A significant title defense will await whoever prevails in the final title fight of 2022.
BoxingScene.com has confirmed that former WBO flyweight titlist Junto Nakatani is guaranteed to next face the winner of the December 31 WBA/WBO junior bantamweight title unification bout between Joshua Franco and Kazuto Ioka at a location to be determined in Japan. The WBO offered its blessing to Franco-Ioka on the condition that the winner next faces Nakatani by no later than the end of next June.
“Please be advised that the WBO World Championship Committee is hereby granting sanction approval for the above-referenced Jr. Bantamweight Unification Contest between Kazuto Ioka and Joshua Franco,” WBO Championship Committee chairman Luis Batista-Salas communicated to both teams via official letter, a copy of which was obtained by BoxingScene.com. “Sanction approval is subject to the mandate issued by the WBO General Assembly during the WBO 35th Annual Convention on Thursday, October 27, 2022, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the signed agreement between Team Ioka and Team Franco provided therein.
“The foregoing agreement is incorporated herein. The winner of Ioka/Franco must face the WBO Jr. Bantamweight Mandatory Challenger Junto Nakatani no later than 180-days after the fight.”
The ruling was accompanied by an agreement jointly signed by Franco and Ioka, acknowledging that the winner would next face Nakatani.
As previously reported by BoxingScene.com, Ioka and Franco agreed to terms weeks ago for their terrific unification bout, though the pairing required approval from the WBO. Both sides were aware that the matter would have to appear before the sanctioning body during its annual convention which took place in late October in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was determined at the time that Nakatani (24-0, 18KOs)—a 24-year-old southpaw from Sagamihara, Japan—was vacating his WBO flyweight title in exchange for a number-one ranking in the junior bantamweight division.
Nakatani enjoyed a successful debut as an official 115-pound fighter, outpointing former unified strawweight titlist and current top ten junior bantamweight contender Francisco ‘Chihuas’ Rodriguez on November 1 in Saitama, Japan. The fight was the first for Nakatani following a two-year stay as WBO flyweight titlist, where he made two successful defenses before vacating after revealing he was no longer able to make the 112-pound limit.
He will now await the outcome of the highly anticipated Franco-Ioka showdown.
The unification bout was put into play once San Antonio’s Franco (18-1-2, 8KOs) was upgraded to full titlist earlier this summer. He was due to face Juan Francisco Estrada (43-3, 28KOs) in a title consolidation bout targeted for June 11 or July 16 per a purse bid won by Golden Boy Promotions with a bid of just $120,000, only for both dates to come and go without a signed agreement in place.
Estrada instead opted to vacate his WBA ‘Super’ title in favor of a rubber match with legendary former four-division champ Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez (51-3-1, 41KOs) set for December 3 in Glendale, Arizona.
The development left Franco as the sole WBA 115-pound title claimant, having previously held its World (regular) title. The upgrade allowed him to pursue a title unification bout, as other sanctioning bodies do not recognize the WBA’s secondary titles.
Ioka (29-2, 15KOs) will attempt the sixth defense of the WBO title he has held since June 2019.
The upcoming bout marks his eleventh headliner on a New Year’s Eve show, a tradition he helped launch in 2011 as the WBC strawweight champ. His June 2019 WBO title winning knockout over Aston Palicte saw Ioka the first ever male boxer from Japan to win titles in four weight divisions.
A win by the 33-year-old Ioka—an Osaka native now based in Tokyo—as the only boxer from Japan to ever claim unified title status in two or more weight divisions. Ioka previously held the WBA/WBC strawweight crown, doing so in a June 2012 win over Akira Yaegashi in a terrific slugfest that was also the first time two reigning titlists from Japan met in a title unification bout.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox