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Kazuto Ioka returns against Josber Perez on December 31

Kazuto Ioka (left) lands a left hand on Joshua Franco
Fighters Network

Kazuto Ioka will defend his junior bantamweight title belt on the last day of 2023.

Ioka will face Josber Perez on December 31, it was officially announced Monday. The 12-round bout will take place at the Ota-City General Gymnasium in Ioka’s hometown of Tokyo, Japan.

The fight will headline a card that will air live on ABEMA-TV.

The 34-year-old Ioka (30-2-1, 15 knockouts) is currently rated No. 1 by The Ring.

Ioka will be making the first defense of the WBA title he won on June 24, defeating Joshua Franco by unanimous decision. Franco was stripped of the belt after failing to make weight the day before, coming in over six pounds above the 115-pound limit.

The win over Franco took place after a majority decision draw against Franco on December 31 of last year, which several media members thought Franco did enough to win.

Ioka is unbeaten in his last eight bouts. His last defeat was by split-decision to Donnie Nietes in December 2018 with the vacant WBO world junior bantamweight in play. Since the loss, Ioka was able to avenge the loss to Nietes, and defeated Jeyvier Cintron, Kosei Tanaka, and Francisco Rodriguez, Jr.

Tanaka and Rodriguez are currently rated at No 5 and 7 respectively by The Ring.

Ioka has also won world title belts at 108 and 112 pounds.

Perez (20-3, 18 KOs), who resides in Los Teques, Venezuela, last fought on September 15, knocking out Jose Farfan in the second round.

The 28-year-old has won his last three fights, all by knockout, since a unanimous decision loss to IBF world flyweight titleholder Artem Dalakian in February 2020.

Also on the card, bantamweight contender Daigo Higa (20-2-1, 18 KOs) will square off against Thailand’s Navapon Khaikanha in a 10-round bout.

Higa, who also resides in Tokyo, is currently rated No. 10 by The Ring at 118 pounds.

The 28-year-old knocked out Sirichai Thaiyen in the fourth round on June 24. Higa has won his last three bouts since a unanimous decision loss to unbeaten Ryosuke Nishida in April 2021.

Khaikanha (58-3-1, 48 KOs) was stopped by Vincent Astrolabio in the 11th round of his last fight on August 26 in a WBC world bantamweight title elimination bout.


Francisco A. Salazar has written for The Ring since October 2013 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (California) Star newspaper. He can be reached at [email protected]