Unbeaten Japanese boxer Kosei Tanaka 15-0 (9) is looking to follow in the footsteps of his countryman Naoya Inoue 20-0 (18) and invade America.
But first the classy 25-year-old boxer-puncher will need to get past WBO super flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka 25-2 (14) in their New Year’s Eve clash at the Ota-City Gymnasium in Tokyo, Japan.
That promises to be no easy task with the 31-year-old four-division champion.
“[Tanaka] is a talented fighter,” said Ioka to The Ring. “His strengths are youth, power, speed and his combinations to head and body.
“I feel that whatever the fight develops into, I am very confident. He is a talented, young fighter, and just like with myself, there are limited weaknesses to exploit. It will come down to the will to win and I believe I have the stronger will to win at this stage in my career.”
Ioka believes he has competed at a higher level than Tanaka, who is seeking to become a four-division champion in his own right.
“I have faced many dangerous fighters in the past 24 months, including McWilliams Arroyo, Donnie Nietes, Aston Palicte, and Jeyvier Cintron,” said Ioka, whose lone losses were to Nietes and Amnat Ruenroeng in world title fights, both by split decision.
“I do not feel Tanaka is more dangerous than these fighters. All professional boxers at championship level are dangerous.”
Tanaka is expecting Ioka to be fully prepared for their scheduled 12-round battle while promising an eye-catching performance for the fans.
“I think Ioka will be quite prepared, but I’m going to beat him until the last second,” Tanaka told Japanese boxing website Boxing Mobile. “I’m looking forward to what kind of performance I can do on the day, and I want you to see it with your own eyes.”
If victorious, Tanaka says he would like to travel stateside to unify with WBC 115-pound champion Juan Francisco Estrada 41-3 (28).
“I’d love to go overseas to expand my opportunities in the future,” Tanaka told Bad Left Hook.
“I want to fight Juan Francisco Estrada. With a recognised name like that on my record, I will be able to get more respect in the pound-for-pound rankings for sure. At the moment the best win of my more defining nights.”
Ioka is eyeing off a return to the US if he defeats Tanaka, where he defeated McWilliams Arroyo in September 2018. He already has a shortlist of opponents in place.
“If I win, it is an opportunity to fight a big fight internationally again,” said Ioka to The Ring. “In order to do that, I must retain my belt.
“With the legendary [WBA champion] Chocolatito [Roman Gonzalez], it would be the highest honour to finally be able fight him in the ring. Also, with the great [Juan Francisco] Estrada and Srisaket [Sor Rungvisai]. It is very exciting for me to think about these fights as well.
“These thoughts create more determination for me to win this fight. I must win this fight and I will win this fight, not just for me but for my family, friends and supporters.”
Tanaka, who has moved through four weight class in just five years, says it has always been his desire to face the best.
“I want to fight everyone. Everyone is in their thirties, aren’t they? I want to fight everyone while they’re still active. That’s why I moved up in weight after my fight at the end of last year,” Tanaka said to Yahoo Japan.