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Super Flyweight Title-Holders Ioka and Franco Battle to a Draw in Tokyo

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  • Super Flyweight Title-Holders Ioka and Franco Battle to a Draw in Tokyo

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    By Arne K. Lang

    In recent years, it has become traditional in Japan to hold a big boxing contest on New Year’s Eve. No Japanese boxer has become more identified with this date than Kazuto Ioka. The four-division title-holder was in action again today, appearing in his 11th New Year’s Eve fight. In the opposite corner was a fighter from Texas, Joshua Franco. At stake were two pieces of the 115-pound world title, Ioka’s WBO belt and Franco’s WBA diadem. They locked horns in the Ota City ward of the Tokyo metropolis at an arena whose major tenant was a professional basketball team.

    Who would win this important unification fight? The answer is neither. Ioka and Franco battled to a 12-round majority draw. Hall of Fame arbiter Stanley Christodoulou favored Ioka 115-113, but his colleagues, New Zealand’s Ferlin Marsh and Puerto Rico’s Jose Roberto Torres, each had it 114-114.

    The bout wasn’t aired on any network or live-streaming platform in the English-speaking world. The impression gleaned from various ringside reports is that Franco was the busier man but Ioka landed the cleaner punches. Franco would have undoubtedly won if the match had been held in his bailiwick, San Antonio, but most outside the Franco camp are of the opinion that the decision was fair.

    At age 27, Franco, the older brother of WBC super flyweight champion Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez, was the younger man by six years. But Ioka had a much stronger resume plus the home field advantage. Ioka had lost only twice previously in 31 starts, split decision setbacks to the Thai flyweight Amnat Ruenroeng and the Filipino super flyweight Donnie Nietes and he had avenged the setback to Nietes. Franco, 18-1-2 heading in, was making his first start in nearly 17 months following three consecutive fights with Andrew Moloney.

    Both Ioka and Franco had their eyes on a match with WBC champion Juan Francisco Estrada who recently notched his second win over Chocolatito Gonzalez in a match between two future Hall of Famers. Estrada had made it known that he was amenable to fighting the winner of today’s clash in Tokyo, but now it is possible that this attractive match-up will go on the back burner awaiting the outcome of Ioka-Franco II.

    Would Joshua Franco be willing to have another go with Kazuto Ioka on Japanese soil? His trainer Robert Garcia hinted that he was okay with it. “And a big Thank You to everyone in Japan,” tweeted Garcia. “Our whole team had a great time here. Nothing but love and respect from all the great people here. We hope to be back soon!”