Kazuto Ioka Leaves No Doubt He Is The Fresher Fighter Than Donnie Nietes
At the Ota-City General Gymnasium in Ota-City, Japan, Kazuto Ioka (29-2, 15KO) made the fifth defense of the WBO junior bantamweight title against mandatory challenger and four-division champ Donnie Nietes (43-2-6, 23KO). It was a rematch as the two previously fought in December 2018 for the same title, which was vacant at the time.
That evening, Nietes was victorious by a split decision that was questionable in the eyes of a lot of pundits. In the three years since, Nietes virtually went ghost. He vacated the belt and didn’t fight in 2019 and 2020. It seemed that the four-division world champion had decided to call it a day. However, he rose from the ashes, signing a promotional deal with Probellum in September 2020. He since has fought twice, scoring a unanimous decision win over Pablo Carrillo in April 2021 and a ten-round draw over Norbelto Jiminez in December 2021, his last outing.
For his part, Ioka came into this rematch on a roll. In June 2019, he TKO’d Aston Palicte in ten to win the WBO strap that Nietes vacated and has successfully defended the belt four times. A standout win during this championship reign was an eighth-round TKO win over three-division world champion Kosei Tanaka in December 2020. Also a four-division world champ, Ioka has been fighting better than ever.
MORE AGGRESSIVE THIS TIME AROUND
Their first encounter was a tactical, high-level boxing chess match. The rematch took on a slightly different pattern. Ioka started the fight on the front-foot, taking control of the center-ring. His focus was on landing shots to the body of Nietes. However, the challenger is still one of the slickest fighters in the game.
Rounds two and three saw the 40-year-old do an excellent job of counter-punching as he got home with the jab with sharp 2 and 3 punch combinations to the head and body.
Starting in round four, Ioka began to pick up his attack. He continued to fight on the front-foot but mixed it with some boxing at mid-range. The champion also started to land with more and more jabs.
Nietes still landed with some counters, but during the mid-rounds, you could see signs of fatigue. His punch output slowed dramatically, and his movement was not as sharp. The defending champ was fresher and the physically stronger fighter.
Ioka kept plugging away, wearing his opponent down as he controlled the second half of the fight. Nietes had a decent round nine but was also fighting through a significant cut over his left eye. There was no sense of urgency. He fought like someone trying to make it to the final bell.
The champ had his way during the championship rounds. At the bell, Nietes had the face and body language of a faded and defeated fighter. Ioka appeared as if he could go another twelve rounds. Overall, it was a dominant performance from the champion as indicated on the scorecards. The judges ruled in his favor by a wide, unanimous decision (120-108, 118-110, 117-111).
FIRMLY IN THE MIX
Junior bantamweight is one of the best divisions in the sport right now. Ioka sees himself among the best, if not the best at in the division. Respected and highly accomplished, look for him to call for a unification later this year or in 2023. Hardcore heads would love to see the Japanese superstar pit his skills against WBA ‘super’ champ Juan Francisco Estrada, WBC champ Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez, or once and for all face future Hall of Famer Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez.
As far as Nietes, it looks like he’s come to the end of the road. Given his age and how he looked in this affair, it’s time to start contemplating how much longer he wants to fight.
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By: Michael Wilson Jr.