By Jake Donovan
There finally appears to be a clear path towards the heavyweight showdown between Ruslan Chagaev and Fres Oquendo. Event handlers announced on Thursday that the bout – originally scheduled for June 7 before legal matters took precedence – will now take place on July 6 in Glozny, Russia.
The winner will gain recognition as WBA ‘regular’ heavyweight titlist, which in reality means the winner will be in position to challenge true lineal heavyweight king Wladimir Klitschko.
A press release from Chagaev’s side announced the fight as a go, although it lacked any quotes from Oquendo or his camp. The last time the fight was announced, Oquendo’s co-promoters Hitz Boxing and Square Ring, Inc. wondered aloud – and through their attorneys – how such a fight was happening without their involvement.
This time around, all parties are in agreement that Oquendo is officially on course for a chance to claim a heavyweight title, even if not on the same page in regards to who is still part of the team.
“The WBA sent us a memorandum, recognizing (Hitz Boxing and Square Ring’s) position as Fres’ promoter,” acknowledged Bobby Hitz, Oquendo’s co-promoter. “That was our only issue before, our role not being properly recognized (when plans for June 7 were previously announced).”
Oquendo (37-7, 24KO) has won five straight in maneuvering in position to challenge for a major title. The opportunity first surfaced shortly after Klitschko decisioned Alexander Povetkin last October. Klitschko is widely recognized as the World heavyweight king, but carries the WBA ‘super’ title among his pile of alphabet belts. Povetkin entered the fight as the ‘regular’ titlist, which is the sanctioning body’s way of ensuring that there is always an active champion.
Once their belts were unified, there existed the sanctioning body’s need to create an opportunity for the next regular champion to be crowned. Since then, Oquendo – who was inactive since last June – set his sights on a title fight.
The hope was to get Oquendo the fight in June, even securing a stay busy fight in May as to break up an 11-month stretch of inactivity. Oquendo managed the rust-shaker bout, but his dreams of once again fighting for a title were put on hold, at least for a month.
“This bout is now taking place,” confirmed Tom Tsatas, Oquendo’s adviser. “The promoters have the bout agreements, travel visas are being secured for everyone they want to fight. We look forward to July 6, and Fres coming home to Chicago with the heavyweight title.”
Oquendo’s championship aspirations remain the one common bond still shared by a splintered team.
“It should have never come to this,” Hitz insists of the legal battle preceding the finalization of next month’s heavyweight bout. “Everyone wants to blame the promoter when it comes to stuff like this. A lot of times, it’s the fighters who are being given bad information by people with their own agenda.
“Our only agenda when it came to Fres was getting him to the world title. This has always been our goal.”
Oquendo has come up short in two separate attempts at a major title, both coming in back-to-back fights. The Puerto Rico-born, Chicago-based heavyweight lost in a controversial split decision to Chris Byrd in their Sept. ’03 fight – fittingly on an HBO telecast also featuring the exclusive rebroadcast of Shane Mosley’s own controversial split decision win in his rematch with Oscar de la Hoya.
Seven months later, Oquendo was on his way to victory before suffering an 11th round stoppage at the hands of John Ruiz in an extremely tough-to-watch heavyweight title fight at Madison Square Garden.
Since then, the veteran has won 13 of 17 fights, although there remains a strong case for his being jobbed in each of his four losses over that stretch.
Nevertheless, the 41-year old is now back in position to prove he still belongs among the best heavyweights in the world. The showdown with Chagaev (32-2-1, 20KO) – a former titlist whose lone losses came to Klitschko and Povetkin – is just his second fight outside of the United States. His lone trip abroad resulted in a disputed points loss to Jean-Marc Mormeck four years ago in France.
In doing his part to remain involved with Oquendo’s career, Hitz made sure to reach out to ensure the heavyweight enters to a level playing field.
“We’ve seen how it goes once fighters fly across the pond,” the promoter points out. “As this fight was discussed, we made sure to send over a litany of things to protect our interests and Fres’ interests as well. We are letting them know, that we know how the boxing business works and that this fight comes with the highest of integrity from all parties.”
Now all that Oquendo – and Chagaev, for that matter – has to do is make sure nothing strange happens between now and then.
“Barring injury or any other freak occurrence, this fight is taking place on July 6,” Tsatas promises. “The fight will take place on a Sunday night. By Monday morning, Fres will be on his way home as new heavyweight champion of the world.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America.