By Derek Bonnett: Kazuto Ioka was eying a Comeback of the Year finish for 2018 and these eyes felt he pulled it off, but the ruling parties saw it differently. After twelve well-contested rounds, Donnie Nietes won the WBO super flyweight title by split decision to become a four-division titlist. Had Ioka won, he would have earned claim to the same distinction. Both boxers previously reigned at 105, 108, and 112 pounds. The title, vacated by Naoya Inoue was up for grabs at the Wynn Palace in Cotai, Macao.
Ioka, 29, put the first two rounds behind him with effective use of a quick jab. The Japanese fighter, who earlier in the year outpointed McWilliams Arroyo after a year and a half retirement, rendered the Filipino boxer less effective at a distance. In the third, Ioka used that same jab to close the distance begin work on the body of Nietes, but opened the door for his opponent to counter him with his left and land his own jab. Nietes, 36, pocketed the third and fourth rounds unofficially from his work in the pocket, which saw Ioka eating more leather as he vied to touch up the torso of his older nemesis. Nietes shocked Ioka with a well-timed right hook, but Ioka’s chin held true. In round five, Ioka returned to boxing at long range, moving in to quickly tag the body and getting out; it was a fight winning plan. Nietes tried boxing from the outside to start the sixth and thus began the battle to lead the action. Ioka would not let him keep it as he interrupted the Pinoy fighter’s rhythm by cutting distance on him and reasserting his own lead with the jab. If this were dancing, the product would be a mess. Since it was prize-fighting, the result was a satisfying number between two elites.
Half-way through the scheduled twelve rounder, Ioka led 58-57 or 3-2-1 in rounds on SecondsOut’s unofficial scorecard.
The Japanese three-division titlist augmented his commitment to the body of Nietes in the seventh. Every punch he threw had the intention of getting him inside to batter the ribcage of his foe. Nietes upped his jab output to lead his partner into his right hand. Ioka’s head movement in the middle rounds was effectively plied to avoid the best punches from Nietes and dip inside for a quick hook to the body. The eighth began with some good even exchanges, but Nietes found more room to counter Ioka’s straight 1-2s. Nietes’ jab continued to improve over the second half of the fight. Ioka landed a right cross in the ninth and another from the overhand posture. Ioka left his jab behind him and began digging to the body and head with hooks at close range. Ioka’s power shots stood out as Nietes tried to box from the outside. Nietes’ connect were fewer and with less impact, seemingly, as Ioka walked him down in the eleventh. The final round started off toe to toe, but soon settled to a tempo more conducive to Nietes scoring with his jab. Ioka worked harder, but Nietes finished the final three minutes with the more efficient punches.
After twelve rounds of boxing two judges favored Nietes the winner by scores of 118-110 and 116-112. The third fancied Ioka by a margin of 116-112. Unofficially, SecondsOut also saw Ioka the winner by a score of 116-113. Nietes raised his record to 42-1-5 (23). Ioka fell to 23-2-0 (13). Once again, Asian boxers closed out the calendar year in memorable fashion with a high-stakes bout taking center stage. Nietes has looked the recipient of some favorable scores in his last two outings, but nevertheless held his own against the come-backing Ioka. A rematch would not be unappealing to fans of the lighter divisions.
Derek Bonnett can be reached on Facebook through DBOxing. He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.