by Cliff Rold
As we know it today, three official judges decide a boxing match when it goes the scheduled distance. Two judges aren’t enough.
Too often, boxing fans are left with the bitter impression only two showed up on their A game. Donnie Nietes versus Kazuto Ioka was an excellent, tightly contested battle for the vacant WBO 115 lb. title between two accomplished veterans. Nietes was attempting to join Leo Gamez and Roman Gonzalez as the only men to win titles from minimumweight to Jr. bantamweight. Ioka was looking for his third full title after stints as a unified minimumweight and flyweight titlist.
At the end of twelve rounds, judges Samuel Nieto and Patricia Morse Jarman had it 116-112, or eight rounds to four, for Ioka and Nietes respectively. In a bout with a lot of close rounds, fought for long stretches at close quarters and with excellent defense from both men, mirroring opposite totals didn’t feel out of sorts.
Judge Levi Martinez’s 118-110 score, ten rounds to two, for Nietes felt like a bridge too far. Ioka definitely appeared to win more than two rounds, particularly in the heart of the fight. Almost no one in the social media universe scoring along through the course of the contest saw a fight that wide.
A score that leaves debate about a judge instead of about a winner again mars a close fight. There was room to argue about who deserved the win on both sides. Nietes earned a victory as much as Ioka did. They each gave the best they had. It’s hard not to feel Martinez didn’t bring his best game to ringside. Both fighters deserved that too.
Let’s get into it.
The Future for Nietes: Nietes looked in his last fight like he might be losing a step. Against Ioka, he rose to the level of his opponent and fought a sharp, energetic twelve rounds with some brilliant moments of infighting. Most felt he deserved the win against Aston Palicte earlier in 2018 and should already have had his fourth title. Now he has it and adds arguably the best win of his career. It was at least his finest hour since stopping Moises Fuentes to win Ring’s recognition as champion at 108 lbs. Nietes had beaten more than a half dozen current or former titlists before New Year’s Eve but often missed out on the biggest names of the lower weight classes. As the twilight of his career edges on, he is positioned to add more big names. In a division with Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, Roman Gonzalez, and Juan Francisco Estrada still lingering near the top, 2019 could be the year where Nietes finally hits the zenith of his earning potential. He will be 37 in May. There is no time to waste. A possible mandatory rematch with Palicte could be an obstacle but does anyone really need to see that twice? Nietes proved against Ioka, no matter who one thought won, he remains an elite member of the lower reaches of the scale. Will he get the chance to further close his show in style?
The Future for Ioka: Ioka has reason to believe he won. This wasn’t the loss to Amnat Ruenroeng where Ioka looked absolutely befuddled most of the night. Ioka appeared to fall in a little hole early but battled back and had great success in the middle rounds of the fight. A rematch, if he can secure it, would be welcome. Ioka raised eyebrows with a return victory over McWilliams Arroyo after a short retirement and the loss to Nietes, while a setback, doesn’t move him far in the pack at Jr. bantamweight. Nietes can only fight them one at a time. Ioka would be just as interesting against a Gonzalez or Estrada along with other titlists like Khalid Yafai or Jerwin Ancajas (if Ancajas doesn’t end up in a discussed unification with Sor Rungvisai). 115 lbs. remains as loaded as any weight class in boxing and Ioka will have more to say. He just didn’t have quite enough against Nietes.
Moruti Mthalane Dec. Masahiro Sakamoto
Hekkie Budler Dec. Hiroto Kyoguchi
Rold Picks 2018 – Final: 62-26 (including Mthalane-Sakomoto, Kyoguchi-Budler)
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]