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Kazuto Ioka vs. Joshua Franco – preview for Saturday’s 115-lb unification in Japan

Image: Kazuto Ioka vs. Joshua Franco - preview for Saturday's 115-lb unification in Japan

By Dan Ambrose: WBO super flyweight champion Kazuto Ioka will be facing WBA champ Joshua Franco this Saturday, December 31st in a unification fight at 115 at the Ota-City General Gymnasium, in Tokyo, Japan.

Franco’s only hope of winning is if the 33-year-old Ioka got old since his last win over Donnie Nietes. If so, Franco can win and take advantage of Ioka’s age in the same way his younger brother Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez took advantage of the old & over-the-hill Srisaket Sor Rungvisao and Carlos Cuadras to defeat them.

If those fighters had been in their prime, they likely would have destroyed Bam Rodriguez, but by the time he fought them, they were well past their prime.

Interestingly, the Ioka vs. Franco fight won’t be shown on ESPN, DAZN, or the FITE app for some reason. It could be the lack of popularity of the two fighters in the U.S., along with the time of the contest, which is taking place in the early morning hours on Saturday.

Franco (18-1-2, 8 KOs) will be coming off a long 16-month layoff when he battles the far more accomplished 33-year-old former four-division world champion Ioka (29-2, 15 KOs).

The Japanese star Ioka has done way more with his 13-year professional career than the 27-year-old Franco has in his seven-year career.

Franco, the older brother of the popular former WBC 115-lb champion Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez, is coming off of a 12 round unanimous decision win over Andrew Moloney last year in August.

The two wins for Franco over Moloney amounts to being the San Antonio native’s only quality victories on his resume. Aside from beating Aussie Moloney twice, Franco’s other notable win came against Oscar Negrete.

With Ioka being the better and far more accomplished fighter, he should have no problems defeating Franco on Saturday. This is a mismatch on paper.

Kazuto Ioka’s best wins:

  • Donnie Nietes
  • Francisco Rodriguez Jr
  • Kosei Tanaka
  • Jeyvier Cintron
  • Aston Palicte
  • McWilliams Arroyo
  • Juan Carlos Reveco x 2
  • Felix Alvarado
  • Amnat Ruenroeng
  • Jose Alfredo Rodriguez
  • Akira Yaegashi
  • Juan Hernandez
  • Oleydong Sithsamerchai

“Franco is best known for his three fights with Andrew Moloney that took place with three consecutive fights that took place with Moloney in 2020 with a victory by Franco by decision,” said Dan Rafael to the Big Fight Weekend, previewing the Joshua Franco vs. Kazuto Ioka match for Saturday.

“Then they had the very controversial rematch where it was ruled a no contest with the headbutt that no one has ever seen still, and then the third fight that Franco won. It was a competitive fight, but Franco was the clear winner. So he was the WBA champion.

“He is the older brother of Bam Rodriguez, who is from San Antonio as well. He’d been with Golden Boy Promotions for a long time. They had a falling out, and he was released from his contract. He didn’t have a promoter, and they were looking for something to do.

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“His manager was able to work this deal out where he was able to have this unification fight [with Ioka] in Japan. For Franco, it’s been a long time. He hasn’t fought since August 2021. The last time he boxed was the third fight against Andrew Moloney. He’s been off for a quite a while.

“He’s obviously going to be the underdog. He’s going over to fight in Ioka’s home area in Japan. He’s 18-1-2 with 8 knockouts, and he’s been stopped one time. Against, Ioka, he’s going to be the big underdog for obvious reasons. Not only because he’s been on the road and he hasn’t fought for a long time.

“Ioka is a class fighter. He’s not there yet, but he’s a bonafide Hall of Fame-type candidate. He’s 29-2 and has never been stopped. He’s won world titles in multiple divisions and is a former unified champion.

“He [Ioka] won a title in the strawweight division, he won a title in the light flyweight division and won a title in the flyweight division. He now has a chance to unify his title with Franco’s title in the junior bantamweight division.

“He’s a really excellent fighter, and I would say that Franco has a really tough, tough uphill battle in this fight; Ioka has been more active. Not wildly active. He did fight in July of this year. He got revenge for a previous decision loss against Donnie Nietes, an excellent fighter for many years from the Philippines.

“As title fights go, it’s [Ioka vs. Franco] is a pretty interesting fight. I’m looking forward to it. The only disappointment is there is no ESPN+ for this fight, there’s no DAZN for this fight. We’re so spoiled now that we get virtually every fight of consequence, world title type fights that are on somewhere.

“It could be on DAZN, it could be on ESPN+. A lot of these types of fights wind up on the fight app. So we have access to so many of these matches. This is a rare fight for the last couple of years that is a top level fight from overseas that we do not have that is a legal stream or broadcast.

“I think in terms of Top Rank, they decided they’d exhausted their budget for the year, and the audience on New Years’ Eve for that type of fight in the middle of the morning wouldn’t be worth the investment. I get that. They have to make those tough decisions. They’re not involved with either fighter.

“DAZN, they’ve picked up a few things that are not necessarily with Golden Boy or with Matchroom, but I guess they decided that didn’t make sense for them. I actually thought it would find its way on the FITE app where it would be available.

“When I say the FITE app, I mean where that type of fight might be a $9.99 pay-per-view type of thing, and that would definitely be worth it. I would do it for that type of fight.

“If DAZN or ESPN+ put the fight on, they’re spending resources for the licensing fee to buy the rights to the fight. For the FITE app, it’s like a revenue share. They put in their pipe, and it’s a pay-per-view, and they share whatever they generate.

“For us boxing [hardcore fans], we know Franco. It’s not a knock on Franco, but he’s not a prominent fighter. I just know this is one of the rare quality world title matches in quite a while that is taking place overseas, outside of the United States. It is not going to be available in any legitimate outlet.

“It’s like the wild, wild west. Let’s go back to what we did in the last few years. Let’s go find a stream on Facebook; let’s find a stream on Twitter. What’s the other thing called, Periscope?  Can your buddy pull up Periscope and show you the fight? I don’t know.

“I’m a little surprised that the odds are that close because even though Franco has looked pretty good in his last couple of fights, at least in his last fight against Moloney, he’s much younger than Ioka, who is 33 years old.

“Ioka has just shown himself over the long haul in various weight classes, having fought a lot of quality names if you’re familiar with the guys in the smaller weight divisions.

“He’s beaten the likes of Donnie Nietes, who is a borderline Hall of Famer, [Francisco] Rodriguez Jr, he beat Kosei Tanaka, and he has a good win over Jeyvier Cintron. He beat Aston Palicte. He avenged the previous loss to Nietes, and he has the victory over McWilliams Arroyo. He’s beaten Juan Carlos Reveco. He’s been him twice, as a matter of fact.

“For a guy in the smaller divisions, he’s got a lot of quality wins. He beat Felix Alvarado, who went on to be a world champion, and when Alvarado was undefeated. The guy that I refer to as the Japanese Gatti, is one of my favorite fighters, Akira Yaegashi, and has been in some of the greatest fights in Japanese history.

“Ioka has a long and decorated resume in various weight classes and has won various titles. Franco, although younger and coming off a huge layoff and a good win over Moloney, it’s not like he’s ever faced anyone else. He does not have the track record at all compared to his opponent.

“Hopefully, we get a good fight. If somebody finds it, send me the stream,” said Rafael about Saturday’s Ioka vs. Franco unified fight.

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