World Boxing Organization super flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka says his career was put in jeopardy and his mental health shattered this year by Japanese boxing authorities’ negligent handling of a pre-title-fight false-positive drug test.
Not only did the Japan Boxing Commission inform the police that marijuana was detected in Ioka’s urine sample without the boxer’s knowledge, but the story became a tabloid scandal, tarnishing his reputation and leaving him feeling anxious and struggling to sleep.
“The amount (detected) wasn’t illegal and it wasn’t a doping offense. Nevertheless, it was reported to the police, incorrect information was spread by the media as facts, causing misunderstanding that resulted in my being slandered,” Ioka, Japan’s first four-weight titleholder, told Kyodo News in a recent interview.
The controversy was all the more damaging as the 32-year-old’s initial positive result came in the wake of his high-profile 2020 New Year’s Eve knockout of Kosei Tanaka.
Ioka successfully defended his title for the second time when he stopped top-ranked contender Tanaka in the eighth round, improving his record to 26-2, including 15 KOs.
But only months later, the celebrations had become a nightmare.
Even with his name cleared, Ioka still has to live with the heavy consequences, but he wants to shift the narrative from blame to accountability.
“My life nearly ended. I want (the JBC) to take responsibility for that, even if it’s doing the bare minimum. I need a guarantee that they will do what they can to provide boxers with the environment to focus on the sport,” he said.
A third-party ethics committee reported that Ioka’s “A” urine sample had traces of marijuana, but his follow-up “B” sample gave no indication marijuana was in his system, suggesting a false positive.
Investigations showed significant irregularities in the way the samples were handled, with them taken to the home of a JBC staff member and put in the fridge for several days after collection. Then they were taken, by train, to a hospital on Jan. 5 and put into frozen storage.
Unsurprisingly, the third-party committee ruled that the JBC failed to adhere to correct protocols during the process.
In May, the JBC held a press conference to announce they had cleared Ioka of any offense, admitting their mistakes and promising to apologize to Ioka and Tanaka in person. So far, however, they have only published an apology letter on their website.
Two weeks since the press conference, Ioka said he has yet to hear any sort of direct apology.
He said he has faced and overcome many physical and mental obstacles in his career, but he learned that dealing with blows outside the ropes can be harder than taking them inside the squared circle.
“It’s good that I was able to clear my name (from allegations of doping), but I still feel uneasy about the fact that I never got a direct apology from the JBC,” Ioka explained.
“I experienced anxiety for the first time in my life … I was really stressed because I couldn’t reconcile the contradiction between my knowing that I am innocent and what was happening in the outside world. I feel extreme fatigue and have dreams in which I am being chased by something.”
He said the doping allegations were an “insult,” and believes his hard-fought reputation won on the way to becoming a champion has been left in tatters.
Ioka said he has dedicated himself to the singular purpose of conditioning his body and mind to win, but he does not think he can take part in bouts under the present JBC leadership without having serious misgivings.
“If you look on the bright side, all this can help make me mentally stronger. It could open the door to a new era and I’d like to think that in order for it to make sense. I have to make sure what happened to me doesn’t happen to any other boxer.”
Even as a champion, Ioka is committed to training like a challenger, and he wants to be looked up to as a role model with his achievements in the ring and gym.
“I want people to think I’m one of a kind, I want to achieve things that only I can achieve. I want to be up for any challenge and stay hungry. I want to prove that I can become even stronger.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.