By Jake Donovan
One way or another, Fres Oquendo will have a fight on his hands.
The former two-time heavyweight title challenger hopes will be in the ring, as he is scheduled to face former titlist Ruslan Chagaev on July 6 at FC Terek Stadium in Grozny, Russia. However, an ongoing legal battle – which has already played a part in the bout’s delay – is threatening to disrupt those plans.
Oquendo’s co-promoters, Hitz Boxing and Square Ring announced on June 21 that a joint lawsuit has been filed to protect their exclusive promotional rights in regards to the heavyweight.
“A couple of days after the fight was postponed to July 6, we were contacted by Malte Mülle-Michaleis who advised Square Ring and (Hitz Boxing) that he represented Timur Dugazaev and Terek Box Event, and that they had been directed by the governmental authorities in Grozny to negotiate a deal with us,” promoter Bobby Hitz revealed in a statement accompanying the lawsuit announcement. “We did negotiate a deal and were advised that the financial terms had been agreed upon.
“After that, they went completely dark on us in regards to signing the paperwork. We tried through some back channels to reach the authorities in Grozny and sought assistance from the WBA (whose “regular” heavyweight title is on the line), but essentially our rights continue to be disrespected... Hitz Boxing and Square Ring worked long and hard to get this title shot for Fres and while it what we wanted for Fres, we are not going to sit idly by while our rights are disrespected. Everyone involved in this fight can expect a much bigger battle in the courts.”
As July 6 inches closer, Oquendo and his team don’t seem too concerned about their travel plans being canceled.
“I thought there was a campaign against bullying?" quipped Lee Holiday, Oquendo's manager in regards to the threat of a lawsuit.
Attorney Hector Morales, representing Oquendo’s team added: “Fres Oquendo is not under any promotional agreement. It expired. There are no extensions or agreements that supersede that expired agreement. That is my legal opinion. Period."
Oquendo (37-7, 24KO) has won five straight heading into the bout, just his second outside of the United States. His lone trip abroad resulted in a controversial points loss to Jean Marc Mormeck in May ’10, which was followed by a shocking points loss to aged former champ Oliver McCall in yet another fight that many believe should have gone his way.
Controversial decisions are hardly unique in Oquendo’s career, having also landed on the wrong end of suspect scoring in bouts with James Toney and then-heavyweight titlist Chris Byrd in Sept. ’03.
Chagaev also enters the bout on the heels of a five-fight win streak, most recently decisioning Jovo Pudar last October. Interestingly, the bout came on the undercard of Wladimir Klitschko’s 12-round win over Alexander Povetkin to gain recognition as the “unified” WBA heavyweight champion, in addition to his slew of belts and his recognition as lineal heavyweight champ, which dates back to his own win over Chagaev in June ’09.
Prior to the fight, Chagaev reigned as heavyweight titlist, beginning with a 12-round points win over Nikolay Valuev in April ’07. His reign lasted two years, but only saw two successful title defenses before he was stripped in 2009. An attempt to reclaim his title resulted in a decision loss to Povetkin in August ’11.
Given Klitschko’s established title reign, few will respect this fight as a genuine title fight. Oquendo and his team are well aware of that, and view this opportunity as more of a chance to prove their worth in the title picture, while establishing their own willingness to face Klitschko with a win.
“For those proclaiming Fres or Chagaev are not worthy of this belt, we will say that Fres has more experience than any heavyweight other than the current super champion Wladimir Klitschko,” insists Tom Tsatas, Oquendo’s adviser. “Mr. Chagaev is a former world champion with only two defeats to world champions. They are both willing to fight each other for the opportunity to fight the Super Champion rather than run away like others for fear of losing to the WBA behemoth.
“We respect and congratulate Mr. Chagaev and Mr. Dugazaev for the opportunity and the WBA for approving this bout in Grozny. We are extremely excited for the new adventure and opportunity of visiting this new and exciting place at this time in our lives.”
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.