Alberto Puello finally has a path to his first career title shot.
BoxingScene.com has learned that Dominican Republic’s Puello will face former secondary title challenger Batyr Akhmedov for the vacant WBA junior welterweight title. A ruling was reached on Friday, following a month-long process of hearing the cases pleaded by the top six contenders as to why each was deserving of the opportunity.
Uzbekistan’s Akhmedov (9-1, 8KOs) was the number six contender and—on paper—the least likely to make it to the title picture. However, his team successfully argued that he boasted the credentials as well as a win in a semifinal eliminator last June that should have allowed him to be on the short list of contenders for such a fight. Puello and Akhmedov will now have 15 days from Friday’s ruling to work out terms, otherwise the bout will be subject to a July 5 purse bid hearing to determine promotional rights.
The ruling by the WBA leaves previous number-two contender Ismael Barroso on the outside looking in, though not completely emptyhanded.
“Alberto Puello and Batyr Akhmedov will fight for the vacant Super Lightweight title,” Carlos Chavez, chairman of the WBA Championship Committee noted in a letter to promoters and managers for all six contenders, a copy of which was obtained by BoxingScene.com. “Ahkmedov shall be rated #2 in the upcoming rankings. The winner of the Puello/Akhmedov fight must fight Ismael Barroso within ninety (90) days after winning the fight.”
Puello (20-0, 10KOs) is represented in talks by Tom Brown of TGB Promotions, though also fights for top Dominican promotional outfit Shuan Boxing. Akhmedov is represented by career-long manager Vadim Kornilov, a leading candidate thus far for 2022 Manager of the Year through his work with WBA light heavyweight titlist Dmitry Bivol among his many other clients.
The need to fill a vacancy arose once reigning champ Josh Taylor (19-0, 13KOs) reached a point where he couldn’t commit to a mandatory title defense within the imposed deadlines.
TGB Promotions was the lone bidder for an April 22 purse bid hearing, claiming promotional rights for Taylor-Puello with the minimum accepted bid of $200,000. The split was 55/45, though Taylor was expected to make far more than the $110,000 guaranteed from the purse bid. The Scottish southpaw never returned a signed contract within the 20-day deadline for a fight that TGB planned to stage on a July 16 PBC card that was since scrapped altogether.
Taylor fully unified all four 140-pound titles in a twelve-round, unanimous decision win over Jose Ramirez last May 22, with the winner well aware of the swarm of mandatory challengers to follow.
Rather than order a traditional vacant title fight between the number-one and number-two contenders—Puello and Barroso, respectively—the WBA instead called for a hearing with the top six contenders. The session took place on May 17, with Puello, Barroso, Ohara Davies, Sandor Martin, Regis Prograis and Akhmedov all granted 15 minutes each to plead their case, with an additional five minutes granted for the WBA panel to ask questions.
Puello was already owed a title shot, having previously held the now defunct interim title and inserted as the mandatory challenger. Barroso (23-3-2, 21KOs) was expected to be afforded the same luxury as the sanctioning body’s Gold titlist, which left him placed at number two.
The WBA decided that Akhmedov boasted the stronger case, including a prior knockout win over Barroso predating his vacant secondary 140-pound title fight with Mario Barrios in September 2019. Akhmedov dropped a disputed decision in their grueling 12-round fight, rebounding with two wins including an eighth-round stoppage of former 130-pound titlist Argenis Mendez last June 26 in Atlanta.
Barroso will now have to wait out the Puello-Akhmedov winner, much to his team’s dismay.
“Where do the injustices end in this boxing, the WBA with Gilberto Mendoza Jr. at the head does not stop doing injustices with the boxers,” Osmiri ‘Moro’ Fernandez, Barroso’s trainer and co-manager told BoxingScene.com. “We have all the evidence in the office of our lawyers.
“We are going to go with everything, mainly with the injustices for dirty business behind the curtains. Placing the number six [contender] above the number two-ranked Gold champion, I'm tired of all this Corruption. We will fight this decision with everything legally.”
As for the remaining contenders, the WBA will order a semifinal eliminator between England’s Davies (23-2, 16KOs) and Spain’s Martin (40-2, 13KOs). The same 15-day period afforded Puello-Akhmedov is also afforded the proposed Davies-Martin bout.
Prograis (27-1, 23KOs) is deemed a floating contender, available to enter any scenario in the event a fighter is “unable to compete for a justifiable medical reason” according to the WBA letter.
Puello won the interim title in a twelve-round decision over Jonathan Alonson in their July 2019 battle of unbeaten contenders. Two defenses followed before the belt was removed from circulation last August. Puello has since claimed a ten-round, unanimous decision win over Ve Shawn Owens on a PBC on Fox telecast last December at The Armory in Minneapolis.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox