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Kazuto Ioka halts Kosei Tanaka to retain WBO super-flyweight title

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WBO super-flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka put a stop to the unblemished professional record of Kosei Tanaka (15-1 9 KOs), scoring an eighth-round stoppage win in a thrilling and physical main event at Ota-City General Gymnasium.

Ioka (26-2, 15 KOs), Japan's first-ever four-weight world titleholder, would have been joined by Tanaka in that very exclusive club had the challenger been able to snare the championship. However, while the 25-year-old fought admirably and with aggression, the defending champion remained calm early on before picking his man off as the bout progressed.

Eventually, Ioka's counter jabs made way for sharp left hooks on the back foot, and Tanaka's damage became increasingly evident. One of those left hooks dropped the challenger late in the fifth, before another in Round 6 scored a second knockdown of the contest for the champ.

Knowing he needed to dominate the scorecards in the back six rounds following those two knockdowns, Tanaka attempted to regroup and appeared to do so in a more composed Round 7. However, Ioka made it a hat-trick of catching his adversary hard with that counter left in the eighth. Referee Michael Someya caught Tanaka before he could land hard on the canvas, calling for an immediate end to the featured attraction.

Tanaka received a standing ovation for his efforts after recovering, as he congratulated the victor. Ioka, meanwhile, continues his reputation as one of the sport's best-kept secrets with another impressive win going onto his low-key stacked resume.

Staging one of their biggest national boxing cards of the year, preferably with multiple world championship fights on tap, has been a New Year's Eve tradition in Japan for some time. Ioka has now appeared on the Dec. 31 show each year for a decade, except for 2017 when he got married and briefly retired from the sport.

His last fight prior to stopping Tanaka came one year ago when he retained his WBO title vs. Jeyvier Cintron via unanimous decision. Another bout in the interim was made difficult by the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on staging live events.

In the chief support, Daigo Higa (17-1-1, 17 KOs) knocked out Yuki Strong Kobayashi (16-9, 9 KOs) in Round 5 of a one-sided encounter that saw the former WBC flyweight titlist bounce back from a failed weigh-in and subsequent stoppage loss to Cristofer Rosales in 2018 followed by a sluggish 10-round draw against Seiya Tsutsumi last October.

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