Joshua Franco is willing to advance from challenger in waiting to late replacement to save the show.
A current void exists in DAZN’s 1st quarter schedule, with its March 5 main event in disarray. BoxingScene,com has confirmed that lineal/WBA “Super” 115-pound champion Juan Francisco Estrada has tested positive for Covid and is symptomatic, which has forced him out of a scheduled rubber match with former four-division Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez.
As contingency plans are being considered, San Antonio’s Franco (18-1-2, 8KOs) is ready to go should event handlers choose to proceed with the show.
"I'm ready to step in for (Estrada) in this fight with Chocolatito,” Franco told BoxingScene.com. “I've been waiting for this chance as I'm the best in the division and will prove it.”
Franco claimed his version of the WBA junior bantamweight title following a June 2020 twelve-round, unanimous decision win over then-unbeaten Andrew Moloney. The bout kicked off an unlikely trilogy, with their November 2020 rematch mired in controversy and ending in a No-Decision after two rounds. Franco won the third fight via unanimous decision last August, at which time he was assured by the WBA of being next in line for a mandatory title shot.
The ruling specified that Franco was due the winner of the already agreed-upon third fight between Estrada (42-3, 28KOs) and Gonzalez (50-3, 41KOs). The trilogy clash was due to headline a planned October 16 show, only for Gonzalez to test positive for Covid. Matchroom Boxing moved forward with the event with a modified headliner that saw Spain’s Sandor Martin score a massive upset win over former four-division titlist Mikey Garcia.
The fight was relocated to the recently announced March 5 DAZN card to take place at Pechanga Arena in San Diego. The date would have seen the fight come exactly 51 weeks from their memorable rematch when Hermosillo, Mexico’s Estrada claimed an unpopular split decision victory to unify the WBA/WBC titles in one of the best fights of 2021.
Covid also forced Matchroom to reshuffle the deck for its February 5 show in Glendale, Arizona once former two-division titleholder Jessie Vargas tested positive and was forced to withdraw from his scheduled showdown with former junior middleweight titlist Liam Smith. The card already had a far more appealing co-feature in the vacant WBC junior bantamweight title fight rematch between Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (50-5-1, 43KOs) and Carlos Cuadras (39-4-1, 27KOs), which is now the main event and with the show relocated from Glendale to Phoenix.
The bout obviously leaves Sor Rungvisai and Cuadras unavailable to replace Estrada one month later. WBO junior bantamweight titlist Kazuto Ioka (28-2, 15KOs) is coming off a twelve-round, unanimous decision win over countryman Ryoji Fukunaga last New Year’s Eve in Tokyo, while IBF junior bantamweight titlist Jerwin Ancajas (33-1-2, 22KOs) is slated to face Argentina’s Fernando Daniel Martinez as part of a February 26 Showtime tripleheader from Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California.
As the Estrada-Gonzalez would already be mandated to next face Franco as the mandatory challenger, switching the order would make perfect sense.
“Joshua Franco is ready and [has] been in the gym,” noted Rick Mirigian, Franco’s manager. “I’m waiting by the phone, Eddie Hearn for Golden Boy Promotions (Joshua’s promoter) for us to get it done. It’s the perfect step in and a bigger fight all things considered.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox