Sidney Boquiren recaps Wednesday's 105lb match-up between Kazuto Ioka and Juan Hernandez (undercard details after the jump). For more Japanese boxing updates, you can follow Sidney on twitter: RingwalkNippon@Twitter
Kazuto Ioka put in twelve solid rounds of work to retain his minimumweight title against Juan Hernandez last night in Tokyo. The talented youngster displayed good all-around improvement, particularly in his defense and combination punching, and had the Mexican challenger on the run several times throughout the bout. Despite questions on his durability, Hernandez proved to be a worthy opponent, showing decent hand speed and excellent punch variety. Final tallies were 116-112, 117-111, 118-111.
While his title-earning effort in February was impressive from a historical perspective, Ioka was much more refined on Wednesday, operating behind a tight guard and using a quick jab to set up power punches. The 22-year old set the pace of the fight from the outset, scoring with his lead blow and following that with left hooks, left uppercuts and the right hand. Hernandez attempted to fire back, but Ioka picked off many of the challenger’s punches with his gloves or deftly ducked and slipped out of harm’s way.
Action picked up in the second with the champion scoring with a left-right-left combination then a well-timed left hook moments later.
However, Hernandez showed that he was game in the third frame as he forced Ioka to follow him around the ring while picking his spots to mount an offensive. His best weapon was his left hand as he would throw jabs, hooks and uppercuts from different angles, forcing the champ to hesitate before walking in unprepared. The challenger also found early success by going over Ioka’s jab with the right hand.
Those who have never seen the young titleholder in action may want to watch the fourth stanza as it was a good summary of Ioka’s current skill level. Rocking Hernandez with a straight right in the opening moments, Ioka looked to pile on the damage and pressed forward. He did so recklessly, however, as the challenger would instead push him back after slipping in a few left uppercuts and hooks. Though the champ would find the target with a couple of right hands, he would be forced to reset his attack and smartly went back to working behind the jab.
Scores announced after the first twelve minutes of action revealed that all three of the judges found it in favor of Ioka – 39-38 and 39-37 (twice).
The middle rounds were characterized by Ioka stalking as Hernandez circled around the ring looking for opportunities. The phenom would begin to use the lead right more effectively at this stage and would give the challenger problems when he could catch him on the ropes, but never could take complete control. By the seventh round, Yuriorkis Gamboa, who was in Japan to show support for Ioka, would become more vocal at ringside, urging his friend to become more aggressive. The champ would eventually succeed in causing Hernandez’s nose to bleed, but still found him an elusive target.
After eight, Ioka had maintained his lead with scores of 79-74 and 78-74 (twice).
Knowing that he would need to sweep the final rounds or score a few knockdowns, the Mexican mounted his last stand in the 10th. Tagging the champ with his left to the body and up top, Hernandez had Ioka on the defensive for the majority of the period (although it did seem the incumbent had been looking for a round to take off). The challenger would cut the champ for the first time in his boxing career.
A late comeback would be stifled, however, as Ioka would have Hernandez reeling in the following round. The champ focused his attack on the body, ripping left and right hooks into Hernandez’s midsection. Though the challenger tried to use his feet to escape, his backpeddling could not prevent Ioka from finding the target with his right hand downstairs.
The final round was merely a formality as it seemed the exhausted Hernandez was content to simply make it to the final bell.
With the win, Ioka preserved his undefeated record, advancing to 8-0 (5KO), and made the first defense of his WBC title.
Earlier in the week, Ioka expressed that he does not plan to stay at the 105-lb division for long and would look to move up in weight after defending his crown twice. After last night’s fight, the fighter questioned whether he would stick around even for a second defense as making the minimumweight limit was too difficult. Though his father and promoter declared Ioka’s next performance would be at 105, look for the youngster to make a move back to light flyweight or up to 112 in the near future.
On the undercard, charismatic prospect Shuhei Tsuchiya maintained his "0" and continued his KO-streak by finally catching Hirohito Fukuhara in the ninth round. A big puncher in the 135lb division, Tsuchiya has torn through previous competitors as only one of 10 opponents lasted more than six minutes. Despite dropping Fukuhara late in the first round and overwhelming him early, the prospect would take a beating as well, suffering a nasty cut on his left eyelid and swelling throughout his face. Tsuchiya found the mark with a left hook in the ninth and rushed him to score a knockdown, finishing things with a flurry shortly afterward.
The 24-year-old, who uses a version of this song for his ring entrance, improved to 11-0, 11KO. He should be a fun one to watch in the future as he is more than willing to take a couple to score with his own.
For more coverage of Japanese boxing, follow Sidney on Twitter: RingwalkNippon@Twitter