Late money came in on Joshua Franco, just as it did last Tuesday night on Mike Plania. And like Plania, Franco scored an upset in tonight’s ESPN main event, beating Andrew Moloney by decision in Las Vegas, winning the WBA’s secondary “world” title at 115 pounds.
Franco (17-1-2, 8 KO) got close scores of 114-113, 114-113, and 115-112, meaning that an 11th round knockdown was the difference between his truly deserved victory and what would have been an incredibly controversial majority draw. Bad Left Hook had the fight 116-111 and 117-110 for Franco on separate cards.
Franco, 24, was coming in not just as the underdog, but as a “visiting” fighter against the house-promoted Moloney (21-1, 14 KO), who was making his debut on U.S. soil. Unfortunately for him, his American debut resulted in his first loss, as happened to twin brother Jason in 2018 in a world title fight against Emmanuel Rodriguez. Jason, who remains a bantamweight contender, fights Thursday night on ESPN.
Moloney, 29, did some good work in the first half of the fight and was game throughout, but his attack wasn’t consistent enough, he got caught cold at mid-range too often, and Franco just fought the better fight.
Franco really took control in the 10th round, opening a cut on Moloney and battering him throughout the round, leaving Moloney looking a bit lost in the ring and as he went back to his corner. Franco followed up with an early knockdown in the 11th, which, again, made the difference on the actual judges’ scorecards, even if that shouldn’t have been the only difference.
Moloney, to his credit, fought hard in the 12th and final round and went the distance bravely. He’s a good fighter, though flawed like most all fighters, and tonight just wasn’t his night. It’s a legitimately good win for Franco, who was previously best known for a trilogy with Oscar Negrete, where he went 1-0-2 and every fight was controversial in the end.
“It’s a great feeling. It still hasn’t hit me yet,” Franco said after the fight. “I’m world champion. I worked so hard for this, and I knew the hard work would pay off in the end.”
Franco, who is a Golden Boy fighter, will now be in the conversation at 115 pounds, obviously. The belt might be a little bogus, in all reality (Roman Gonzalez is the real WBA titleholder), but this was a win over a top 10 opponent, and makes Franco a serious contender in the division. It was a breakout evening for him.
Christopher Diaz UD-10 Jason Sanchez
A somewhat disappointingly dull fight, as Diaz (26-2, 12 KO) was too quick and too slick for Sanchez (15-2, 8 KO). Diaz, 25, didn’t do much of anything particularly special in this fight, and total punch stats look close, but the fight wasn’t that close, in reality.
Official scores were 97-93, 98-92, and 98-92 for Diaz, while BLH had it 98-92 on two separate cards for Diaz, too.
Diaz, a Puerto Rican fighter, has been exposed a bit in two previous steps up, first when he fought Masayuki Ito for a vacant 130-pound title in 2018, and again in 2019 when he’d dropped down to featherweight to fight Shakur Stevenson. Both of those guys routed him over the distance, but he’s a good second-tier sort of fighter. Diaz fought smart all night in this one, not engaging much unless he saw the openings, and Sanchez wasn’t good enough to force him to do any more than that.
Diaz wants a title fight, which might be doable if Top Rank can work some magic with the WBO if/when Shakur Stevenson vacates at 126. Odds are against him winning a world title, as he doesn’t seem to have necessarily gotten a lot better since his two losses, he just beats fighters below that level.
For the 25-year-old Sanchez, this is two losses in his last three fights, the other a title fight with Oscar Valdez in June 2019 where he lost a wide decision. He’s game and brave and can be fun in the right style matchup, but it looks like he just doesn’t have top-level skill.
Miguel Contreras UD-6 Rolando Vargas
A good matchup of unbeaten young junior welterweights, with close scores of 58-56 across the board for Contreras, which I think was the right score. The 20-year-old Vargas (5-1, 5 KO) hadn’t gone past the second round in his pro career, stopping everyone to date, but Contreras (11-0, 6 KO) just proved to be a step a bit too far up.
Contreras really won this fight with consistency and body work, as Vargas seemed to fight a bit more in spurts, even though their total stat numbers wound up very similar. The 22-year-old Contreras landed 111 of 328 (34%) total punches, and 91 of 211 (43%) of his power shots, compared to 102 of 318 (32%) total punches from Vargas, and 85 of 219 (39%) power shots. The jabs were close, too, with Contreras edging Vargas, 20-17, but Contreras as mentioned did the notably better work to the body, landing 46 body shots to Vargas’ 14. These guys are both really young and this was a nice matchup to make. Vargas takes the L but still looks like he’s got potential, as does Contreras.
Helaman Olguin MD-6 Alex Stewart
Stewart (8-1-1, 5 KO) pretty much lost any real hope of breaking through in boxing at a late stage in life (for a boxer), dropping the majority decision to Olguin (8-3, 3 KO), who certainly isn’t very good.
The 31-year-old Stewart is from Arizona and had a little club experience, turning pro in 2016; about the level at which the 36-year-old Olguin has fought in a start-and-stop career since 2008. Looks were deceiving here. Utah’s Olguin is a 290-pound guy, sloppy build on a 6’3” frame, but he seemed the clearly more skilled boxer compared to the 6’6” Stewart, whose height kept him in the fight as much as anything. Judges saw it 57-57 on one card, and 58-56 Olguin on the other two, which are all fair scores. This wasn’t a very good fight for TV, but it wasn’t unfathomably bad for prelims, which is really what the bulk of these undercards are for the Top Rank Summer Series on ESPN.