Kazuto Ioka vs Kosei Tanaka: A Battle Of Japanese Superstars
WHEN: Thursday, December 31
WHERE: Ota-City General Gymnasium, Tokyo, Japan
NETWORK: TBS (Japan), BoxNation (UK)
TIME: 4 AM EST
When the announcement came through that Kazuto Ioka (25-2, 14 KOs) would make the second defense of the WBO World Junior Bantamweight challenger against the mandatory contender, Kosei Tanaka (15-0, 9 KOs), hardcore fans rejoiced over the news.
The reason behind their excitement has to do with the fact that both men are highly accomplished and elite fighters within the sport’s lower weight divisions. And within Japanese boxing circles, it qualifies as a pure Super-Fight.
Ioka is a four-division world champion (strawweight, junior flyweight, flyweight, junior bantamweight) and has been a mainstay among boxing’s Little Big Men for almost a decade. An all-around fighter and skilled craftsman, the 31-year-old resident of Tokyo, Japan’s resume stands up to anyone in the game.
Tanaka has been shooting up the ranks since the beginning of his career. Already a three-division world champion, he is attempting to become a four-division world champion in only his 16th fight. Only 25 years of age, his talent and boxing toolkit are as vast and as deep as any fighter in the world. And among pundits, the resident of Nagoya, Japan, is already receiving Pound-4-Pound accolades.
Skills, fundamentals, and versatility are the attributes that make the champion the fighter that he is. It is also the key to why he has lasted so long. Ioka in many ways is someone of old-school principles.
In his younger days, he would rely on speed and foot-movement to out-box his foes. With age and experience has come wisdom and additions to his trade. He can now defeat foes in a multitude of ways.
In his win over Aston Palicte (27-4-1, 23 KOs) to win the WBO 115-pound world strap in June 2019, he fought on the outside, using his patience and experience to pick apart Palicte, then pounced when he had his opponent hurt and finished him off. In his last bout against Jeyvier Cintron (11-1, 5 KOs) in December 2019, Ioka fought more on the front foot, steadily breaking him down with pressure and bodywork. Whatever it takes to get the job done, Ioka has consistently shown the ability to do so.
Fast, dynamic, and explosive; those are three words that come to your mind when you watch Tanaka fight. This is one of the most talented fighters in the sport and is just hitting his prime as a pro. Just like the defending champ, the challenger has shown great versatility over his career. What makes him special in the eyes of observers is the power that comes in tandem with his array of skills.
Furthermore, the scary thing is that Tanaka seems to be punching harder as he has moved up in weight. Yes, he has a terrific jab, and yes he can dazzle with speed and flashy combinations. But what makes him a complete fighter is his savage body attack; something he displayed in full force during a seventh-round TKO win over Jonathan Gonzalez (23-3-1, 13 KOs) in August 2019. In short, what Tanaka brings to the party is mighty impressive.
On paper, this is a mouthwatering matchup that should more than live up to the hype. Both men have expressed extreme confidence in victory and are ready for battle. The key is, who can establish the jab, and will Ioka’s experience come into play?
Ioka is the toughest opponent in Tanaka’s career. It can be argued that the champ has not faced anyone with the sheer ability of Tanaka. Tanaka has shown he can be hurt, but that was at lower weight. As he has moved up, he has shown a better ability to take a punch. Ioka used to be susceptible to fighters that can move but havse improved his ability to cut the ring as he has aged.
In the end, the speed of Tanaka will be the difference. Skills being relatively equal, it is his faster hands and feet that will be the difference. Plus, the challenger is the more active fighter.
This will be an exciting fight all the way. Because they are proud men who will stand and fight, look for the action to be quite heated during significant portions.
However, if Tanaka maintains discipline, gets his jab going, and can gain his respect, he has the ability and the youth to outwork the champion. Look for this fight to go the distance, but Tanaka wins this one by 12-round decision to become a four-time, four-division world champ.
By: Michael Wilson Jr.