Kazuto Ioka Plays it Safe in Win Over Fukanaga; Hopes To Fight Ancajas in 2022
At the Ota-City General Gymnasium in Tokyo, Japan, Kazuto Ioka (28-2, 15 KOs) made the fourth defense of the WBO world junior bantamweight title against late replacement opponent, Ryoji Fukunaga (15-5, 14 KOs).
Ioka was originally set to engage in a unification bout against IBF world 115-pound champ Jerwin Ancajas. However, it was postponed after Japan closed its borders and enforced a travel ban over concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
The defending champ has established himself as one of the elite fighters in the smaller weight divisions. As Japan’s only man to win world titles in four divisions, the 32-year-old has evolved into one of the best boxers in the nation’s boxing history. Among contemporary active fighters, his resume stands up to anyone. Ioka is one of the more well-rounded fighters you will ever see who can win in a variety of ways.
He faced a Fukunaga, who was not in Ioka’s league in terms of experience and skill. However, the rangy southpaw is a puncher and was on a five-fight winning streak.
Ioka often likes to survey the landscape before getting down to business. That was the case against Fukunaga, who got the better of the action in the opening round. The challenger pressed forward behind the jab and found his groove without taking major damage in return from the champion.
Seasoned as they come, the champ elected to make his punches count rather than throw in bunches. It resulted in him landing with greater accuracy with right hands to the head and hooks to the body in rounds two, three, and four. Fukanaga was more active and intent on connecting with his power left.
STARTING TO SEPARATE HIMSELF
Round five saw Ioka take the initiative. He was fighting more aggressively and forcing his foe into traps for counter shots. Despite having the lower knockout percentage, the champ was the bigger puncher in this fight. Fukunaga tried to adjust by tightening his guard, but you could tell he was feeling the shots.
It was in the middle rounds where the class of the multi-divisional world champion started to take control. He rocked his fellow countryman numerous times in the seventh and worked the body in the eighth.
Fukanaga tried to increase his tempo in the later rounds, but Ioka did an excellent job of using upper-body movement and footwork to avoid punches, then counter with combinations.
In the end, the champ did enough to earn the victory by unanimous decision (118-110, 116-112, 115-113). However, you got the sense that he could’ve done more. It never seemed like he got out of first gear and fought with full effort.
Nevertheless, this win should lead to another invitation to have Ioka vs Ancajas in 2022. If the unification gets rescheduled, that will be one fans should not miss.
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By: Michael Wilson Jr.