This Wednesday from Japan, Kazuto Ioka takes on Aston Palicte for a vacant title, the first world title boxing fight to ever air on UFC Fight Pass, where it will stream for subscribers at 8 am ET on June 19.
What’s at stake?
The vacant WBO Jr. Bantamweight title is on the line in Chiba. Both fighters have recently competed for that belt, and it was vacant in each of those fights, too. Palicte had a controversial draw with Donnie Nietes last September, and then Ioka controversially lost to Nietes on New Year’s Eve in Macau. Nietes has since vacated the title.
How did Kazuto Ioka get here?
Ioka is the nephew of Hiroki Ioka, who fought professionally from 1986-1998 and won world titles at 105 and 108, and challenged for titles at 112 and 115. Kazuto became a very good domestic amateur, but failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympics and turned pro in 2009.
Now 30, Ioka has had a decorated 10-year pro career. He won the Japanese 108-pound title in his sixth pro fight in Oct. 2010, then moved down to 105 to win the WBC title in Feb. 2011, beating Oleydong Sithsamerchai in Kobe via fifth round stoppage, dominating the fight. He made a pair of successful defenses in 2011 and then gained the WBA title in a unification win over Akira Yaegashi in June 2012, which would be Ioka’s final fight at 105 pounds.
Moving back up to 108, Ioka immediately won a WBA title on New Year’s Eve 2012, and made three successful defenses and moved up again, losing a split decision loss to IBF flyweight titleholder Amnat Ruenroeng, an old amateur rival of Ioka’s, in May 2014.
Ioka picked up a flyweight belt in 2015, though, beating Juan Carlos Reveco via majority decision in Osaka. After five defenses of the title, Ioka announced a stunning retirement at age 28 — he had gotten married and had a falling out with his father and promoter, Kazunori Ioka.
After about 16 months out of the ring, Ioka returned in Sept. 2018 as a Jr. Bantamweight, scoring a solid decision win over McWilliams Arroyo on HBO airwaves, which was Ioka’s first fight in the United States. Three months later, he lost a split decision to Donnie Nietes in Macau.
Ioka again chases a world title in a fourth weight class on Wednesday. He’ll be fighting in Japan for the first time in over two years, and will look to make a triumphant return.
How did Aston Palicte get here?
Palicte, like Ioka, was a good amateur but didn’t have significant international success. The Filipino turned pro in Aug. 2010, winning his first 10 fights before being tripped up against Romnick Magos in Dec. 2012, stopped after four rounds.
Palicte would rally, winning another 10 straight before suffering a second setback in March 2016, losing a split decision over 10 rounds to Junior Granados in Mexico. Again, he came back in winning form; two fights later, he handed Oscar Cantu his first pro loss in Palicte’s US debut in Dec. 2016.
After wins over John Mark Apolinario and Jose Alfredo Rodriguez in 2017, Palicte was matched with Donnie Nietes on HBO, with the vacant WBO Jr. Bantamweight title at stake in Sept. 2018. Nietes appeared to have comfortably won, but the judges had a split draw in California.
In January, just days after his 28th birthday, Palicte stopped Jose Martinez in the second round, and on Wednesday, he goes for the WBO belt again.
Ioka-Palicte isn’t the only vacant WBO Jr. Bantamweight title fight on this card, as the women will fight for the same belt on their side. Miyo Yoshida (12-1, 0 KO) will face Casey Morton (8-1-3, 1 KO) for the female world title.