Juan Francisco Estrada won’t be in the ring this weekend, though his team can still come home with Kazuto Ioka’s title.
Josber Perez is a longshot underdog to unseat the four-division and reigning WBA junior bantamweight titlist. The Venezuelan contender arrived in Tokyo armed with the best possible personnel for the task. He is led by Alfredo Caballero, the longtime head trainer for Estrada with whom Perez logged plenty of rounds in preparation for his second career title fight.
“I’m going to take advantage of this big opportunity,” Perez told BoxingScene.com through a translator. “I will make sure to come home with the world title.”
Ioka-Perez headlines a traditional New Year’s Eve show this Sunday from Ota-City General Gymnasium in Tokyo. The event will air live on ABEMA TV in Japan, which is only available in the U.S. via subscription and with a VPN.
Perez (20-3, 18KOs) is well aware that most fans anticipated a unification bout between Ioka (30-2-1, 15KOs) and Mexico’s Estrada (44-3, 28KOs), a two-division and current lineal and WBC junior bantamweight champion.
Estrada and Ioka were in advanced talks earlier this fall before plans collapsed over money. The fight instead went to Perez, a 28-year-old puncher from Los Teques, Venezuela on a three-fight win streak versus club-level opposition. His lone other career title bid came in a February 2020 unanimous decision defeat to WBA flyweight titlist Artem Dalakian in Kiev, Ukraine.
Ioka will attempt his first defense of the WBA title but is 7-1-1 (2KOs) overall at the weight spanning two title reigns. The 34-year-old Osaka native—now based in Tokyo—has gone the distance in each of his past five fights. Included in the batch are a draw and a unanimous decision win in his two-fight set with San Antonio’s Joshua Franco whom he dethroned in their June 24 rematch at this very venue.
The first fight took place exactly one year ago, in an attempted WBO-WBA unification bout. The fight ended in a majority draw, but Franco found success through volume punching and won 115-113 on the dissenting card.
Perez is likely overmatched in every category versus Ioka. However, he sees a path to victory that was provided that night and even in his hard-fought September 2021 decision win over Francisco ‘Chihuas’ Rodriguez.
“Ioka is a talented boxers but can’t deal with fighters who come head-on, the way I like to fight,” suggests Perez. “I have to apply pressure, put together my punches wisely and use my youth to my advantage.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. X (formerly Twitter): @JakeNDaBox