Dan Rafael: Kazuto Ioka

Japan's Ioka worth watching

March, 29, 2014
Mar 29
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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.

Japan's fighter of year: Yamanaka

January, 8, 2014
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Bantamweight titlist Shinsuke Yamanaka has never fought outside of his home country of Japan and certainly isn't a well-known figure to American boxing fans, but he is one of the best 118-pounders in the world.

The 31-year-old Yamanaka (20-0-2, 15 KOs), a southpaw, has made five title defenses since knocking out Mexico's Christian Esquivel in the 11th round in November 2011. In 2012, in his first two defenses, Yamanaka outpointed Vic Darchinyan and knocked out Tomas Rojas, both former junior bantamweight titleholders.

Yamanaka made three more defenses in 2013, knockouts of Malcolm Tunacao, Jose Nieves and Alberto Guevara. It was a strong year for Yamanaka, who this week was selected jointly by the Japan Boxing Commission and the Japanese boxing writers as the Japanese Boxer of the Year for 2013. He received 21 of the 34 total votes for the award.

Junior lightweight titlist Takashi Uchiyama (21-0-1, 17 KOs), who made two of his eight defenses in 2013, was the runner-up (11 votes). He knocked out Jaider Parra in the fifth round in May and then survived a 10th-round knockout to easily outpoint Daiki Kanenko on New Year's Eve in Tokyo.

Kazuto Ioka (14-0, 9 KOs), the outstanding junior flyweight titlist, was third (2 votes), coming off a 2013 in which he made three successful defenses after winning his belt in late 2012.

Several other awards were handed out, including rookie of the year, which went to middleweight Ryota Murata (2-0, 2 KOs), the 2012 Olympic gold medalist, who turned pro in August. We should see him in the United States at some point because he is co-promoted by Top Rank.
The Japanese fight of the year award went to Uchiyama-Kaneko.

New Year's Eve cards in Japan

December, 30, 2013
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There's that famous moment during the epic first Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward fight when, after the hellacious ninth round, it appeared as though the fight was going to be stopped in Gatti's corner.

Referee Frank Cappuccino put the confusion to rest, telling both combatants in the center of the ring, "Fight ain't over! Fight ain't over!"

So although Tuesday is New Year's Eve, it must be said that as far as the boxing schedule goes, "Year ain't over! Year ain't over!"

In fact, as has become something of a tradition, there will be two New Year's Eve world-title cards taking place in Japan.

In Tokyo, there two junior lightweight title bouts are scheduled. Takashi Uchiyama (20-0-1, 17 KOs) will defend his version of the 130-pound crown against Japanese countryman Daiki Kaneko (19-2-3, 12 KOs), and Japanese southpaw Takashi Miura (26-2-2, 19 KOs) will defend his slice of the title against Mexico's Dante "Crazy" Jardon (24-3, 20 KOs).

About 250 miles away in Osaka, junior flyweight titlist Kazuto Ioka (13-0, 9 KOs) of Japan will defend his title against Felix Alvarado (18-0, 15 KOs) of Nicaragua. On the undercard, Japan's Ryo Miyazaki (20-0-3, 11 KOs), who recently vacated his strawweight world title in order to move up in weight, will face Fahlan Sakkreerin Jr. (22-2, 14 KOs) of Thailand in a junior flyweight nontitle fight.

Busy New Year's Eve in Japan

December, 31, 2012
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Takashi Uchiyama and Bryan VasquezAP Photo/Toru TakahashiTakashi Uchiyama celebrated the new year with a KO victory over Bryan Vasquez in Tokyo.

If there is any kind of offseason in boxing, in most of the world anyway, it’s usually the second half of December and early January. But not in Japan, where having a big show -- or shows -- on New Year’s Eve is becoming something of a tradition.

So on Monday, there were two major cards in Japan featuring five world title bouts.

There were three In Tokyo and two more about 300 miles away in Osaka.

Here’s a look at the what happened in Tokyo:

• Junior lightweight titlist Takashi Uchiyama (19-0-1, 16 KOs) stopped Costa Rica’s Bryan Vasquez (29-1, 15 KOs) at the end of the eighth round to retain his belt for the sixth time. Vazquez was the mandatory opponent because he had been the interim titleholder.

• Junior bantamweight titlist Yota Sato (26-2-1, 12 KOs) kept his belt with a unanimous decision against countryman Ryo Akaho (19-1-2, 12 KOs). Scores were 118-110, 117-112, 117-111.

• Kohei Kono (28-7, 11 KOs) pulled an upset against Thailand’s Tepparith Kokietgym (21-3, 13 KOs) to claim a version of the junior bantamweight title. Kono scored three knockdowns in the fourth round for a TKO at 2:08. Kokietgym’s three previous defense had come against Japanese challengers -- Daiki Kameda, Tomonobu Shimizu and Nobuo Nashiro -- so Kono got a little revenge. Kokietgym led on all three scorecards through three rounds.

And here’s what went down in Osaka:
[+] EnlargeRyo Miyazaki and Pornsawan Porpramook
AP Photo/Kyodo NewsRyo Miyazaki needed 12 hard-fought rounds to claim a vacant strawweight belt over Pornsawan Porpramook Monday in Osaka.

• Ryo Miyazaki (18-0-3, 10 KOs) won a vacant strawweight belt by split decision over Thailand’s Pornsawan Porpramook (27-5-1, 17 KOs) on scores of 116-111, 116-112 for Miyazaki and 114-113 for Porpramook, who is best known for being stopped in the 10th round by Akira Yaegashi 14 months ago in the spectacular 2011 ESPN.com fight of the year.

• Former unified strawweight titlist Kazuto Ioka (11-0, 7 KOs) stopped Mexico’s Jose Rodriguez (28-2, 17 KOs) at 2:50 of the sixth round to win a vacant junior flyweight belt. Ioka, who vacated his strawweight belts and moved up in weight, dropped Rodriguez three times, once in the first round and twice more in the sixth.

Can't wait for Ioka-Yaegashi

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
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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."

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