Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Dan Rafael [Print without images]

Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Can't wait for Ioka-Yaegashi

By Dan Rafael

The fight won't get a lot of play in the United States, but if you're a hard-core fight fan, how can you not be at least a little bit interested in Kazuto Ioka versus Akira Yaegashi? I, for one, think it could be a terrific fight.

Ioka and Yaegashi, who hold belts in boxing's smallest weight class, are due to meet in a strawweight title unification bout on June 20 in Osaka, Japan, Ioka's hometown.

I'm interested in the fight for a variety of reasons. First, even though they are only 105-pounders, they are entertaining fighters. That is the most important element.

The 23-year-old Ioka (9-0, 6 KOs) is a really good fighter who has scored some sensational knockouts in his brief pro career. Don't believe me? Just search YouTube for his second title defense from December, a spectacular first-round knockout of Yedgoen Tor Chalermchai. Yaegashi (15-2, 8 KOs) became something of a cult figure to boxing fans after an incredible October fight, in which Yaegashi, 29, stopped Pornsawan Porpramook in the 10th round to win a version of the title in one of the sickest action fights I've ever seen. In fact, I picked it as the 2011 ESPN.com fight of the year. This will be Yaegashi's first fight since that all-time classic.

The styles of Ioka and Yaegashi figure to mesh well because Ioka is a good counterpuncher and Yaegashi is more of a straight-ahead brawler. Both were excellent amateurs on the Japanese scene. Ioka was 95-10 with 64 knockouts in the unpaid ranks, and he barely missed making the 2008 Olympic team. Yaegashi was a Japanese amateur national champion.

Besides the likelihood that it will be a fun fight, I also dig the historical aspect of the match because strawweight unification bouts are very, very rare.

In addition, this fight also will be the first time in history that two Japanese titleholders will meet to unify belts in any weight class, according to friend and Japanese boxing historian Joe Koizumi. When you consider all of the titleholders Japan has produced over the years, that's stunning.

"I wish to prove who's the No. 1," Ioka said through a translator when the fight was recently announced.

Said Yaegashi: "Ioka will be a star player in Osaka, while I may take a supporting role. But the winner should take a stellar role in the ring."