The 2020 Fight of the Year race shall not be called until the ball drops to officially ring in the New Year.
Kazuto Ioka and Kosei Tanaka have formally announced plans for a head-on collision, with their bout to take place on December 31 at Ota City General Gymnasium in Tokyo, Japan. The bout was formally announced via virtual press conference on Monday, ending months of speculation over such a bout materializing on the date.
Ioka will make the second defense of his title, while Tanaka seeks to join him as the only male boxers from Japan to win major titles in four separate weight divisions. Both fighters appeared at this very venue in separate bouts in their most recent ring appearances last New Year's Eve.
The pairing is historic on several levels, given what both boxers have accomplished for their native Japan. Ioka became the nation’s first-ever male boxer to win major titles in four weight divisions following a 10th round stoppage of Aston Palicte last June in Chiba City. The feat came on his second try, having come up just short in a split decision to Donnie Nietes in their 2018 New Year’s Eve vacant title fight in Macao, China.
Ioka (25-2, 14KOs) has since defended the title in a 12-round unanimous decision win over unbeaten Jeyvier Cintron—Puerto Rico’s only-ever two-time Olympic boxing participant—last New Year’s Eve in Tokyo. The same show saw Tanaka (15-0, 9KOs) lodge the third and final defense of his flyweight title, scoring a 3rd round knockout of Wulan Tuolehazi.
Tanaka abandoned his title reign more than a month later, officially announcing his intention to compete at junior bantamweight. His status as a WBO “Super” champion allowed him to enter the 115-pound division as the number-one contender, prompting negotiations with Ioka to begin soon thereafter.
Should the title change hands, Tanaka—a former strawweight, junior flyweight and flyweight titlist—will claim belts in four divisions faster than any male boxer in history. Oscar de la Hoya turned the trick in his 24th pro fight, outpointing the late, legendary Pernell Whitaker to win the lineal welterweight championship after having claimed title wins at 130-, 135- and 140-pounds.
Tanaka will also edge out Japan’s own Naoka Fujioka, now a five-division titlist who earned her fourth divisional strap in her 18th pro fight, stopping Isabel Milla in the 10th round of their July 2017 flyweight title fight.
Ioka and Tanaka remained in talks until the sport came to a grinding halt in mid-March during the global outbreak of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Boxing has since regularly resumed in Japan since July, hosting its first title fight earlier this month.
Ioka has fought on New Year’s Eve in all but one year since first arriving on the title stage in 2011. The 31-year old from Tokyo claimed a strawweight belt in March 2011, headlining a New Year’s Eve show later that year with a 1st round knockout win. Ioka is 8-0 on the date, with the only year in which he didn’t make such an appearance coming in 2017 when he briefly retired from the sport.
The bout will mark Ioka's 19th overall title fight. Tanaka will enter his 10th career title fight in just 16 pro fights.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox