By Francisco Salazar
McWilliams Arroyo's career as a legit flyweight contender looked over after his one-sided loss to Roman 'Chocolatito' Gonzalez in April of 2016.
Arroyo was considered the underdog in his clash against junior bantamweight contender Carlos Cuadras on Feb. 24, but was able to grind out a majority decision victory.
The Puerto Rico fighter could become an elite contender with an impressive performance on Saturday night when he faces Kazuto Ioka at The Forum in Inglewood, California.
The 10 round bout will open the HBO three-bout telecast (9:45 p.m. ET/ 6:45 p.m. PT). In the main event, Juan Francisco Estrada will face Felipe Orucuta in a 12 round bout.
The consensus amongst boxing scribes and diehard fans is the fight between Arroyo (17-3, 14 knockouts) and Ioka is the most competitive on the HBO telecast. Like Arroyo, Ioka has fought most of his fight as a flyweight and is coming out of a brief retirement.
Ioka (22-1, 13 KOs) last fought on Apr. 23 of last year, defeating Thailand's Noknoi Sitthiprasert (aka Nare Yianleang) by unanimous decision that also coincided as the defense of his WBA flyweight title.
Arroyo is ready for anything Ioka will throw at him.
"(Ioka) is a great fighter," said Arroyo in a recent interview. "I respect him as a fighter and what he has done for the sport. I've been in there with the best already. I'm looking to an excellent fight (against Ioka)."
"I don't know his game-plan will be. He might come to fight. He might box. We will see how our styles play out. I just know he's an excellent fighter."
The victory over Cuadras pumped new life to Arroyo's career. He is an excellent technician and was able to make key adjustments from the midway point of the Cuadras fight to earn the hard-fought win.
Nothing fazed the unassuming Arroyo, including Cuadras' taunting before the fight.
"I believe it was the excellent work we put in for the fight and that I came into the fight with a lot of confidence," said Arroyo, who is the twin brother of junior bantamweight contender McJoe Arroyo. "I demonstrated I could make adjustments and it worked in my favor. I didn't listen to what he said before the fight. I just focused on my job in the ring. It was either to win by decision or knockout. I tried my best and I was able to get the win."
The 32-year-old Arroyo is currently ranked number three by the WBC and the WBO. RING ranks him number six at 115 pounds.
A victory could put him in line to face one of the world titleholders in the division, including WBC titleholder Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. The vacant WBO title will be up for grabs on the same card in Inglewood, as mandatory challenger Donnie Nietes squares off against number two contender Aston Palicte.
Arroyo has come a long way from being a flyweight contender, where he challenged twice for a world title belt and lost each time. There is the loss to Gonzalez and the split decision loss to Amnat Ruenroeng in September of 2014.
"I believe I'm already there (at the elite level). I thought I became an elite junior bantamweight after the Cuadras fight. I'm willing to fight the best. I respect them. (The Ioka fight) is a great opportunity for me. I fight for the fans too. I'll fight whoever they would want to see me fight against. I'm up for it."
Arroyo, who resides in the eastern Puerto Rico city of Fajardo, is eager to see what lies ahead for him at 115 pounds.
"Coming up to 115 (pounds) was the best thing for me. I fought Chocolatito at 112 pounds. I had fought at that weight since the amateurs. It was a long time making that weight. It was time for me to move up."
"Anytime I get in the ring, I just try and do my best. I try and make the fans enjoy a great fight. Fighting someone like Ioka motivates me more."
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene.com since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing