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Joshua Franco’s Journey from San Antonio to World Champ

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Joshua Franco’s Journey from San Antonio to World Champ

Texas native Joshua “El Professor” Franco captured the WBA super flyweight title after a rugged five-year journey with a studious approach not meant for the weak-minded.

“It’s a great feeling. I’m blessed to have a world title and I’m blessed to finally getting that support,” said Franco.

Under the umbrella of the coronavirus pandemic Franco (17-1-2) ventured to Las Vegas and stripped the WBA title from Australia’s Andrew Moloney (21-1) with a unanimous decision win. It capped an adventurous road filled with bloody wars, draws and a loss.

But on June 23, referee Tony Weeks raised the hand of Franco who was better prepared for yet another war against an undefeated fighter.

Ring toughness has become a staple for at least one California-based promotion company.

“I give a lot of credit to Roberto Diaz for the matchmaking and the way he brought Franco along. He was matched pretty tough,” said Eric Gomez, president of Golden Boy Promotions. “He has a loss and a couple of draws, but I think that’s the reason he won the fight.”

It was a long-planned strategy for the San Antonio fighter who arrived in 2015 along with fellow gym buddy Hector Tanajara. Super flyweights seldom get noticed by boxing fans. But even as an amateur, experts saw something in Franco.

Robert Garcia spotted the two San Antonio fighters who were amateurs. After looking at videos the pair were signed by the former super featherweight world champion as a manager and trainer.

“We fought in a PAL tournament in Oxnard. He had asked me for videos. After they saw it we started talking. It didn’t take too long. Robert was talking to promoters about me and Hector. That’s how it started,” said Franco about his signing with Garcia.

Golden Boy Promotions was called and the fighters met with the Los Angeles-based group to discuss strategy.

“It’s a great feeling to have a plan and sit down together with the fighter and his team to make them champions,” said Gomez about their initial meetings with Franco and his management. “Hopefully they become stars and move on to even better fights, unification fights. Move up in weight. It’s a great feeling building something together.”

From the start the heady Franco was matched tough in small shows in downtown Los Angeles. The Belasco Theater was the site for many of his early excursions into the pro world.

“Coming out of amateurs I had to adjust to having different smaller gloves. But I was sparring with Carlos Cuadras, Abner Mares when I had only one or two pro fights,” said Franco about his early days as a professional. “Sparring with them really helped me a lot and gave me a lot of experience. They are world champions and I’m very blessed to have had that.”

Unlike most young pros Franco’s fights were televised and seen throughout the Southwest region including his home state Texas.

“It was a blessing to be able to fight on Estrella TV, to get that exposure as a super flyweight it was a blessing. We don’t get that kind of exposure in Texas. But everyone in San Antonio they were watching supporting me and Hector. It’s a good feeling to have everyone’s support.”

Defining Moment

One battle in particular boosted his confidence and it took place in Texas.

“It was in Dallas I had fought Bryan Bazan on the Canelo-Liam Smith undercard. That was the first time I had really felt real power and that somebody could pop. I don’t know what happened in that fight but something inside me turned a switch on. I started letting my hands go, everything started coming naturally and I got a really big knockout on that card and that’s how I started getting exposure,” said Franco about his pivotal fight on September 2016. “That’s the fight that really made me bite down and show everything that I had – my distance, my jab, my power, it opened up people’s eyes as well.”

Franco would proceed to open more eyes with three brutal clashes in a year’s span against Oscar Negrete that resulted in two draws and one victory. Television audiences and those in attendance were mesmerized by the violent exchanges.

When the coronavirus pandemic shut down boxing for several months promoters were left scrambling for available talent. Top Rank was the first to open up the door for American prizefighting and invited Franco to one of their cards.

“Carl Moretti reached out and I have a great relationship with him and he reached out and he offered a couple of fights and one of them was the Franco fight and we accepted it,” said Gomez about the offer from Moretti, the vice president of Operations for Top Rank.

Franco said he received notice seven weeks in advance.

“When my dad called, right away I said, let’s do it. I’m ready. Let’s go for it,” said Franco about receiving news of the title bid. “I got my flight out the next day and then I was back in Riverside.”

Fighting in Las Vegas under the new protocols was an experience for Franco, but once inside the boxing ring everything fell into place.

Moloney was fighting for the first time as the WBA titlist and was undefeated with 14 knockouts in 21 fights. Though Las Vegas odds-makers favored the champion from Australia, smart money saw Franco’s experience as a major obstacle. They were correct.

Franco was able to weather the early storm by Moloney who attempted to power through the American fighter’s defense. But early on it was apparent that the San Antonio native’s experience against elite boxers in sparring and in actual fights was proving too perplexing for the Aussie.

An 11th round knockdown finalized the tilt toward Franco’s favor. All three judges scored it for Franco but closer than expected after the impressive performance.

“He was different from (Oscar) Negrete that’s for sure. I kind of expected more from him. I really didn’t see anything special about him,” said Franco about Moloney. “I know he had a world title and I was just there to take it from him.”

Social media erupted with news of Franco’s win for the world title.

“It shows when you’re dedicated and work hard you can definitely reach your goals and dreams,” said multi-division world champion Mikey Garcia on social media. “Now he’s a world champ.”

The plaudits did not stop there.

“After the fight Robert Diaz and Oscar De La Hoya both messaged me and said great job. Oscar told me to enjoy yourself responsibly and get ready for the next one to defend the title. That was some motivation from De La Hoya. I know I made everyone proud at Golden Boy. I brought them back a world title and that’s a good feeling,” says Franco.

A rematch clause will be respected and both will meet again in the boxing ring.

“He had a rematch clause before we signed the fight and hopefully we get to do it again. I don’t see it going the distance this time,” said Franco citing his experience and resume in the recent past including wars against Negrete and others.

His promoters agree.

“He’s been in some tough fights. I’m very happy and proud of Joshua Franco,” said Gomez adding that the rugged journey was meant for a reason. “When you have those tough fights it only makes you better.”

Now Franco has the WBA super flyweight world title.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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Boxing Odds and Ends: A Travesty of a Heavyweight ‘Title Fight’ and More

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It’s official. On Wednesday, Feb. 22, a formal press conference was held in Sofia, Bulgaria, to announce the forthcoming fight between Mahmoud Charr, formerly known as Manuel Charr, and Kubrat Pulev. They will meet in Bulgaria’s capital city on March 30 at a 12,000-seat arena.

Charr vs Kubrat bears the imprimatur of a world heavyweight title fight (WBA version). Charr is considered the champion, notwithstanding the fact that others have held the title since he first laid claim to it more than six years ago.

The WBA, as we know, recognizes two champions in some weight classes, a “super” champion and a “regular” champion. The “super” designation was created in 2000. It was designed to segregate title-holders into levels of accomplishment. In theory, a “super” champion has made five successful defenses and is recognized as a world title-holder by at least one of the three other major sanctioning bodies. “Super” champions are allowed certain liberties with respect to mandatory title defenses.

The bifurcation was greeted with hoots of derision. The Panama-based WBA trivialized the sport.

Mahmoud Charr

Mahmoud Charr was born in Beirut but has resided in Germany since he was a little boy. He won the vacant title with a 12-round decision over unexceptional Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany.  It was a close fight. TSS ringside correspondent Phil Woolever had Ustinov winning 7 rounds to 5, but conceded that the verdict could not be called an injustice.

The title that Charr won was vacated by Ruslan Chagaev who won the belt from Fres Oquendo, lost it to Lucas Browne, and got it back by decree when Browne’s post-fight urine tests showed evidence of banned substances. But Chagaev never fought again. His fight with Browne was his last.

Charr’s first defense was to come against Fres Oquendo. Slated for March 23, 2019 in Cologne after being pushed back from September of the previous year, the match never came to fruition when Charr tested positive for two banned substances. Things get really muddled from here with Charr pushed to the sideline by legal battles complicated by Don King’s shenanigans. King arranged a fight in Florida between Charr and his fighter Trevor Bryan and succeeded in getting Bryan the WBA belt when Charr was unable to get a visa. The belt is vacant again after Bryan was knocked out by Daniel Dubois who, in turn, was knocked out by “super” champion Oleksandr Usyk.

There are more threads to this saga but let’s not go there. Suffice it to say that after defeating Ustinov, Charr was out of action for the next three-and-a-half years. He’s had only three fights since 2017 and to say that his opponents were men of low repute would be giving them the best of it. In his most recent assignment, in December of 2022, he scored a second-round stoppage over 46-year-old Swiss-Albanian slug Nuri Seferi. That brought his record to 34-4 (20). He has been stopped three times, most recently in 2015 when he was halted in five frames by future cruiserweight champion Maris Briedis.

Kubrat Pulev

Kubrat Pulev will have the home field advantage in Sofia. Charr will have youth on his side. He’s 39; Pulev is 42.

Pulev sports a 30-3 record. The losses came at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko (L KO 5), Anthony Joshua (L KO 9), and Derek Chisora (L SD 12). He last fought in December at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, CA, where he won a lopsided decision over Polish journeyman Andrzej Wawrzyk.

In a previous engagement here at the Hangar, a concert hall that seats a shade over 3,000, he TKOed Bogdan Dinu. That bout is remembered mostly for what happened after it ended. In an incident that went viral on social media, Pulev surprised Jennifer Ravalo, a self-styled journalist, with a kiss on the lips. That animated women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred and led to an 8-page spread in Playboy (of Ravalo, not Allred). The California State Athletic Commission fined and suspended Pulev and mandated that he undergo sexual harassment training. The suspension lasted 120 days.

The match between Charr and Pulev, says a blurb about it, is an “eagerly anticipated” clash between “two evergreen living legends.” We will let you provide the punchline, The winner is expected to fight Martin Bakole who was knocked out by Michael Hunter.

Jake Paul

Jake Paul, the enfant terrible of prizefighting, returns this Saturday on a card in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that will air on DAZN. Paul, a so-called influencer who brought his big social media following with him when he took up fisticuffing, is coming off a first-round stoppage of Andre August, a no-name fighter from Texas. Saturday’s sacrificial lamb is a fellow from Dickinson, North Dakota (by way of Benicia, California) named Ryan Bourland.

Bourland, who is reportedly 35 years old but looks older, scored his signature win in 2018 when he avenged a previous defeat with a 10-round majority decision over Jose Hernandez. He has fought only one since then, TKOing a fighter with a losing record in a 6-rounder at a lodge on a remote Indian reservation in North Dakota. That improved his ledger to 17-2 (6 KOs).

Regarding Jake Paul, Thomas Hauser once wrote that he’s worked hard to become a better boxer and is “certainly better than a Golden Gloves novice.” There was a time when this reporter, perhaps naively, thought that Jake had the potential to become a legitimate top-15 cruiserweight, but his recent choice of opponents suggests that he is comfortable just spinning his wheels.

His bout with Bourland will play second fiddle to Amanda Serrano’s featherweight title defense against Germany’s Nina Meinke (18-3, 4 KOs). Although Amanda has a lot of mileage on her odometer, she is expected to have little difficulty with Meinke. In another bout of note, Puerto Rican campaigners Jonathan Gonzalez (27-3-1, 14 KOs) and Rene Santiago (12-3, 9 KOs) will meet in a 12-rounder with Gonzalez’s WBO light flyweight title at stake.

—-

Let’s conclude this write-up on an upbeat note. Hall of Fame boxing writer Bernard Fernandez, a frequent TSS contributor, informs us that his fifth and presumably final anthology is nearing completion with a likely release date of April or May. “Championship Rounds, Round 5” includes a foreword by Gerry Cooney and has drawn glowing reviews from the likes of Dave Kindred and Dr. Gordon Marino who both had an early peek at the manuscript. Kindred, a renowned sportswriter and author, was the subject of a 2021 piece on “60 Minutes.” Marino, a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, has written extensively about boxing for the Wall Street Journal.

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Results from Orlando where Berlanga KOed McCrory in a Possible Prelude to Canelo

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Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom organization was at the Caribe Royale tonight, a non-gaming resort near Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Unbeaten super middleweights Edgar Berlanga and Padraig McCrory squared off in the main event.

The fight started slow, but it soon became apparent that McCrory, a 35-year-old father of three from Belfast, Northern Ireland, was a domestic-level fighter, notwithstanding his undefeated (18-0) record. Berlanga, whose last five fights had gone the distance, roughed him up with some dirty tactics before taking him out in the sixth round with a crunching right hand that sent the Irishman face-first to the canvas. As McCrory pulled himself upright on rubbery legs, the towel flew in from his corner. The official time was 2:44.

As well-documented, Berlanga opened his pro career with 16 consecutive first-round knockouts. Nonetheless, he was let go by Top Rank in what purportedly was an amicable divorce. This was his second fight under the Matchroom banner. Eddie Hearn signed him with an eye on scoring a big-money match with Canelo Alvarez. The red-headed Mexican superstar is committed to returning to the ring in May on Cinco de Mayo weekend in Las Vegas, but hasn’t yet locked in an opponent.

If Berlanga gets the nod, he would be a heavy underdog, but the Mexico vs. Puerto Rico angle (coupled with Berlanga’s new-found reputation as a dirty fighter) would make it an easy sell.

Co-Feature

In only his third professional fight, Cuban defector Andy Cruz was bumped into the co-feature. That was in recognition of his amateur pedigree. Among his accomplishments, he was 4-0 vs. Keyshawn Davis with the last win coming in the gold medal round of the Tokyo Olympics.

Cruz, 28, was expected to win as he pleased against his Mexican opponent, Bryan Zamarripa, and he did win all 10 rounds on all three scorecards, but in common with many great Cuban amateurs, he seemed to lack something in the power department. Zamarripa was 14-2 heading in.

Other Bouts of Note

In a 12-round welterweight contest that was devoid of drama, Uzbekistan native Shakhram Giyasov, an Olympic silver medalist who has lost precious few rounds as a pro, won a lopsided technical decision over well-recycled 34-year-old Mexican Pablo Cesar Cano.

Giyasov (15-0, 9 KOs) sent Cano (35-9-1) to the canvas in the third round with a body punch. At the end of round 11, as their feet were tangled, he pushed Cano to the canvas and the Mexican ostensibly suffered a broken ankle when he fell. That sent the bout to the scorecards where the decision (109-99 x3) was a formality. With the victory, Giyasov earned a shot at WBA belt-holder Eimantas Stanionis.

The 12-round bantamweight match between Antonio Vargas and Jonathan Rodriguez, two fighters of Puerto Rican descent, was framed as a WBA bantamweight title eliminator. Rodriguez, the underdog, floored Vargas in the opening stanza. He had scored a stunning first-round knockout of 27-1 Khalid Yafai in his previous start and it appeared that another upset was brewing. But the match quickly turned one-sided in favor of Vargas who put Rodriguez on the canvas in the very next frame (and had two points deducted for hitting him after the bell) and then put him down again at the end of round seven with a sweeping left hook after which Rodriguez’s corner properly pulled him out.

Vargas, a 2016 Olympian who had home field advantage in Florida, improved to 18-1 (10 KOs) and became the mandatory opponent for Takuma Inoue who won earlier today in Tokyo. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s Rodriguez declined to 17-2-1.

The opening bout on the TV portion of the card was a 10-round flyweight affair that looked like a runaway for showboating Yankiel Rivera until gritty Andy Dominguez made things interesting.

Rivera, who improved to 5-0 (2), was Puerto Rico’s lone representative in the Tokyo Olympics. In Mexico-born Andy Dominguez, he was fighting a former three-time New York City Golden Gloves champion who was also unbeaten (10-0 heading in). Rivera dominated the match but was caught napping in round nine and Dominguez, although all busted-up, hurt him and almost put him down. That was most lopsided round of the fight, but also the only round that Dominguez won in the eyes of the judges.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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Junto Nakatani Turns in Another Masterclass on Saturday’s Tripleheader in Tokyo

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In a rather odd juxtaposition, several of boxing’s best little men were on display today at Japan’s National Sumo Arena in Tokyo. The best of the lot, Junto Nakatani, improved to 27-0 (20 KOs) while tearing away the WBC world bantamweight title from Tijuana’s Alexandro Santiago (28-4-5) who was making the first defense of the title he won in Las Vegas in May when he upset Nonito Donaire.

It was a one-sided beatdown. Nakatani, who had a 5-inch height advantage, won every round before ending the contest in the sixth. The end came at the 1:12 mark when Nakatani terminated the affair with his second knockdown. The first came earlier in the round, the result of a straight left hand. The finisher was a big right hook.

With the victory, Nakatani became a world title-holder in a third weight class. He’s an outstanding talent, worthy of pound-for-pound consideration, and would be favored in a unification fight with Takuma Inoue.

Inoue, the younger brother of pound-for-pound king Naoya “Monster” Inoue, did his part to bring the match to fruition with a ninth-round stoppage of Filipino veteran Jerwin Ancajas in the main event. Inoue (19-1, 5 KOs) was making the first defense of the WBA diadem he won with a wide decision over Venezuela’s mildewed Liborio Solis. That title was conveniently vacated by Takuma’s renowned brother.

This figured to be the most competitive match on the card and Ancajas (34-4-2) had his moments before Inoue ended the contest at the 0:44 mark of round nine with a four-punch combination climaxed by a shot to the liver. Heading in, Ancajas, who had a long title reign at 115, was 9-2-1 in world title fights and hadn’t previously been stopped.

In the first of the three title fights, 29-year-old Kosei Tanaka became a four-weight belt-holder in record time with a unanimous decision over Mexicali’s stubborn but out-classed Christian Bacasegua “Rocky” Rangel. At stake was the vacant WBO junior bantamweight title.

Tanaka, who previously held belts at 105, 108, and 112, started slow but the outcome was never in doubt after he knocked “Rocky” to the canvas in the eighth frame. The judges had it 119-108, 117-110, and 116-111. With the victory, Tanaka improved to 20-1 (11). In his only defeat, he was stopped by countryman Kazuto Ioka. He hunkers for a rematch but, if it happens, he might wish that it hadn’t. Ioka is long in the tooth – he turns 35 next month – but is very good and shows no signs of slowing down. Rangel (22-5-2) had won nine straight heading in, but against questionable opposition and was making his first start outside Mexico.

The Teiken Promotions card was presented in association with Top Rank and aired in the U.S. on ESPN+.

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