Japan’s Kazuto Ioka may never have another performance quite as pitch perfect as his eighth round stoppage of undefeated countryman Kosei Tanaka last New Year’s Eve.

It doesn’t mean he can’t try.

Since returning from a brief ‘retirement,’ Ioka has been one of boxing’s most steady competitors as he continues to show that his prodigious start was no fluke. A partially unified strawweight titlist by just his tenth pro fight, Ioka has had a hell of a career with time still to cap his run at Jr. bantamweight, the fourth weight class where Ioka has won major alphabet honors. 

This golden era at the weight is still alive with Juan Francisco Estrada, Roman Gonzalez, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Ioka conqueror Donnie Nietes still plying their trade. Before Ioka can seek further caps to his career, he will battle Wednesday in a clash with another former unified 105 lb. titlist.

Francisco Rodriguez has won fifteen in a row since consecutive losses to Nietes and Fuentes. His career highlight remains his unification victory over Katsunari Takayama, one of the greatest fights in strawweight history. This will easily be Rodriguez’s toughest test since that pair of defeats and a chance at a belt in his second weight class. 

Let’s get into it. 

Stats and Stakes

Kazuto Ioka

Age: 32

Current Titles: WBO Jr. Bantamweight (2019-Present, 2 Defenses) 

Previous Titles: WBC Minimumweight (2011-12, 3 Defenses); WBA Minimumweight (2012); WBA Light Flyweight (2014*); WBA Flyweight (2016-17, 2 Defenses)

Height: 5’4 ½    

Weight: 114 ¾ lbs.

Stance: Orthodox

Hails from: Tokyo, Japan

Record: 26-2, 15 KO

Press Rankings: #3 (TBRB, Ring, BoxRec), #4 (ESPN)

Record in Major Title Fights: 9-2, 5 KO (17-2, 11 KO including WBA sub-title fights)

Last Five Opponents: 109-6-6 (.926)

Notable Outcomes, TBRB and/or Ring Rated Foes: Oleydong Sithsamerchai TKO5; Akira Yaegashi UD12; Felix Alvarado UD12; Juan Carlos Reveco MD12, TKO11; McWilliams Arroyo UD10; Donnie Nietes L12; Aston Palicte TKO10; Jeyvier Cintron UD12; Kosei Tanaka TKO8

Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: Juan Hernandez UD 12; Amnat Ruenroeng L12


Francisco Rodriguez Jr.

Age: 29

Title: None

Previous Titles: WBO Mini-Flyweight (2014-15, 1 Defense); IBF Strawweight (2014-15) 

Height: 5’4  

Weight: 114 lbs.

Stance: Orthodox

Hails from: Monterrey, Nuevo León, México

Record: 34-4-1, 24 KO, 1 KOBY

Press Rankings: #7 (TBRB, Ring) 

Record in Major Title Fights: 2-1, 1 KO

Last Five Opponents: 70-27-9 (.703)

Notable Outcomes, TBRB and/or Ring Rated Foes: Roman Gonzalez TKO by 7; Merlito Sabillo TKO10; Katsunari Takayama UD12; Donnie Nietes L12

Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: Moises Fuentes L12; Ramon Garcia UD10; Tyson Marquez KO3; Oswaldo Novoa UD10

The Pick: Rodriguez’s winning streak is nice but the ‘who’ of it all matters. He’s been kept steady, and winning, but against manageable opposition. The best names in the run, like Marquez and Novoa, were well past it. He’s stepping in with an Ioka who has been in a competitive groove. Rodriguez is Ioka’s sixth straight opponent rated in the top ten by TBRB or Ring and Ioka’s lone loss in the stretch, to Nietes, was razor close. Ioka is tighter defensively, quicker, and his jab and footwork will make him a hard target for Rodriguez. If Rodriguez can force a war early and insist on a pace that takes Ioka out of his rhythm, Rodriguez has a chance but it will be a tall order. Rodriguez should give a good account in what could be his last big opportunity but it won’t be enough to win. To date, only Roman Gonzalez has stopped Rodriguez and even that was a standing stoppage reflecting the bout’s one sided nature more than any particular moment of danger. Expect Rodriguez to stay up here too with Ioka likely for a solid decision victory.      

*Ioka won sub-version of the WBA belts at Jr. flyweight and flyweight only to be elevated when primary titlists Roman Gonzalez and Juan Francisco Estrada vacated those belts, respectively. Title reign dates reflect those moves. 

Rold Picks 2021: 32-10

Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.  He can be reached at roldboxing@hotmail.com