by Cliff Rold
It is rare that any single year goes by without each of boxing’s seventeen weight divisions delivering the goods somewhere along the way. What often makes the difference between a brief spasm of memorable and a great era is the combination of depth and matchmaking to consistently deliver over an extended period of time.
Over the last two years and change, it’s hard to argue Jr. bantamweight is going through anything other than a great era. Established lighter weight stars Roman Gonzalez and Juan Francisco Estrada joined a field that already had Carlos Cuadras and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai with McWilliams Arroyo, Khalid Yafai, Jerwin Ancajas and the two men in this main event joining in along the way.
The combinations of matches so far have delivered a handful of classics. Could this be the next in a line of them? It’s a good story going in either way as they compete for the vacant WBO belt. Ioka, who started his career like a rocket and has stumbled only once, returned from over a year off looking as sharp as he ever in his UD debut against McWilliams Arroyo. In Nietes, he has the most skilled opponent since the lone man to defeat him.
Nietes is a fighter whose career has run in parallel to bigger names, winning belts from 105 to 112 lbs. He’s often been just outside the brighter spotlight on men like Estrada and Gonzalez, without some of the opponents that helped them carve their place. Whether through bad luck, or too careful management, Nietes arrives late in his career with a chance at a title in a fourth weight class and the toughest opponent of his entire career.
It should be a good show.
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Previous Titles: WBC minimumweight (2011-12, 3 Defenses); WBA minimumweight (2012); WBA flyweight (2016-17, 2 Defenses); also held WBA light flyweight and flyweight sub-titles
Weight: 114 ½ lbs.
Hails from: Tokyo, Japan
Record: 23-1, 13, 15 KO?
Press Rankings: #2 (TBRB), #3 (Ring, BoxRec), #5 (Boxing Monthly), #6 (ESPN)
Record in Major Title Fights: 6-1, 3 KO (14-1, 8 KO including WBA sub-title fights)
Last Five Opponents: 149-10-1 (.934)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Oleydong Sithsamerchai TKO5; Juan Hernandez UD12; Akira Yaegashi UD12; Kwanthai Sithmorseng KO7; Felix Alvarado UD12; Amnat Ruenroeng L12; Juan Carlos Reveco MD12, TKO11
Previous Titles: WBO minimumweight (2007-11, 4 Defenses); WBO light flyweight (2011-16, 9 Defenses); Ring Magazine Jr. Flyweight (2014-16, 5 Defenses); IBF flyweight (2017-18, 1 Defense)
Weight: 115 lbs.
Hails from: Bacolod City, Negros Occidental, Philippines
Record: 41-1-5, 23 KO
Press Rankings: #4 (BoxRec), #6 (Boxing Monthly), #7 (Ring), #8 (ESPN)
Record in Major Title Fights: 16-0-2, 7 KO
Last Five Opponents: 175-20-1 (.895)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Pornsawan Porpramook UD12; Mario Rodriguez UD12; Ramon Garcia UD12; Moises Fuentes D12, KO9; Francisco Rodriguez UD12; Raul Garcia RTD5; Edgar Sosa UD12; Juan Carlos Reveco KO7
The Pick: In this abbreviated holiday edition, let’s skip straight to the finish. Nietes is a talented boxer who works well off the jab and knows how to keep a fight at a manageable pace. At 36, it could be a tall order. Against Aston Palicte in his last fight, it appeared Nietes deserved the win (it was a draw) but he looked a little slower and older than he ever had. His chance for a fourth title, to join Gonzalez and Leo Gamez as the only men to win titles from 105 to 115 lbs., may have slipped away. Ioka is younger, taller, longer, quicker, and probably has the edge in power. He’s more suited to Jr. bantamweight and seemingly refreshed after a layoff. Ioka’s jab and body punching should ultimately wear Nietes down to give him a full title in his third weight class and inside track for even bigger fights in 2019.
Moruti Mthalane Dec. Masahiro Sakamoto
Hekkie Budler Dec. Hiroto Kyoguchi
Rold Picks 2018: 61-24
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]