Juan Francisco Estrada is in the unique position of having to relinquish a title he doesn’t physically own.

Two options remain at large for the lineal junior bantamweight king, who still has ties to the WBA (“Super” champion) and the WBC (“Franchise” designation). Mexico’s Estrada was previously ordered to next face secondary WBA titlist Joshua Franco in a title consolidation clash that remains on hold and in search of a summertime fight date.

The WBC claims that Estrada previously committed to a rubber match with Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez. The bout was twice postponed but still owed as it relates to the WBC granting “Franchise” title status to Estrada in lieu of a previously owed mandatory title defense. That designation will be removed once he enters the ring to face Franco.

“If he decides to take that fight, then he’s off the WBC route,” WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman confirmed in a recent interview with veteran boxing insider Rob ‘Way Down In The Hole’ Tebbutt. “He’s free to go to the Franco WBA [route] and fight for the $120,000 purse bid that took place.

“If he decides to do that instead of honoring the process to lead to Chocolatito for the third time, that is his decision.”

The WBC created the “Franchise” title—in name only—in 2019, with its original intention to allow its most distinguished champions to pursue the biggest fights free from mandatory title defense restrictions. Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez was the first recipient at middleweight, followed by Vasiliy Lomachenko at lightweight.

Estrada (42-3, 28KOs) claimed the WBC and lineal junior bantamweight championship in an April 2019 win over Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (50-5-1, 43KOs), avenging a narrow defeat in February 2018. Just three defenses have followed in a reign crippled by injuries, illness and the pandemic.

Chief among them was a disputed split decision win over Gonzalez (51-3, 41KOs) in their epic rematch last March 13 in Dallas, Texas. Estrada defended the WBC title while claiming the WBA “Super” belt from Gonzalez, gaining revenge for a November 2012 loss when Gonzalez was the reigning junior flyweight champion.

Following the repeat win over Gonzalez, Estrada was on the hook for a mandatory title defense versus Sor Rungvisai. Through then co-promoter Matchroom Boxing, Estrada instead petitioned the WBC for “Franchise” title status which would allow for a more in-demand rubber match with Gonzalez than with the Thai southpaw. The WBC agreed, declaring its junior bantamweight title vacant and since claimed by Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez (15-0, 10KOs) in a twelve-round, unanimous decision win over former champ Carlos Cuadras this past February 5 in Phoenix.  

Rodriguez took the fight on six days’ notice, replacing an ill Sor Rungvisai who has since recovered and now challenges for the WBC belt this Saturday in Rodriguez’s hometown of San Antonio, Texas.

Estrada and Gonzalez were due to meet last October 16, only for Gonzalez to test positive for Covid. The bout was rescheduled for March 5 in San Diego, only for Estrada to show full blown Covid symptoms in shutting down training camp in mid-January. Gonzalez went on to face WBC flyweight titlist Julio Cesar Martinez (18-2, 14KOs), who moved up to junior bantamweight for the non-title fight but was outclassed by the Nicaraguan legend.  

The idea after that was for Gonzalez to revisit the trilogy clash with Estrada, only for the WBA to instead order the overdue title consolidation clash. The WBA initially agreed last summer to allow Estrada-Gonzalez III to move forward, and for the winner to next face Franco. Eight months and two fight delays later, the WBA decided the statute of limitations expired and proceeded with its title fight which still awaits a date.

Naturally, the same viewpoint is not shared by the WBC who explains the scenario where such a distinction can be derecognized.

“It was designed for Estrada to be able to give the third fight with Chocolatito, which everyone wanted when the bell rang to end that fight,” Sulaiman explains of honoring Estrada’s prior request. “The WBC had that process in place for a year. All of a sudden, the WBA decides out of the blue (to order Estrada-Franco).  

“If Estrada decides to go that way, perfect. The Franchise [title] is off. He made his decision. We did it for the good of the third fight with him and Chocolatito. It’s a very simple solution and decision.”

Golden Boy Promotions holds the rights to Estrada-Franco, having won a purse bid on April 19 with the WBA-imposed minimum bid of $120,000. Estrada is expected to make far more, though the fight was also expected to take place either June 11 or July 16. Neither side provided a firm update to BoxingScene.com as this goes to publish, other than a general time frame of later this summer.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox