Three Boxing Titles Up For Grabs on New Year’s Eve in China

Three titles will be on the line to ring in the new year, including Donnie Nietes vs. Kazuto Ioka for the vacant WBO junior bantamweight title.

Updated: Dec. 28, 2018 • 6:32 PM ET


Macau, China will host three title fights on New Year's Eve.

Three titles will be up for grabs on New Year’s Eve at Wynn Palace in Macau, China, including a main event featuring Donnie “Ahas” Nietes challenging Kazuto Ioka for the vacant WBO junior bantamweight title.

Nietes carried 10 straight victories into his September fight against Aston Palicte for the vacant WBO title. The close fight concluded in a split-draw, ending Nietes’ streak, but it didn’t put him out of the title picture.

The 36-year-old Nietes is already a Filipino boxing legend who has amassed a 41-1-5 record with 23 knockouts. He has been a world champion in three different weight classes, having previously held the WBO mini-flyweight, WBO junior flyweight and IBF flyweight titles. His last loss came to Angky Angkotta by split-decision in 2004.

Nietes knows he has to change his game plan against Ioka if he wants to win his fourth belt.

“I’ll be more aggressive this time,” Nietes recently told Rappler. “I don't want to leave the decision to the judges.”

“Ahas” has key victories over Juan Carlos Reveco, Edgar Sosa, Raul Garcia, Francisco Rodriguez Jr., and Gilberto Parra. Following the trail set by Manny Pacquiao, Nonito Donaire, Jhack Tepora and Vic Saludar, Nietes will try to become the fifth Filipino fighter to claim a world title this year.

Since losing to Amnat Ruenroeng by split-decision in 2014, Ioka (23-1, 13 KOs) is riding a nine-fight winning streak. He most recently defeated McWilliams Arroyo by unanimous decision in Inglewood, Calif. in September, the first time the Japanese star traveled outside of Japan for a fight.

The 29-year-old Ioka is also a three-weight world champion, having previously held the WBA and WBC minimumweight titles, the WBA light flyweight title and the WBA flyweight title. He knows what is at stake against Nietes.

“I feel that this will be a terrific fight because I’ve always had tremendous respect for Donnie Nietes and I’m honored that this fight is happening,” Ioka said via The Ring. “It is really destiny that both of us on our different paths in life will meet in Macau for the four-weight championship.

“For myself, history is on the line, as no boxer in Japan history has ever been a four-weight champion. I’m sure, in the future, many Japanese boxers will have this opportunity but I’m really excited to be in this position to achieve history now.”

Ioka has key wins over Arroyo, Nare Yianleang, Yutthana Kaensa, Keyvin Lara, Juan Carlos Reveco (twice), Roberto Domingo Sosa and Felix Alvarado. He briefly retired at the beginning of 2018, but many surrounding the champion believed that the retirement would be short-lived — and of course, it was. He has made his return and will attempt to become the first Japanese four-weight champion on Monday.

A WBA junior flyweight title fight between champion Hekkie Budler and Hiroto Kyoguchi will also be on the card.

Budler (32-3, 10 KOs) is a two-weight champion, also previously holding the IBO and WBA minimumweight titles. He’s coming off a unanimous decision upset victory over Ryoichi Taguchi in May, claiming the IBF and WBA titles. The win was a great rebound from a split-decision loss to Milan Melindo in September 2017, but Budler later vacated the IBF belt because of a paltry purse bid.

The 30-year-old South African is 3-2 in his last five fights with both losses coming by decision, and he has never been finished inside the ring. Budler has notable victories over Taguchi, Simpiwe Konkco, Jesus Silvestre and Hugo Hernan Verchelli, while he’s also aware that his next fight represents a new set of challenges.

“I think it’s going to be a hard fight, interesting fight,” Budler said via The Ring. (Kyoguchi)’s undefeated, young and up-and-coming guy. He hits hard, extremely hard for the weight.

“He’s very fast; he’s got very good movement in and out. He’s very physically strong, ’cause he always comes forward. I’ve been training hard. I’ll be ready for whatever he brings, whatever he throws at me. I believe in hard training, you can beat anybody. We’re preparing right and I have the right people around me in the training camp and in sparring. We’ll be ready for anything he brings.”

Kyoguchi (11-0, 8 KOs) is the former IBF minimumweight champion, most recently defeating Tibo Monabesa by TKO in September. He’ll fight outside of his native Japan for just the second time.

The 25-year-old said via The Japan Times, “To fight on New Year’s Eve and to have a world championship fight overseas is a double pleasure. I want to win my second title by knockout.”

He won his first belt in July 2017 with a unanimous decision win over Jose Argumedo and went on to have two successful title defenses against Carlos Buitrago and Vince Paras.

A title fight for the IBF flyweight title between champion Moruti Mthalane and Masahiro Sakamoto will round out the card.

Mthalane (36-2, 24 KOs) is a two-time champion, having won the IBF belt over Muhammad Waseem in July. He previously held the belt from 2009 to 2014, and the 36-year-old South African has won 13 straight fights since losing to Nonito Donaire by TKO in 2008.

Since losing to Sho Kimura by unanimous decision in 2016, the 27-year-old Sakamoto (13-1, 9 KOs) is riding a five-fight winning streak. He most recently defeated Ki Chang Go by TKO in August and is looking for his first major title.

The Japanese fighter is a heavy underdog, but he’s prepared to prove everyone who doubts him wrong.

“I’ve been prepared to KO him,” Sakamoto told The Ring. “When I see my chance, my instincts tell me to finish it, and the accuracy of my punches improve.”

He continued, “I respect that he defeated strong opponents and doesn’t show his age at 36 years old. However, I’ll be the one who welcomes the new year as champion.”

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