By Jake Donovan
Kazuto Ioka may have potentially punched his ticket to Canastota.
For now, the 30-year old made history for his native Japan following a 10th round stoppage of Philippines' Aston Palicte in their vacant super flyweight title fight Wednesday evening at Makuhari Messe in Chiba, Japan. Ioka now stands alone as the nation's first-ever male boxer to become a four-division titlist amidst a career filled with watershed moments. He joins Naoka Fujioka, who has claimed titles in four weight divisions on the female side of the sport—all in the same weight divisions as Ioka (105, 108, 112, 115).
Both boxers fought at a measured pace early on, with the judges forced to choose between the superb defense of Ioka and the cleaner—but singular—punches of Palicte, who was attempting to become a major titlist on his second try.
The visiting Filipino was forced to settle for a draw versus countryman Donnie Nietes in their vacant title fight last September. In that fight, Palicte landed the heavier blows but wasn't active enough to convince the judges he deserved the nod. He sought to get out to a quicker start here, scoring with right hands in round two in believing to have timed Ioka's inside movement.
Ioka—who has been fighting at the title level since his 7th pro fight—remained poised under pressure, reclaiming momentum in round three and outboxing his younger and much taller foe. Left hooks began to score for Ioka, although Palicte was able to unearth his power game towards the end of round six. Right hands and the occasional left hook began to score with regularity, spilling over into a big round seven where Ioka was visibly hurt but able to thrive on the supportive cheers of the partisan fans in attendance looking to will their hero to victory. A minor scare was averted when Ioka hit the canvas but with the sequence correctly ruled a slip by referee Kenny Chevalier.
Whereas Palicte's lack of activity early in the fight put him behind on the cards, it was his offensive explosion in round seven which seemed to leave him with little left in the tank moving forward. The 28-year old was visibly tired in round eight, one which permanently swung momentum back in Ioka's favor. The veteran boxer connected with left hooks upstairs, suddenly outpunching the harder hitting Palicte.
It reached a boiling point in round ten. Palicte was stunned by a check left hook and never recovered. Ioka went for broke, scoring with a flurry of punches along the ropes as Palicte didn't offer anything in return. The one-sided assault was enough for Chevalier, who stepped in to rescue Palicte (25-3-1, 21KOs) from additional punishment.
The official time was 1:46 of round ten.
The win helps push Ioka push past such elite company as former three-division titlists Koki Kameda and Hozumi Hasegawa, along with current reigning unbeaten triple weight class title claimants Kosei Tanaka and Naoya Inoue. The latter two shared Ioka's affinity for early career ambition, with Inoue trumping Ioka's mark by winning his first title in his sixth pro fight, only for Tanaka to one-up his countryman by winning his first strap in his fifth pro fight.
Tanaka is tied with Vasiliy Lomachenko as the quickest to becoming a three-division titlist, both doing so 12 fights into their respective careers. It took Ioka two tries to reach that status, his first attempt resulting in a 12-round loss to Amnat Ruenroeng for his first career defeat before getting it right 11 months later in an April 2015 flyweight title win over Juan Carlos Reveco.
By that point, Ioka (24-3, 14KOs) had enjoyed title reigns at strawweight and junior flyweight. The prior pinnacle of his career came in his strawweight win, beginning with his historic win over Oleydong Sithsamerchai in Feb. 2011 and ending his reign on a high note, scoring a 12-round nod over countryman Akira Yaegashi in their fierce June 2012 firefight which marked the first time in history two reigning titlists from Japan met in a title unification bout.
It threatened to be the best moment of his incredible career following his abruptly vacating the flyweight and announcing his retirement in Nov. 2017. It didn't stick, as he returned to the ring last September, scoring a 10-round decision over Puerto Rico's McWilliams Arroyo on the same show that saw Palicte denied a win in his first title bid in settling for a draw versus Nietes.
Palicte fought his way back into title contention, scoring a 2nd round knockout of Juan Jose Martinez this past January. The win came less than a month after Ioka's first attempt at making history instead landed in favor of Nietes, who claimed a 12-round split decision to become just the second Filipino ever to win titles in four weight divisions—the other of course being the legendary Manny Pacquiao, who has collected lineal championships and alphabet straps in an all-time boxing record eight divisions.
Nietes was ordered to next face Palicte in a rematch, but instead opted to vacate his title in pursuit of more lucrative opportunities in the twilight of his career. Palicte was willing to take on anyone for the title, even if it meant traveling to Japan to face a legend such as Ioka.
His bravery was to be admired, but his overall skillset just not enough on this night as he snaps a six-fight unbeaten streak.
As for Ioka, his return to the win column is indeed the biggest of his incredible 10-year career which might not extend much longer. There is hope that it lasts long enough to give countryman Tanaka (13-0, 7KOs) a shot at matching the history he's created, as the 24-year old flyweight titlist has talked about moving up in weight following his next defense versus Puerto Rico's Jonathan Gonzalez in August.
For now, Ioka gets to savor the historic achievement, one that may very well have solidified his chances of one day landing in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
The bout streamed live on UFC Fight Pass.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox