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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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This Former College Cheerleader Just May be Boxing’s Second-Best Heavyweight

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Here’s something that you probably don’t know about Joe Joyce. The British bomber was once an exchange student at California’s Sacramento State University and during his enrollment, which was in the fall semester (football and basketball season), he joined the cheerleading squad.

Wish we had a picture to share, but we don’t. In general, male cheerleaders tend to be not much taller than their female counterparts — think the body type of a gymnast – and the six-foot-six Joyce, whose thick torso appears to have been hewn from oak, must have been quite the sight.

Joyce studied fine arts at Sac State, his major at London’s Middlesex University where he earned his degree. As an exchange student in California, it figured that Joyce would find a physical activity to keep him occupied when he wasn’t studying or in class. He’s an accomplished painter, we have been told, but one doesn’t associate him with an activity that one performs while sitting down.

Currently ranked #1 by the WBO and #3 by the WBA, the undefeated (13-0, 12 KOs) Joyce, a former Olympic silver medalist, has the most diversified athletic background of any boxer on the planet. Before boxing became all-consuming, he was immersed in rugby, swimming, track and field (“long jump, triple jump, shot put, you name it”) and martial arts.

It’s hard to transition into boxing from a different sport – there are very few success stories – but apparently having sampled a wide range of athletic endeavors is useful. A match between Joe and 10-0 Jared Anderson, whose exertions have been applied exclusively to boxing, would provide an interesting contrast.

Anderson would have youth on his side, but the nectar of youth was of no help to Daniel Dubois when Joe Joyce caught up with him last November at the historic Church House in Westminster. Dubois, 12 years the younger man, had no antidote for Joe’s steady diet of left jabs and bowed out in the 10th round with a busted eye socket. The upset earned Joyce, now 36 years old, the British, European, and Commonwealth heavyweight titles.

A fight between Juggernaut Joe and Jared Anderson is unlikely to happen anytime soon, if ever. Rematches with Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk are closer at hand.

Rematches?

Indeed. One can find 66 amateur bouts for Joe Joyce documented at boxrec. The first entry is Anthony Joshua. They met back in 2011 and Joyce failed to survive the opening round. Three standing 8-counts terminated the match.

Joyce recalls that he made the mistake of circling into Joshua’s line of fire, rather than away from it. He had just got done fighting a southpaw on the same bill and had precious little time to recalibrate for an opponent with an orthodox style.

Joyce opposed Oleksandr Usyk in March of 2013 in an England vs. Ukraine event at London’s venerated York Hall and lost a 5-round decision. This would be one of only two setbacks he suffered in 16 engagements under the rubric of the World Series of Boxing.

Joyce didn’t expect Usyk to beat Joshua when they met this past September before a crowd of 65,000 at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. “I imagined Joshua was a bit too strong for him,” he says. But Joe wasn’t greatly surprised either. “After the first round, I could see how it would go. Usyk makes you box how he wants you to box.”

Joyce doesn’t yet have an opponent for his next fight. There are reports that it will be Kubrat Pulev, but Joe says all he knows is what he’s read on social media. Tony Yoka’s name has also been bandied about. A match between him and the 29-year-old Frenchman, currently 11-0, would also profit from the rematch-angle.

Joyce was the busier fighter when he fought Yoka in the finals of the super heavyweight division at the 2016 Rio Summer Games, but Yoka walked away with the gold medal by virtue of winning a split decision.

“I could sense something dodgy was going on in the dressing room [before the fight],” he told this reporter. And while he refused to say flat-out that he thought the fight was fixed, he didn’t have to, as Joyce vs. Yoka was one of 11 cited by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren in his blockbuster 2021 report which gave credence to the scuttlebutt that the outcomes of some of the matches in Rio were manipulated for money or political favors.

Joe Joyce’s biggest fan is his mother, Marvel Opara, and it’s a mutual admiration society. Joe proudly notes that she has hiked Mount Kilimanjaro and ridden with Joe on a tandem bicycle through the streets of Thailand despite being almost completely blind. She raised Joe and his little brother by herself when her Scotch-Irish husband left the fold, but Joe and his father Philip — who remarried and established a new family – have a warm relationship. After his parents split, Joe saw his dad every Wednesday and every other weekend.

Joyce signed with David Haye’s Hayemaker Ringstar Promotions coming out of the amateur ranks. Haye was still active, having returned to the sport after a 42-month hiatus, and Ismael Salas was training him. The globetrotting Salas, a legend in his native Cuba, prepared Joyce for his match with Daniel Dubois but wasn’t around to work the corner, having been detached by the authorities after testing positive for COVID.

Joyce and Salas have hooked up again in Las Vegas where Salas, who is none the worse for wear, operates a boxing academy. Joyce and his attractive girlfriend Nadine Davison arrived in Las Vegas in mid-November for a month-long stay. Salas puts Joe through his paces each afternoon. Here in the states, Joe previously trained at Abel Sanchez’s compound in Big Bear.

Joe Joyce isn’t getting any younger, but heavyweights tend to have a longer shelf life than fighters in other divisions and Joe anticipates that he will keep fighting until the age of 40. And then what?

“I have thought about getting into coaching [when I leave the sport],” he says. “I can earn money selling my paintings and perhaps I have a future in punditry.” (The reference here is to employment as TV color commentator for which Joyce would seem to be ideally suited, although being naturally soft-spoken, he would probably have to ratchet his voice up a notch.)

We would suggest another alternative, graduate school at Sacramento State University. We hear there’s an opening on the cheerleading squad.

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The Day Canelo Got Buzzed

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The Day Canelo Got Buzzed

Puerto Rican Jose Miguel Cotto, the older brother of future Hall of Famer Miguel Cotto, retired in 2012 with a fine record of 33-4-1. He was stopped just once, by streaking Juan Diaz (28-0 at the time) and fought a number of high-level competitors including Shane Gannon (22-6), Freddy Cruz (51-19-8), Pantan Narongwet (30-2-1), Ilido Julio (39-15-1), and later Paulie Malignaggi (28-4).

On May 1, 2010, his opponent was Saul Alvarez (31-0-1). Cotto (31-1-1 coming in) was short and stocky, fought in an orthodox style, and possessed a strong chin. It would turn out to be Jose’s career-defining battle.

The fight was televised on HBO PPV from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and was designed as a coming out party for the young Alvarez—hereafter to be known as “Canelo.” The fight was the co-feature to the Floyd Mayweather vs. Shane Mosley fight on a Cinco De Mayo weekend and garnered tremendous exposure.

Once the fight started, the fans received an early shock as Cotto caught the young Mexican redhead flush with a left-hook at the round’s half-way point. It sent Canelo stumbling back into the ropes—in fact, had the ropes not held him up, it could have been ruled a knockdown by referee Tony Weeks. Sensing the kill, Cotto attacked with several follow-up shots, including at least two right hands that landed flush from the other side.

Everyone invested in this fight (and in Canelo), not to mention his rabid Mexican fans and this writer, were watching in disbelief. How could this be happening? Canelo had just been buzzed and almost decked. Was an upset in the making? Was the build-up bogus?

“I know the first round was a little scary but I gained my confidence as the rounds went on.” — Canelo

And come back he did as he regrouped and floored Cotto in round two with what would later become his signature punch—the uppercut. Alvarez then picked up the pace, breaking down the rugged Cotto with great combos and accurate power shots. The fight soon became one-sided. Finally, in the ninth round, Canelo maneuvered his opponent into a corner, trapped and stunned him and then launched a barrage of malefic right hands (more than a dozen, interspersed with a few set-up lefts). The one-sided barrage forced Weeks to step in and end matters. The scorecards through the completed rounds read 78-73 across the board, all for Canelo Alvarez.

Canelo is currently 57-1-2 and is the top PFP fighter in boxing. He holds the WBA, WBC, IBF, and WBO world super middleweight titles and seems poised to move up to cruiserweight and fight Ilunga Makabu for the WBC cruiserweight title. If he does and wins, he will become a five-division titleholder. And yet despite this rugged schedule, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez has been “buzzed” only once.

“Miguel Cotto’s brother can make you do the chicken dance, but I can’t? Okay.” — Caleb Plant

Ted Sares enjoys writing about boxing. He can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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It’s Just Another Day for Birthday Boy Ben Davison, Boxing’s Hottest Young Trainer

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Happy birthday to British boxing coach Ben Davison who turned 29 today, Nov. 29. Davison is in Las Vegas where many people come to celebrate a birthday, but for him it’s merely another day at the office.

Actually, he’s currently plying his trade at two “offices.” In the morning, he’s at the Top Rank gym where his main focus is preparing unified 140-pound world champion Josh Taylor for his Feb. 26 title defense in Glasgow against Jack Catterall. In the afternoon he joins the horde at Bones Adams gym where Devin Haney is putting the finishing touches on his preparation for Saturday’s encounter with Jojo Diaz at the MGM Grand Garden, a Matchroom promotion that will be live-streamed around the world on DAZN. Davison will be in Haney’s corner assisting Haney’s dad Bill Haney.

Few people had heard of Ben Davison before April of 2018 when Tyson Fury introduced Ben as his new trainer at a glitzy London press conference to announce Fury’s comeback fight with sacrificial lamb Sefer Seferi. At that juncture, the Gypsy King had been out of the ring for 30 months during which he battled depression and addictions and allowed his weight to balloon to almost 400 pounds.

It seemed odd to many people that Fury, who was previously trained by his uncle Peter Fury, would choose an obscure trainer, a man younger than himself, to prepare him for his comeback. The presumption was that he was throwing a bone to the fellow that helped him get back in shape.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of boxing trainers. One is primarily a conditioner and the other a strategist whose strength is devising a battle plan. Boxing pundits, who knew little about Ben Davison other than his connection to Tyson Fury, rucked Ben into the first category.

Davison lived in Tyson Fury’s home for 14 months during which he oversaw the greatest renaissance in boxing history in the words of Daily Mail writer Simon Jones. But Davison was no generic physical fitness instructor. “I would study two, three, four fights of Deontay Wilder every day,” he told this reporter, recollecting the months he spent with Fury preceding the first Fury-Wilder fight.

When viewing a tape, says Davison, it’s important to throw out all preconceptions regarding what a fighter does well and what he does not do so well. “Casual fans tend to see only the punches,” he says. “They miss the subtleties.”

This doesn’t sound like the musing of a one-dimensional boxing coach.

Following his bout with Otto Wallin, Fury replaced Davison with SugarHill Steward, previously known as Javan “Sugar” Hill, the nephew and protégé of the renowned Kronk Gym maestro Emanuel Steward. Ben’s pride was wounded, but he did not let the disappointment color his feelings about Tyson Fury. “We will always be friends,” he says.

Davison could have stayed on with Team Fury, albeit in a secondary role to Steward, but he had another fighter under his wing in Fury’s cousin, Billy Joe Saunders, and new opportunities were opening up. He chose to move on.

A bantamweight from Glasgow, Scotland, Lee McGregor, had approached him about becoming his primary coach. Davison was now free to give McGregor the proper attention. And as luck would have it, McGregor’s best buddy was Josh Taylor who had become disenchanted with his father/son management team of Barry McGuigan and trainer Shane McGuigan.

Lee McGregor was 9-0 when Davison entered the picture. He’s now 11-0 and set to defend his European title on Dec. 18 with Armenia’s Narek Abgaryan in the opposite corner. Josh Taylor was fresh off his grueling battle with Regis Prograis in the finals of the World Boxing Super Series when he severed his tie with the McGuigans. The Scotsman then owned two pieces of the 140-pound world title and under Davison’s tutelage he went on to win a hard-earned decision over Jose Ramirez, thereby acquiring the other two pieces and becoming only the sixth boxer of the four-belt era to become an undisputed champion.

Nottingham’s Leigh Wood would be Ben’s next title-holder. On July 31 of this year, in his second fight with Davison, Wood wrested the WBA world featherweight diadem from Can Xu with a 12th-round stoppage. Wood was comfortably ahead on the cards going into the final round.

Davison’s relationship with Devin Haney was born out of a chance encounter with the boxer at Jorge Capetillo’s gym in Las Vegas. Capetillo was Tyson Fury’s cut man for Fury’s bout with Otto Wallin.

Ben struck up a conversation with Devin after watching the fighter beat the tar out of two sparring partners. As they were discussing the finer points of boxing, Haney called his dad over to give a listen. The elder Haney was impressed and when Devin entered the ring to fight Jorge Linares, there was Ben Davison working alongside Bill Haney in Devin Haney’s corner.

It has been noted that all of Davison’s marquee fighters were well-formed when he took them under his wing. For example, Leigh Wood had been a pro for almost 10 years before hooking up with him. This has led skeptics to wonder if he can build a fighter from scratch. Mark Dickinson, one of Ben’s newest charges, may provide the answer.

A highly decorated amateur, Dickinson has only one pro fight under his belt. He eliminated his opponent in 36 seconds. His potential is such that Davison did not leave him behind when he jetted off to Las Vegas with Team Josh Taylor.

There have been two important fights during Davison’s current stateside stay, both of which have implications for fighters with whom he is involved.

There has been talk of Josh Taylor moving up to welterweight to challenge Terence Crawford. That match may yet to come to fruition although Davison concedes that it became a harder fight to make when Crawford announced that he was leaving Top Rank.

Many people were upset at Kenny Porter, Shawn Porter’s father and trainer, for stopping the Crawford-Porter fight. The stoppage, which came in round 10, struck many as premature and the elder Porter made no friends when he rationalized his behavior by saying that he wasn’t satisfied with the way that his son had prepared.

Davison is of the opinion that father knew best. “We don’t know what went on at Shawn’s training camp. Kenny may have seen some things that he hadn’t seen before. Shawn was becoming fatigued and when a fighter becomes fatigued, he becomes more reckless and is thus more vulnerable. So, what was the point of continuing?”

Davison also refuses to say anything negative about Teofimo Lopez who was on the wrong end of a big upset this past Saturday in New York. “I would never kick a man while he is down,” says Davison. “He probably had a lot going on outside the ring the last year.”

The Lopez- Kambosos shocker opened new vistas, at least in theory.

Before he stepped into the ring with boxing’s newest Cinderella Man, Teofimo was contemplating a move to 140 where his most attractive opponent would have been Josh Taylor (assuming Taylor gets by Jack Catterall). That match is still live, but now Devin Haney suddenly has a new option should he get by Jojo Diaz on Saturday. A match between Haney and multiple-belt champion George Kambosos would be a delicious pairing and the Aussie appears to be on board with it although he would be chalked the underdog. In fact, Matchroom has arranged a meet-and-greet between Kambosos and credentialed media this coming Thursday in Las Vegas.

Back in London, more exactly Essex, Ben Davison runs the MTK Performance Center, a gym that shares space in the same building with the electrical testing company founded by his father. Ben spends a lot of time on the road, needless to say, but he’s reached the stage in his career when he can afford to hire someone to mind the store when he is out of town and pay several assistants to lighten his workload wherever he happens to be.

One of those assistants is Lee Wylie whose primary role is that of a video analyst. If the name seems familiar, that’s because Wylie’s byline has appeared in several online boxing magazines, including right here at The Sweet Science! In common with former TSS writer Frank Lotierzo, Wylie has a keen eye; he sees things when he watches a fight that aren’t apparent to laymen and Ben Davison is now the beneficiary of his insights.

If you happen to see Mr. Davison in the next few days, wish him a belated happy birthday. Enjoy the tailpiece of your twenties, sir, life comes at you fast.

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