FULL REPORT: Martinez defeats Ioka

Unifies WBA, IBF 115lb belts

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By Joe Koizumi
Photos by Naoki Fukuda

Unbeaten Argentine Fernando “Puma” Martinez (17-0, 9 KOs), 115, unified the WBA and IBF super flyweight belts as he fought a grueling battle with skillful Japanese speedster Kazuto Ioka (31-3-1, 16 KOs), 114.75, all the way, winning a unanimous decision over twelve see-saw rounds on Sunday at Ryogoku Sumo Arena in Tokyo,

Japan. Stanley Christodoulou (South Africa) and Jean Pierre Van Imschoot (Belgium) scored 117-111 and 116-112 respectively, while Edward Hernandez (US) viewed it 120-108—all in favor of the fast and strong Argentine. The referee was Luis Pabon (Puerto Rico).

For Martinez it was his third defense since he dethroned IBF ruler Jerwin Ancajas in Las Vegas in 2022, while for dour-division champ Ioka it was his second defense since he wrested the WBA belt from Joshua Franco here about a year ago.

IBF titlist Martinez, 32, was simply more aggressive, while WBA ruler Ioka, 35, was more technical, scoring with counters and body shots. The Argentine’s abundant stamina was amazing, as he withstood Ioka’s persistent body bombardments and furiously retaliated with unceasing two-fisted attacks upstairs. They kept exchanging solid punches from the outset to the end and fully entertained the audience.

Reviewing their non-stop punching competition, the turning point might be midway in the first round. From the start it was Puma that swarmed over the peek-a-boo stylist Ioka, who, however, fought back and connected with solid body shots, which effectively had Fernand’s legs sagging.

Who’s round? All the three judges had it for Puma, evaluating his aggressiveness for a longer time in the round than Ioka’s temporary body attacks. But almost all spectators, including our ex-world champs, thought it was Ioka’s round and Martinez would be slowing down with his continual body shots in later rounds.

Probably Ioka as well as his long-time trainer Ismael Salas, also thought Puma’s weak point is in his breadbasket. We were wrong, and Team Ioka-Salas was also wrong. No matter how many body shots Puma absorbed, he quickly recovered from the damage, became fresh in every round and revealed his phenomenal stamina even down the stretch.

A typical round of this battle was the second, when Marinez kept battering Ioka even on his peek-a-boo guard for two minutes, while Ioka turned loose and retaliated with body shots due to his original strategy for the one-minute remainder of the round. Who’s round? Fernando.

This pattern of processing continued in the first four rounds, all of which the judges tallied in favor of the sturdy Argentine warrior.

Ioka, in round five, threw more jabs and exclusively attacked the midsection of Martinez, and he seemed to control this session. But it was only one judge Van Imshoot that had it for Ioka, while the other two saw it for Martinez. Probably the two judges had been deeply impressed by Puma’s strength, speed and power—regardless of precision in this round.

From the sixth round onward Ioka still sticked to his original fight plan to mix it up and batter the midsection, believing his punches downstairs might be more effective than those of Martinez upstairs. Their (Ioka and Salas’) view eventually proved wrong at the announcement of the decision.

We, at the press box, talked each other, saying, “Ioka might be thinking he was winning and his fight plan is right. He may be making a serious misleading.”

Incredibly enough, although Ioka desperately kept battering the body of Puma, the energetic Argentine never showed any sign of fatigue in the second half. The seventh saw Fernand furiously attack Kazuto from all angles to the face, though Ioka briefly fought back with jabs and body shots in the closing seconds of the round.

It was funny to see Puma so aggressive and abundant in stamina in the first two minutes thirty seconds but fading and slowing down in the last thirty seconds to allow Ioka to fight back with body shots. Thus it was Fernando that steadily piled up points by his continual assault in every round.

This reporter saw Ioka dominate the eighth and tenth with his more accurate retaliation as the two judges (Christodoulou and Van Imshoot) tallied for the Japanese thanks to his precision.

Realizing that it was close (eventually not in the official tallies after the tenth), the world champs desperately mixed it up with all they had—in the last two rounds. The eleventh saw Ioka threw more jabs and combinations, while Martinez remained aggressive with his non-stop rallies. What is his source of unflagging energy? Argentine beef power?

The twelfth and final round saw them exchange punches toe-to-toe in the close quarter for full three minutes. In the closing seconds Puma slipped down, and the audience temporarily thought it was a knockdown caused by Ioka’s shot, but the referee Pabon quickly denied it, and the final bell sounded to end their slugfest.

Our ringsiders said it was Ioka corner’s serious mistake that had him mix up with such a physically and mentally strong rival, and Ioka should have applied his usual hit-and-run tactics. It might be true and correct.

We, in Japan, have witnessed outstanding Argentine boxeadors such as Pascual Perez (who dethroned our first world champion Yoshio Shirai), Nicolino “Intocable” Locche (who shut out and retired Paul Takeshi Fuji), Santos Laciar (who finished Shuichi Hozumi in just two rounds), Juan Martin Coggi (who dismantled Hiroyuki Yoshino), et al. Fernando “Puma” Martinez may be included in the list of extremely strong Argentine boxeadores coming to Japan.

Worldwide boxing fans may compare Bam Rodrigez and Puma Martinez. This reporter won’t tell which is stronger or superior, but can say Martinez is a very strong and technical unified champion who will be able to show a competitive bout with Bam.

How about the four-division champ Kazuto Ioka’s future? He is already thirty-five, but if still motivated to win back his belt, he may fight one or two more. It will depend on his own decision and will power. Since it was very rare that we, in Japan, saw Ioka in the loser’s corner, we are simply shocked and sympathize with the long-time champion since 2011 (thanks to his very excellent defensive ability and natural reflexes, he could survive for more than a decade).

Though our compatriot and national hero Ioka lost, we must praise Fernando Martinez’s strength and superhuman stamina such as Argentina’s first world campeon Pascual Perez. Regardless of nationality, we can deeply appreciate the excellence of the winner. That’s boxing.

The crestfallen loser Kazuto said, “My future plan (his anticipated confrontation with Bam Rodriguez) has come to naught. I can say nothing on my future as the fight is just over.”

The happiest winner Fernando jubilantly said, “I didn’t expect Ioka to come and fight so positively from the start. His body shots were effective, but I could withstand them and fight back hard. Should the dinero (money) be good enough, I may come back to Japan to fight Ioka again or WBO champ Kosei Tanaka.”

Puma, go and fight Bam Rodriguez in the US, as all of the world wants to watch it.

Promoter: Shisei Promotions.

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BoxRec: Kazuto Ioka

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  • I was surprised that the closest score was the one I had at 116-112. Especially being in Japan. To be honest I could have seen the match being a draw. But definitely Ioka did not win. I was shocked how much bigger Martinez looked. Also I thought those body punches would pay divdends later. But they did not. I gave Martinez the first 3 and the last two rounds.

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