The throwback performance offered by Kazuto Ioka was motivating enough for Andrew Moloney to map out his entire 2021 campaign.

Ioka added to his incredible career credentials following an 8th round knockout of unbeaten countryman Kosei Tanaka on New Year’s Eve in Tokyo, Japan. The win marked the second defense of the WBO 115-pound belt which the 31-year old claimed in a 10th round stoppage of Aston Palicte in their June 2019 vacant title fight.

“Ioka’s win confirms that we have another great champion in the [115-pound] division,” Moloney told after observing the fight. “In my opinion, this is one of if not the most stacked divisions in all of boxing.”

Ioka is joined on the title stage by World (lineal) champion and WBC titlist Juan Francisco Estrada (41-3, 28KOs), Nicaragua’s Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez (50-2, 41KOs) who holds the WBA “Super” title and Philippines’ IBF titlist Jerwin Ancajas (32-1-2, 22KOs). On the next level is secondary WBA titlist Joshua Franco (17-1-2, 8KOs; 1NC), whom Moloney is preparing to face for a third time sometime this spring.

There was a brief overlap where Ioka and Australia’s Moloney (21-1, 14KOs; 1NC) both held versions of the 115-pound crown. That period came to a close when Moloney fell short in a 12-round decision to Franco to lose his title last June at The Bubble at MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Their rematch at the same venue last November threatened to restore the Aussie’s title reign, only for a swarm of controversy to come of the bout. Moloney was believed to have won by stoppage win when Franco was no longer able to see out of a right eye swollen shut. Replays suggested it was Moloney’s jab, only for referee Russell Mora’s ruling of it being caused by a headbutt to hold up at fight’s end.

Moloney’s legal team is still fighting to appeal the official outcome and have his title reign restored. Nevertheless, a third clash with Franco to settle unfinished business remains in the works for this spring in Moloney’s native Australia.

There is a chance that Ioka could still be on the hunt for an opponent. The legendary four-division champion is angling for a three-belt unification clash with the winner of the March 13th rematch between Estrada and Gonzalez. However, waiting out that fight and most likely first in line is WBC mandatory challenger and former lineal champ Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (49-5-2, 42KOs).

Ioka’s desire to conquer the U.S. market could still work to Moloney’s advantage, as he fights under the Top Rank banner headed by Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum. 

At the moment my focus is 100% on beating Joshua Franco and winning my world title back,” notes Moloney. “Once I have done this, I would love the opportunity to fight Ioka and unify the titles.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox