Sunday, July 21, 2024  |



Fernando ‘Puma’ Martinez Defeats Kazuto Ioka, Unifies WBA/IBF 115-Pound Titles On Road In Tokyo

Fernando Martinez scores with an uppercut during his junior bantamweight title-unification fight against Kazuto Ioka. (Photo by Naoki Fukuda)
Fighters Network

Fernando Martinez came up huge on the road.

The unbeaten Argentinean used pure aggression to sway the judges in a unanimous decision victory over Kazuto Ioka. Scores were 116-112, 117-111 and a criminally poor 120-108 (Edward Hernandez Sr.) for Martinez.

With the win, Martinez retained the IBF 115-pound title and won the WBA belt Sunday at the famed Kokugikan Arena in Tokyo.

The battle of The Ring’s No. 2 and No. 3-rated junior bantamweights saw Martinez force a furious pace from the opening bell. The energy carried in his vibrant, carnival-like ring entrance translated in the ring as he carried heat on every punch thrown in the opening round. Ioka showed a world-class chin throughout the contest. He weathered the storm every time and almost always came back with his signature body attack.

Ioka continued to target Martinez’s midsection, a source of discomfort for the 32-year-old Argentinean. The response was heavy right hands and uppercuts by Martinez, who repeatedly snapped back Ioka’s head but couldn’t break his will.

Martinez repeatedly fought in bursts for much of the first half. Ioka, 35, consistently made key adjustments towards the midway point of each round. However, the four-division titlist continued to struggle to keep Martinez at bay.

Ioka closed out the first half with a vicious body attack, while Martinez appeared to favor his left hand.

The momentum spilled over into the second half, as Martinez was visibly affected by Ioka’s left hook to the body. However, he remained upright and came back strong with a two-fisted attack in round eight. The high-volume, combination punching offered by Martinez caused fits for Ioka, who could only weather the storm.

Ioka’s left hook to the body found the mark several times. (Photo by Naoki Fukuda)

Patience reaped major dividends for Ioka, who consistently landed clean combinations in rounds nine and ten. Martinez constantly made his presence felt but struggled to defend against Ioka’s left hook downstairs.

Ioka—an Osaka native based in Tokyo but who trains in Las Vegas—dictated the pace in the latter stages. Martinez wisely created separation between the two as Ioka attempted to walk him down with combinations. The strategy had some level of success as he was able to land right hands down the middle. Ioka took the shots well and responded with left hooks downstairs and right hands up top.

The always energetic Martinez saluted the crowd at the end of the eleventh before he sat on his corner stool. He then openly embraced Ioka at the start of the 12th and final round before he proceeded to put in his finest work of the fight.

Martinez’s aggression paid off, with all three judges awarding him the decision over Ioka. (Photo by Naoki Fukuda)

A right hand by Martinez snapped back the head of Ioka, who seemed surprised more than anything else but didn’t immediately respond. Martinez found his groove and was able to land shots as he constantly switched between conventional and southpaw. Ioka responded with combinations as he’d done throughout the contest but not with the same impact as was the case in most of the second half rounds.

Martinez threw until the very end, though he slipped to the canvas just before the bell to end the fight.

The win is a career-best for Martinez (17-0, 9 knockouts), who fought on the road for the fifth straight time.

He won the IBF title in a Feb. 2022 victory over long-reigning Jerwin Ancajas (34-4-2, 23 KOs) in Las Vegas. Martinez repeated the feat with a more convincing win in their Oct. 202 rematch in Carson, California. Just one fight came of his 2023 campaign, an eleventh-round stoppage of unbeaten Jade Bornea last June 24 in Minneapolis.

The bout versus Ioka culminated a months-long pursuit of title unification. Martinez was in talks with both Ioka and then-Ring/lineal/WBC champ Juan Francisco Estrada (44-4, 28KOs).

Ioka (31-3-1, 16 KOs) came up short in his second bid to become a two-division unified titlist. He was already Japan’s first ever boxer to win belts in four divisions but was denied further history in a Dec. 2022 twelve-round draw versus Joshua Franco. A win would’ve seen Ioka unify the WBA and WBO belts, ten years after his unified WBA/WBC strawweight title reign.

The stalemate carried additional repercussions. Ioka was ordered to face countryman Junto Nakatani, but opted to vacate his WBO belt to pursue a Franco rematch. He defeated the San Antonio native last June in Tokyo to win the WBA belt.

Franco is the older brother of Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez (20-0, 13 KOs), The Ring’s No. 5 pound-for-pound fighter. He also recently dethroned Estrada via seventh-round knockout to win The Ring/lineal/WBC 115-pound crown and was ringside on Sunday.

The brother’s keeper angle would’ve made for a terrific additional backdrop to a three-belt unification. Rodriguez will instead focus on a showdown versus Martinez, his originally stated target when he planned to return to junior bantamweight.

Ioka previously hinted at 2024 being his final year in the sport. He’s won titles at strawweight, junior flyweight, flyweight and junior bantamweight in a Hall of Fame-worthy career.

Meanwhile, the fun ride continues for Martinez whose career prospects have never looked brighter.

Martinez-Ioka aired live on ABEMA-TV in Japan.

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