Kazuto Ioka Outboxes Francisco Rodriguez; Picks Up 3rd Title Defense

Kazuto Ioka Pushed To The Limit In Title Defense

Kazuto Ioka with the WBO title over his shoulder; Ioka and Francisco Rodriguez pose at the weigh-in.
Kazuto Ioka (left), Ioka and Francisco Rodriguez Jr (right)

Kazuto Ioka Uses Superior Skill to Defeat Francisco Rodriguez Jr.


Kazuto Ioka makes his 2021 debut with the third defense of the WBO junior bantamweight title against mandatory challenger Francisco Rodriguez Jr at the Ota-City General Gymnasium in Tokyo, Japan. The last time we saw the defending champion, he scored arguably the best win of what has been an outstanding career.

He put on a masterclass boxing lesson en route to scoring an eight-round TKO over three-division world titleholder Kosei Tanaka in December of 2020. Crafty and highly skilled, it made Ioka the 3KingsBoxing Fighter To Lookout For In 2021.

However, the 32-year-old from Osaka, Japan, has been sidetracked by a bitter feud with the Japanese Boxing Commission (JBC) over a faulty positive drug test before his match against Tanaka. With Ioka’s name ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing, the four-division world titlist and tenth ranked fighter in the 3KingsBoxing Top Ten fighter rankings returns to the ring.

Ioka faces a Rodriguez who has been on a roll. The 29-year-old from Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico, is not a craftsman. Instead, he is a rugged, in-your-face warrior who wants to beat you up and wear you down. Despite a style often described as crude, the former IBF/WBO minimumweight champion has not lost since 2016.

For the third straight fight, Ioka is facing a mandatory challenger.

ON ATTACK MODE

Rodriguez (34-5-1, 24 KOs) has a one-track mind when he steps in the ring. He used his aggressive style to his advantage early as he was in the champion’s face often. Ioka (27-2, 15 KOs) was having difficulty dealing with the pressure and physical strength of the Mexican in the first three rounds.

However, the champ knows how to adjust and adapt. He started to do a better job of stepping around the challenger to avoid his shots. Ioka got the jab going and routinely setup two and three punch combinations that kept his opponent guessing. At the halfway point, this was a close fight.

WHEN IT COUNTED

Ioka used his boxing skills to separate himself in the middle rounds. The ninth and tenth saw renewed vigor from Rodriguez. Fighting through a bloody nose and a cut on both his left eye and cheek, he poured into the Japanese warrior with body punches and left hooks to the head.

When it counted during championship rounds, however, Ioka stepped his game up. His ability switch gears and make adjustments was clearly the difference. Meanwhile, Rodriguez made zero adjustments and kept pressing on. At the most, he increased his aggression hoping to wither the champ, but the skill and I.Q. or Ioka is too good for him to succumb to the pressure of one-dimensional fighter.

In the end, the champ won an expected unanimous decision (116-112 x3). He was not in the best form, but the future Hall of Fame inductee was able to do enough in what could be described as a “workman-like” performance.

By: Michael Wilson Jr.

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About Michael Wilson 770 Articles
Michael is the host of boxing podcast "Pound 4 Pound Boxing Report" and is a writer/contributor for 3kingsboxing.com.