Kazuto Ioka and Donnie Nietes are ready to run it back.
The pair of four-division titlists both made weight for their WBO junior bantamweight title fight, which takes place Wednesday evening (local time) at Ota City General Gymnasium in Tokyo, Japan.
Ioka weighed 114.86 pounds (52.1 kg) for the rematch, making the mark on the second try after initially weighing 40 grams over the limit during his first attempt less than five minutes prior. Nietes checked in at a fight ready 114.5 pounds (51.9 kg) in a bid to regain the title he previously claimed in a New Year’s Eve 2018 split decision win over Ioka.
Osaka’s Ioka (28-2, 15KOs) attempts the fifth defense of the title he has held since June 2019, coming one fight after his loss to Nietes.
The WBO belt was up for grabs after Nietes declined to move forward with a mandatory title fight rematch with countryman Aston Palicte, with whom he fought to a draw in September 2018. Ioka faced Palicte (28-5-1, 23KOs) for the vacant title, scoring a tenth-round knockout to become Japan’s lone male boxer to win titles in four divisions.
Nietes accomplished the feat for his native Philippines with the win over Ioka, joining legends Manny Pacquiao and Nonito Donaire as the only Filipinos to win titles at four or more weights. The now 40-year-old has fought just twice since then—both taking place in Dubai and fighting to a disappointing split decision draw with Dominican Republic’s Norbelto Jimenez last December 11.
Ioka has won five straight since the loss to Nietes, all in title fights. The run includes an eighth-round knockout of then-unbeaten countryman Kosei Tanaka in December 2020, perhaps the last truly great performance in Ioka’s Hall of Fame career.
In his most recent start, the 33-year-old Ioka went through the motions in a twelve-round, unanimous decision win over Ryoji Fukunaga. The bout was a less desirable back-up plan after a planned unification bout with then-IBF titlist Jerwin Ancajas was scrapped due to Japan closing its borders to foreign travelers to combat the spread of the Omicron variant.
Ancajas has since lost his title, as part of a disturbing trend that has suddenly left the Philippines without a major titlist at present time. Nietes aims to restore glory for his proud nation, though as the underdog against a titleholder against whom he already owns a win.
The fight will air live on TBS-Japan, beginning 9:00 p.m. local time (8:00 a.m ET). It remains unlikely that U.S. TV rights will be secured for the show, which sadly is the norm for much of Ioka's outstanding career.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox