By: Sean Crose
He’s only lost twice in 27 fights, each time to top level competition and by close margins (both defeats came via split decision). Come Thursday in his native Japan, however, WBO super flyweight titlist Kazuto Ioka will be facing his countryman, the formidable and undefeated Kosei Tanaka in defense of his belt. Boxing’s smaller divisions haven’t been getting a whole lot of attention stateside, and that’s a shame, because this is a fine matchup between two major fighters.
The 31 year old Ioka has won titles in four – that’s -four – weight divisions. He may not be well known to western boxing fans, but he should be by virtue of his achievements. This is a man who has fought the likes of Kittipong Jaigrajang, Felix Alvarado, Donnie Nieties, and Jeyvier Cintron, after all, and there’s no doubt a fighter of Ioka’s experience has used his loses as learning experiences. In short, the veteran champion is a legitimate great.
As for Tanaka, the 25 year old won his first world title in only his fifth pro fight. He went on to win titles in two more weight divisions over the course of just a bit over three years. Now, after dominating the flyweight division, he’s moving up to take on Ioka. He’s been slightly favored over the defending champion, but there’s absolutely no way in the world this fight should be seen as a walk in the park for either man. With only twelve fights to his name, Tanaka doesn’t have the experience of Ioka. On the other hand, Tanaka has youth in his favor.
It’s worth remembering, however, that Ioka can be considered a rather young 31 year old. As Joe Williams of USA Today writes, he “was briefly retired at the age of 28. He had an 18-month hiatus due to a dispute with his dad and promoter, so he is fresher than most 32-year-olds.” Ioka’s last fight was a UD win over Jeyvier Cintron exactly a year ago. Tanaka himself was last seen in the ring exactly a year ago, as well, when he knocked out Wulan Tuolehazi in three.
New Year’s Eve boxing is a big deal in Japan, and the occasion tends to bring out good fights. This year is certainly no exception. The biggest problem for American fans is that the fights occur in the middle of the night, U.S. time, and it’s hard to find out where to watch them. Thursday’s card, for instance, will go down at four in the morning, eastern time.