Boxing champion Joshua Franco retires at 27 after losing to Kazuto Ioka

An eventful fight week in Tokyo saw a big weight miss from Joshua Franco, a classy performance by Kazuto Ioka, and ended with a retirement.

By: Lukasz Fenrych | 3 months ago

The boxing super-flyweight title unification that took place in Tokyo this Saturday, between Joshua Franco and Kazuto Ioka had already given us an eventful weekend. A dramatic weight miss from Franco was followed by a skillful display from Ioka to score the victory. It has finished with Franco announcing his early retirement, explaining his decision in a statement on social media.

The Fight: what went down between Joshua Franco and Kazuto Ioka

The fight itself was not just a title fight, but a rematch after a closely contested bout on New Years Eve ended in a draw. That first one had been a unification; this time only Franco’s WBA title was on the line, as Kazuto Ioka gave up his WBO belt when the rematch clashed with a mandatory order to face countryman Junto Nakatani. As it happened, Franco’s weight miss meant the belt was only on the line for Ioka, but the fight was allowed to go ahead. Unfortunately it wasn’t available live in the US, but look out for it on youtube.

We don’t know whether the effort to make weight affected Franco’s performance, but this time around was much clearer, with Ioka putting in a classy, controlled display to score a dominant victory. As it happens, the cards were a bit closer than many observers expected- 115-113, 116-112, 116-112. However it seemed he was never in danger of losing, and marked himself as a strong player among the champions in an already superb devision.

A difficult buildup – that weight miss

Franco’s week started to go visibly wrong on Friday, when he hit the scales for a 115lb bout at 121.7lbs- essentially two divisions above where he needed to be. To his credit, he continued to try to cut for the remaining two hours available (something we’ve seen fighters blow off in the past if they think the limit is beyond them). However, he came nowhere close, coming in at 121.25 in the end.

His coach Robert Garcia took to twitter to explain that the fighter had been having issues during the week and the fight had nearly not gone ahead, but that a deal had been struck with the opponent and organisers to ensure it would even if weight was missed. Of course, being two divisions above he couldn’t fight for the belt, but with Ioka wanting his own shot at the title, it eventually did.

Joshua Franco retires, issues statement

A few hours after the fight, Franco posted a statement to his social media announcing his immediate retirement from the sport, at age 27:

I wanted to start off by saying Thank You to everyone that has supported me in my career. I appreciate everyone for their continued support. I was able to live my childhood dream of becoming a World Champion. I defended my title multiple times all over the world and always tried my best to represent San Antonio, TX proudly.

For the majority of my career I have been going through a lot of mental problems that I was doing my best to control. I never talked about it publicly because I didn’t want anyone to think I ever made an excuse for anything or for anyone to look at me different. I battled through it as much as I could to still perform and give you guys some great fights. For anyone that battles through any type of mental health issues please know you are not alone. And you can’t let anything stop you from achieving your dreams

I want to say Thank You to my team. My mom, dad and brothers for all their help and support throughout my whole career. Everyone at RGBA for believing in me helping me achieve my dreams. You guys always believed in me and I will forever be grateful.

Last night in Tokyo, Japan was officially my last fight. It was a tough week for me and I didn’t get the result I wanted but I leave this sport knowing I gave it everything I had

Again Thank You to everyone for all their support and I’ll see you guys around 🙏🏽

He leaves the sport with a record of 18-2-3, 8KOs. Despite his still-young age, he packed a lot in, with trilogies of fights against both Andrew Moloney and Oscar Negrete to go along with this duology with Ioka. He was never shy of entertaining, either, giving fans some entertaining scraps down the years. Given that age, it’s not out of the question that we’ll see him back if he finds himself in a healthier place mentally, but for now, we can wish him the best and thank him as fans for a fun career.

The retirement does open one potential other point of interest. Franco is the older brother of Jesse Rodriguez, a rising star and currently a champion in the division below. Rodriguez did win a title at superfly last year, though, and one of his reasons for moving back down was to give his older brother free movement in this division. With that no longer the case, we may see Rodriguez move back up sooner than he planned for the glamour fights at superfly- though he has just signed to fight fellow flyweight champ Sunny Edwards, so it won’t be immediate.

Where does Kazuto Ioka go from here?

Kazuto Ioka, meanwhile, has enhanced his reputation with his slick performance and ensured he still has a belt after boxing politics nearly left him without one. He may feel he has unfinished business with the WBO, though, and a fight with their new champion, Junto Nakatani, would presumably be a big event in Japan. Don’t be surprised to see that next – it would be a superb fight- but really a unification with any of the champions would be exciting.

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About the author
Lukasz Fenrych
Lukasz Fenrych

Lukasz Fenrych is an analyst and writer. He has been covering combat sports since 2019, and joined Bloody Elbow's boxing team in 2022.

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