Kazuto Ioka might be a future hall-of-famer but why are so few talking about him? One reason might be that his fights, at least for American audiences, are hard to find. Another is that his Japanese countryman, Naoya Inoue, has stolen all the headlines thanks to his spectacular style.

Case in point: WBA bantamweight boss Ioka fights IBF titleholder Fernando Martinez in a unification bout in Japan on Sunday (July 7), and there's no clear way to watch it in the United States nor are many aware of what they’ll be missing.

Ioka (31-2, 16 KOs) was the first Japanese fighter to win titles in four weight classes, achieving the feat before Inoue. He has made 17 title defenses since turning pro in 2009, an incredible number even by ‘four-belt era’ standards, yet he remains the forgotten man of his era. 

Let's take a closer look at his resume. 

After failing to make the Olympics in 2008 Ioka ditched the vest - and his college degree - to start punching for pay. He won his first title, the WBC strawweight belt, less than two-and-a-half years later against undefeated Kittipong Jaigrajang. After two successful defenses, he took on WBA titleholder Akira Yaegashi in boxing history’s first unification fight between two Japanese fighters.

In December 2012, in just his 11th bout, Ioka moved up in weight and won the vacant WBC junior flyweight title while beating Jose Alfredo Rodriguez, who had only one loss at the time. Ioka showcased his power, knocking Rodriguez down three times en route to a stoppage in six rounds. Three successful defenses followed before he encountered his first defeat when he attempted to become a three-weight champion in May, 2014. After a close fight in which a score of 119-108 baffled everyone, Ioka lost a split decision to undefeated IBF flyweight titleholder Amnat Ruenroeng, whose quality is underlined with other victories over John Riel Casimero and Zou Shiming. 

In 2015, Ioka achieved his goal of becoming a three-division titleholder by defeating Juan Carlos Reveco for the WBA flyweight title via majority decision. This fight illustrates a theme in Ioka's career—grinding out excellent results without setting the world on fire. Unlike Inoue, who often scores one-punch knockouts, Ioka wins close, competitive fights against underrated opponents.

He bucked that trend in the Reveco rematch when he left no doubt, stopping his man in the 11th.

Ioka nearly fought Juan Francisco Estrada that year, but Estrada vacated the WBA ‘super’ title to move up to junior bantamweight. We can now call that an opportunity lost. No matter, Ioka made five defenses before moving up himself and fighting in the U.S. for the first time in 2018 at the ‘Super-Fly’ event, defeating McWilliams Arroyo via unanimous decision. Despite Japanese media traveling to California to see him, this remains his only fight in the U.S.

On New Year’s Eve in 2018, Ioka lost a split decision to Filipino legend Donnie Nietes for the vacant WBO junior bantamweight title. Some at ringside felt Ioka deserved the nod.

Six months later, after Nietes had relinquished that belt, Ioka stopped Aston Palicte in the 10th round to claim the vacant title. Four impressive defenses followed: He beat tough lower-weight fighter Jeyvier Cintrón on points, knocked out undefeated potential breakout star Kosei Tanaka in eight, decisioned Francisco Rodriguez Jr over 12 before, in 2022, leveling the score with Nietes thanks to another triumph on the cards.

An intriguing unification clash with WBA belt-holder Joshua Franco came next. It ended in a draw and the widely circulated video of the fight was an Instagram Live stream from former titleholder Mikey Garcia’s phone.

Ioka and Franco rematched, and despite giving up his WBO title to do so, Ioka won a wide unanimous decision after Franco missed weight. Though Ioka’s resume and accolades merit consideration, the lack of global awareness mean he’s consistently omitted from pound-for-pound lists. Even getting articles published in the English language is rare.

He deserves better. He’s a fast starter with a deadly second wind, he can certainly bang, but his style doesn’t fit the 60-second highlight reel adored by the TikTok generation. It certainly requires knowledge to appreciate his craft.

Add to it, Ioka has always been in someone else's shadow—first ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez, then Estrada, and now ‘Bam’ Rodriguez. That he’s never landed a fight with a big-name fighter in the lower weights has affected his status, no question.

Ioka faces a tough challenge against Martinez (16-0, 9 KOs), an Argentine slugger who twice defeated previous IBF titleholder Jerwin Ancajas. Once again, the fight will likely not be available live to a global audience. Martinez offers similar risks but lacks the draw of Estrada or Rodriguez. We might wonder about his legacy if he had fought bigger names or had more televised fights, but Ioka lives to fight, stays active, and faces dangerous opponents. His blueprint works for him.

Ioka isn’t a great interview and his performances may not appear dynamic to the untrained eye. He lacks star power but that doesn’t make his accomplishments any less notable. He deserves greater worldwide exposure and the right eyes to see him.

With ‘Bam’ in need of a challenge, it is little wonder that he’s flown to Japan to watch.