The final title fight of 2022 is officially set.
Kazuto Ioka needed two tries and had to strip down to his birthday suit to hit the 115-pound mark for his New Year’s Eve showdown with Joshua Franco. There was no such issue for the visiting Franco, who was approximately 114 ¾ pounds for their WBA/WBO junior bantamweight title unification clash Saturday at Ota-City General Gymnasium in Tokyo.
San Antonio’s Franco (18-1-2, 8KOs) will attempt his first title defense since he was upgraded to full WBA champ earlier this summer. He previously held the secondary WBA ‘Regular’ title, which he claimed in a twelve-round win over then-unbeaten Andrew Moloney in June 2020. He defended that version of the belt twice, both versus Moloney against whom he fought to a No-Contest in November 2020 and outpointed in their trilogy clash last August 14 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Franco has not fought since then, having waited out an ultimately failed attempt to face lineal champion Juan Francisco Estrada, who vacated his WBA ‘Super’ title in lieu of an ordered title consolidation clash. Saturday’s bout marks his first pro fight in Japan, where Ioka not only holds regional advantage but while continuing a tradition he all but helped birth.
Japan’s lone male boxer to win titles in four weight divisions, Ioka fights on New Year’s Eve for the eleventh time including ten in his home country. The future Hall of Famer is 9-1 on the holiday, the lone defeat coming in a split decision to Donnie Nietes for the vacant WBO 115-pound title in Macao, China.
Nietes relinquished the belt two months later, which Ioka claimed following a tenth-round knockout of Aston Palicte in June 2019. Five title defenses have followed, three of which have come on New Year’s Eve including an eighth-round knockout of countryman and unbeaten former three-division titlist Kosei Tanaka in December 2020 to cement his Hall of Fame credentials.
In his most recent start, Ioka soundly outpointed Nietes on July 13 to avenge his prior defeat to the former four-division titlist from the Philippines.
The bout will air live on TBS-Japan (5:00 p.m. local time/3:00 a.m. ET). There is no U.S. outlet carrying the fight as this goes to publish.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox
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