Joshua Franco made a tremendous impact in the first world title fight since boxing returned to action, winning the WBA “regular” junior bantamweight belt from the previously undefeated Andrew Moloney on Tuesday in Las Vegas.
Franco was not undefeated like Moloney or prospects Miguel Contreras and Rolando Vargas, who fought earlier on the card. But rather than derailing Franco’s momentum, past difficulties in the ring set him up for the biggest night of his career.
Franco’s only loss came at the hands of Lucas Fernandez in 2018, a fight that was built around Franco’s homecoming in Puerto Rico. Then Franco ran a 30-round gantlet in three fights against Oscar Negrete, earning a split-decision win and settling for two split draws.
“It showed in the ring what all those fights taught me, and I dominated,” Franco said Tuesday.
Tuesday was a celebration of Franco’s determination and ability, but credit also lies with the matchmakers who made it a reality. Much is said about the Top Rank duo of Bruce Trampler and Brad Goodman — and for good reason. They are as good at what they do as anybody, and they consistently develop talent in the sport. But on Tuesday, Golden Boy Promotions and its matchmaker, Robert Diaz, saw the fruits of their labor in Franco’s victory.
Diaz believes in matching his guys tough, and if they lose, so be it. His belief is that it hardens young fighters, and in the long run, it better prepares them for world-class competition. That was certainly the case with Franco, who proved his mettle in Golden Boy’s “LA Fight Club” series. Since 2015, the monthly Friday night fight cards featuring young prospects have been seen by Golden Boy as a way of building its stable. Franco’s first five fights happened on those cards, and he isn’t the only world titlist who shares that background. WBO 154-pound titlist Patrick Teixeira, IBF featherweight titlist Joseph Diaz Jr. and WBA 130-pound belt holder Rene Alvarado were all there, too.
Franco has come a long way from the Belasco Theater to “The Bubble” and a world title, but going through the fire forged him as a champion.
Diaz still a player at 126
Christopher Diaz put forth a very sharp and focused effort in handling Jason Sanchez over 10 rounds. Diaz is just 25 years old, and if you look at his record, he has only two blemishes: former world belt holder Masayuki Ito and current WBO featherweight titlist Shakur Stevenson. It’s clear that it takes a certain caliber of fighter to defeat Diaz, and all of his tools were on display Tuesday, as he boxed with a blend of athleticism and intelligence.
With the exceptions of Stevenson and WBC titleholder Gary Russell Jr., you can make a strong argument that Diaz can hang with any featherweight in the world. He has above-average speed and punches just hard enough to get your attention. Should Stevenson and Russell move up, it’s a wide-open division, and it isn’t inconceivable that Diaz could become the next Puerto Rican prizefighter to win a major world title.
Big value in promising prospects fighting each other
As unbeaten junior welterweights Miguel Contreras, 22, and Rolando Vargas, 20, stepped into the ring for their six-round battle, a thought struck me as I considered the unique circumstances surrounding this fight.
It’s becoming rarer to see two undefeated, young fighters with something to offer inside the ring squaring off against each other early in their careers. But that’s exactly what we got Tuesday.
The action was consistent and solid throughout. Early on, Contreras (11-0, 6 KOs) got inside and kept clubbing Vargas with both hands to the body. The taller Vargas (5-1, 5 KOs) had issues keeping Contreras off, but as the fight went on, Vargas gained his composure and began to land solid right hands.
At the end of the fight, Contreras left the ring with his “0” intact, but really, what was lost for Vargas? He got the exposure of fighting on a nationally televised broadcast and gained invaluable experience in the process — the type of knowledge that’s hard to gain when facing lower-level opponents selected to keep a boxer undefeated.
Boxing has an obsession with undefeated records, and many times, these unblemished marks are a mirage, a testament to soft matchmaking. Often, they don’t develop a fighter to be ready for the most important stage of his career.
In a year or so, the actual result of this fight won’t mean all that much for Vargas, but the experience the fighters got tonight could prove to reshape the trajectory of either’s career.
Goodman said that in formulating these summer fights, six- and eight-round fighters were much more willing to take chances than they were prior to the coronavirus pandemic, given the particular circumstances and the opportunity to be on a televised show. Hopefully this becomes more of the norm moving forward.
Heavyweights are hard to find at every level
One of the most difficult commodities to find in boxing in 2020 is a quality heavyweight. Nowadays, many of the best big athletes in the United States play basketball or football, and some of those athletes who fall short of the professional ranks turn to boxing as a backup plan. Big men at the level of Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder are incredibly difficult to find. Wilder didn’t start boxing until he was 20 years old.
We’ve been reminded of that struggle in the early weeks of boxing’s return, as it has proven difficult to find preliminary-level heavyweights to match with genuinely exciting prospects such as Jared Anderson and Guido Vianello, guys who could be future opponents for the biggest names in the division. Anderson and Vianello faced very little resistance in recent wins on Top Rank cards.
We saw that lack of depth again Tuesday, as Helaman Olguin and Adam Stewart slogged through six rounds of rather uninspired action, which saw Olguin come out with the victory. It was the same thing we saw with Hector Perez and Juan Torres last week as they put forth a lackluster six-round fight.
Divisions are built from the ground up, and it’s unlikely that you’ll get the kind of competition required to build that needed depth until there are more athletically talented heavyweights working their way up.
Joseph Adorno faces tough questions after cancellation
Lightweight Joseph Adorno was scheduled to face Alexis del Bosque on Tuesday, but after Adorno failed to make weight following a tough weight cut, the bout was called off because he was suffering from dehydration early Tuesday morning.
There’s rising concern about Adorno, a heavy-handed prospect from Allentown, Pennsylvania, and his ability to make weight. When asked how many other times Adorno has struggled with his weight cut, sources at Top Rank said he has had issues at least twice and potentially four times. At the age of 21, Adorno has come to a crossroads of sorts in his young career. In his most recent outing, he was held to an eight-round draw against journeyman Hector Garcia, proving that maybe the tough weight cuts are leading to poor results.
If this continues to be habitual, it could be an anchor that drags down Adorno’s career.