Kazuto Ioka vs Joshua Franco expert analysis and prediction
Four-weight world champion Kazuto Ioka (29-2, 15KO) defends his WBO World super-flyweight title to WBA champ Joshua Franco (18-1-2, 8KO) in a New Years Eve unification clash in Japan.
It's the 11th time Kazuto has fought on the last day of the year making it a new country tradition like Cinco De Mayo is to the Mexicans. Four of his last six fights have been held on New Years Eve, plus it's his sixth straight appearance at the Ota-City General Gymnasium, giving him the home advantage.
Boxing runs through 33-year-old Ioka’s family. His uncle, Hiroki Ioka, was a two-weight world titlist during the 80s and 90s, and the first ever boxer in history to win the WBC minimumweight world title, when it was first created in 1987, an accolade his nephew proudly won himself three decades later.
Trained by his father, Kazunori, Kazuto won six national high school amateur tournaments but narrowly missed out on the chance to represent his country in the Beijing 2008 Olympics. However, he hung his vest up on an incredible record of 95-10, taking an excellent education with him into the pro ranks in 2009.
He got off to a flying start, winning a six-rounder by TKO3 in his debut, then jumped up to eight-rounds next, then 10-rounds in his third outing. By his sixth pro fight, he became national champion at light-flyweight, then won the WBC World minimumweight title in his seventh start. He unified the 105lbs division within the next 16 months, then won a world title in the next weight up six months after that, in December 2012. He became a three-division world champion by 2015, having failed in his first attempt at flyweight in 2014 on a split.
Again, he fell short ever so slightly, once more on a split, in his next move up to super-fly, edged by Donnie Nietes in 2018, but he won the WBO World super-flyweight belt in his next fight against Aston Palicte to become the first ever four-weight world titlist from Japan, etching his name into the boxing history books for all-time.
After five defences, Ioka now has the chance to become a unified champion for a second time in his 32nd bout and 22nd world championship contest.
Texan Joshua Franco is the man that stands in his way.
Like Ioka, boxing also runs in his family; his brother is WBC World super-flyweight champion Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez.
“The Professor” from San Antonio reached several national finals as an amateur and also competed in the World Series Boxing for Team USA.
Just 27, Franco has had two trilogies in his professional career already. Firstly, he and Oscar Negrete fought to two split decision draws for the NABF bantamweight title, and sandwiched between them was a split decision win for Franco, which is when he also claimed the WBA International belt to enter the world rankings.
His last three fights came against Australian rival Andrew Moloney, who he decisioned unanimously in June 2020, then their rematch disappointingly ended in a No Contest ruling in December that same year, but Franco again UD’d Moloney in August 2021 to put their rivalry to bed. In their first fight, Moloney looked set to upset the home fighter on his own soil until Franco scored a knockdown in the 11th round to just about claw back the victory from the Aussie, who many felt still should have deserved to win despite the late knockdown.
But there was no controversy in their trilogy decider in August last year, with Franco scoring 116-112 on all three judges' cards.
So, he hasn’t fought in 16 months, whereas Ioka has fought three times within that space, totalling 36 valuable rounds including a revenge win over Donnie Nietes.
Ioka applies pressure and fights at close range where he can put together his shots in two, three and four-punch combos. Those shots are always evenly varied from head to body. He is very economical and doesn’t waste much. A lot of his shots are very straight and precise, no wide looping roundhouses; just accurate, deadly hits, that land frequently on his foes.
Franco also likes to fight in close, but does his best work at mid-range. He likes to box behind a high, tight guard and counter cleverly. He is bound to have lots of success against Ioka, but is also likely to be placed under unwanted pressure all fight long.
The odds are close with Ioka a 4/6 favourite to win at Betway, while Franco is a 5/4. The odds for a draw are unusually low at 12/1, which means it’s a result that could be expected.
Ioka has the vaster experience, greater achievements, and bigger power, so I believe he wins this New Years bash via unanimous decision. I think he will take control of the fight early, spurred on by his local crowd, and dictate the pace with lots of educated pressure.