Derek Bonnett watches the thrilling Kazuto Ioka vs Kosei Tanaka fight that sees the older man emerge on top
Kazuto Ioka remained ‘Mr. New Year’s Eve’ with an emphatic stoppage of countryman Kosei Tanaka. Tanaka, the younger of the Japanese boxers, was attempting to become the fighter to most quickly win world titles in four weight classes. Ioka had other plans as he built upon a family legacy which includes the accomplishments of his uncle Hiroki Ioka from decades past. The super-flyweight fight was contested at Ota-City General Gymnasium in Tokyo.
Ioka, 31, began slowly as he studied his faster foe. Tanaka, as many would have expected, started quickly, using his speed to deliver eye-catching combinations. Tanaka was able to split the champion’s guard on several occasions with his right hand. Ioka tapped the body a couple of times by the end of the round. Tanaka stayed active in the second frame while Ioka fired more punches than before, but still remained a model of patience. Ioka’s focus on the jab became evident as he pumped it out there to control distance and negate the on-charging challenger. The champion landed with an overhand right in round three, forcing Tanaka to cover up more than he had previously. Ioka’s jab increased in impact and the champion began unleashing his uppercut with mixed results. Ioka opened up more of his arsenal in round four. His body work now more faithfully accompanied the accuracy of the left hook and his jab clearly shifted the tempo of the fight in his favour. Tanaka, 25, finished the round bleeding from the nose. Unofficially, Seconds Out had the bout even, 38-38, after four rounds.
The fifth round painted a clear image of the writing on the wall. Tanaka remained a dynamic force of pace in the contest, but Ioka’s superior craft began showing over time as his left hook started to home in on its target. Near the end of the round a right hand set up a clean up left hook to deposit the challenger on the canvas. Tanaka rose bravely and benefited from little time remaining on the clock. Ioka’s jab, now a piston, kept Tanaka at the end of his punches while the challenger tried to re-establish himself. Instead, Tanaka walked into another left hook which reacquainted him with the canvas. Tanaka’s spirit never waned, but the omens against him were piling up. The champion was now the busier fighter and more accurate. In replay video, you could see Ioka’s defensive movement clearly pulling himself out of harm’s way more frequently. Tanaka, failing to hurt the champion on the outside, doubled down on a phonebooth assault and worked the body. In the eighth, Ioka continued to jab hard into the face of Tanaka as the challenger waded in. Ioka saw his opening and fired one more left hook which left Tanaka senseless, but still standing, as he was rescued from further punishment.
Ioka, a four-division world champion, retained his title at the 1-35 mark. The champion made his second defence in improving his ledger to 26-2 (15). Stopping Tanaka will rate as a career-best win to many and is certainly the best version of Ioka we have seen since he stopped Juan Carlos Reveco in their 2015 rematch. The victory was Ioka’s ninth on a New Year’s Eve. Ioka now has his sights set primarily on Roman Gonzalez and Juan Francisco Estrada, who rematch on March 13. Tanaka dipped to 15-1 (9), but still has a long career ahead of him. Prior to the bout Tanaka affirmed it would be his last with his father as head trainer.