Kazuto Ioka leads the charge into ‘SuperFly 3’
It was only a couple of months since he abruptly announced his retirement from boxing but Kazuto Ioka still had enough interest in the sport to attend February’s “SuperFly 2” card under his own accord, buying his own ticket and sitting quietly among the American fans, as the second go-around of a newfound tradition for the smaller weight classes played out.
“First I retired because I fulfilled my initial goal of being a three-class champion,” Ioka told UCNLive.com at a press conference in Hollywood, California, on Wednesday (through a Japanese translator). “I went to SuperFly 2 and I had a renewed energy to fight again. Then an opportunity came for me to fight in America. It surprised me. I got the urge to fight with a totally new situation. That’s one of the biggest reasons why I un-retired.”
Ioka, Osaka, Japan, will now make his return on September 8’s “Super Fly 3” card at The Forum in Inglewood, California, where he will take on McWilliams Arroyo, in the opening bout of an “HBO Boxing After Dark” (9:45 p.m. ET / 6:45 p.m PT) tripleheader.
“I had never been in the atmosphere of American boxing and I loved it,” Ioka recalled about that night, which also took place at The Forum. “Not to be cocky but when I saw the level, I saw that I could compete at this level as well.”
Ioka, 22-1 (13), was one of Japan’s best and most accomplished talents in the sport, leading up to his retirement at the age of 28. It’s always been a family affair for Kazuto, whose uncle Hiroki Ioka was already famous for becoming the youngest Japanese titleholder, at the age of 18, and becoming first-ever WBC strawweight titleholder after the 105-pound class was created in 1987. The Ioka name – which is pronounced “Ee-oka” – has always had a standard to live up to and Kazuto has lived up to it so far.
In his seventh professional fight, Ioka stopped Kittipong Jaigrajang in the fifth round to hand the Thai his first defeat and take the WBC minimumweight title in early 2011. After three defenses – the last against the well-known Akira Yaegashi – Ioka moved up in weight and stopped Jose Alfredo Rodriguez to claim the vacant WBA junior flyweight title on New Year’s Eve of 2012. He moved up again after three defenses but lost to a then-undefeated Amnat Ruenroeng, who held the IBF flyweight belt at the time. Ioka got his own flyweight title by getting past WBA beltholder Juan Carlos Reveco in a majority decision and stopped the Argentinean two fights later, to clear up any controversy from the first fight. It was part of his longest reign as a titleholder – five defenses over the course of two years – but then 2017 happened.
Ioka got married to Japanese pop star Nana Tanimura shortly after beating Nare Yianleang in April of last year – in his last fight – and with rumors swirling in Japan about a rift between Kazuto and his father/trainer/manager Kazunori Ioka, he vacated the WBA flyweight title after dropping out of a mandatory match against Artem Dalakian, citing a lack of preparation time for the proposed date. In December of 2018, Ioka announced his retirement and, months later at SuperFly 2, saw Dalakian beat the brakes off of Brian Viloria to win the vacant belt he formerly held. Ioka’s return in September coincides with his debut at junior bantamweight and having already met one of his personal accomplishments, has a new one in mind that will put his name in the Japanese boxing history books.
“Yes, that’s the goal,” Ioka said about winning a fourth title, “to be a four-class champion. The first Japanese ever in its long boxing history to become a four-class champion.”
Ismael Salas, the famed Cuban trainer, has worked with Ioka before but will serve as lead trainer upon his return and, in Ioka’s father’s absence. Fighting out of the orthodox stance, Ioka’s style features great fundamentals, solid power and a well-rounded defense that can give any one-dimensional fighter serious trouble. Seeing how he saw himself fit to compete with Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Juan Francisco Estrada, who put on a thrilling show in the SuperFly 2 main event, Ioka mentioned having the need to make an adjustment in his style, to compete with the high volume. Come September 8, It will be 15 months since Ioka last fought, which isn’t a rare layoff for fighters who haven’t retired and he will face a very good opponent in Arroyo.
“Personally I didn’t feel any pressure from the fans,” Ioka said, “but because of this opportunity, maybe I can get Japanese boxing fans to look at me and see that a Japanese fighter went to America and succeeded and bring dreams to other fighters as well.” Later on during the press conference, Ioka spoke more about his return in English.
“I’m very happy to be fighting in the United States for the first time. The “SuperFly” series is the home of so many great champions in the division and I knew that I wanted to fight on this card. McWilliams Arroyo is a very good fighter and I Iook forward to challenging him in the ring on September 8. I’ll be training in Las Vegas for this fight with Ismael Salas.”
