The road to crowning a vacant IBF lightweight titlist has taken yet another turn.
Boxingscene.com has been informed that plans are in the works for a vacant title fight between lightweight contenders Ali Funeka and Joan Guzman.
The bout has already been approved by the IBF, whose vacant lightweight belt would be at stake should the two sides come to terms.
September 19 is the target date for the fight, placing it on the undercard of the Floyd Mayweather-Juan Manuel Marquez headlined pay-per-view telecast in Las Vegas.
The move makes sense, as the undefeated Guzman (29-0, 17KO) recently signed an exclusive promotional deal with Golden Boy Promotions, who along with Mayweather Promotions serves as the promoters of record for the aforementioned pay-per-view card.
Phone calls to Golden Boy Promotions and Gary Shaw Productions, the US-promoter of record for Funeka, went unreturned.
Efforts to fill the vacancy have proven to be troublesome for the New Jersey-based sanctioning body ever since Nate Campbell was forced to concede the belt on the scales prior to his 12-round decision win over Funeka (30-2, 25KO) earlier this year.
Initial plans called for a box-off between Guzman and Yuri Romanov of Belarus. Those plans were derailed after the IBF learned of Guzman’s administrative suspension with the Mississippi Athletic Commission for his pulling out of a contracted fight with Nate Campbell after failing to make weight.
Inserted in Guzman’s place was Don King-promoted Fernando Angulo, a transplanted Ecuadorian now living in Venezuela. Funeka’s camp took immediate issue with the sanctioning of Angulo, citing his last three bouts having taken place outside of the lightweight limit.
Included in that stretch was a sanctioned eliminator in which he missed weight, as well as a loss that came on the non-televised undercard of Funeka’s razor thin loss to Campbell. IBF rules state that a fighter cannot contend for their title when coming off of a loss.
Such a rule would seemingly disqualify Funeka from the running, but the loophole is that his opponent – Campbell – didn’t make weight for their fight. He did, which should put him first in line since he was the last one to make weight and win an IBF-sanctioned fight, which would be his 4th round knockout of Zahir Raheem last summer.
Funeka is now back in the title picture, though his justice comes via process of elimination. Romanov is the latest to be removed from the fold, due to unexpected Visa issues altering his travel plans.
The title picture has now come full circle, with Funeka and Guzman, the two highest rated challengers in the IBF’s most recent ratings, now the leading contenders for the vacant title.
Of course, both fighters come with their own baggage.
Guzman has been out of the ring since last December, when he scored a 12-round decision over Ameth Diaz in his native Dominican Republic. The bout was his first in more than a year, with scheduled fights against Alex Arthur and Nate Campbell falling through.
The latter bout saw Guzman branded with the scarlet letter, after failing to make weight for their scheduled September ’08 title fight. He was then admitted into a nearby hospital to be treated for dehydration, and subsequently opted to skip out on the bout altogether despite Campbell agreeing to terms regardless of weight.
His actions earned him an administrative suspension with the Mississippi Boxing Commission, though he will be cleared to fight by September 19 or whenever the fight is eventually scheduled to take place.
Should everything go according to plan, the bout will be Guzman’s first title fight since November 2007, when he scored a 12-round decision win over Humberto Soto for the final defense of his alphabet junior lightweight belt.
Guzman had also previously served as a junior featherweight titlist. His success in the pros, along with a stellar 310-10 amateur record and a stint in the 1996 Summer Olympics rates him as perhaps the greatest fighter to ever come out of the Dominican Republic.
Many regard him as one of the better tacticians in the sport today, though he has proven to be his own worst enemy with repeated weight issues and long periods of inactivity.
Funeka has not fought since the close decision loss to Campbell. An impressive boxing display for much of the middle rounds of his US televised and stateside debut was unfortunately bookended by knockdowns early and late, proving to be the difference between a draw and the majority decision that came about in the fight.
Prior to February, Funeka had never fought outside of his native South Africa. The majority of his 32 bouts to date have taken place in his hometown of East London.
Most notable among his 30 wins was his fourth round knockout of Zahir Raheem last July, though the ending came in controversial fashion. Funeka was winning the fight handily, but the fight-ending sequence came after the bell had rung to end the fourth round.
Little was made of it, however, as Raheem had been dropped three times prior in the fight and a Funeka win was all but inevitable.
The proposed fight with Guzman will mark Funeka’s second attempt at a world title. If plans hold up for a spot on the September 19 pay-per-view, then it will also serve as his second straight stateside appearance.
Of course, that would mean both sides coming to terms, thus avoiding a purse bid. As has been proven in the past several months following the title’s vacancy, the road leading to an eventual title fight has anything but seamless.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of Boxingscene.com and an award-winning member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Contact Jake at [email protected]