Joshua Franco-Kazuto Ioka Title Bout Ends In Draw
Despite putting on a convincing 12-round performance on New Year’s Eve in Tokyo, Japan, Joshua Franco was denied becoming unified junior bantamweight champion as the judges scored his fight with fellow champ Kazuto Ioka a majority draw.
The unfulfilling final title fight of 2022 saw Franco keep his WBA 115 lb. title and Ioka retained his WBO world championship version of the belts. Franco got the nod on one card 115-113, with the other judges seeing it 114-114 after 12 rounds.
The main event took place at the OTA City General Gymnasium in Tokyo. The facility appeared from video to be about a third full on New Year’s Eve in the capital city.
Franco, now 18-1-3, was the aggressor from the beginning scoring much better throughout the fight with his jab and also following it up with good left hooks to the body. Franco, who’s 6 years younger than Ioka, was repeatedly coming forward and first to land his punches.
Ioka, now 29-2-1, did have some moments in the fight, including a good right hand that backed Franco up in the fourth round. However, his offense was few and far between and Franco regained control of the fight in the middle rounds. That included a good right-left combo in round five that backed Ioka to the ropes.
Ultimately, there were no knockdowns and neither fighter was seriously hurt, but Franco continually seemed to get better of the multi-division Japanese champ as the fight went on. The Texan Franco scored with hard right hands in the seventh round keeping Ioka at bay as well with his jab.
Late in the title bout, Franco had one of his best rounds in the 11th scoring with a hard left hook and shots to the body that seemingly had Ioka, who was making his sixth WBO defense, not only in trouble but fatigued. Ioka had to grab on to Franco late in the round after he scored again on the inside. Both fighters traded a flurry of punches while tired in the 12th but Franco again was the aggressor and seemed to land more with his job and right hand behind it.
In the end only veteran world championship judge Stanley Christodoulou of South Africa declared a winner scoring the bout for Franco. Interestingly, Christodoulou gave Franco all seven of the first rounds, but then Ioka the last five rounds.
Meanwhile, Jose Roberto Torres of Puerto Rico and Ferlin Marsh of New Zealand scored the fight identically at six rounds a piece for the majority draw with no winner. Marsh scored five of the final six rounds on his card for Ioka, including the 12th round which kept Franco from getting the decision on his sheet.
Franco, who had been on a 16 month layoff, has two previous title wins by decision over Australian Andrew Moloney in 2020 and 2021.
The result will have some wondering whether if there might be a rematch later in 2023 or will Franco instead get a fight with Juan Francisco Estrada? The former WBA world champ Estrada vacated his WBA belt to fight a trilogy bout with Ramon “Chocolatito” Gonzalez earlier this month and Franco was elevated to world champ.
Estrada is regarded as a potential Hall of Fame fighter with a resume’ that includes championships at 108 112 and 115 lbs. and a fight with Franco in the U.S. or Mexico would definitely have a lot of appeal.