Since 2011, Jr. bantamweight titlist Kazuto Ioka has missed only one New Year’s Eve appearance. He’s 8-1 on the date so far and even with the disappointment of a COVID-related replacement opponent, Ioka will still be ring center to see out 2021.
This was supposed to be a big one for Ioka. After handing Kosei Tanaka his first loss on New Year’s Eve 2020, and then defeating former unified strawweight titlist Francisco Rodriguez Jr. in September, Ioka was set to face IBF titlist Jerwin Ancajas in a unification showdown.
Obviously, travel restrictions scuttled that excellent match. With a win on Friday, Ioka can keep hope alive for that fight to be rescheduled next year. There is also the potential for a rematch with Donnie Nietes, the lone man to defeat Ioka on New Year’s Eve, or a showdown with the winner of an assumed third contest between lineal king Juan Francisco Estrada and Roman Gonzalez.
Those kinds of options are a reminder of just how damn good Jr. bantamweight still is as it continues through this golden era at the weight.
The last option could be the most intriguing for Ioka before the Japanese battler is done. A four-division titlist already, the one thing Ioka hasn’t done at any weight yet is lay claim to history’s throne. There’s still time to add that one to his long list of accomplishments. Ioka just has to take care of his annual holiday business.
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Current Titles: WBO Jr. Bantamweight (2019-Present, 3 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 3/4 lbs.
Hails from: Tokyo, Japan
Record: 27-2, 15 KO
Press Rankings: #3 (TBRB, Ring), #4 (ESPN, BoxRec)
Record in Major Title Fights: 10-2, 5 KO (18-2, 11 KO including WBA sub-title fights)
Last Five Opponents: 126-7-7 (.925)
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; Francisco Rodriguez Jr. UD12
Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: Juan Hernandez UD 12; Amnat Ruenroeng L12
Weight: 114 3/4 lbs.
Hails from: Nagoya, Aichi, Japan
Record: 15-4, 14 KO, 1 KOBY
Press Rankings: Unranked
Record in Major Title Fights: 1st Title Opportunity
Last Five Opponents: 80-15-3 (.831)
Notable Outcomes, TBRB and/or Ring Rated Foes: None
Additional Current/Former Titlists Faced: None
The Pick: It’s often foolish to compare real boxing to Rocky movies but this one has some parallels to the idea of the first movie in that series. The challenger is at least a bit more realistic than Stallone’s famous character was. Fukunaga is a replacement opponent, currently ranked sixth by the WBO, but his credentials are specious for a chance of a lifetime title shot near a holiday. Fukunaga has won five in a row, four by stoppage, and presents a power threat to Ioka. The southpaw challenger is slightly taller and longer than Ioka but Fukunaga is also slower and less experienced. Fukunaga’s offense can also be predictable. Ioka should win this and will likely win big. The pick is Ioka by stoppage in a fight where Fukunaga brings enough effort to make it entertaining.
Rold Picks 2021: 49-13
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 email@example.com