By Joe Koizumi
Photos by Sumio Yamada
In an encounter of three-class ex-champions, Filipino veteran Donnie Nietes (42-1-5, 23 KOs), 115, was awarded a split verdict over Japanese speedster Kazuto Ioka (23-2, 13 KOs), 114.5, to acquire the vacant WBO junior bantamweight belt on New Year’s Eve at the Wynn Place Kotai, Macao, China. The hairline tallies were as follows: Patricia Morse Jarman (US) 116-112, Levi Martinez (US) 118-110, both for Nietes, and Samuel Nieto Gonzalez (Panama) 116-112 for Ioka. The third man was Robert Byrd (US).
Ioka, an artful dodger, made best use of his faster lateral footwork to avert Nietes’ punches, but he should have thrown and hit more punches to the Filipino rival. It was Ioka that kept jabbing and moving away from Nieto’s retaliations without mixing it up. His strategy of hitting without getting hit appeared to be successful, but now that Ioka’s fight plan resulted in a decision loss, he as well as his chief second Ismael Salas would have to review the defect of their strategy. It’s true that Ioka often had Nietes missing with his shifty mobility, but he should have been more aggressive with more convincing shots. Nietes occasionally caught Ioka with a solid punch at a time, which might be evaluated by the officials in such a close affair.
It’s a Dream Fight among Asian boxing fans since each was a very excellent three-class champion in the 105, 108 and 112 pound categories. Nietes had kept his WBO mini-fly belt four times, WBO junior fly title nine times and the IBF flyweight diadem once prior to his participation in the WBO junior bantam title bout for the vacant championship. Ioka, former amateur national champ with a good mark of 95-10, 64 stoppages, acquired the WBC 105-pound throne in his seventh pro bout and retained it three times. He also unified the 105-pound belts by defeating compatriot, WBA ruler Akira Yaegashi on points in a highly competitive battle. Ioka then won the WBA 108-pound belt and kept it on three occasions. Kazuto, in his eighteenth bout, dethroned WBA 112-pound champ Juan Carlos Reveco to win his third world crown in 2015, and retained it five times to his credit.
|105||WBO 4 times||WBC 3 times
WBA 0 time
|108||WBO 9 times||WBA 3 times|
|112||IBF 1 time||WBA 5 times|
|Record of World Title Defenses|
Why did this sensational encounter take place in Macao, not in Japan? It’s due to Ioka’s personal problem since the vastly talented Kazuto had an antagonism with his father/trainer/manager/promoter Kazunori partly because of his unwelcomed marriage with famous singer-songwriter Nana Tanimura and surprisingly announced his farewell to the ring in the previous New Year’s Eve in 2017. Under the strict Japanese club system, now that Ioka left his father’s gym with his retirement inside of Japan, he wouldn’t be allowed to fight here without any reconciliation with Kazunori.
To make a long story short, Ioka came back to ring warfare to be a free agent, and entered in an promotional agreement with Tom Loeffler’s 360 Promotions to participate in his Super Fly 3 event. Kazuto, last September, displayed a fine performance in dropping McWilliams Arroyo to deck an important victory in Inglewood, California. In the same event Donnie Nietes battled compatriot Aston Palicte to a split draw in quest of the vacant WBO 115-pound belt.
Aiming for the still vacant WBO junior bantam belt, now Nietes and Ioka squared off each other. Japanese television TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System) decided to broadcast a tripleheader with the Ioka-Nietes main event back to Japan from Macao since it has just an hour time difference. Ioka’s sponsor Sankyo, a wealthy enterprise dealing with Pachinko gambling games, became the organizer in association with Watanabe Promotions (that has a boxing license as promoter under the JBC and great experiences in staging world title bouts) in Macao.
Let’s enter the first round since this reporter’s introduction and explanation on the background might be too long for readers. But another significant episode is that Ioka, this November, divorced himself from his lovely wife Nana after a short-lived 18-month marriage.
It’s a very tactical fight with fast-handed speedster Ioka and harder hitting counterpuncher Nietes, both of whom are very skillful with excellent defensive tactics. It was Ioka to start positively with busier jabs, most of which, however, were shoved and parried by the tight-guarded Nietes.
It became a very difficult fight to tally as each allowed the opponent to score with a very few clean effective shots throughout the contest. Eventually, in twelve rounds, there was only a single session that all the judges agreed to give it to either—the tenth in favor of Nietes. In all other eleven rounds the judges separated their tallies into two to one to either. Every round was so close to score as Kazuto threw light but fast combinations, while Donnie connected with a punch at a time in return for Ioka’s combinations.
The second witnessed Niestes land a solid right cross to the aggressor Ioka who seemingly had taken an initiative before absorbing his rival’s more powerful shot. The Japanese speedster, in rounds four and five, positively mixed it up in the close range and connected with good body shots, while Nietes cleverly covered himself well. A couple of judges scored both rounds to Ioka, but Nietes came back hard to dominate the sixth and seventh sessions with a heavier shot at a time.
Although two judges favored Ioka in round eight, this reporter saw Nietes more effective with a short right and a left uppercut to the face.
It was Ioka that changed his fight plan in the ninth, when he began to utilize his vaunted footwork more frequently and attempted to outleg and outspeed the older opposition by seven years. It didn’t successfully work for Ioka, who should have spent more energy to hurt Nietes with effective shots rather than moving around the Filipino veteran.
In the last four round Nietes was in command in terms of scorecards tallied by more than a couple of judges. After the eighth, the scores turned out to be Jarman 76-76, Martinez 78-74 (for Nietes) and Gonzalez 77-75 (for Ioka).
Both Jarman and Martinez scored all the last four rounds to Nietes, while Gonzalez gave three to Ioka and one to Nietes. That resulted in a split decision.
It might be Ioka corner’s mistake that they probably misunderstood that Ioka was controlling the fight by outboxing and outlegging the slightly fading veteran. Nietes, however, was smart enough to save his energy and connected with more accurate shots to the Japanese elusive target.
It’s a very scientific contest with neither absorbing damaging blows, and each showed unbruised faces after such a hard-fought combat. Their defensive skills should be admired above all.
The winner and four-class champion Nietes said, “I’m very happy to win. Ioka was a good boxer showing good jabs and combinations, but I scored with more effective shots to him.”
Ioka, a good loser, frankly repented of his defeat, saying, “It wasn’t my night, though I tried to do my best. Sorry not to be able to respond to Japanese people’s high expectation of my winning the fourth belt.”
Having outgrown the flyweight category, Ioka, now a 115-pounder, needs to improve his power more, since he punches looked less powerful and less effective than those of Nietes, which might be the difference of the result. Nietes, who hadn’t been defeated in fourteen years, displayed his skills, power and strategy. Close as it was, Nietes deserves a victory on points. As Ioka said, it’s Nietes’ night.
Promoter: Watanabe Promotions in association with Sankyo Promotions.
WBO supervisor: Leon Panoncillo (US).