By Joe Koizumi
Photos by Naoki Fukuda
WBO 115-pound champion Kazuto Ioka (29-2-1, 15 KOs), 115, battled to a majority draw with WBA titleholder Joshua Franco (18-1-3-1NC, 8 KOs), 114.75, over a very technical see-saw affair in a super-fly twelve-round unification bout on Saturday in Tokyo, Japan. Franco was more aggressive all the way, while Ioka was more accurate in counterpunching the aggressor. It means Ioka and Franco each kept his own belt as previously.
The official scores were as follows: Stanley Christodoulou (South Africa) 115-113 for Franco, Jose Roberto Torres (Puerto Rico) and Ferlin Marsh (New Zealand) both 114-114. The female referee was Melva Santos from Puerto Rico, who was so well-done in handling the fast-moving and fast-punching champions.
The spectators at Ota-city General Gymnasium seemingly felt sheer frustration upon the announcement of the drawn verdict since they spiritually supported Ioka’s victory, even if so close. Japanese press people, however, appeared to support Franco’s win due to his constant aggression. Television commentators, former world champs, Takashi Uchiyama (ex-WBA 130-pound ruler) saw it 114-114, while Daisuke Naito (former WBC 112-pound titlist) saw 88-87 for Ioka after the ninth round.
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Now this observer attempts to analyze each judge’s scoresheet.
(1) Stanley Christodoulou 115-113 for Franco
Mr. Christodoulou’s tallies showed a clear contrast in giving all the first seven rounds to Franco and all the last five rounds to Ioka. After the seventh, his score was 70-63 in favor of the aggressive WBA ruler Franco. Ioka, on his scoresheet, retaliated thereafter and tried to overcome his early deficits on points, but was eventually behind by two points.
(2) Jose Roberto Torres 114-114
Mr. Torres’ tallies look like a mathematical symmetry. For the first four rounds, each took a point in every other rounds. For the fifth onward, Franco took a couple of rounds, Ioka four consecutive rounds and Franco the last two sessions. In accordance with his scoresheet the tide of the bout turned so busily that it eventually resulted in a drawn verdict 114-114.
(3) Ferlin Marsh 114-114
Mr. Marsh gave the first four rounds to Franco and the four rounds from the seventh to Ioka. They shared points in the fifth and sixth, and in the eleventh and twelfth. Without watching the fight, if you only see this scoresheet, you may suppose it was such a competitive give-and-take bout. His interim score after the ninth was even 95-95.
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Now it’s this reporter’s turn to analyze and describe the fight. I saw Joshua Franco a winner by a slight margin by evaluating his continual aggressiveness. The Sports Hochi of Japan reported their numbers of punches thrown in the contest—Franco 1,464 to Ioka 835. Had it been held in the US where aggressiveness is more highly counted than in Japan, the score might have been 116-112 for Franco.
Ioka, four-division champ to his credit, 33, cautiously started as usual as he had his foe throw punches and countered with a few but more accurate punches. It was Ioka’s usual economical strategy, obviously suggested by his long-time trainer Ismael Salas from Cuba, who had cultivated Kazuto to be a superstar here by coaching him for more than ten years.
The second and third rounds followed a similar pattern with Franco, 27, continually throwing punches, while Ioka occasionally countering him with a single punch at a time. Japanese fans were familiar with Ioka’s counterpunching way of fighting, and emotionally favored Ioka, but the judges didn’t.
The fourth to sixth were all Franco, who, regardless of precision, kept punching the air and the gloves of Ioka. Probably Ioka might think he nullified his punches by his excellent defensive skills. But he was by far less aggressive, waiting too long to score one clean shot by allowing Franco to throw punches abundantly, if not accurate.
In the second half, Ioka became a bit more aggressive than in the first half but was not enough to completely dominate the procedings. He connected with accurate counters to the onrushing Franco, but they didn’t seem to give serious damage to him because Ioka’s shots were so light that he didn’t put more weight behind his punches. Also, he, in earlier rounds, often scored with his favorite body shots and he might expect Franco to slow down with the effect as the fight progressed. But Franco never showed any sign of fatigue or slowing down. Why? Ioka’s were only hand punches that didn’t produce heavy damage to Franco.
All the judges favored Ioka in the eighth to tenth, which wasn’t enough to overcome his earlier point deficits. Should he or his handler Ismael have known the scores at that time, Ioka would have had attacked more positively in the last two sessions, but Ioka didn’t probably because he misunderstood he’d been leading on points.
There’s no crying over spilt milk. It seems that Ioka and Franco has a rematch clause, and they may exchange gloves again here in Japan. Franco said, “I respect the judges’ decision. I also respect Ioka’s ring experience, and wish to defeat him in a rematch.” His trainer Roberto Garcia also said, “Next time we’ll prepare more property so that we’ll show a better performance to be victotious.”
The crestfallen Ioka said, “I believed I won this fight. But it was true that Franco was very tough and energetic. I’d like to show who’s the best in the rematch.”
It was WBC super-fly champ, Juan Franciso Estrada, in attendance that shook hands with Ioka after the hard fight. Estrada said, “I thought Ioka would apply more pressure to Franco from the start, but he didn’t. It’s Franco that kept going forward. I hope to fight Ioka for unification in the near future.”
The WBO had ordered Ioka to defend his WBO belt against mandatory contender Junto Nakatani, former WBO flyweight champion who recently renounced his 112-pound belt to move up to the super-fly category, in 180 days. In six months Ioka may be able to swap punches with either Franco or Estrada prior to his highly expected confrontation with unbeaten southpaw prodigy Nakatani.
As the unification bout ended in a draw, this division becomes so congested and competitive that there seem more attractive matchups coming up for Ioka with Franco, Estrada, Roman Gonzalez, IBF ruler Fernando Martinez, etc.
Promoter: Shisei Promotions.
Attendance: 3,700 (much less than expected).
Supervisors: Jose Oliver Gomez (representing the WBA from Panama) and Tsuyoshi Yasukochi (the WBO from Japan).