Kazuto Ioka has been cleared of any wrongdoing following a doping investigation surrounding the biggest win of his career, although the ruling hasn’t exactly left him in a celebratory mood.
The Japanese Boxing Commission (JBC) confirmed to local media that Ioka (26-2, 15KOs) was no longer subject to punishment over allegations of producing a positive drug test from his last fight. The nation’s only ever male boxer to win four divisional titles continued the historic run following an 8th round knockout of countryman Kosei Tanaka last New Year’s Eve Tokyo. Test results provided in January revealed the boxer tested positive for cannabis, with such result cleared after the “B” sample came back clean—suggesting a false positive, per an ethics committee report provided by an independent party.
Allegations of other stimulants discovered were dismissed due to commission negligence in failing to follow storage procedures, according to a report from Japan’s Kyodo News.
"I can't deny the handling of the samples was sloppy, and it's a fact that Ioka's reputation was tarnished by his name being leaked to the media," Yuhei Nagata, chairman of the board for JBC stated Wednesday. "I want to meet him in person and apologize."
Ioka will find other ways to take his victory lap.
"I cannot forgive them just like that,” noted Ioka during a press conference of his own, whose win over Tanaka marked the second defense of his WBO junior bantamweight title. “To be honest I'm not sure if I can keep fighting with peace of mind. This thing blew up and for a month and a half changed my life completely.
“I thought that this would be the end of my career.”
Ioka—through his legal team—vehemently denied any use of performance enhancing drugs from the moment such charges were made against him. The manufactured scandal marked his second brush with controversy stemming from his win over Tanaka.
The 32-year-old boxer had to appear before the commission regarding his appearing in the ring with visible tattoos, a practice which remains frowned upon by the JBC through its antiquated rules. Ioka was eventually let off with a stern warning from the no-nonsense commission.
News of Ioka’s next fight has yet to be confirmed, though there have been ongoing talks of his returning to the United States. Ioka made his way stateside just once before as a pro, coming in his comeback fight in September 2018 following a 17-month ring absence. His U.S. debut was well celebrated in a 10-round points win over McWilliams Arroyo, who has since claimed an interim title at flyweight.
Ioka sought to make history for his nation three months later, challenging Philippines’ Donnie Nietes for the vacant WBO junior bantamweight title in a bout where both sought to become a four-division champ. Nietes beat him to that goal, scoring a disputed 12-round split decision on New Year’s Eve 2018, before vacating the belt. Ioka claimed the crown in a 10th round stoppage of Aston Palicte in June 2019, having twice successfully defended the title.
Plans for another U.S. invasion were placed on hold pending the latest investigation. Even in being cleared of any wrongdoing in relation to PEDs, there are still hard conversations to be had regarding next steps in his storied career and restoring the respect he has always deserved.
“I've been longing for this day,” notes Ioka, who has won titles at strawweight, junior flyweight, flyweight and junior bantamweight. “I have nothing to feel guilty about when it comes to boxing.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox