Kazuto Ioka’s place in Japan’s rich boxing history is secured, no matter what takes place this New Year’s Eve.
Of course, that won’t prevent him from adding to a career on the verge of Hall of Fame consideration.
The only male boxer from Japan to capture titles in four weight divisions, Ioka looks to prevent unbeaten countryman Kosei Tanaka from joining him on that list. The two collide this Thursday, live on TBS-Japan (and on ESPN platforms in Latin America markets) from Ota-City General Gymnasium in Tokyo.
“He’s a young, energetic and hungry fighter looking to take my crown,” Ioka told BoxingScene.com of the upcoming clash, which carries two-way significance. “So, I really don’t have much feeling about him.”
At stake is Ioka’s junior bantamweight belt which he claimed in a 10th round knockout of Philippines’ Aston Palicte last June in Chiba, Japan. The second-generation boxer—whose father Hiroki was a two-division titlist in the late 1980s and early 1990s—etched his name in the record books with the win, adding to his résumé following a 12-round win over unbeaten Jeyvier Cintron last New Year’s Eve in the very same venue he will headline exactly one year later.
Tanaka (15-0, 9KOs) is a healthy betting favorite, with the odds increasing as the fight draws nearer. The 25-year old from Nagoya shares a piece of boxing history of his own. A 12-round win over countryman Sho Kimura in September 2018 netted a flyweight title for Tanaka to become a three-division titlist by his 12th pro fight, matching the male record established by Vasiliy Lomachenko just four months prior.
A win by Tanaka on Thursday will make him a four-division titlist in just his 16th pro fight, destroying the 23-year old record held by Oscar de la Hoya in his 24th pro fight.
Such history will be denied—or at least stalled—should Ioka prevail. The feat will not only be regarded as an upset but forever leaving him among the best boxers to ever come out of Japan.
“I’m not quite sure I would be left as the greatest [from Japan], but as the country’s only [male] four-division champ I believe I belong in that company,” notes Ioka. “I do believe I’ve earned elite status in the boxing world.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox