The last main event of the year took place on the annual Japanese New Years’ Eve card in Tokyo and produced the first Fighter of the Week Award of 2021. Legendary Japanese little man, future Hall of Famer, and four-division world champion Kazuto Ioka courtesy of a barrage of violent left hooks scored a sensational eigth-round TKO victory or former three-division world champion and pound for pound elite Kosei Tanaka to move his record to 26-2 (15) retain his WBO Super Flyweight title, establish himself as the best 115-pounder in Japan and capture our Fighter of the Week award.
Kaz Ioka had several paths to victory in Tokyo, Kosei Tanaka had just path, to be the aggressor and for the first four rounds he had some success in that. Picking up the pace after potentially drooping the first two Tanaka started backing Ioka up landing a thudding right hand to the head and following it up with another right hand to the body just over a minute into the third and again backing him up about a minute later with a left hook to the body followed by a right hand and then rocked Io the four division champ with yet another right hand with just seconds left in the stanza. Building up his confidence Tanaka had his best round in the fourth getting the better of the battle with the jabs and firing off quick, pin point combinations that slowed the rhythm of of Ioka. The Challenger had it going again in the fifth when the champion figured something out and landed a thudding left hook that sent Tanaka to the canvas with just seconds left in the fifth. The left hook found it spot again in the sixth with just over a minute left in the round a picture perfect hook put Tanaka back on the seat of his pants. Tanaka valiantly fought hard and got himself back in the fight with an impressive seventh round. However, the left hook was the story of the nighty and just past the midway mark of the eighth the legendary champ loaded up on one final left hook that found Tanaka’s jaw and sent him wobbling and doing a funny dance across the ring, bringing in the referee to step in and waive off the bout. Giving Ioka the TKO victory.
Ioka has made himself into a massive star in his native Japan and luckily for him, he fights in a loaded fan-friendly division that is growing in popularity among hard cores and now the somewhat more casual fans. In March WBA Super flyweight champion and Roman Gonzalez and WBC titleholder, Juan Francisco Estrada will unify those two belts on March 13th. The next logical step would be for the winner of that unification to battle Ioka in the second half of the year. If that fight can be made for late 2021 The IBF belt is helped by Filipino Jerwin Ancajas who is currently looking for an opponent. Other big names in the division include our former fighter of the year for 2017 Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Kal Yafai, and the winner of Franco vs Moloney III. Given what Ioka has done over the last two years he has put himself in the driver seat to secure one or more big money fights in 2021.