate to admit it, but I lost. But the difference wasn’t so big as the two judges scored. I was more aggressive as I threw more punches.”
It was true that Alvarado, previously unbeaten in eighteen bouts, threw more than double, probably triple more punches than the defending champ all night. But problem was precision. His punches were almost completely blocked, or averted by Ioka’s ducking or head-slipping, if not so good as Jose Mantequilla Napoles. After the fight, Ioka’s face was clean and unbruised as usual, while Alvarado’s was badly damaged, which showed he absorbed much punishment.
The victor Ioka said, “I tried to finish Alvarado even in the last round. I tried. He had a long reach and fought with full power from the start, so I decided to fight in the close range to nullify his opening attack and his power. My style with lead jabs was studied by Alvarado who tried to counter with right crosses over my jabs, and I fought close to him.”
Now we review the fight from the first round. Some 8,000 people were in attendance at Bodymaker Coliseum, which was previously called Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium, where Uncle Hiroki used to fight many times throughout in his career. In Osaka, Japan’s second biggest city, there are a couple of downtowns—one is called Kita (North) and another Minami (South). The arena is located in the center of the South downtown in Osaka.
It was a highly ballyhooed confrontation of the unbeaten contestants. The challenger Alvarado, 24, registered fifteen knockouts in 18 pro bouts, but all stoppages were done within the first three rounds, which clearly signified Alvarado must be an early starter. So he was. From the first round the Nicaraguan challenger furiously attacked the champ, who covered himself up and coolly countered with left hooks to the belly and to the face. Two judges scored in Ioka’s favor, while another tallied 10-10 after the furious opening session.
Ioka said afterward, “Should I try to keep the distance, Alvarado will come forward to have me backpedalling more, so I decided to stand and fight without retreating.” In comparison with his previous bouts, Ioka showed a less jabs in earlier rounds as he fought at the close quarter as if two bulls battled toe-to-toe in the center of the plaza de toros (bull ring).
The second witnessed Ioka, also 24, display his good defensive skills in sidestepping, ducking or weaving to counter with short rights to the reckless aggressor.
Alvarado, in round three, had the left eyebrow puffed with his absorption of Ioka’s countering rights, but kept throwing punches to the air. Ioka, with his father Kazunori as the chief second and Uncle Hiroki also as a cornerman, remained cool and countered with precise left hooks to the side of the belly. Alvarado withstood them and came back fighting.
The fourth was furious enough, as Alvarado kept punching entirely for three minutes. His stamina was superb, but his precision was poor. Ioka seldom took the challenger’s punches and seemed content to avert them and counter with short left hooks and right crosses after ducking busily. Two judges favored Alvarado, while one saw it for Ioka. Alvarado threw more than one hundred inaccurate punches, while Ioka some ten accurate shots. Whose round? It (the fourth) will be a good material at the ring official seminar at the next WBA convention.
From the fifth on, Ioka threw plenty of left jabs as usual, since Alvarado’s work-rate visibly declined though he was still aggressive. Probably Alvarado, whose lefty optic became more badly swollen as the contest progressed, might have realized that the more he attacked the more counterpunches he would take. That’s true. Ioka tried to counter just after Alvarado finished throwing punches.
It was Ioka that swept the sixth through eighth with ease. He released good jabs to judge the distance and connected with crisp left hooks to the onrushing Nicaraguan, who became less aggressive in earlier rounds. Ioka, still in the close quarter, connected with accurate left hooks, effectively shaking him up time and again. But Alvarado was durable enough to withstand the champ’s solid counters.
The ninth was taken by Alvarado, who turned loose with a barrage of punches, regardless of precision. Ioka, on the contrary, seemingly took a rest to watch his rival’s power and stamina while averting his attack.
Ioka, in round ten, looked refreshed after his rest in the previous session, and often connected with still solid left hooks to the face and to the side of the belly. Alvarado’s left eye looked almost closed, but when the referee had it examined twice during this session, the ringside physician advised him to have it go on. Probably the third man wished to halt the affair then and there because of Alvarado’s deteriorated left eye but couldn’t get the doctor’s agreement. So, the spectators in Osaka could see two more rounds to enjoy their tickets’ worth.
They paid off. The last two rounds were as furious as any of the previous sessions, since Alvarado kept punching the air all the way. The Nicaraguan youngster had tremendous stamina, while Ioka displayed an economical way of fighting, countering him with compact left hooks to the face.
Uncle Hiroki was a good upright stylist, but didn’t possess such excellent defensive skills, so when he was forced to fight in the close range, he couldn’t have the upper hand, losing to Griman, Ploenchit, Bonilla and Iida. Ioka this night fought like Miguel Canto, which, however, wasn’t enough to entertain the crowd that, as always, looked forward to watching Ioka’s triumph by knockout. Ioka’s punches were compact and accurate, but not so powerful probably he opted for fighting in the close quarter.
His father/trainer Kazunori said after the victory, “We hope to have Kazuto fight a unification bout with Adrian “Confesor” Hernandez or move up to fight for his third championship in the flyweight class next year. Should he pursue the triple crown it is Kazuto’s dream to come true.
This reporter remembers a scene after Kazuto’s successful pro debut in 2009. The youngster Kazuto said in the ring, “I hope to surpass Uncle Hiroki.” The uncle next to him then replied, “That’s impossible.” It made the audience burst into laughter. But Kazuto, the unbeaten two-class champ still at 24, is going to make the impossible possible.
Kazuto Ioka will be forced to enter a more fierce battle than his defense with Alvarado within some weeks. It’s a battle for Japan’s sports writers club to decide who the Boxer of the Year is—among the top three: WBA super-feather champ Takashi Uchiyama, WC bantam ruler Shinsuke Yamanaka and Ioka. All are still unbeaten formidable champions. We’ll wait for a while.
Promoter: Ioka Promotions
WBA supervisor: Robert Mack (US)