Dan Rafael: Akira Yaegashi

Gonzalez, Estrada on collision course

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
Roman GonzalezAP Photo/Toru TakahashiRoman Gonzalez could face Juan Francisco Estrada for flyweight supremacy in 2015.

For those who have not been paying attention, this is a great time to be a fan of the flyweight division. Sure, it doesn’t get much love from the major boxing TV networks in the United States, but that doesn’t change the fact that there have been some excellent fights recently, with another likely to happen in the early part of 2015.

That would be a rematch between lineal champion Roman Gonzalez, also owner of an alphabet belt, and unified titleholder Juan Francisco Estrada.

Gonzalez (40-0, 34 KOs), who has also held titles at strawweight and junior flyweight, made his final junior flyweight defense against Estrada in November 2012. It was a tremendous battle, one Gonzalez won by unanimous decision at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles before vacating the title and moving up in weight.

On Sept. 5, Nicaragua’s Gonzalez, the best fighter in the world most people are not very familiar with, finally got a shot at the flyweight title, going to Tokyo and knocking out Akira Yaegashi in the ninth round to win the world championship.

After Estrada (30-2, 22 KOs) lost to Gonzalez, he moved up to flyweight and in his next fight outpointed Brian Viloria in another excellent fight to claim two belts. He has made three defenses, including an impressive 11th-round knockout of big puncher and former junior flyweight champion Giovani Segura on Sept. 6.

A rematch between Gonzalez and Estrada seemed like a natural and that is what we just might get as both sides are interested in the sequel. To make it even better, HBO, which has generally ignored fights south of the junior featherweight division, is interested in the rematch. That’s a great thing because Gonzalez and Estrada deserve the exposure and fans deserve a can’t-miss fight that should feature plenty of action and a high degree of skill.

But there is still work to be done before the expected rematch comes together. Both fighters have to get through interim defenses.

Gonzalez, 27, is returning to Japan to make his first defense, which will be against the Philippines’ Rocky Fuentes (35-7-2, 20 KOs) on Nov. 22 in Kanagawa.

“I'm in optimum shape. My physical condition is top-notch to face Rocky Fuentes, who's a hard and dedicated rival,” Gonzalez said. “Rocky knows how to throw combinations and he is able to vary his punches. I hope all goes well, as it has in all my fights so far.”

Estrada, 24, had his fourth title defense announced this week: Dec. 6 in his hometown of Hermosillo, Mexico, against the Philippines’ Joebert Alvarez (14-0-1, 6 KOs). That bout likely will air in the U.S. on beIN Sports Espanol.

Ideally, Gonzalez and Estrada will come through their upcoming bouts unscathed and they will meet in a rematch that hopefully will give both men -- and their fun-filled division -- the attention they deserve.
A few notes from around the boxing world:

•  Flyweight world champion Roman Gonzalez (40-0, 34 KOs), who won an alphabet title and the lineal championship via his ninth-round knockout of Japan’s Akira Yaegashi on Sept. 5 in Tokyo, is returning to Japan to make his first defense against the Philippines’ Rocky Fuentes (35-7-2, 20 KOs) on Nov. 22 in Kanagawa. The fight is on the undercard of junior lightweight titlist Takashi Miura (27-2-2, 20 KOs) of Japan defending against Mexico’s Edgar Puerta (23-4-1, 19 KOs). Teiken Boxing, which promotes Gonzalez, announced the card Monday.

A former strawweight and junior flyweight titleholder, Gonzalez, 27, of Nicaragua, likely will face unified flyweight titlist Juan Francisco Estrada in the first half of 2015 in a rematch of Gonzalez’s decision victory in a fantastic junior flyweight title fight in 2012. But first Gonzalez needs to beat Fuentes, 28, who lost his last fight by decision challenging flyweight titlist Amnat Ruenroeng in Thailand in January.

•  Junior middleweight John Jackson (18-2, 15 KOs), one of the fighting sons of former middleweight and junior middleweight titleholder Julian Jackson, had it rough in his last fight in June on the Miguel Cotto-Sergio Martinez undercard. After knocking Andy Lee down hard in the first round, nearly knocking him out and dominating the fight, Lee knocked Jackson out cold with a Hail Mary right hand in the fifth round. Now Jackson, 25, of the U.S. Virgin Islands, is scheduled for his ring return, which will be Nov. 15 in Cordoba, Argentina, against Carlos Adan Jerez (40-17-3, 18 KOs). Besides looking to rebound from the loss, Jackson is also seeking a bit of family revenge. Jerez handed Samuel Rogers, Jackson’s cousin, his first loss.

"John knows he got careless against Lee," said Sampson Lewkowicz, Jackson’s promoter. “He knows what he did wrong and paid a heavy price for it. He was beating Andy Lee all over the ring and forgot about his defense. It's something that will never happen again."

•  Some of Golden Boy’s best prospects will be in action on the Nov. 13 edition of “Golden Boy Live” (10 p.m. ET, Fox Spots 1/Fox Deportes) at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, California. Junior featherweight Joseph Diaz Jr. (12-0, 8 KOs), a 2012 U.S. Olympian, headlines the card; junior featherweight Diego De La Hoya (7-0, 5 KOs), Oscar De La Hoya’s first cousin, is in the co-feature; and featherweight Julian Ramirez (12-0, 7 KOs), a nephew of the late former junior lightweight champion Genaro Hernandez, and Chinese heavyweight Taishan Dong (1-0, 1 KO) also are scheduled to appear. All will face opponents to be determined.

•  Japan’s Takashi Uchiyama (21-0-1, 17 KOs), 34, will seek his ninth successful defense when he faces Israel Perez (27-2-1, 16 KOs), 35, of Argentina on Dec. 31 in Tokyo. Uchiyama has not fought since last New Year’s Eve. Perez will be fighting for a world title for the first time. "I have experience. I am in shape and I am very much aware that I am going to bring the championship home,” Perez said. “I will not disappoint and will make my dream of becoming champion of the world a reality. Uchiyama is a good boxer, but not unbeatable.”

Japan's Ioka worth watching

March, 29, 2014
Mar 29
One of boxing’s best fighters, but a guy unknown to most American fight fans, is going for a world title in a third weight division in just his 15th pro fight.

Even in this era of watered-down titles, that is still pretty impressive if he pulls it off.

Japan’s 25-year-old Kazuto Ioka (14-0, nine KOs) is a superb fighter, even though you’ve probably never seen, or even heard of, him. But he has already claimed titles in two weight classes and unified titles in one division.

In 2011, in just his seventh fight, Ioka knocked out longtime strawweight titlist Oleydong Sithsamerchai of Thailand in the fifth round to win a world title.

In his 10th fight, Ioka unified two of the strawweight belts with a unanimous decision against countryman Akira Yaegashi in 2012, who in his previous bout had knocked out Pornsawan Porpramook in the 10th round of the incredible 2011 fight of the year.

Later in 2012, Ioka moved up to junior flyweight and knocked out Jose Alfredo Rodriguez of Mexico to win a vacant belt, which Ioka would go on to defend three times.

Now, Ioka is moving up to flyweight and will challenge Thailand’s Amnat Ruenroeng (12-0, five KOs) in Osaka, Japan, on May 7.

Although Amnat, 34, is making his first defense and not regarded as an elite flyweight, he does own an amateur victory against Ioka, which makes the match somewhat interesting.

Not only is Ioka a very good fighter, he is also highly entertaining. Do yourself a favor and look for some of his fights on YouTube.

Can't wait for Ioka-Yaegashi

April, 17, 2012
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."