Kazuto Ioka appears to be set for his first fight of 2021.
The four-division and reigning WBO junior bantamweight titlist has reportedly agreed to terms with mandatory challenger Francisco ‘Chihuas’ Rodriguez Jr., thus avoiding a purse bid hearing. Promociones del Pueblo, Rodriguez’s co-promoter along with Cancun Boxing has revealed that the two sides have reached a deal to meet September 1 at a venue to be determined in Tokyo, Japan.
Ioka (26-2, 15KOs) will attempt the third defense of the WBO 115-pound belt he claimed in a tenth-round knockout of Philippines’ Aston Palicte, becoming the only male boxer from Japan to win titles in four weight divisions. In his most recent outing, the 32-year-old future Hall of Famer delivered perhaps his finest performance in an eighth-round knockout of previously unbeaten countryman and three-division titlist Kosei Tanaka last New Year’s Eve in Tokyo.
The win was met with an unfortunate scandal, as Ioka was falsely accused of taking performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). An initial drug test suggested use of cannabis though he was able to clear his name after the “B” sample came back negative. Accusations of using other substances were rightly dismissed due to the poor handling of the testing samples and the process itself as conducted by the Japanese Boxing Commission (JBC) who held a press conference earlier this spring to admit its errors and formally apologize to Ioka.
The matter was understandably met with disdain by Ioka, though indications point to his returning home for his next fight.
Rodriguez (34-4-1, 24KOs) will fight outside of The Americas for just the fourth time in his career. The 28-year-old former strawweight titlist from Monterrey, Mexico is 0-2-1 outside of his native country, with two of the losses coming to a pair of all-time greats and former four-division champions in Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez and Donnie Nietes.
A seventh-round knockout loss to Gonzalez in September 2013 predated his title run, winning the WBO strawweight title two fights later in a tenth-round knockout of unbeaten Merlito Sabillo. Just five months later, Rodriguez would land the crowning achievement of his career, earning a twelve-round unanimous decision win over Katsunari Takayama in August 2014. The hellacious war was honored by BoxingScene.com as the 2014 Fight of the Year.
The feat was also Rodriguez’s last win in a title fight, abandoning his reign and the strawweight division altogether. He went on to drop a twelve-round unanimous decision to Nietes in their WBO junior flyweight title fight in July 2015, following by a surprising split-decision loss to countryman Moises Fuentes just five months later.
Rodriguez has since rattled off fifteen consecutive wins, including a ten-round decision over countryman Martin Tecuapetla this past February 26 in Talpa de Allende, Mexico. The fight was taken as a consolation to his canceled title bid versus Julio Cesar Martinez, who withdrew (illness) from their scheduled December 19 WBC flyweight title fight at Alamodome in San Antonio.
Ioka-Rodriguez was ordered by the WBO on June 1, with the two sides given 30 days to reach terms in order to avoid a purse bid hearing. Ioka—who has also won titles at strawweight, junior flyweight and flyweight—was angling for high-profile showdowns with Gonzalez (50-3, 41KOs), lineal/WBC/WBA junior bantamweight titlist Juan Francisco Estrada (42-3, 28KOs) and former lineal champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (50-5-1, 43KOs).
Instead, Ioka will play the good soldier and honor his third consecutive mandatory challenge. The all-Japan showdown with Tanaka was delayed due to the pandemic, coming exactly one year after Ioka’s unanimous decision win over Puerto Rico’s Jeyvier Cintron in December 2019.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox