In what is becoming an annual tradition, Kazuto Ioka scored a knockout win on the last day of the calendar year. The unbeaten 23-year old's latest conquest came three hours to midnight in Osaka, scoring a 6th round knockout of Jose Rodriguez.
Ioka threatened to repeat on his performance exactly one year ago. His 98-second destruction of Yogndoen Tor Charlermchai left plenty of time to shower, change and venture elsewhere to ring in the new year, in addition to capping a Fighter of the Year-level 2011 ring campaign.
This year's entry lasted considerably longer, though not for a lack of trying. Ioka came out swinging in the opening round, catching Rodriguez repeatedly with power shots. A double left hook floored the visiting challenger midway through round one, though Rodriguez was able to beat the count and make it out of the round.
To his credit, Rodriguez did everything in his power to make a fight of it, closing the gap in round two and parts of round three. His actions weren't necessarily enough to win rounds, but were effective in forcing Ioka to step up his game.
The unbeaten strawweight titlist did just that, catching Rodriguez with combinations upstairs late in the third before returning to a vicious body attack in the fourth round. There was no quit in Rodriguez, who continued to press forward. Unfortunately, the results proved disastrous as Ioka would repeatedly catch him coming in.
Ioka took over for good in the fifth round and escalated matters in a climactic round six. Rodriguez was absorbing tons of punishment but able to dish out plenty in return. The difference between the two was Ioka's ability to walk through a hailstorm, brushing off the incoming to put Rodriguez down twice more in the sixth.
A perfectly placed right hand sent Rodriguez to the canvas, covering up in pain but once again bravely rising to his feet. Ioka was ready to party, however, and didn't want to waste any more time in the ring. An ensuing attack produced the third knockdown of the night, this time prompting the referee to immediately wave off the contest.
Ioka climbed a turnbuckle in celebration to the delight of the crowd, though attention quickly turned to Rodriguez' health. The visiting Mexican was still flat on his back being examined by ringside physicians at the time Ioka was officially announced as the night's winner.
The win advances Ioka's record to 11-0 (7KO), as he now becomes the mandatory challenger to Roman 'Chocolatito' Gonzalez.
Rodriguez suffers his second straight loss as he falls to 28-2 (17KO).
Ioka abandoned one strawweight title shortly after his history-making unification win over countryman Akira Yaegashi this past June. The bout marked the first time two Japanese titlists squared off in a unification match.
The split decision win marked his only action of 2012 prior to Monday's fight. Ioka moved up in weight, with his power appearing for the moment to have followed him up the scale. The 23-year old looked solid in his official arrival at junior flyweight.
One of the belts left behind by Ioka now falls in the hands of his stablemate, unbeaten Ryo Miyazaki. The 24-year old enters the title fray after outlasting former champ Pornsawan Porpramook in scoring a spirited 12-round split decision.
Scores were 116-111 and 116-112 in favor of Miyazaki and 114-113 for Porpramook.
The fight was tough to score, with several close rounds to explain the disparity on the scorecards. The difference in the fight was Miyazaki's late surge against the aging veteran to preserve his lead on two cards for his first title win.
Miyazaki - who has now fought three straight times in supporting capacity to Ioka - improves to 11-0 (6KO), while racking up the biggest win of his still rising career.
The best days appear to be in the rearview mirror for the 34-year old Porpramook, who falls to 27-5-1 (17KO). The diminutive Thai guy had won four straight against nondescript competition since his 10th round knockout loss to Yaegashi last October in a savage war which gained near-universal recognition as 2011's Fight of the Year.
In the show's televised opener, Solomon Haumono (20-1, 18KO) extends his unbeaten streak to five in a row after a fifth round knockout of previously unbeaten Kyotaro Fujimoto (5-1, 3KO).
The card aired live on TBS Japan.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox