Kazuto Ioka settles for a defense against Ryoji Fukunaga due to COVID restrictions
WBO junior bantamweight titleholder Kazuto Ioka will look to make the fourth defense of his belt when he faces fellow Japanese fighter Ryoji Fukunaga at the Ota-City General Gymnasium in Tokyo on Friday.
Ioka, who is rated No. 3 by The Ring at 115 pounds, had been all set to face IBF beltholder Jerwin Ancajas only for the fight to be postponed due to the rise in Covid cases in Japan.
“I was very disappointed in not being able to fight the unification,” Ioka (27-2, 15 knockouts) told The Ring. “In my long boxing career, this was my first experience in this type of situation. It took me a few days to shake off the disappointment.”
With limited options, Ioka’s team worked out a deal with Fukunaga, who is the Japanese and OPBF titleholder, to step into the breach.
Ioka, who will enter as a strong favorite, is acutely aware of the danger that his countryman poses.
“In the midst of the global pandemic and restrictions, I feel fortunate to be fighting again at the end of the year, which is a very special day for fighting in Japan,” said Ioka, who will be fighting on the year-end show for 10th time in his career.
“Fukunaga has a very high rate of knockouts and I feel that he is a good fighter. As far as what I see to exploit him, I will only know when I enter the ring.”
The 32-year-old, who sits at No. 9 in the mythical Ring Magazine ratings, will be without renowned trainer Ismael Salas, though the two have communicated video conference.
He knows he has to remain focused on the task in hand if he is to face Ancajas in 2022.
“This fight is a very important fight for my career,” he said. “It is a must win situation. I am very determined and focused. I plan to earn the right to fight a unification bout against Ancajas. There is agreement between both sides to fight for the unification.”
There is no specific target date for Ioka-Ancajas. However, firstly, the local government need to lift the ban on foreigners so, spring is probably the earliest date.
Fukunaga turned professional in 2013. He lost his debut and some other early fights before finding his groove when he impressively stopped Froilan Saludar (TKO 7). The now 35-year-old southpaw stopped Kenta Nakagawa (TKO 10) to claim the Japanese and vacant OPBF titles last December. This year he’s added wins against Takahiro Fujii (TKO 8) and Hayate Kaji (MD 10) to take his record to (15-4, 14 KOs).