Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez has emerged as a breakout star over the course of the past year.

The only thing left for the San Antonio native to do in 2022 is to watch his older brother join him in the winner’s circle.

Joshua Franco—Rodriguez’s older brother by two years—will have to overcome a 16-month inactive stretch and a partisan crowd ahead of his WBA/WBO junior bantamweight title unification match versus Kazuto Ioka.

The bout takes place this Saturday at Ota-City General Gymnasium in Tokyo, marking the fourth title fight on the year for his family; Rodriguez went 3-0 in a 2022 Fighter of the Year-level campaign but is convinced that Franco will save the best for last as it relates to their household.

“I’ve never seen my brother look this good,” Rodriguez told the assembled media Wednesday in Tokyo. “He’s been telling me even at the gym he feels better than ever. He feels good.

“I know on Saturday night he’s going to show the Joshua Franco that a lot of people have never seen before.”

Franco (18-1-2, 8KOs) was previously in training for an ordered WBA title consolidation bout with Juan Francisco Estrada (44-3, 28KOs). Franco held the the WBA ‘Regular’ junior bantamweight title, while Estrada was the WBA ‘Super’ champ before relinquishing the crown for failure to proceed with the mandated fight.

The development left Franco as the recognized full champ but without a fight until his team was able to secure the unification clash with Ioka (29-2, 15KOs), the only male Japanese boxer to win titles in four weight divisions. It meant having to hit the road, appearing in Tokyo on a year-end holiday that belongs to Ioka who will headline a New Year’s Eve show for the eleventh time in his storied career.

None of that was of any concern to Franco, who was prepared to do the heavy lifting even in a division where he shared the spotlight. Rodriguez claimed the WBC belt earlier this year but was always determined to save the biggest fights for his big brother.

Not even an extended ring absence has dulled Franco’s confidence. Nor will he allow it to stand in the way of fulfilling his destiny.  

“For that year-plus I was off, I sparred just to stay in shape and stay sharp but didn’t train all the time,” Franco told BoxingScene,com. “It wasn’t ideal to be out of the ring all that time but it definitely benefited my body. My body was able to get its rest and I came into training camp at full strength. Even my team said this is the best I’ve looked in camp.

“A win on December 31 makes waiting for this all worth it. I’ve been off 16 months but I’ve always been ready for a fight like this, a moment like this. My whole team is confident, we’re ready to go in there and get this win, then let’s see where it takes us.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox