By Jake Donovan
Less than 10 days after making history, unified 105 lb. titlist Kazuto Ioka took the first step towards what is believed to be an inevitable exit from the division altogether.
Faced with the ultimatum of choosing between the belts he unified in his 12-round instant classic against Akira Yaegashi last month, Ioka (10-0, 6KO) decided to ditch the one he carried into the fight.
Ioka marched to unification quicker than any fighter in boxing history, securing a second belt at strawweight in just his 10th pro bout. The means in which he collected both titles were hardly cherry-pickers, scoring an upset stoppage win over Oleydong Sithsamerchai last February and then outlasting Akira Yaegashi in a potential Fight of the Year candidate this past June.
The win over Yaegashi was a historic event on many fronts. In addition to Ioka winning his second belt so early in his career, the bout served as the first ever unification fight between two Japanese fighters.
Sadly, the groundbreaking moment in Japan’s rich boxing history was never meant to be celebrated for very long. It was known going into the fight that the winner would have to make a decision within 10 days of the fight to decide which title he was going to keep, due to separate mandatory defenses.
Ioka – who was making the 4th defense of the WBC belt in the unification match – decided to part with the green belt, representatives from his team informed Boxingscene.com over the weekend.
The decision means that mandatory challenger and ‘silver’ titlist Denver Cuello gets his long awaited shot at a belt. It just won’t come against the man he and his handlers have been unmercifully calling out in the press for the past several months.
Given his youth and the fact that he’s still growing, there stands a good chance that Ioka will wind up dumping his WBA belt as well and moving up to the 108 lb. division in the very near future. Such a move would allow Yaegashi to re-enter the mix without so much as a title eliminator. It would be only right for the 29-year old, who has now been in back-to-back Fight of the Year-level ring wars.
Yaegashi entered the clash well-rested after being taken to hell and back in a title winning effort against Pornsawan Porpramook last October. Anyone who saw the bout immediately hailed it as the slam dunk choice for 2011 Fight of the Year.
It’s possible the diminutive slugger repeats in that category, as the June 20 unification bout with Ioka was an instant classic. Yaegashi was forced to fight with a swollen shut left eye for nearly the duration of the night, but never stopped coming forward or throwing. Ioka absorbed a tremendous amount of punishment as well, but was able to regroup and rally down the stretch to eke out a well-earned unanimous decision.
The historic win adds to the Ioka legacy; his uncle – Hiroki Ioka – still holds the distinction of becoming the youngest Japanese fighter in history to win a major title. The win also made him the first ever champion in the strawweight division when it was created more than 20 years ago.
At just 23, Ioka – a highly decorated amateur as a teen – has plenty of time to continue to make history. It’s just a matter of where and when he next lands.
Meanwhile, Cuello can now prepare for a vacant title shot. The Filipino southpaw is coming off of a terrific 2nd round knockout of credible contender Ganigan Lopez this past May for his 10th straight – all by knockout. Two wins prior in late ‘11, Cuello earned mandatory status with a 1st round knockout over Carlos Perez.
A list of approved opponents for the forthcoming vacant title fight has yet to be assembled.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox