By Jake Donovan
It’s not exactly a global attraction, but there is a significant amount of interest on the sport’s cult level surrounding Wednesday’s strawweight unification bout between Kazuto Ioka and Akira Yaegashi.
As pointed out in Cliff Rold’s lead story on Tuesday, the bout marks the first-ever instance where two Japanese fighters squared off in a unification bout. While the feat makes the event groundbreaking, it doesn’t necessarily crown a universally regarded king in the strawweight division.
Not as long as Nkosinathi Joyi is still breathing air and able to make weight.
The unbeaten southpaw out of South Africa won’t be in attendance for the fight, but will certainly watch for results and hope that the winner is willing to take unification one step further.
“It’s a good fight, at least on paper,” states Joyi (22-0, 15KO), whose last ring appearance was a decisive 12-round points win over Katsunari Takayama in their rematch this past March. “I go with Ioka, who is confident because of his undefeated record and he has more power than Yaegashi.”
Joyi is placed atop the strawweight ratings by most respectable publications, including Boxingscene.com. Most of those same sets of ratings have Ioka (9-0, 6KO) ranked directly behind him and Yaegashi firmly affixed among the top five.
The winner of Wednesday’s fight would undoubtedly be viewed as no worse than the second best strawweight in the world. Naturally, anyone who bothers to follow the division would immediately clamor for the winner to face Joyi – although those same people ‘in-the-know’ recognize the difficulties behind staging such a fight.
Ioka and Yaegashi have both spent their entire (young) careers exclusively in Japan, while Joyi continues to build a fan base in South Africa. All three are popular attractions in their respective home countries, but the question becomes whether or not there is enough money available to entice either party to travel abroad.
“It is unfortunate that Joyi is a mini flyweight,” states Branco Milenkovic, Joyi’s longtime promoter. “In the right division - such as super bantamweight – a fight like this would make a lot of money.”
There also stands the issue of what belts would be at stake, depending on location.
The Japanese Boxing Commission only recognizes the WBC and WBA in regards to sanctioning world title bouts. While champions from the IBF and WBO are permitted to fight in Japan, there’s no guarantee that the winner is recognized as its champion – especially in the case of a Japanese fighter who plans to remain in his home country.
Fernando Montiel’s knockout of Hozumi Hasegawa two years ago came with the WBO’s blessing (Montiel was its 118 lb. champ at the time), but the bout was marketed in Japan as Hasegawa’s WBC title only being at stake in the fight. It stands to reason that a road trip by Joyi would meet a similar promotion, though a win by the South African would certainly make all of that a moot point.
Believing that he is capable of accomplishing just that, Joyi promises on his end to not allow anything to stand in the way of his possibly facing the winner of Wednesday’s bout.
“Would I fight the winner? Ha, I am ready to fight next week if I have to,” Joyi insists. “My promoter and I are both on the record stating we will travel anywhere for the right fight. The question is if either of these guys will ever fight me.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox