Joshua Franco still has the same target in mind for his next fight even with one less belt at stake.

A title unification with lineal/WBC junior bantamweight champion Juan Francisco Estrada is still the priority for San Antonio’s Franco. The goal has not changed even after the reigning WBA titlist was forced to settle for a twelve-round, majority draw versus WBO champ Kazuto Ioka in their New Year’s Eve clash in Tokyo, Japan.

Judge Stanley Christodoulou (115-113) had Franco winning the year-ending unification clash but was overruled by ringside officials Ferlin Marsh (114-114) and Jose Roberto Torres (114-114) who both scored it dead even. The hope was for a two-belt titlist to emerge from the contest and next face Mexico’s Estrada (44-3, 28KOs), who was ringside for the event and equally keen on further unifying the division.

Franco’s team has taken the initiative of pursuing that next step.

“Eddie Hearn, let's make a deal for Joshua Franco to fight Ioka in Texas next on DAZN or better yet Estrada,” Rick Mirigian, Franco’s manager stated to the head of Matchroom Boxing, who co-promotes Estrada along with Zanfer Boxing. “He clearly showed he should be the unified champion and was robbed with this draw, a top 10 action packed fight of the year as well.

“Franco/Ioka II in Texas or better Estrada (‘cause no one is going back to Japan) or we can just say he is the Unified Champion (cause he should be) and fight Estrada if that works.”

The availability of Ioka (29-2-1, 15KOs) in a second straight unification—be it a rematch with Franco (18-1-3, 8KOs) or a long-desired clash with Estrada—is unlikely due to prior commitments. The fight versus Franco required the blessing of the WBO, who approved the unification bout on the condition that the next fight would come versus mandatory challenger and former WBO flyweight titlist Junto Nakatani (24-0, 18KOs).

“According to last convention resolution, WBO championship committee will order 30 days negotiations to Ioka and Nakatani to reach an agreement,” WBO president Francisco ‘Paco’ Valcarcel stated on Sunday afternoon. “If an agreement cannot be reach[ed], a purse bid will be [ordered].”

Franco remains in a voluntary title defense phase as the WBA has taken steps to secure a number-one contender for its junior bantamweight title.

An ordered final eliminator between John ‘Scrappy’ Ramirez (10-0, 8KOs) and former title challenger Sirichai Thaiyen (64-4, 42KOs) was accepted by both parties, with the bout expected to take place in the first quarter of 2023. Ramirez is a stablemate of former WBO super middleweight titlist Gilberto ‘Zurdo’ Ramirez and promoted by Golden Boy Promotions, who used to have Franco before the two parted ways late last summer.

Franco previously held the secondary WBA ‘Regular’ 115-pound belt since June 2020. The 27-year-old Texan was upgraded to full title status after Estrada was removed as WBA ‘Super’ champion for failure to honor an ordered title consolidation clash. Estrada has since regained the WBC crown, which was at stake in his repeat victory over former four-division champ Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez in their rubber match last December 3 in Glendale, Arizona.

Like Franco, Estrada is also in a voluntary defense period. His next mandatory challenger will be decided in a forthcoming clash between Andrew Moloney—whom Franco beat for the secondary WBA title in June 2020—and former junior flyweight titlist Pedro Guevara. The two sides are still in talks to finalize a date and location for their fight that was ordered during the annual WBC convention last November in Acapulco, Mexico.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox