Kazuto Ioka: ‘I don’t feel threatened by Joshua Franco’
Last December, then-WBO junior bantamweight titlist Kazuto Ioka and WBA ruler Joshua Franco fought each other to a majority draw in their unification bout. Both men were only too happy to run it through again and will meet at Ota-City General Gymnasium, in Tokyo, on Saturday.
Ioka, The Ring’s No. 2-rated junior bantamweight, had to vacate his WBO title to enable a second go-around against Franco.
“I have not been satisfied with the result of the last match against Josh,” Ioka (29-2-1, 15 knockouts) told The Ring through Yusuke Ninomiya. “Even if I had to give up the WBO title, I strongly hoped to have a rematch with him to decide the winner between the two of us.”
The Japanese standout wasn’t surprised by anything Franco did last time out and has spent the past six months preparing for their second battle.
“He was the boxer I had imagined in the last match,” he said. “I don’t feel threatened by him.
“After analyzing the results of the previous match, I would like to win clearly this time.”
The 34-year-old sharpshooter, who has won major titles in four weight classes, having initially won titles at strawweight, moved up to junior flyweight before adding more hardware at flyweight. He retired for a period before returning and enjoying further success at junior bantamweight.
Ioka still has a desire to be great and hopes to add Franco’s WBA title to his collection and then push toward a long-discussed unification.
“I want to show my boxing to the fans by winning this match,” he explained.
“Winning this match should be the ticket to the big match against [The Ring champion and WBC titleholder Juan Francisco] Estrada that I’ve been wanting for so long.”
Franco (18-1-3, 8 KOs), The Ring’s No. 4-rated junior bantamweight, turned professional in 2015. The Texan was highly regarded before being upset by Lucas Fernandez (L TKO 9) in March 2018. He became more battle-hardened, sharing 30 grueling rounds with Oscar Negrete (D 10, SD 10 and D 10).
That experience served the 27-year-old well when he beat Andrew Moloney two out of three times (UD 12, ND 2, UD 12). As WBA “regular” titleholder (a title unrecognized by The Ring), he waited patiently to face Estrada but when that didn’t happen, the WBA stripped the Mexican and promoted Franco to full titleholder. He snapped a 16-and-a-half-month hiatus to face Ioka last time out.
The first fight was close and largely depended whether you preferred Ioka’s accuracy or Franco’s volume. Ioka will have the well-regarded Ismael Salas in his corner, while Franco trains out of Robert Garcia’s gym under his son Roberto’s tutelage. It will be interesting to see which team has made the better adjustments ahead of this match-up. It figures to be another ultra-competitive clash of styles.