A decade-long tradition carries on for Kazuto Ioka.
The only male boxer ever from Japan to claim titles in four weight divisions will make the first defense of his 115-pound strap as he faces unbeaten mandatory challenger Jeyvier Cintron. The bout now has an official date and location as Taku Nagashima, Ioka’s longtime boxing manager informed BoxingScene.com that the event will take place Dec, 31 at Ota-City Central Gymnasium in Tokyo, Japan.
As BoxingScene.com previously reported, the two sides reached terms to avoid a purse bid hearing but were awaiting official sanctioning from the World Boxing Organization (WBO) before moving forward. The power of the press ultimately helped expedite matters.
“Shortly after the story… we heard from Paco (Valcárcel, WBO President),” noted Nagashima, with Tom Loeffler, Ioka’s U.S. promoter also aiding in the cause. “The fight is now official for Dec. 31.”
The event will mark the eighth time in his illustrious career in which Ioka (24-2, 14KOs) will headline a New Year’s Eve boxing event. All but one have taken place in Japan, although interestingly with this year’s hosting venue—which will also sever as an integral part of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics—often housing a rival card on previous occasions.
Ioka has traditionally rung in the New Year in his birth town of Osaka, Japan, beginning with his Dec. 2011 appearance which capped a Fighter of the Year-level campaign that included his winning a strawweight title.
The only year in which he didn't fight on the date was in 2017, when he abruptly retired in November as a reigning flyweight titlist. His departure from the sport was brief, with Nagashima playing an integral in helping Ioka stage his comeback last September. A win over McWilliams Arroyo paved the way for his most recent New Year’s Eve appearance, one which ended in heartbreak as he dropped a 12-round decision to Donnie Nietes last December in Macao.
Both boxers were bidding to become a four-division titlist, with Philippines’ Nietes claiming a split decision win, only to vacate his title less than two months later in lieu of a mandatory title defense and rematch with countryman Aston Palicte. The vacancy played to Ioka’s benefit, claiming the belt with a 10th round stoppage of Palicte this past June in Chiba, Japan.
With the win, he once again made history for Japan, becoming the nation’s first-ever male boxer—and joining Naoka Fujioka as the second overall Japanese boxer—to win titles in four weight divisions. Fittingly, it came just one day shy of the eight-year anniversary of his memorable strawweight title unification win over Akira Yaegashi in their 12-round war. The memorable June 2012 clash marked the first-and to date, only—time ever that two active titlists from Japan met in a unification bout.
Puerto Rico’s Cintron (11-0, 5KOs) will enter his first career title fight. The two-time Olympian went about it the hard way, surviving a major scare in watching a 1st round knockout loss to Japan’s Koki Eto transition to a No-Contest all before anyone had a chance to leave the Osceola Heritage Park venue in Kissimmee, Fla. this past May.
Instant replay reviewed at ringside helped overturn the ruling in the ring, with the two ordered to run it back. Their rematch took place in the very same venue this past August, with Cintron scoring an early knockdown en route to a 10-round decision win.
Televised rights have yet to be announced for the event. Ioka’s win over Palicte was carried via delay on TBS in Japan, which has housed the bulk of his pro bouts. Cintron is co-promoted by Peter Rivera’s Puerto Rico Best Boxing Promotions (PRBBP)–who was involved in the lion’s share of negotiations for this bout—and Top Rank, the latter whom enjoy an exclusive output deal with ESPN and its platforms. ESPN+ streamed a show live from Japan late last December, involving Japan’s Masayuki Ito in a 130-pound title defense.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox