The next two contenders in line are ready to fill the void left behind by Kazuto Ioka.
BoxingScene.com has confirmed that Junto Nakatani and Andrew Moloney have been instructed to enter talks for an ordered vacant WBO junior bantamweight title. The development comes shortly after Ioka relinquished the crown to instead pursue a rematch with WBA 115-pound titlist Joshua Franco which is eyed for a June date in Japan.
A negotiation deadline will be assigned to the pairing before a purse bid hearing is called, though it is expected that a deal will be reached well before that point.
Nakatani is represented by Mr. Honda's Teiken Promotions, while Moloney is promoted by Top Rank and managed by Tony Tolj. Teiken and Top Rank frequently work together, including in the career of Nakatani who has appeared on several co-promotions.
Nakatani (24-0, 16KOs) was named the mandatory challenger to the WBO junior bantamweight title during the sanctioning body’s convention last October in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The ranking came in exchange for his vacating the WBO flyweight title, though with the understanding that he would have to wait out the already scheduled Franco-Ioka WBA/WBO unification bout for last New Year’s Eve in Tokyo.
The WBO ruled during the convention that Nakatani was guaranteed to next challenge for the title within 180 days of the unification bout. Ioka (29-2, 15KOs) and Franco (18-1-3, 8KOs) fought to a twelve-round majority decision draw, which left Ioka on the hook to honor the mandatory title defense as the reigning WBO titlist.
Ioka-Nakatani was formally ordered on January 9, but with the 30-day negotiation period failing to produce an agreement. A purse bid hearing was scheduled by the WBO for February 23, but canceled once Ioka vacated the title.
Nakatani won the WBO flyweight title in November 2020 and made two successful defenses before relinquishing the crown last October. The 24-year-old southpaw from Sagamihara, Japan made his junior bantamweight debut in his most recent start, when he outpointed former unified strawweight titlist and current top ten junior bantamweight contender Francisco ‘Chihuas’ Rodriguez last November 1 in Saitama, Japan.
Australia’s Moloney (25-2, 16KOs; 1NC) gets an upgrade from previously targeted plans.
The former secondary WBA 115-pound titlist was in talks with Mexico’s Pedro Guevara for an assigned WBC title eliminator, though both parties have been stuck for weeks in a holding pattern while awaiting further instructions. Moloney patiently waited out the process with confidence of a big fight on the horizon, as he is ranked one spot below Nakatani in the WBO junior bantamweight rankings.
Moloney won the interim WBA junior bantamweight title in November 2019 and received an upgrade to WBA ‘Regular’ titlist in 2020 just prior to the pandemic. He failed to produce a successful defense, as his reign ended in a twelve-round defeat to Franco in his June 2020 U.S. debut in Las Vegas, marking the first fight of their bizarre trilogy. Moloney was believed to have regained the title via stoppage after two rounds in their November 2020 rematch, only for the fight to be ruled a No-Contest when it was deemed Franco’s badly swollen right eye was the result of an accidental clash of heads rather than a punch.
Their August 2021 trilogy clash saw Franco prevail via unanimous decision. All three bouts took place in the U.S., with Moloney returning to his homeland for a December 2021 ten-round points win over Froilan Saludar in Sydney. The feat kicked off a current four-fight win streak for the 32-year-old from Kingscliff, Australia, including a ten-round decision win over Norbelto Jimenez last October 16 in Melbourne.
The title opportunity for Andrew comes as his twin brother Jason is poised to challenge for the vacant WBO bantamweight title.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox