By Jake Donovan
Rumors have swirled for months that tonight’s title defense will be the last for Ioka in the junior flyweight division. The unbeaten star is prepared to defend against Nicaragua’s Felix Alvarado – also undefeated - later this evening in Osaka, Japan, before a planned trip to the flyweight division in search of a third major championship sometime in 2014.
Whether or not Ioka – a former strawweight titlist who won a vacant 108 lb. belt last New Year’s Eve – plans to move up in weight, his opponent has every intention of making sure his title reign ends tonight.
“I am very confident that Felix will be crowned champion (tonight),” insists Pablo Fletes, Alvarado’s manager. “Felix is a young and very talented fighter who loves to dig in and fight on the inside. Kazuto Ioka is a very good fighter and champion in two weight classes, but will feel a pressure attack that he’s never before experienced in his career.”
The junior flyweight title fight, which airs live on TBS Japan, marks the first time in his pro career Alvarado (18-0, 15KO) fights outside of his native Nicaragua. Such an international debut comes on a holiday celebration that has become tradition for Ioka (13-0, 9KO), who fights on New Year’s Eve for the third straight year.
Ioka enters tonight’s fight with more than half of his pro career having been spent on the title stage. The precocious boxer won a strawweight title in just his 7th pro fight, kicking off a title reign that ended with his thrilling split decision win over Akira Yaegashi in the first ever unification bout between two reigning titlists from Japan. Shortly after began his junior flyweight title reign, picking up a vacant title with a 4th round stoppage of overmatched Jose Rodriguez last New Year’s Eve.
A win tonight would leave Ioka in an interesting position: his protégé and stablemate Ryo Miyazaki moves up from strawweight in pursuit of a 108 lb. title, as he fights in a non-title bout on tonight’s undercard. Ioka vacated the 105 lb. belt, clearing the path for Miyazaki to fight for the belt, which he won last New Year’s Eve with a narrow points win over former champ Pornsawan Porpramook.
Win or lose, Alvarado could find himself back in Japan and possibly fighting Miyazaki, whether it’s for a vacant 108 lb. title, or his first defense should he pull off the upset versus Ioka.
The 24-year old is banking on the latter.
“Kazuto is a great champion, but I’m confident that I have everything it takes to beat him and bring home the title to Nicaragua,” Alvarado firmly believes.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox