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Ioka, Yaegashi collide for unification tomorrow

Photos and story by Joe Koizumi

There’s a commonplace expression of “too many” in our boxing industry. It is said a boxer often fights one fight too many in his career such as Jim Jefferies against Jack Johnson, Muhammad Ali against Trevor Berbick, Sugar Ray Leonard against Hector Camacho, etc. In our small country Japan, ironists say there are “too many” world champions—fourteen in total—eight male and six female titleholders. The general public here seems quite unable to correctly mention all the names of our champs. Tomorrow, however, a highly anticipated unification title bout of a couple of compatriot champs in the same 105-pound category will take place in Osaka, Japan, probably for us to see our titlists reduce by one (unless it should result in a drawn game).

WBC strawweight champ Kazuto Ioka (9-0, 6 KOs) will square off against WBA minimumweight ruler Akira Yaegashi (15-2, 8 KOs) over twelve frames for unification. Ioka, still 23, was once a national amateur champ before entering the paid ranks—with a 95-10 ledger including 64 stoppages and not a few controversial losses he cost an Olympic representation (which people say Ioka had actually won). He is also a nephew of former two-time world champ in the 105 and 108-pound divisions Hiroki Ioka, who is now Kazuto’s manager. Yaegashi, 29, was also an ex-national amateur titlist, six years his senior, having conquered the Japanese, OPBF (Oriental and Pacific Boxing Federation) and WBA world belts as a professional. Yaegashi is an aggressive puncher, while Ioka a hard-hitting sharpshooter. We are looking forward to watching a hot and furious affair of the very fast-moving and quick-punching contestants.

Yaegashi’s manager, ex-WBA/WBC two-time world champ Hideyuki Ohashi said at the press conference of yesterday, “My manager Kenji Yonekura failed to win the world belt from Pascual Perez in his seventh pro bout, I myself couldn’t from Jungkoo Chang also in the seventh game and Yaegashi was unsuccessful in his seventh from Eagle Den Junlaphan. But Ioka did it in his only seventh pro game to win the WBC throne. We, Yaegashi and I, both admire his achievement.” The press conference looked like a gentlemen’s game to praise the counterpart each other. Ioka politely said, “I respect Mr. Yaegashi’s superior career and real power.” It’s true it is no use showing a verbal attack to the opponent outside the ring since it will be actually decided tomorrow.

When our press people asked the WBC champ’s uncle and ex-champ Hiroki Ioka about his expectation of an outcome, he simply said, “We’ll try to score a first-round knockout.” His counterpart, the WBA ruler’s manager Ohashi smilingly replied, “We try to fight full rounds to win by a unanimous decision.” It’s only a game of words.

The weigh-in ceremony ended briefly, as each contestant tipped the beam at the 105-pound class limit. Each of them showed lanky but muscular physique to many photographers.

The officials are as follows: referee Yuji Fukuchi (Japan); WBC judge Anek Hongtongkam (Thailand), WBA judge Carlos Sucre (US) and Koichi Sugiyama (Japan); WBC supervisor Robert Yalen (US) and WBA supervisor Alan Kim (Korea).

After the rules meeting the following were confirmed by all parties concerned: (1) three knockdown rule shall be in effect, (2) open scoring system shall be applied with interim scores to be announced after the fourth and eighth rounds, and (3) eye-cut rule shall be accepted with a point to be deducted from an uncut boxer upon an unintentional butt causing a cut.

The winner of this unification bout shall not be the WBA super champion since the unified champ shall renounce either of the belts within ten days after his coronation. Upon a drawn verdict each will keep his own belt of the WBC or the WBA as previously.

The still boyish Ioka, six years his junior at 23, is favored to win over the more experienced Yaegashi, since he is still unbeaten and has displayed fine performance since he dethroned previously unbeaten in 36 bouts, Oleydong Sithsamerchai of Thailand, with a single body shot in February of the previous year. Since then, he finely decked a couple of successful defenses over top contender Juan Hernandez of Mexico (W12) and Yodngoen Tor Chalermchai (TKO1).

Ioka, through his excellent amateur career, seemingly mastered how to penetrate his opponent’s tight guard with good and effective shots with precision. He is also a KO artist with a body shot, as shown in his triumphs over Oleydong and Yodngoen. Once having been coached by Cuban trainer Ismael Salas, Ioka is a quick and clever tactician dependent on ring savvy. It was said he had a weight problem, but he has reportedly made good control of weight this time. He may move up to the 108-pound category sooner or later with his growing physique.

Yaegashi, on the contrary, has had a fluctuating career in comparison with Ioka’s unblemished. Having turned professional, the short but speedy puncher quickly seized the OPBF 105-pound belt in his only fifth outing and had an ambitious crack at the WBC straw belt against Japan-based Thailander Eagle Den Junlaphan in his native Yokohama in 2007. Yaegashi was floored and his jaw was badly broken so that he lost a very lopsided decision (119-107 twice and 118-108). He had to withstand an eleven-month hiatus for his patient and prolonged recovery.

In his second comeback bout Yaegashi dropped an upset majority decision to busy-punching southpaw Masatate Tsuji in six-round tournaments by rated contenders to decide the mandatory challenger in July 2008. It’s his last setback, and Yaegashi has been undefeated for four years since. After his Tsuji loss no one would have expected Yaegashi to become world champ in the future, but he changed his style under the supervision of his trainer Koji Matsumoto (ex-world feather challenger against Freddy Norwood in 1998). Previously he only hit a punch at a time, but now can punch in combination upstairs and downstairs.

Yaegashi acquired the vacant national 105-pound belt by defeating Kenichi Horikawa by a unanimous verdict in 2009, and kept it three times against fast-punching Junichiro Kaneda, durable Kosuke Takeichi and tough Norihiko Tanaka. Time has come for Yaegashi to have a crack at the world belt again.

The defending champ Pornsawan Porpramook was a tremendously game and gallant Thailander, whom Yaegashi managed to dethrone via tenth round TKO at the Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, in October of the previous year. It was such a grueling give-and-take affair that The Ring Magazine and ESPN both called it Fight of the Year in the 105-pound category. This Ioka bout is his first since his praised coronation.

Although this reporter called the Ioka-Yaegashi confrontation the first unification bout, exactly, it is the very first encounter of world champs of different organizations—the WBC and the WBA. If within the same governing body, there was a previous example registered here in Japan. It was for the unified WBC bantamweight championship that full champ Yasuei Yakushiji defeated interim titlist Joichiro Tatsuyoshi by a majority decision (116-112, 115-114 and 114-114) in Nagoya in December 1994.

Interesting enough, both Yakushiji and Tatsuyoshi will this time serve as commentators for the sensational unification bout between Ioka and Yaegashi tomorrow.

This sensational unification bout will be staged by Ioka Promotions of Osaka in association with Ohashi Promotions of Yokohama to be shown nationwide through TBS network. We do hope it will be such a good fight with high technical quality that the cynic might not call our world champs “too many.”




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