Franco ready to take on bareknuckle king after ‘Prizefighter’ victory

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Explosive Gainsborough fighter Ricardo ‘Rico’ Franco is eyeing one of the biggest challenges of his career after he was crowned a worldbeater in bareknuckle boxing.

Franco, 26, won £10,000 in the globally-renowned ‘Prizefighter’ final at London’s O2 Arena on Saturday night, beating James Connelly. Now, he has his sights set on a shot at the king of bareknuckle boxing, Jimmy Sweeney.

Irishman Sweeney, who also won on the same bill, is considered the number one in the sport, having won three world titles at different weights and amassed a record of 23 wins from 24 fights.

But Franco, who is now unbeaten in five bareknuckle bouts, is keen to a have a crack at him, with the duel lined up for November, again at the O2.

He said: “The ‘Prizefighter’ was big, but this will be even bigger. Ever since I started bareknuckle boxing, I’ve wanted to fight him.

“I know he is a legend, but I’m confident I can beat him.

“He is 35 now and was planning to retire. I am in the best shape of my life and would love to test myself against him. It’s the fight I really want.

“It was originally set up for September, but 13 weeks is too soon after Saturday, so it will now be in November.

“That gives us four months to rest, get our injuries sorted and prepare properly.”

Sweeney broke his hand in his bout on Saturday, while Franco broke his nose in what was a brutal fight against the tall and rangy Connelly, who suffered a broken jaw and two fractures in his hands.

In what was one of the highlights of an exciting night of combat sport, run by BKB, the Gainsborough man admitted it didn’t go totally to plan, especially after predicting he would take Connelly’s head “clean off”.

“I knew it would be tough but it turned out to be much tougher than I expected,” said Franco.

“I was planning for an early finish, but Connelly just wouldn’t go down. He kept bending down and grabbing me, so my game-plan went out of the window and I had to dig deep.

“We both took some big shots, but I kept applying the pressure and I think my fitness and general boxing skills came through in the end. I won every round and at the end, I knew I’d get the decision.”

In fact, the verdict of the judges was unanimous and Franco could start celebrating after what was the first-ever BKB bareknuckle title fight to go the full distance of seven rounds.

His victory also meant he had to keep a promise made to his girlfriend, Shannon Thompson, before the trip to London.

He said he would hand the £10,000 purse to her, and that they would go on a much-needed holiday with the money. They duly set off for Greece on Tuesday.

“I needed a rest because I have been on the go for six months, non-stop,” said Franco.

“But I wouldn’t be where I am without Shannon. We have a mortgage and she works full-time, which allows me to train full-time.

“Some weeks, we don’t see each other very much, but Shannon supports me all the way.

“People don’t understand the sacrifices I have to make to do this, but Shannon does and that makes a huge difference.”

Franco, who had more than 100 of his fans supporting him at the weekend, has previously spoken about his hunger and desire to make a success of his professional career as a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter since quitting his job at a steelworks in Scunthorpe.

Bareknuckle boxing was originally considered “a crazy sideline”, but he has made a massive impact in the sport, with Saturday’s triumph following a stunning victory in March when he knocked out the previously unbeaten Connor Tierney.

“I prefer MMA, but bareknuckle boxing is something different for me, and I love doing crazy things,” he said.

Franco was full of praise for the legion of local sponsors who have backed him and also for his inspirational coach, Danny Mitchell, a highly respected veteran of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) circuit before he had to retire.