By Jake Donovan
OSAKA, JAPAN -- Kazuto Ioka made his fourth consecutive New Year's Eve, although his first without a belt around his waist. The former two-division champ ends 2014 on a positive note, picking up his second straight win after stopping venezuela's Jean Piero Perez inside of five rounds Wednesday evening at Bodymaker Colosseum in Osaka, Japan.
A straight right hand put Perez down and out in the fifth round of a bout that served as the chief support to Guillermo Rigondeaux' World super bantamweight championship bout versus Hisashi Amagasa. Both bouts air via slight tape-delay on TBS-Japan.
Ioka seems to have bounced back from the lone loss of his career, coming earlier in 2014 in a failed bid to win three titles in as many weight classes. The setback came in a close but clear split decision at the crafty hands of Thailand's Amnat Ruenroeng in their flyweight title fight this past May in Japan.
Two non-title fight wins have followed, though Ioka struggled in his first fight post-defeat, outpointing Pablo Carrillo over 10 awkward rounds this past September.
The knockout win over Perez (20-8-1, 14KOs) was his first in more than 15 months, as the still promising 25-year old improves to 16-1 (10KOs).
Ioka's first appearance on New Year's Eve capped what was a banner year in 2011. The year began with his winning a title in just his seventh pro fight, icing then-unbeaten strawweight titlist Oleydong Sithsamerchai in five rounds.
The feat was one of three wins on a year that ended with a 98-second drubbing of unbeaten Yodngoen Tor Chalermchai on New Year's Eve. Other holiday wins include a 4th round stoppage of Jose Rodriguez to claim a vacant 108 lb. title in Dec. '12 and a sound 12-round points win over then-unbeaten Felix Alvarado last New Year's Eve, in his final fight at 108.
Having outgrown the junior flyweight division, Ioka set his sights on flyweight. The hope was to collect a belt at the weight, to bring that much more to the table for a coveted rematch with Akira Yaegashi, whom he bested in a June '12 war of a strawweight unification bout, the only time in history that two reigning titlists from Japan met in the ring.
Yaegashi went on to claim the World flyweight championship, but his reign came to a crashing halt this past September, suffering a one-sided 9th round knockout at the lethal hands of Roman Gonzalez.
Ioka's alphabet options are extremely limited if he still plans to pursue a flyweight title.
Attempts to get him in the ring with Gonzalez have proven futile, for political and perhaps other reasons. Ruenroeng is currently committed to a March 7 showdown versus three-time Olympic medalist and unbeaten challenger Zou Shiming in Macau, China. The winner will be obligated to defend against mandatory challenger John Riel Casimero. Unified titlist Juan Francisco Estrada is being steered towards a rematch with Brian Viloria, whom he outpointed in April '13 to begin his title reign.
His lone remaining option for the moment would be Juan Carlos Reveco, a secondary titlist and currently the only fighter from Argentina still in possession of a "major" title after what has been a miserable year at the top level for the boxing-rich nation.
One way or another, Ioka figures to land on his feet. In the meantime, he continues a tradition of literally ending each and every year with a win in the ring.
Also on the show, Katsunari Takayama regained his old strawweight title and picked up another, both coming courtesy of a 7th round stoppage of Go Odaira in their vacant title(s) fight. The full recap can be found HERE.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox