At early morning American time, hardcore boxing fanatics set their alarms in anticipation of catching a stream of the rare minimumweight unification bout between Japanese compatriots Kazuto Ioka and Akira Yaegashi in Osaka, Japan on Wednesday evening.
It would be 23-year old emerging phenom Kazuto Ioka (10-0, 6 KOs) who would unify the two alphabet soup belts that were on the line, though a case could be made for a draw or even a close victory for Yaegashi. The final tally was a split decision verdict, with two 115-113 scores for Ioka overruling the 115-114 scorecard in favor of Yaegashi (15-3, 8 KOs).
The two beltholders fought a more tactical affair than expected, undoubtedly wary of each other’s power. Though the consensus pick was Ioka by devastating knockout heading in, it was Yaegashi who showed early flashes of power, buckling Ioka a bit in the 5th round while landing numerous hard shots in the rounds preceding.
Throughout the fight, war would break out for five to 10 seconds at a time, but never seemed to hold steady until the 10th round when the two exchanged their heaviest artillery as defense went out the window like it was destined to when this matchup was first announced.
Yaegashi fought nearly the entire battle with his left eye holding a welt the size of a tennis ball. Throughout the bout, the referee checked with the ringside doctor whether or not it would be the need of the fight, but luckily the referee felt it okay to continue.
With the first eight rounds fairly close, Ioka seized the initiative down the stretch and pressed the fight, landing some extremely hard power shots which no doubt helped separate him on the scorecards from his game opponent.
In round 11, Yaegashi got a second wind and closed the gap a bit, straying away from the power of Ioka’s right hand. In round 12, defense was a cuss word as both fighters went looking for the knockout, much to the satisfaction of the raucous crowd. With a minute left in the fight, Yaegashi backed off Ioka with a short flurry of hard shots. Ioka regained his senses enough to finish the fight with a bang, unloading as many wide hooks as he could before the final bell.
On a less than spectacular stream, TQBR scored the bout 114-114 with the fight unquestionably deserving a rematch.
Yaegashi is known for his thrilling 2011 Fight of the Year candidate with Pornsawan Porpramook, while Ioka made waves by smashing previously unbeaten Oleydong Sithsamerchai.
South African beltholder Nkosinathi Joyi hoped to get the winner, and although that is a longshot, Joyi definitely brings another crowd-pleasing style to the table.
Is 23-year old Ioka one of Japan’s next stars? Perhaps, but on this day both fighters showed great courage and determination.
The bout was technically a unifying title fight but Ioka now has 10 days to pick a title to run with.
Mark Ortega can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com and followed via Twitter at www.twitter.com/MarkEOrtega. Mark also contributes to renowned boxing publications RING Magazine and Boxing Monthly, and is a member of the Boxing Writer’s Association of America and RING Ratings Advisory Panel.