Ioka and friends declare: “Tattoo culture is best.”

In Japan there are lots of traditional television programming during the New Year holidays. The song contest Kohaku is the most prominent but many people also look forward to shows such as Gackt defends his unbeaten streak in Entertainer Rating Check. And for sports fans, there’s always a highly anticipated boxing card lined up for New Year’s Eve.

This year saw a World Boxing Organization super flyweight match up between first class fighters Kazuto Ioka and Kosei Tanaka. Billed as the “match of the year,” it lived up to the hype with both boxers trading precision blows well into the eighth round when Ioka knocked out Tanaka while he was still standing.

▼ Highlights from the match

It was really a great fight, but also one marred with controversy. Not because of any moves performed in the ring, but because we could see Ioka’s tattoos. This is a violation of Article 86 of the Japan Boxing Commission (JBC) rules that states: “A person with a style that makes the audience feel uncomfortable…cannot participate in matches.” The rule also specifically mentions “tattoo” as an example of such a style.

This might come as a shock to many, since you’d be hard pressed to find a boxer who doesn’t have a tattoo or seven, but it is how they operate in Japan where the body art still holds stubborn connections with organized crime. However, the JBC doesn’t even bother trying to enforce the rule on fighters who come in from overseas, and only binds Japanese boxers to it.

One of the JBC’s rivals, the Japanese MMA organization Rizin, does not prohibit tattoos outright. However, when showing their own New Year’s full card extravaganza they didn’t air fights with tattooed fighters on broadcast TV. It stands to reason, as guys trying to punch each other in the face is just good clean fun, but put tattoos on those guys? Well, I can’t even wrap my head around that…

In order to be allowed in the ring and on terrestrial TV, tattooed Japanese fighters must either put tape over the ink or conceal it with make up. Actually, if you watch the fight it’s easy to see that the tats on Ioka’s arms start off very faint, but become more apparent as the match progresses, suggesting his makeup simply wore off.

▼ For comparison, here are scenes of a 2019 match between Ioka, whose ink is almost invisible, and a heavily tatted Aston Palicte from the Philippines

Nevertheless, it is still seen as a violation of the rules and the JBC is currently investigating the case. However, before a judgment was released Ioka (pictured center below) released the following statement.

▼ “Tattoo culture is the best”

This tweet was actually posted on the account of tattooed MMA fighter Ren Hiramoto who is sitting left of Ioka and also extending his middle digit, while Ioka proudly displays his ink sleeves and flips the bird at the same time. Hiramoto has been an outspoken critic of the JBC rule, calling the organization “crap” for continuing it.

It should be noted that in Japan the middle finger doesn’t carry quite the same venom that it does in some other countries, so the severity of this image it still being considered. In fact, one could even argue that he was just saying “brother” in Japanese sign language.

Whatever the case may be, it is still awkward timing as mere hours before the tweet was posted, the JBC announced that Ioka was nominated as their “Boxer of the Year” and his match against Tanka was also up for “Match of the Year” at their 2020 annual awards.

While people outside of Japan would probably support his protest of an obsolete rule, more than a few comments in Japan criticized Ioka’s behavior.

“Is he stupid? Does he understand what the middle finger means?”
“That’s a shame. If his tattoo was cool I might support him, but it isn’t.”
“That match against Tanaka was boxing at its purest. Why is he making it hard to defend him?”
“Rules are what makes boxing. Otherwise, it’s just a fight. Ioka should leave Japan if he doesn’t like it.”
“He gives people with tattoos a bad name.”
“These guys are the reason Japanese people don’t get tattoos. Who wants to be like them?”
“Sorry, tattoo culture is not the best.”

Granted, I could probably make a solid case that BBQ culture is better than tattoo culture, if not the best in its own right, but I won’t fault these men for taking pride in their fashion. The comment that rules are what make organized sports “organized” is also valid, but that doesn’t mean there should be arbitrary rules for rules’ sake either.

If that’s the case, then why not go right back to basics and demand all fighters sport curly handlebar mustaches and buttoned undershirts?

Actually, the more I think about that, the more I like it.

▼ “Ho ho my word, Rutherford! You gave my belfry a jolly-good dusting there.”

Image: Wikipedia/Edmund Price

Ioka’s punishment by the JBC for giving everyone an eyeful of his tattoos is to be announced on 22 January. He is expected to receive the minimum penalty of a “strict warning,” but there’s a possibility his middle finger could land him in the more severe tiers which include “a reprimand,” “a fine,” “forfeiting the match,” “a suspended license,” or “a permanently suspended license.”

As for the JBC revising its policy, it took some Japanese hot springs centuries to begin allowing people with tattoos, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.

UPDATE: Between the writing and publishing of this article, Ioka was officially given a “strict warning” by the JBC for revealing his tattoos in the New Year match

Source: Daily Shincho, Tokyo Sports (1, 2), Twitter/@ren__k1, Hachima Kiko
Top image: ©SoraNews24
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