Ioka Does What His Uncle Couldn’t Do, Wins Belt In 3rd Division

Ioka does what his uncle couldn’t do, wins belt in 3rd divisionIt was the moment the Ioka family’s long-awaited dream came true.
Kazuto Ioka beat WBA flyweight champion Juan Carlos Reveco on April 22nd by a majority decision to become the second Japanese fighter to win titles in three weight classes, following Koki Kameda’s achievement in 2010.

Ioka (17-1) was also the title holder in minimumweight and light-flyweight divisions.

It was a dream his uncle, Hiroki, was unable to make come to fruition. Hiroki, a former world champion at the then-straw weight and junior-flyweight divisions, tried four times to win the third title. He failed each time.

Shortly after his victory, Ioka rode on the shoulders of his uncle and his father Kazunori, his trainer and the top man at his gym.

“Going up a class — even just one — makes everything different, not only power-wise,” his uncle said.

“I want to say ‘Thank you’ [to Kazuto]. I’m so happy,” he added.

“Winning titles in three divisions is an achievement done by ‘Team Ioka,’” the normally even-headed 26-year-old said after shedding tears in a rare display of emotion.

Ioka utilized an 8-centimeter height advantage over Reveco to win the match. He used jabs to control the fight, landing punches from the outside, beyond the reach of the Argentine. In the second round, Ioka staggered Reveco with a left hook to the face.

In the eighth round, Ioka landed a hard right to Reveco’s chin.

Reveco is known as a powerful puncher, but Ioka managed to avoid a clean hit in the 12-round bout.

“I didn’t lose focus, not even for a second, and didn’t let him gain any momentum,” Ioka said.

Learning from history

Ioka was born in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture. He gained fame as an amateur boxer. When he was a student at Kokoku High School, Ioka won six titles, including victories at the National Sports Festival and national high school championships.

After making his pro debut in 2009, he won the world minimumweight title in 2011, setting the Japan record for winning a world title in the fewest number of fights at seven. Naoya Inoue later broke the record.

In 2012, Ioka won his second world crown, taking the title in the light-flyweight division.

People wondered if Ioka’s quick rise was too good to be true — he was 14-0 when he faced flyweight champion Amnat Ruenroeng of Thailand in May 2014, seeking the third world championship. But Ioka suffered the first loss of his pro career.

“I’ve never felt this miserable,” Ioka said after losing a split decision.

Ioka knew how daunting and frustrating the challenge was to win crowns in three weight classes because he watched his uncle struggle during his childhood.

But he accepted his first defeat with grace, saying: “It was frustrating, I was so close and couldn’t do it. There are no words.”

About three weeks later, Ioka got back to full-scale practice. He believes a lack of variety in his boxing led to the defeat, so he worked on improving his combinations and in-match strategies the year after this experience.

On March 2, when his gym announced he would take on Reveco, Ioka used a unique expression when he vowed to win the world title: “The door might be heavy, but it’s not locked. I have nothing but confidence that I can win.”

He managed to open that “heavy door” in the sixth attempt as a member of the Ioka family.

“The dream I had since my childhood has come true,” Ioka said after Wednesday’s match.