Last February Arroyo, 17-3 (14), out-boxed Carlos Cuadras to a much more convincing win than the majority decision indicated and, of course, Ioka was there to see it in person. The impressive win was Arroyo’s debut at 115 pounds, coming off a long layoff after losing to Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez 22 months prior. The fight with Ioka is sanctioned by the WBC, so title shot implications against champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai will be on the line. Compared to the rest of the card, it may end up being the most intriguing fight of the evening. Arroyo, 32, wasn’t at the formal presser, thanks to a delayed flight from Puerto Rico, but the junior bantamweight contender eventually made it and spoke with UCNLive.com in a media scrum.
“Coming up to 115 was the best thing I’ve ever done,” Arroyo proclaimed. “I believe I’m already ready (for a title shot). I thought, after the Cuadras fight, we were gonna fight the champion but I respect everything. I’m willing to fight the best and this is all about the sport, all about the fans being happy. I’ll fight whoever they want me to fight and I’m up for it.
“He’s a great fighter,” Arroyo said about Ioka. “I respect him. He’s achieved a lot in the sport. I’ve been in there with the best already, so I’m looking forward to an excellent fight for the fans.” When asked if he expects a different fighter, given the change of trainer and fun-retirement, Arroyo said, “I don’t know. He might come and fight or he might come and box. Let’s see what I have and how the styles combine and you’ll see an excellent fight. I assure you…every time I get up in the ring, I try and do my best. I try to make the fans enjoy a great fight.”
In the co-feature of the HBO show on September 8, an all-Filipino bout for the vacant WBO junior bantamweight belt will be contested by Donnie Nietes and Aston Palicte, which marks only the third time ever to have happened between two boxers from the Philippines and the second time in four months.
Nietes, 41-1-4 (23), is a three-division world titlist himself and will be making his junior bantamweight debut against a much taller, younger contender who’s entering his first world title bout. Palicte, 24-2 (20), is a 27-year-old from Bago City, and although his two defeats can’t bring recognizable names to his ledger, the young and hungry aspect will ring true should Father Time rear it’s ugly head.
“I’ll address the size difference by training with bigger guys,” Nietes told UCNLive.com through a Tagalog translator. “I have a special coach to handle the additional weight, so my body can adapt. I’ll have a gradual build-up of the weight and strength to adjust to 115 pounds.”
Nietes, 36, made his HBO debut in SuperFly 2 and provided a stellar seventh round knockout of Juan Carlos Reveco, in his only defense of the IBF flyweight title. Now he enters the fray of an exciting division, with elite talents and dangerous fights lurking in every corner.
“Over the years I’ve been watching these bigger guys and my dream was to fight them,” said Nietes, “so the only way to do that is to gradually go up. Now I have the opportunity to fight these guys.”
Filipino vs. Filipino isn’t exactly popular to some media and fans in the Philippines. It’s why there hasn’t been such a match-up in 90 years before Jerwin Ancajas defended his IBF 115-pound title against Jonas Sultan last May. But when both fighters were asked about it, there were no such reservations.
“I like it because the ultimate winner was going to be a Filipino,” Nietes said, with a smile.
“The fight in September will be more exciting,” Palicte remarked, with a smile.
The main event of SuperFly 3 isn’t the most scintillating headliner the series has had to offer but will feature one of the best overall fighters from Mexico, which will help fill the arena with a predominantly Mexican-American crowd.
Even in defeat last February, “El Gallo” Estrada, 36-3 (25), showed his tremendous skills to make such a claim of being Mexico’s best. The boxing stylist firmly believes it and the majority decision loss to Srisaket could’ve conceivably gone his way, had one round been scored differently or a non-knockdown of Srisaket had been ruled early in their affair. Felipe Orucuta, 36-4 (30), a fellow Mexican nicknamed “El Gallito,” is the only man getting in the way of Estrada’s redemption plan and, within his short speech at the presser, Estrada, 28, signified how great of an event the SuperFly series is, where it could lead and acknowledged who helped make it what it is today.
“I’m very happy to be here,” Estrada said during the presser. “I wanted the rematch with Srisaket Sor Rungvisai; hopefully that can happen at ‘SuperFly 4.’ I would also like to fight Chocolatito and avenge my loss from 2012. I would like to thank Chocolatito for opening the doors to our weight class, which enables us to fight on HBO and at the Forum on such big shows. I’m training very hard for this fight in the mountains of Mexico and will be ready for victory and to put on a great show on September 8.”