Kazuto Ioka’s already impressive resume just got a big boost with a massive victory over Kosei Tanaka on New Year’s Eve.
Coming into the fight, many considered Ioka’s WBO super flyweight title defense against Tanaka to be a Fight Of The Year contender. In response, Ioka delivered a brilliant performance befitting of a Fighter Of The Year contender against Tanaka, closing out boxing’s 2020 with an eighth-round victory at Ota-City General Gymnasium in Tokyo.
Ioka retained his WBO super flyweight title after dropping Tanaka twice and then stopping it with a tremendous left hook. The proverbial passing of the torch to Tanaka was denied as Tanaka was aiming to be one of the few Japanese fighters in history to win titles in four weight classes.
The clash between Ioka and Tanaka had been built up for at least a year, with the two sharing the same card on New Year’s Eve in 2019. The fight seemed to have been lost due to the coronavirus pandemic, but was salvaged for what is typically Japanese boxing’s biggest show of the calendar year.
The opening round saw Tanaka be the aggressor and even land a couple of big punches, but not enough to stagger the older four-division champion. Ioka responded with a combination to the inside to start the second round and Tanaka answered back with a series of jabs to push Ioka back. The fisticuffs brought about some great exchanges midway through the second round with both fighters landing their fair share of punches.
Tanaka never gave away ground in the first few rounds with nonstop pressure. However, Ioka’s counter left hand was on point throughout the fight. Ioka’s footwork and technical prowess allowed him to drop Tanaka with a tremendous counter left hand late in the fifth round. Afterwards, Ioka kept backing up Tanaka while Tanaka fought back with short combinations. However, Ioka landed another vicious counter left hook to drop Tanaka in the sixth round.
Tanaka tried to outwork Ioka in the seventh round with an array of body punches, but Ioka was still able to keep his opponent at bay. Once the eighth round began, however, things quickly shifted in Ioka’s favor. Tanaka continued fighting, but Ioka ended the fight with a brilliant left hook that stopped Tanaka on his feet.
This was Ioka’s third straight win with all three victories being in world title clashes. Ioka not only fought Tanaka, but also ring rust. Ioka’s his last fight took place exactly one year ago when he defeated Jeyvier Cintron.
The super flyweight picture got a little clearer with Ioka’s victory. He now has a solid case to be the division’s top fighter with pound-for-pound top 10 consideration. Ioka had always shown interest in title unifications, but getting one won’t be easy. Champions Juan Francisco Estrada and Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez have a unification fight set for March. The winner of that fight would then have to face Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in the second half of 2021. IBF champion Jerwin Ancajas is seemingly without a fight, but with indication that he’ll fight Ioka anytime soon. There’s also secondary WBA titlist Joshua Franco, but he is likely fighting Andrew Moloney in a trilogy fight.
Ioka’s career boasts an impressive resume of wins against Akira Yaegashi, Felix Alvarado and now Tanaka. The 31-year-old champion owns an 8-2 career record against fighters who are current or former titlists. Ioka has only lost twice in split decision defeats to Amnat Ruenroeng and Donnie Nietes.