Making the walk to the ring as the challenger on enemy soil is daunting enough, with legs heavy and nerves visibly creasing every facial expression. It’s not fear. Fear is something different. It’s more the culmination of a life’s work; it’s that big moment that many fighters fear may never actually arrive in a sport as fickle as boxing.

As Joshua Franco (17-1-2, 8 KOs) walked to the ring, he wasn’t blasted by jeers from his opponent’s raucous fan base. We’re living in different times as the sport bounces back from the Covid-19 pandemic. Instead, it was only eerie silence and verbal nods from his corner team, leaving him almost alone with his thoughts. 

The man from San Antonio, Texas, wasn’t expected to win, but he tells Boxing Social it was never in doubt, explaining, “I’ve been through situations when I take the ‘L’. I know the feeling. Going into the fight I’m fearless, you know? I don’t care about anything other than getting the win. That’s all that matters to me.

“I didn’t do too much research on Andrew Moloney before the fight; just [watched] a few clips here and there. I felt really confident going into this fight based on my sparring. I knew he was a good fighter, he started fast, but I had to take my time with my style and I knew I was gonna dominate. He was the Top Rank fighter. He was the world champion. When people have world title shots, they have to rip that belt from the champion. That was my mindset throughout the whole training camp, and throughout the whole fight. Domination.”

Franco (left) rallied late to trump Moloney (right) on the scorecards.
Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.

Franco, known as ‘El Profesor’, had gone 3-1-2 in his last six fights, but boxing’s insiders thought him of as a very ‘live dog’ when squaring off against Australian WBA Regular champion Moloney. Sent by Golden Boy Promotions to upset Bob Arum’s party, he emerged victorious, clutching an additional, coveted piece of hand luggage.

“It was all kinds of emotions, man,” Franco stated, breathing a sigh of relief. “To become champion of the world, it just felt great. I always knew growing up, all I wanted to do was become champion and I finally did it. I didn’t mind the pressure; I knew I was the underdog and everybody was saying I was going to lose and that I didn’t have a chance. Going into the Top Rank show, I knew what I had to do and I knew that I was gonna get that win. It feels good to finally eat something that I want to eat! Now that I’m out of camp and the fight’s over, I can enjoy eating whatever I want right now.”

New champ Franco (left) has now entered the conversation for fights against the 115lbs elite including Roman Gonzalez, Naoya Inoue and Juan Francisco Estrada.
Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank.

At 24 years old, Franco is entering his prime at super-flyweight; a division, which has gained prominence after the success of televised shows in recent years. Names like Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez, Juan Francisco Estrada, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Naoya Inoue have placed the 115lbs division firmly in fans’ minds, providing some excellent fight nights and much-needed notoriety for boxing’s little men.

Though he’s had to rebuild at an early stage of his professional career, the support of his family was the spine of Franco’s recent success.

“Growing up, we were stable enough. I just remember always being with my family and I was always watching boxing as a kid because my dad was a big boxing fan, so he would buy all the big fights,” Franco told Boxing Social. “We would have barbecues and watch the boxing, whether it was on HBO or Showtime. So I always loved boxing since I was a kid, but my dad never let me train until I was 13. Eventually, he took me to the gym and, ever since then, I just haven’t stopped.

“It was just the fighting [I fell in love with]. I enjoyed watching people go at it, I enjoyed watching these wars on TV. I used to like the fact that if you didn’t hold your hands up, you would get hit in the face and, really, fighting just interested me. As a kid, I always had a desire to do something big. When I was 10 years old, I tried to play football but I wasn’t really interested. Then eventually I got involved in boxing to keep my mind busy.”

Franco (right) stopped Jose Alejandro Burgos in nine in January before shocking the
boxing world five months later. Photo: Hogan Photos/Golden Boy Promotions.

‘El Profesor’ has been fighting professionally since 2015, battling and earning his crust against sturdy opposition. His two draws with Oscar Negrete sandwiched a split-decision victory over the tricky Colombian and their triple-header commenced only seven months after a shock loss to Lucas Fernandez Leone (TKO9). It’s fair to say that 2018 was the year that could have broken Franco, however, those results made him.

He spoke about recovering from his lowest ebb, understanding what – and who – is truly important to him, and never discarding his Texan, Mexican-American roots. Now, in a division that still hosts Nicaraguan hero ‘Chocolatito’ as the WBA’s Super champion, Franco has his sights set on legacy-defining contests. It may not be long before a recently confirmed Moloney rematch takes place, but Golden Boy’s newest star remains confident. It is onwards and upwards.

“Right now, I feel great and I’m blessed to have this world title now,” explained Franco. “I should be in the conversation with these other champions because I know I’ve earned my spot. I’m ready to get in with these fighters now. Chocolatito is the main one. I think him and me would have a great fight; it could be fight of the year. If we fight, it will be explosive, it will be an all-out war but I’m just so confident in my ability. 

“I want to experience that kind of fight and I know that I have what it takes. I want to be remembered as a legend. As a great fighter. Like Sugar Ray Leonard, guys like Canelo. I want to leave a good legacy and have fights that people will always remember. That’s what is most important to me.”

Franco may go on to battle the best in the division or he may suffer defeat in his rematch with Moloney, but history can’t be erased. When crowds return to boxing, his audience will have inflated significantly as fans always value heart and continue to fall in love with the underdog. The big nights will feel a lot bigger as the second man making the ringwalk – and he’s undoubtedly earned that right.

Franco now has his sights set on a lasting legacy in the fight game.
Photo: Hogan Photos/Golden Boy Promotions.

Main photo: Hogan Photos/Golden Boy Promotions.