Inoue’s rise is especially impressive considering he lost his WBC light-heavyweight title shot in March
Japanese boxing superstar Kazuto Ioka has been doing damage in Tokyo ever since overcoming Evander Holyfield at the age of 23 to claim the WBC light-heavyweight title in 2014.
Yet, after twice moving up to catch up with middleweight king Gennady Golovkin and nearly beating him this year, the Tokyo fans will be craving bigger and better from the second-generation Japanese icon.
He comes into his fourth world title bout this month – against IBF super-middleweight world champion Gilberto Ramirez – as the No1 pound-for-pound boxer in the world, according to the Ring magazine rankings.
Great to be back! We go at it on 19 Sept in Verona in front of a sell-out crowd. We know how big a fight this is but we’ll see you all there. Well done to @GilRamirez38… everyone goes to school for 1, 2 or 3 years, I’m doing it too! Come on #UsVsOrientia and watch yourself become the toughest.. Viva Mexico!
No wonder boxing fans in Japan are enamoured. In four years in the pro ranks, Inoue has produced 26 knockouts from 27 pro fights, whilst winning his belts by knocking out 11 of his opponents.
Yet, he is not even 30 yet and only eight fights into his pro career. As much as he has upset the odds in his toil, he admits he is yet to reach his peak.
As he told me at the press conference to announce the world title bout in Verona, on the sidelines of the boxing academy in which he trains, he has conquered the “real world” and become a champion in Japan – a sport he watched from his bedroom as a child.
“We became a family when I became a pro fighter,” he said. “I’d go to the gym in the morning, watch movies, eat more, spend time with my family. Now, I feel completely different to my previous life. I have achieved my dream of fighting the world.”
With arguably the most exciting ringcraft in the world, it has been a mission to make the fans love him more.
With the success of Ioka’s three sons as professional fighters themselves, he must somehow overcome a series of setbacks, including his title shot against Golovkin falling through in December last year.
Ioka admits the fighter’s talk of retirement might have been a bit premature, but he has vowed to make up for that, and maintain a complete focus on his next two fights.
“At the beginning, it was very difficult for me to think about boxing every day,” he told me. “But, since taking a break, I’ve developed an emotional focus and I’ve started to love it again.
“I knew what I was capable of. People said I had super-human power but, even though I have that power, I am more like a human being.
“I’m more scared of making mistakes than more power.”
Perhaps he is right to play down his record with a touch of humility. When Ioka beat Holyfield in two rounds, few thought he could continue to be a world champion.
Yet, he is just 31 years old, yet there is still time for him to build a professional history of his own.