Joshua Franco is now one win away from taking up his younger brother on a playful dare to unify titles.
The World Boxing Association (WBA) has formally ordered a junior bantamweight title consolidation clash between Franco as the secondary titlist and lineal/WBA “Super” champion Juan Francisco Estrada. San Antonio’s Franco (18-1-2, 8KOs) was already guaranteed a shot at the primary WBA title, with that opportunity now to come on the heels of younger brother Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez (15-0, 10KOs) having claimed the WBC junior bantamweight title.
“The Championships Committee of the World Boxing Association (WBA) ordered the mandatory fight between the Super Flyweight Super Champion, Juan Francisco Estrada and the champion of the category, Joshua Franco,” Carlos Chavez, chairman of the WBA Championship Committee confirmed Wednesday. “[T]he teams of both fighters… will have 30 days to negotiate the fight from February 9 to March 11, 2022.”
A purse bid hearing will be scheduled to determine promotional rights if the two camps cannot come to terms. Estrada (42-3, 28KOs) is co-promoted by Zanfer Boxing and Matchroom Boxing, while Franco is promoted by Golden Boy Promotions and managed by Rick Mirigian.
Neither fighter can accept another fight once the mandatory title fight is ordered, which kills any plans for Estrada to wait out the winner of the March 5 clash between Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez (50-3, 41KOs) and Julio Cesar ‘El Rey’ Martinez (18-1, 14KOs; 2NC). Estrada was originally due to face Gonzalez in a rubber match on the date live on DAZN from Pechanga Arena in San Diego, only to test positive for Covid in having to withdraw.
The fallout came more than three months after Gonzalez was forced to postpone their previously scheduled October 16 clash after testing positive for Covid last September. Both developments came as Franco was already assured a shot at the WBA “Super” junior bantamweight title following his repeat win over Andrew Moloney last August 14. The order from the WBA came at the start of its forced title reduction campaign, with Franco set to face the winner of Estrada-Gonzalez III at the time.
Franco now heads straight to the main title, as the mandatory has been declared overdue by the sanctioning body.
Mexico’s Estrada claimed the “Super” title while also defending his WBC title in a twelve-round, split decision win over Gonzalez last March 13 at American Airlines Center in Dallas. The winner was due to face Thailand’s Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in a WBC mandatory title defense, though Estrada since cashed in the belt for the sanctioning body’s “Franchise” title.
Sor Rungvisai was due to face Mexico City’s Carlos Cuadras on February 5, only to fall ill (not Covid-related) and withdraw. He was replaced by San Antonio’s Rodriguez, who moved up in weight on just six days’ notice to drop and outpoint Cuadras over twelve rounds to win the vacant WBC title in Phoenix, Arizona.
Rodriguez quipped after the fight that he and his brother can now unify since they both hold titles at the same weight. The sport’s elitists were slow on the joke and quick to point out that Franco holds a secondary version of the title, therefore ineligible to enter any unification bout. A win over Estrada would theoretically correct that problem, although it’s highly unlikely that the siblings would face one another.
Franco is unbeaten in his last eight starts, which has included two separate trilogies and three bouts that failed to produce a winner. A three-fight series with Oscar Negrete saw Franco go 1-0-2 over a ten month stretch before going on to face and knock out Jose Burgos in a January 2020 clash at Alamodome in his San Antonio hometown.
The fight was followed by Franco’s first title bid, outpointing Moloney in June 2020 to win the WBA “World” junior bantamweight title. Their November 2020 rematch saw Moloney jump out to an early lead through two rounds, only for Franco to bel left unable to continue after a swollen shut eye from what was ruled an accidental headbutt. Their trilogy clash came last August, with Franco winning 116-112 on all three scorecards to defend the title.
Estrada became a two-division titlist following a twelve-round points win over Sor Rungvisai to claim the WBC strap in their April 2019 rematch. He has since made three defenses, including the disputed split-decision win over Gonzalez in their rematch to avenge a loss from more than eight years prior.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox