BESPECTACLED and softly spoken, Joshua Franco’s genteel appearance is at odds with the emphatic intent his words carry. It’s been a little over three weeks since “El Profesor” ripped into Australia’s Andrew Moloney and scored a significant upset after 12 punishing rounds. Victory was more than just a shot in the arm for the young American’s career. It was a moment of validation for himself and those closest to him, irrefutable proof that his self-belief was never misplaced, regardless of how rocky the road has been thus far.
“Look what I did to him,” Franco told Boxing News about the win that saw him nab the secondary version of the WBA super-flyweight strap. “That shows me that I could do that to any of the world champions. Moloney was in talks to fight [full WBA boss] Roman Gonzalez after me, but I ruined those plans.
“For them [family] to see that it was possible, it made me feel great because of everything we’ve been through. All the struggles we’ve been through together, now my dreams are coming true.”
Despite entering the fight as a heavy underdog, Franco looked utterly assured, adopting the guise of an experienced veteran as he took his time to observe cracks in his opponent’s game plan before taking control in the second half of the contest. It was undoubtedly the most complete performance of Franco’s career, suffocating Moloney with his footwork, timing a stinging right hand over the top of his jab, and landing his signature uppercut seemingly at will.
“I was just going to adjust to whatever style he brought out,” Franco continued. “He started off really fast. I didn’t wanna start fast, I knew I had 12 rounds to work with so I knew inevitably he would slow down. I think he didn’t have the ability to keep up the pace with me.
I was working really hard in the gym, I was in great shape, and I just felt the stronger fighter that night.”
Franco has garnered a reputation as one of the most relentless pressure fighters around and the manner of this latest win has only strengthened that claim. Further testament to this came in his barnstorming trilogy with Oscar Negrete in which Franco averaged an astonishing 92 punches thrown per round over the course of three fights which included two draws and a win for Joshua.
“Going 30 hard rounds with Negrete, three fights in a row, it helped me a lot physically and mentally. But mostly mentally. I’m strong mentally. I just feel like none of the other fighters out there can keep up with me,” Franco continued. “In the amateurs I would throw a lot
of punches, a lot of combinations. I think it’s something that comes naturally from the gym. On the bag I’m always throwing up to six combinations every time, so it’s just something that comes naturally to me.”
Channelling that unrelenting fighting style has been the job of the revered Robert Garcia, a coach already well versed in refining many a fiery talent, from Antonio Margarito to Marcos Maidana. “Robert’s polished up my skillset with the knowledge he has,” Franco revealed. “My head movement and my jab, mainly. Now I’m just turning into a different fighter. He’s had multiple world champions so he has that recipe, he has what it takes, what to say and what to do in world title fights. Having him in my corner helps a lot. Even in training, having Robert is definitely an advantage. He’s always been someone who motivates me and keeps me focused.”
Franco’s introduction to the sweet science came from witnessing his family’s passion for the sport as a child. Relations old and young would huddle together around the television set on a Saturday evening to witness the latest pay-per-view fights. Franco would shadowbox as his heroes duked it out on the screen, mimicking their flurries, dreaming of one day landing the blow that crowns him world champion and drags his family out of financial hardship.
“We struggled,” recalls Franco. “Sometimes we wouldn’t be able to pay for the house. We’d be two or three payments behind, just struggling to keep it going. But all of it was worth it. And I’m just getting started.”
Love has remained a constant anchor throughout his young life, with one person in particular lifting Franco through the disappointment and realigning his focus during hard fights. “My girlfriend, she’s been there for me all the way. We met when we were high school freshmen [13 years old] and we’ve been together ever since. I picture our future and my family’s future. Even in the gym I’m always thinking about my family.”
Attention for the standout performer of Top Rank’s lockdown cards has inevitably turned to the big names of the division. Though Moloney has announced his wish to exercise their rematch clause, Franco can’t help but feel thrilled at the prospect of facing a modern legend of the sport down the line.
For now, though, celebrations continue amongst his peers at the Robert Garcia Boxing Academy in California, a gym that enjoys a comradery between its fighters. It was here that Franco’s moniker, “El Profesor”, was coined, initially because of his dapper presentation, though it was soon evident that the nickname was entirely appropriate for the 24-year-old’s brand of boxing.
“I’m not gonna go in there just swinging,” he explained. “I’m gonna pick my shots and, little by little, see where my opponent is going wrong and capitalise on his mistakes. I feel like I could do that with any fighter now.”