Francisco Rodriguez Jr: I have the key to beat Kazuto Ioka
Dangerous Mexican Francisco Rodriguez Jr. will challenge WBO junior bantamweight titleholder Kazuto Ioka at the Ota-City General Gymnasium in Tokyo on Wednesday.
Rodriguez, who is rated No. 7 by The Ring at 115 pounds, is several years and pounds removed from a stint as the IBF and WBO strawweight titlist. However, the mandatory challenger insists that he’s more than ready to pull off the upset,
“It is a big opportunity that comes to me at my best,” Rodriguez Jr. (34-4-1, 24 knockouts) told The Ring through promoter Oswaldo Kuchle of Promociones Del Pueblo.
“Ioka is a great fighter and he is at home, but I am hungry to be a world champion and am going to leave everything in the ring. I am convinced I will return to Mexico with the championship.”
The battle-hardened 29-year-old is well aware of Ioka’s precocious talent but isn’t overawed.
“[Ioka] moves very well in the ring, he is very fast and accurate,” acknowledged Rodriguez. “We have studied him well and I have the key to beat Ioka.
“I believe that attacking him and punishing the body can open the door to victory.”
Rodriguez Jr. is riding a 15-fight win streak since losing back-to-back fights against then-WBO junior flyweight beltholder Donnie Nietes and Moises Fuentes in 2015.
He has since rebuilt his career and improved his game.
“I have gained a lot of confidence and experience,” Rodriguez said. “I am no longer the rookie who went out to throw crazy punches. Now I am smarter, I take more care [with] my attacks. I am not as aggressive but always maintain a good fighting rhythm.”
The Monterrey native knows how big this opportunity is and initially decamped to the Otomi ceremonial center [on the outskirts of Mexico City] for a month, under the watchful eye of his coach Oscar Soberon, before completing his training in Saltillo, Coahuila.
“[This is] the most important [fight] ever,” said Rodriguez Jr., who flew from Mexico City to Japan on August 15. “I have waited for this opportunity for several years. [I have] always [been] in the first [few] places of the rankings. I am not going to fail. This opportunity comes at the greatest moment in my career.”
Kuchle, who has guided Jhonny Gonzalez, Rey Vargas and Hugo Ruiz to world titles, is confident that his charge has done everything possible in preparation for Ioka.
“It is a great opportunity that ‘Chihuas’ has earned,” said the promoter. “I see him very motivated. He has worked very hard, not only for this fight, but for several years he has been looking for an opportunity. Now that it has arrived, he will have to take advantage of it, and we wait for him to return to Mexico as world champion.”
Ioka, who is rated No. 3 by The Ring, claimed world titles at strawweight and junior flyweight. He lost for the first time to IBF flyweight titleholder Amnat Ruenroeng but rebounded to defeat Juan Carlos Raveco (MD 12) to win a WBA belt in that division. He made five defenses, including a rematch victory over Raveco (TKO 11) before shockingly announcing his retirement in 2017.
Following a 17-month layoff, Ioka returned at junior bantamweight in search of more glory. He lost a WBO title bout to Donnie Nietes (SD 12) but stopped Aston Palicte (TKO 10) for that very same belt when Nietes vacated. The four-weight world titleholder has since made two defenses, most recently stopping countryman Kosei Tanaka (TKO 8) in a career-best win that earned Ioka (26-2, 16 KOs) a place in The Ring pound-for-pound list at No. 10.
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