By Joe Koizumi
Photo: Boxing Beat
Unbeaten Kazuto Ioka (11-0, 7 KOs), 108, Japan, acquired the vacant WBA light-flyweight belt by scoring a fine TKO victory over Mexican Jose Rodriguez at 2:50 of the sixth round on Monday in Osaka, Japan. Ioka floored the Mexican three times—once in the first round and twice more in the fatal sixth to show his admirable sharpness. Ioka gained his second world belt in his only eleventh pro bout, which is the new record here in Japan.
His uncle Hiroki Ioka, now Kazuto’s manager, had also gained a couple of world belts, but it was in his twenty-second bout that Hiroki won the WBA junior fly throne—his second throne—from Myung-Woo Yuh, a new Hall of Famer elected this year, by an upset verdict in the same venue (Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium) in 1991. His brilliant nephew, still 23, did it in a half career of Hiroki’s.
The ex-amateur national high school champ Kazuto failed to participate in the Olympic Games in Beijing due to a highly debatable decision in the final of the tourney to decide the Japanese representative in 2008, and promptly turned professional the following year. In his seventh pro bout, Kazuto, whom people call a genius more talented than Hiroki, captured the WBC 105-pound throne by a breathtaking one-punch knockout of previously unbeaten Oleydong Sithsamerchai in February 2011. It was merely in 22 months that Kazuto needed to win his first world belt since his pro debut—two months earlier than Floyd Mayweather did in obtaining his first from Genaro Hernandez in 1998.
Originally was Kazuto a legitimate 108-pounder, but his first target to win the world belt Omar Nino, Mexico, yielded his WBC light-fly belt to unheralded old soldier Gilberto Keb Baas despite his promise to come and fight Kazuto in Japan. Then, his father/promoter/trainer Kazunori (Hiroki’s elder brother) shifted the target to the Thailander Oleydong, WBC 105-pound champ, from whom Kazuto impressively captured the belt with a vicious body shot. Since his coronation Kazuto had a weight problem, so it was a matter of time to outgrow the strawweight division, renounce his belt and move up back to his familiar 108-pound category.
Before that, however, Kazuto participated in a unification bout with WBA minimum champ and compatriot Akira Yaegashi last June. Regardless of the result, it would be his last showing as a 105-pounder to free himself from a severe reduction of weight. Kazuto, making his third defense of the WBC throne, impressively unified the world belts by outspeeding and outpunching formidable counterpart Yaegashi by a unanimous nod in a greatly grueling battle.
It was fortunate for Ioka family that the WBA so kindly and generously named current titleholder Roman Gonzalez super-champion and had the regular championship vacant to pave the way for Kazuto to fight in a quest for his second world belt. The WBA, however, mandated the winner of this elimination bout to meet Chocolatito for unification.
In the first round Ioka showed good balance and rhythm in throwing jabs and left hooks with precision. Midway in the session Ioka quickly connected with a very vicious left hook to the side of the belly following a right uppercut to the solar plexus, dropping the positive Mexican. TV people became frightened at an expected opening round knockout as Kazuto did in just ninety-eight seconds to dispatch Yongoen Tor Chalermchai exactly a year ago on the last day of 2011. But Kazuto cleverly remained cool and cautious enough to see the Mexican’s mobility after his sudden visit to the deck.
It is remarkable that Ioka is such an excellent “body snatcher” as he often dropped his opponents with well-timed body shots although he is a small boy under the flyweight category. It reminded us of great world bantam champ Eder Jofre having kept his belt with an explosive body punch to Katsutoshi Aoki in 1963. It was like an art by the knockout artist.
This eloquent reporter must hurry up, otherwise this report won’t reach the end of the story. Ioka finely dominated the second and third rounds with his versatile use of his left hand in jabbing and left-hooking, while Rodriguez became cautious against Ioka’s sharp counters and only occasionally responded with jabs.
Rodriguez, who had suffered only a setback in twenty-nine bouts, apparently changed his strategy into counterpunching just after Ioka threw quick combinations. In round four, the Mexican once connected with a good left hook to the cheek of the baby-faced Japanese, who threw more punches upstairs and downstairs. Two judges gave the fourth round to Rodriguez, while one to Ioka.
The fifth might be a prologue of Ioka’s soon-coming knockout, as he cleverly shifted his target to the midsection of the game Mexican. Rodriguez withstood his body punches—quick and strong—to have Ioka realize that his body shots were so effective that they obviously weakened his opponent.
The sixth witnessed Ioka floor the Mexican hombre with a simple but smashing left-right combination. Down he went. Rodriguez barely stood up and resumed fighting, but his damage was such that it was evident that he wouldn’t last so long. Ioka quickly connected with a right uppercut to the midsection followed by a right hook to the face. Rodriguez fell prone, and Thai referee Pinit Prayadsab immediately called a halt at the Mexican’s third visit to the canvas.
The fatal sixth round might be a good sample of scientific boxing, as Ioka was so tremendously accurate that his connection of punches was probably more than ninety percent. He looked so economical, so efficient and so effective. As for this round, he looked like a Miguel Canto or a Ricardo Lopez. As always, Ioka’s face was least bruised—except in his only tough battle with the WBA ruler Yaegashi.
His road as the new champion, however, will not be so easy, as he is obliged to face such a formidable champ as Roman Gonzalez, unbeaten and unbeatable, in his initial defense. We, Japanese fight fans, are very much looking forward to watching the confrontation of unbeaten champs Ioka and Gonzalez to materialize in the nearest future.
Ioka, a pretty boy, made a good speech after the fight, as always. He is one of best-mannered athletes here in Japan, saying, “I could win thanks to your supports that greatly encouraged me. I express my gratitude to my uncle, father, club-mates, friends, etc. I wish all to welcome a happy new year.” It was a brilliant speech even Roberto Duran wouldn’t be able to make.
Before the trick happened, the official tallies were as follows: Levi Martinez, Sergio Caiz (both US) and Wansoo Yuh (Korea), all 49-45 in favor of Ioka.
Most probably, Kazuto Ioka will be elected Japan’s Boxer of the Year, surpassing the other seven world champs of Japan due to his victory over Yaegashi in the unification bout and his impressive triumph in the second coronation. Ioka is the ninth double world champ out of Japan that gained a couple of belts in different categories since the first conqueror Fight Harada in 1965 (when he dethroned the golden bantam Eder Jofre).
Promoter: Ioka Promotions.
WBA supervisor: Yangsup Shim (Korea).