Kazuto Ioka vs Joshua Franco unification fight official for Dec. 31

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The expected Dec. 31 fight between Kazuto Ioka and Joshua Franco is now official, with the two meeting in Tokyo for a pair of junior bantamweight titles.

Ioka (29-2, 15 KO) will be defending his WBO belt, while Franco (18-1-2, 8 KO) brings the WBA strap to the matchup.

The 33-year-old Ioka, who has somewhat quietly been one of the best fighters of his generation, also has won titles at 105, 108, and 112, and moved up to 115 in 2018, breaking a short retirement. He lost a title shot at Donnie Nietes in Dec. 2018 by controversial decision, but won that same vacated belt about six months later with a victory over Aston Palicte.

Ioka has made successful defenses against Jeyvier Cintron, Kosei Tanaka, Francisco Rodriguez Jr, Ryoji Fukunaga, and Nietes in a rematch.

Franco, 27, has fought six of his last seven fights against two opponents. He went 1-0-2 in a bantamweight trilogy with Oscar Negrete in 2018-19, then moved down in weight to beat Jose Alejandro Burgos in early 2020.

His last three fights have all been against Andrew Moloney. He scored an upset win over Moloney in June 2020, they went to a bizarre no-contest in their Nov. 2020 rematch, and he beat Moloney again in Aug. 2021, which was Franco’s last fight.

It’s a very good matchup, and a chance for Franco to really legitimize himself as a top guy at 115, or for Ioka to make the case for a fight next year against the winner of the Estrada vs Chocolatito trilogy fight, which is coming on Dec. 3.

No U.S. TV or stream has been announced yet, but hopefully we’ll know soon. DAZN or ESPN+ could pick up the bout, in theory, as could FITE+, or we could get a PPV option. Or nothing. It’s entirely possible we get nothing.

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