Kazuto Ioka got back on the road to a fourth world title with the win he craved in the arena that drew him out of retirement.
Ioka returned to boxing with an impressive U.S. debut in a wide unanimous decision over McWilliams Arroyo, and Juan Francisco Estrada grinded out a decision over Felipe Orucuta in the main event of Superfly 3 on Saturday night.
Filipino super flyweights Donnie Nietes and Aston Palicte also fought to a draw in a bout for the vacant WBO 115-pound title at the Forum.
Ioka's victory in his comeback bout highlighted the third edition of the fight series created by promoter Tom Loeffler to showcase the world's top boxers from the oft-neglected super flyweight division and thereabouts.
Ioka (23-1), a three-division champion while fighting in his native Japan, returned from a brief retirement and a 17-month ring absence with a complete performance against Arroyo (17-4), the tested Puerto Rican veteran.
"I think Ioka, his star is shining bright now," Loeffler said. "He got his opportunity on HBO, and for a three-division champion moving up and taking on Arroyo, who was punching really hard, I think he was the most impressive fighter of the night."
Ioka quit boxing last winter, but returned to the gym a few months later after attending the Superfly 2 show in February. He was enticed back to the sport by the lively atmosphere and elite 115-pound talent on display inside the famed Forum.
Ioka had an active jab and ready combinations from the opening bell, and he knocked down Arroyo in the final seconds of the third round with a right hand squarely on the jaw. Arroyo rallied in the middle rounds before Ioka reasserted his dominance down the stretch.
"I'm very happy with performance and very appreciative of my opportunity to fight in America," Ioka said. "The atmosphere was fantastic. This is exactly as I hoped it would be, and I can't wait to come back and fight on Superfly 4 against the best in the division."
One judge scored it 99-90 for Ioka, and the other two favored him 97-92. Ioka connected with 32 percent of his 797 punches, and his sharp jab landed 31 percent of the time. Arroyo connected with only 22 percent of his shots.
"I had high expectations for him, but he fought an impressive fight," Loeffler said. "I was really impressed with his left hook to the body. He was really slowing down Arroyo with the body shots."
Ioka returned to the sport with the goal of becoming Japan's first four-division world champion. He could get that shot soon after this victory put him in position for a shot at the WBC 115-pound belt held by Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, whose next bout is in October in his native Thailand.
Estrada also has a case for a rematch with Sor Rungvisai, who kicked off the Superfly series in style last September with a stunning knockout of Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez. Sor Rungvisai beat Estrada in a thriller at Superfly 2.
Estrada (37-3) made his name with an upset victory over Carlos Cuadras on the first Superfly show, but he had a tough time with Orucuta (36-5), a 32-year-old veteran making his U.S. debut.
The fight built to a fantastic seventh round with back-and-forth action. An instant before the final bell, Estrada landed a right hand that forced Orucuta to put his glove on the canvas, but no knockdown was called.
Two judges scored it 117-111 for Estrada, and a third had it 118-110.
The card's sole title fight was less entertaining. Nietes (41-1-5) appeared to have a slight edge for most of his 12 rounds against Palicte (24-2-1), but one judge apiece scored it for each fighter, and the third had a 114-114 draw.
Nietes landed 37 percent of his punches, while Palicte threw 307 more punches, but connected with only 14.9 percent of them.
"Of course I won the fight," Nietes said. "I'm very disappointed. I deserve the title. I handled his height, I hurt him and I controlled the fight."