A rematch between Kazuto Ioka and Joshua Franco was always doubtful despite the demand immediately after their recent twelve-round draw.
The WBO sent a reminder of why that was always the case.
BoxingScene.com has confirmed that Ioka is officially ordered to next defend his WBO junior bantamweight title versus countryman Junto Nakatani. The order stems from a ruling reached during the sanctioning body’s annual convention last October calling for theIoka-Franco winner to next face Nakatani within 180 days of their New Year’s Eve WBO/WBA unification bout which took place in Tokyo.
Their thrilling twelve-round clash ended in a stalemate, with both boxers retaining their respective titles. With it, comes the latest obligation that awaits Ioka.
“Please be advised that the WBO World Championship Committee is hereby ordering the commencement of
negotiations for the subject matter bout as per the provisions set forth by the WBO,” WBO Championship Committee chairman Luis Batista-Salas informed the respective promoters for Ioka and Nakatani via official letter, a copy of which was obtained by BoxingScene.com. “The parties herein have thirty (30) days upon issuance of this letter to negotiate and reach an agreement accordingly. If an accord is not reached within the time frame set forth herein, purse bid proceedings will be called per WBO Regulations of World Championship Contests.”
Ioka is promoted by Yusuke Ninomiya of Shisei Boxing, while Mr. Honda’s Teiken Promotions represents Nakatani.
Nakatani (24-0, 18KOs) was named the mandatory challenger during the WBO convention, having been promised the ranking in exchange for vacating his WBO flyweight titlist. The 24-year-old southpaw from Sagamihara, Japan made his junior bantamweight debut on November 1, when he outpointed former unified strawweight titlist and current top ten junior bantamweight contender Francisco ‘Chihuas’ Rodriguez 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.
Ioka (29-2-1, 15KOs) will enter the seventh defense of the WBO junior bantamweight title he has held since June 2019 following a tenth-round knockout of Aston Palicte. The Osaka native—who is now based in Tokyo—became the first Japanese male boxer to win titles in four weight divisions with the feat, but fell short of creating more history for Japan as the majority decision draw with San Antonio’s Franco (18-1-3, 8KOs) denied Ioka the chance of becoming Japan’s first ever unified titlist in two separate weight divisions.
Ioka previously held titles at flyweight, junior flyweight and strawweight. His strawweight run concluded with a thrilling twelve-round win over countryman Akira Yaegashi in their June 2012 WBC/WBA unification bout—the first in history between two reigning titlists from Japan.
Before and immediately following the New Year’s Eve draw verdict, Ioka and Franco both openly discussed plans to further unify with lineal/WBC champ Juan Francisco Estrada (44-3, 28KOs) who flew to Tokyo from Mexico to take in a ringside view for the fight. There still exists the chance for Estrada and Franco to meet—if there is any interest—as both are in the voluntary phase of their respective title reigns.
The same cannot be said for Ioka, nor can any reigning titleholder even file an exception for a voluntary defense once a sanctioning body formally orders a mandatory title fight.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox
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