photo © Promociones del Pueblo

It’s not the high profile fight he sought, but Kazuto Ioka can at least move forward with a title fight.

The defending WBO junior bantamweight champ and mandatory challenger Francisco ‘Chihuas’ Rodriguez both made weight for their upcoming showdown, which takes place Wednesday at Ota-City Gymnasium in Tokyo. Ioka (26-2, 15KOs) weighed 114.9 pounds, while Mexico’s Rodriguez (34-4-1, 24KOs) was a fit and trim 114 pounds in a bid to become a two-division titlist.

Ioka attempts the third defense of the junior bantamweight title he acquired in a tenth-round knockout of Philippines’ Aston Palicte in June 2019. The feat saw him become the only male boxer from Japan to win major titles in four weight divisions.

In his most recent outing, Ioka preventing unbeaten three-division champ Kosei Tanaka from achieving the same status after scoring an eighth-round stoppage in their highly anticipated fight last New Year’s Eve in this very venue.

Rodriguez brings a fifteen-fight win streak into the ring ahead of his fourth career fight outside of Mexico. The 29-year-old from Monterrey, Mexico is 0-2-1 on the road, including a twelve-round, unanimous decision defeat to then WBO junior flyweight titlist Donnie Nietes in July 2015.

The setback was his first attempt at becoming a two-division titlist, coming less than a year after abandoning his unified strawweight title reign. Rodriguez had a brief but explosive title run at flyweight, stopping unbeaten Merlito Sabillo in the tenth round of their March 2014 clash before unifying the WBO and IBF belts in a twelve-round points win over Katsunari Takayama in their August 2014 scorcher. The win over Takayama was hailed by as the 2014 Fight of the Year.

Rodriguez is coming off a ten-round win over countryman Martin Tecuapetla this past February in Talpa de Allende, Mexico, his lone fight since the pandemic. He was in the right place at the right time once the WBO was prepared to order yet another mandatory title defense.

Ioka sought superfights with his divisional rivals, which these days reads like a who’s who among the sports best. Lineal/WBA champ Juan Francisco Estrada and former four-division champion Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez were in the sights of the 32-year-old Ioka, as was former lineal champ Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. None of the fights materialized, leaving Ioka to honor the WBO ruling as he enters his third consecutive mandatory title defense.

While not the dream fight he hoped for, it is at least a scheduled bout for Ioka. Estrada and Gonzalez remain in talks for a rubber match, although plans look grim for the fight to proceed as originally targeted for October 13. The status is also holding up a rematch between Sor Rungvisai and Carlos Cuadras, which will be for the vacant WBC junior bantamweight title.

Ioka-Rodriguez will air live on TBS in Japan and through the ESPN Knockout series in Latin America. The bout is not available live on a U.S. platform.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox