For all that he’s accomplished in his career, it’s a fair argument to claim that Kazuto Ioka’s place in history is well secured.
Taking out the potential heir to the throne, however, is motivation enough to further enhance his legacy.
Ioka (25-2, 14KOs) attempts the second defense of his junior bantamweight title versus countryman and unbeaten former three-division titlist Kosei Tanaka (15-0, 9KOs). Their long-anticipated clash takes place December 31 at Ota-City General Gymnasium in Tokyo, precisely where both left off in separate bouts exactly one year prior.
Talks of a head-on collision began soon thereafter, only for the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to leave them both out of the ring for all of 2020. The upside is that Ioka will continue his time-honored tradition of headlining a New Year’s Eve show, his ninth in 10 years he’s spent on the title stage.
“With the world pandemic and with so many people worried about just today and the future, in my case in Japan, I’m appreciative to be able to get this chance,” Ioka told BoxingScene.com. “I have another chance to give positive vibes to all the people watching the fight on New Year’s Eve.”
Ioka’s first such occasion came in 2011, making the second defense of the strawweight title he claimed earlier that year in just his seventh pro fight. His rise to championship status was the fastest ever in his nation’s history, trumped by Tanaka who accomplished the feat in his fifth fight in 2015.
Tanaka went on to claim belt at 108- and 112-pounds, the latter coming in his 12th pro fight. The feat matched that of Vasiliy Lomachenko as the fastest to three division titles by a male boxer. Ioka managed to get there in 18 fights and on his second try at flyweight, though has since added a junior bantamweight belt following a 10th round knockout of Aston Palicte last June.
The latter feat leaves the 31-year old Ioke as Japan’s only-ever four division champ, a feat Tanaka aims to match on New Year’s Eve. A win by the unbeaten 25-year old will earn him the distinction as boxing’s quickest ever to four divisional titles, doing so by his 16th fight.
Ioka isn’t quite ready to create that type of history—or determine where Tanaka even belongs in that conversation.
“He’s a young, energetic and hungry fighter looking to take my crown,” notes Ioka, who sees this as far more as a perceived threat than a friendly rivalry. “So, I really don’t have much feeling about him.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for @BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox