New Year’s Eve has loomed large in the careers of both Kazuto Ioka and Kosei Tanaka.
Ioka is making his ninth start on the date, posting a mark of 7-1 so far. Tanaka is making his fourth start on what has become arguably the biggest day on the Japanese boxing calendar, returning to the ring Thursday for the first time since running his New Year’s Eve record to 3-0 one year ago.
Some hardcore fans in the States have grown accustomed to setting their alarms to make it up in time for the action; others around the world, catching the bouts at better times, just need to set a reminder.
No matter where one resides, this is the sort of fight worth getting excited about. Ioka, defending a title in his fourth weight class, is looking for arguably the biggest win of his career against a younger man in pursuit of some history. Tanaka, already with belts in boxing’s three lightest divisions, can achieve belts in four divisions in the fewest fights of any boxer in any combination of four one can come up with.
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Current Titles: WBO Jr. Bantamweight (2019-Present, 1 Defense)
Previous Titles: WBC Minimumweight (2011-12, 3 Defenses); WBA Minimumweight (2012); WBA Light Flyweight (2014*); WBA Flyweight (2016-17, 2 Defenses)
Height: 5’4 ½
Weight: 115 lbs.
Hails from: Tokyo, Japan
Record: 25-2, 14 KO
Press Rankings: #3 (TBRB, Ring), #4 (Boxing News, BoxRec), #5 (ESPN)
Record in Major Title Fights: 8-2, 4 KO (16-2, 10 KO including WBA sub-title fights)
Last Five Opponents: 156-10-6 (.924)
Notable Outcomes, TBRB and/or Ring Rated Foes: Oleydong Sithsamerchai TKO5; Akira Yaegashi UD12; Felix Alvarado UD12; Juan Carlos Reveco MD12, TKO11; McWilliams Arroyo UD10; Donnie Nietes L12; Aston Palicte TKO10; Jeyvier Cintron UD12
Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: Juan Hernandez UD 12; Amnat Ruenroeng L12
Previous Titles: WBO Mini-Flyweight (2015-16, 1 Defense); WBO Jr. Flyweight (2016-18,
Height: 5’4 ½
Weight: 115 lbs.
Hails from: Nagoya, Aichi, Japan
Record: 15-0, 9 KO
Press Rankings: At 112 - #1 (TBRB, Ring, ESPN), #2 (Boxing News); At 115 - #6 (BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 9-0, 5 KO
Last Five Opponents: 89-9-7 (.881)
Notable Outcomes, TBRB and/or Ring Rated Foes: Ryuji Hara TKO10; Moises Fuentes TKO5; Sho Kimura MD12; Ryoichi Taguchi UD12; Jonathan Gonzalez TKO7
Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: Vic Saludar KO6; Angel Acosta UD12
The Case for Ioka: The elder Ioka is the more experienced man and it couples well with his also being the more fundamentally sound of the two combatants on Thursday. Ioka doesn’t present an impregnable defense but he is hard to catch clean or consistently and works behind a smart, straight jab. Against Tanaka, who appears hair quicker and more sudden at this point, Ioka’s accuracy, body punching, and timing will be assets. Where he has to beware is in letting Tanaka get off without responding. Against Aston Palicte, there were stretches where Ioka seemed too comfortable letting his challenger unleash in volume and just weathering. It worked out with Ioka able to close against a fatigued threat late. Betting on Tanaka gassing out might not be smart. Tanaka can sometimes be wide open on the attack. Ioka has to take advantage and hope to contain the youth in front of him. If he can, a points victory will be in sight.
The Case for Tanaka: Tanaka, like Ioka, has a good jab and goes to the body hard and with accuracy. Tanaka also throws wicked uppercuts with both hands. On offense, he’s a fun combination puncher who relies on flying leather to play the better part of his defense. While blocking and slipping aren’t always his strengths, Tanaka does move well and uses his feet to get in, out, and around opponents before resetting his attacks. Against some better foes, like Kimura, it has ultimately boiled down to being able to take better than opponents and set a work rate they can’t match. If Tanaka can force prolonged exchanges against Ioka, he’ll find the veteran’s tighter guard easier to get around. A fight where the output is up for both men favors a Tanaka whose engine has been excellent.
The Pick: Ioka’s steadiness and all around game has meant a lot of success over the last decade with both his losses coming to very difficult opponents. Ruenroeng was as cagey and awkward as it gets at his peak and Nietes showed just what a high IQ boxer-puncher he’d always been in outdueling Ioka. Tanaka is a different threat. The sometimes wild, if awkwardly precise, and energetic challenger will force the action. The question is whether Ioka can take advantage of it. Both men have shown excellent chins so far and both carry power that has to be respected. While less experienced, Tanaka has been the distance with some tested veterans and they couldn’t quite keep up. Ioka, on paper, is the best he’s seen yet. The thinking here is Tanaka wins some of the early going but the jab, straighter punches, and better defense of Ioka will render things about even around the middle of the bout. It’s the late rounds where this fight is likely to be decided and that’s where Tanaka should be able to find his way to a win, landing and throwing more in what should be an excellent encounter.
*Ioka won sub-version of the WBA belts at Jr. flyweight and flyweight only to be elevated when primary titlists Roman Gonzalez and Juan Francisco Estrada vacated those belts, respectively. Title reign dates reflect those moves.
Rold Picks 2020: 32-12
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org