Any hopes of a long awaited superfight between Kazuto Ioka and Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez are once again placed on hold.
Japan’s Ioka remains in the crosshairs of the WBO, who have ordered the four-division and reigning junior bantamweight titlist to next face mandatory challenger and former four-division titleholder Donnie Nietes. The fight was formally ordered on Friday, with the two sides given thirty days to reach a deal and avoid a purse bid hearing.
“Please be advised that the WBO World Championship Committee is hereby ordering the commencement of negotiations for the subject matter bout,” Luis Batista-Salas, chairman of the WBO Championship committee stated in a letter to the respective teams for both boxers. “The parties herein have thirty (30) days upon issuance of this letter to negotiate and reach an agreement accordingly.
“If an accord is not reached within the time frame set forth herein, purse bid proceedings will be called per WBO Regulations of World Championship Contests.”
Ioka represented by TLAROCK Entertainment, while Nietes now fights under the Probellum banner headed by promoter Richard Schaefer.
The ordered fight—should it materialize—will serve as a rematch to their New Year’s Eve 2018 vacant title fight, which Philippines’ Nietes won by split decision in Macao, China. The two collided in search of becoming a four-division titlist, with Nietes achieving the goal first before vacating the WBO title less than two months later in lieu of an ordered rematch with countryman Aston Palicte after the two fought to a draw in September 2018.
Ioka claimed the belt in a tenth-round knockout of Palicte in June 2019, becoming the only Japanese male boxer ever to win titles in four divisions. Four successful title defenses have followed, three of which have been ordered mandatory title fights. Ioka (28-2, 15KOs) turned away top-ranked contenders Jeyvier Cintron, Kosei Tanaka and Francisco ‘Chihuas’ Rodriguez Jr. in succession, all at the behest of the WBO.
The fight with Tanaka was forced upon Ioka, who sought to unify against either Juan Francisco Estrada (42-3, 28KOs) or Gonzalez (51-3, 41KOs). Tanaka—an unbeaten three-division titlist at the time—enforced his WBO “Super” champion status to have the mandatory title fight ordered. Ioka made his countryman pay, scoring an eighth-round knockout in arguably the crowning achievement of a career worthy of Hall of Fame enshrinement.
Following the win over Rodriguez, the 33-year-old Ioka was set for a title unification clash with then-IBF titleholder Jerwin Ancajas due to take place last New Year’s Eve in Tokyo. The fight was scrapped, however, once Japan closed its borders in late November to combat the spread of the Omicron variant. The development disallowed Ancajas to enter the country, leaving Ioka to settle for an optional title defense versus Ryoji Fukunaga whom he outpointed over twelve rounds.
Hopes of revisiting a title unification clash with Ancajas evaporated after the Filipino saw his five-plus year title reign come to an end following an upset decision loss to Argentina’s Fernando Martinez this past February.
Rumors have since swirled of a hoped-for showdown with Gonzalez. The first suggestion of such a superfight came soon after the legendary Nicaraguan’s—a former four-division champ and one-time pound-for-pound-king—recent twelve-round win over WBC flyweight titlist Julio Cesar Martinez in a non-title fight at junior bantamweight this past March in San Diego.
Nothing evolved beyond loose chatter, and certainly not concrete enough for the WBO to refrain from ordering Ioka to enter his fourth mandatory title defense in a span of five fights.
The move works to the benefit of Nietes, although his mandatory title status is questionable. The 39-year-old Filipino has fought just twice since his win over Ioka, having ended a 27-month hiatus in a ten-round decision win over Pablo Carrillo last April 3 in Dubai. The fight was his first after signing with D4G Promotions, an MTK-affiliated promotional outfit which has since transferred much of its roster—including Nietes—to Probellum, which housed Nietes’ last fight also in Dubai.
An advertised WBO junior bantamweight title eliminator with Norbelto Jimenez last December 11 ended in a ten-round draw marred in controversy. Dominican Republic’s Jimenez entered the ring of the belief that the fight was scheduled for twelve rounds, as was introduced by the ring announcer. The former title challenger was furious when the fight ended after ten rounds, having to settle for a draw which seemed to work out for Nietes who is now poised for a shot at a second junior bantamweight title reign.
If the thirty-day period elapses without a deal in place, the WBO will call for a purse bid hearing to be conducted from its headquarters in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Either side can also call for a purse bid at any point during the negotiation period. The minimum acceptable bid for the fight will be $100,000 if it gets to that point.
Ioka and Nietes have both claimed titles at strawweight, junior flyweight, flyweight and junior bantamweight.
Ioka ended a brief retirement upon his ring return in 2018, winning in his U.S. debut as part of an HBO ‘Superfly’ card in California before falling short versus Nietes three months later. The balance of his career has taken place in his native Japan, including his past four fights held at the famed Ota City Gymnasium in Tokyo. The same card that housed Ioka’s U.S. debut also featured Nietes-Palicte.
Nietes is well-traveled over the course of his 19-year career, though has surprisingly never fought in Ioka’s native Japan. His last fight on home soil came in an April 2017 twelve-round points win over Thailand’s Komgrich Nantapech to win the IBF flyweight title in Cebu, Philippines.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox