New Year’s Eve plays host to Kazuto Ioka vs Kosei Tanaka, a showdown between two excellent multi-weight world champions. Derek Bonnett previews the clash
It’s the festive season and in typical fashion most boxing sites and chat pages are tallying up their choices for such accolades as Fighter, Fight, Knockout and Trainer of the Year. It’s become rather customary for the end-of-year Japanese boxing cards to be neglected by voting that takes place before the first undercard bout bell has even rung. 2020 has been no exception, but experts and fans should really be paying attention to the genuine blockbuster match-up between Kosei Tanaka and Kazuto Ioka on December 31.
Ioka, a four-division champion, captured his first title in his fifth professional bout with a stoppage of Oleydong Sithsamerchai in 2011. At straw-weight, he added victories over Juan Hernandez and Akira Yaegashi to unify two titles. The Yaegashi bout was arguably the best fight of the year. Ioka moved up to light-flyweight and picked up another title. Before moving up again, Ioka took the unbeaten record of future world champion Felix Alvarado. Amnat Ruenroeng won a split decision over Ioka in 2014 at flyweight. Two fights later, Ioka went to war with Juan Carlos Reveco over 12 rounds to be crowned at 112 pounds. Five defenses would follow including a stoppage of Reveco.
Ioka, born in Osaka, Japan, retired for about a year-and-a-half following some familial and managerial disputes, but he returned as a super-flyweight with a shockingly dominant decision victory over McWilliams Arroyo. Ioka lost an unpopular decision to Donnie Nietes in 2018 for a vacant title. The fight would prove to be Nietes’ last, so Ioka met Aston Palicte, a former Nietes rival, for the again-vacated belt. Ioka prevailed by stoppage in 10 rounds. He defended one year ago against Jeyvier Cintron.
Ioka is a boxer-puncher, with more punch on his side. He can especially bang to the body. Ioka, 31, is no longer the young phenom, but now a veteran champion with the clock ticking loudly. He’s taken five unbeaten records as a professional as he’s grown naturally into a first-rate super-flyweight.
Kosei Tanaka, 25, will be seeking his fourth divisional title when he meets Ioka. Tanaka also became a straw-weight titlist after five professional bouts in 2015. In his first defense, he found himself in a real firefight with Vic Saludar. Tanaka made up for lost rounds with a vicious KO. He met old Nietes rival Moises Fuentes in 2016 and dominated the Mexican for a fifth-round stoppage and a vacant belt. He defeated future world champion Angel Acosta in his first defense, outpointing his challenger. He vanquished flyweight titlist Sho Kimura in 2018 in a bout worthy of Fight of the Year honors. The 2019 calendar saw him outpoint Ryoichi Taguchi and stop two other challengers.
Tanaka is also a boxer-puncher, but the scales tip even more drastically toward his punching tendencies. He can whack with either hand, but is particularly ruthless with his right hand. He also has some good history with body work. Tanaka owns the faster hands between the two men. He has three unbeaten scalps on his ledger including Ryuji Hara and Acosta.
Both boxers stand at 5ft 4 1/2ins but Ioka will possess a one-inch reach advantage. Tanaka was mostly favoured as of this writing, but don’t sleep on the legacy that is Ioka. Expect a fast start from Tanaka and likely an early knockdown against Ioka. The mid-rounds will see the start of a frenetic pace with both men punching the body to wear down his adversary. Ioka will work better from the outside with his left to cut the distance for his right to target the body. Tanaka’s right will find it’s mark as well, but more upstairs. Tanaka will be leading slightly into the late rounds, but Ioka will rage back with a pair of knockdowns late in the fight. A spent Tanaka will be rescued along the ropes in the 12th.
The bout will be contested at Ota-City General Gymnasium along with two other fights, one featuring former flyweight belt-holder Daigo Higa.