Friday, September 22, 2023  |



Joshua Franco confident that he’s got Ioka ‘figured out’ going into rematch

Joshua Franco takes it to Kazuto Ioka during their first fight. Photo by Naoki Fukuda
Fighters Network

Joshua Franco is living up to the label of being a world titleholder.

Franco is confident he can not only outbox Kazuto Ioka but return to the United States victorious.

The once-beaten Franco and Ioka will square off Saturday night at Ota-City General Gymnasium in Ioka’s hometown of Tokyo, Japan. The fight will only air live in Japan on a pay-per-view streaming service with the main event scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET/ 3 p.m. PT.

The clash between Ioka and Franco will pit two of the best fighters at 115 pounds against each other. Ioka and Franco are ranked No. 2 and 4, respectively, by The Ring.

The WBA title, which Franco owns, will be the only world title up for grabs after Ioka vacated the WBO title in February (in order to face Franco in a rematch rather than face mandatory challenger Junto Nakatani). Nakatani and Andrew Moloney fought for the vacant WBO title on May 20, which Nakatani claimed after knocking out Moloney in the final round on the Haney-Lomachenko undercard.

Franco (18-1-3, 1 NC, 7 knockouts) and Ioka first fought on December 31, which resulted in a majority-decision draw. One judge scored the bout 115-113 for Franco, a score that seemed aligned to what most of boxing media and fans thought was the correct score of the fight.

Kazuto Ioka and Joshua Franco battled to a stalemate in their first fight. Photo by Naoki Fukuda

Some fighters in Franco’s situation may balk at the thought of having to fight a rematch in an opponent’s hometown, but Franco does not believe it is a factor for him.

“I don’t mind at all (going back),” Franco told The Ring in a recent interview over the phone. “It’s a great feeling going back to Japan. The people there are nice and everyone there respects us. We have a job to do.”

Ioka (29-2-1, 15 KOs) defeated Donnie Nietes in his previous fight on July 13 of last year, avenging a split decision loss to the Filipino fighter in December 2018. Ioka has also defeated the likes of Kosei Tanaka and Francisco Rodriguez, Jr., both ranked in The Ring top 10 at 115 pounds over the last couple of years.

The 32-year-old is unbeaten in his last seven fights, but Franco is confident he figured him out during their first fight and the rematch will be much easier.

“From watching videos and then fighting him before, he fights the same,” said Franco, who is unbeaten since a knockout loss to Lucas Fernandez in March 2018. “He looks to counter from what his opponent does. Having fought him, I now know more about what to expect from him.

“I was also out of the ring for over a year. I feel more comfortable and I don’t have ring rust. I believe I’m going to start smoother this time around and dictate the fight.”

Franco knows he will have to be leery of Kazuto’s counter-punching ability. Photo by Naoki Fukuda

Prior to facing Ioka, there was talk of Franco facing Ring Magazine junior bantamweight champion Juan Francisco Estrada, who then held the WBA title before being stripped for not facing Franco, then the secondary titleholder. Franco was subsequently elevated to full WBA titleholder.

Despite the draw against Ioka, Franco believes he belongs amongst the best at 115 pounds and is willing to take on all comers, including the other world titleholders.

“I feel like I’m one of the best,” said Franco. “Definitely think I’m in the top 5. I’m a champion. I have one of the belts. I’ve shown off the skills of being a champion. The dedication to get to the top. I’m one of the best until someone takes this title away from me.”

Franco is the older brother of WBO flyweight titleholder Jesse Rodriguez. There is still hope both can one day headline a card in their hometown of San Antonio, Texas.

“It will mean a lot and a dream come true for the two of us to fight there on the same card. One day, hopefully soon.”

The 27-year-old has been guided throughout his career by trainer Robert Garcia, who trains both Franco and Rodriguez. Garcia trains both, along with junior welterweight contender Jose Ramirez, middleweight contender Esquiva Falcao, and unbeaten lightweight contender Raymond Muratalla in Riverside, California.

Seeing what Garcia currently does for fighters he trains, along with the many he has trained before, including Mikey Garcia, Brandon Rios, Marcos Maidana, and Abner Mares, Franco believes he will always be at his best with Garcia.

“It means a lot to have gotten this far. I’m in good hands with Robert. As long as I’m with him, I know I will be a champion.

“Same with my brother. We support each other since the amateurs. We’re a family. It’s great to look back where we started and where we are now. We motivate and support each other.”


Francisco A. Salazar has written for The Ring since October 2013 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (California) Star newspaper. He can be reached at [email protected]