Ra’eese Aleem will be forced to wait out a purse bid hearing to determine whether to stick with present plans or to pursue an avenue intended to lead to a major title fight.
The unbeaten top-rated junior featherweight contender and his team have yet to reach common ground with Azat Hovhannisyan and his handlers as it relates to a title eliminator as previously ordered by the World Boxing Association (WBA). More than two months have elapsed since the fight was first summoned, prompting the sanctioning body to schedule a purse bid hearing due to take place November 12 via Zoom conference call.
“The pioneer body sent communication to the parties with all the conditions to carry out the dispute according to the WBA rules,” noted Carlos Chavez, chairman of the WBA Championship Committee in a letter addressed to all parties. “Aleem is the top ranked super bantamweight and must face Hovhannisyan, who is ranked fourth, to define the next mandatory challenger of champion Murodjon Akhmadaliev.”
Aleem will be afforded the favorable end of the purse bid split, in a final eliminator to determine who would next face the winner of the WBA/IBF junior featherweight title fight between Uzbekistan’s Akhmadaliev (8-0, 6KOs) as the defending titlist and current mandatory Ronny Rios. Akhmadaliev-Rios is already scheduled to take place November 19 at SNHU Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire.
The problem as it relates to Aleem (18-0, 12KOs) is that he also has a fight scheduled. The undefeated contender from Las Vegas by way of Muskegon, Michigan is due to face Mexicali’s Eduardo Baez as part of a Showtime-televised tripleheader November 27 at Park MGM in Las Vegas. The show is headlined by a junior featherweight title unification bout between WBC champ Brandon Figueroa (22-0-1, 17KOs) and WBO titlist Stephen Fulton (19-0, 8KOs).
Aleem and Figueroa are both on the verge of losing favor with the WBA by proceeding with their separate bouts. Figueroa currently holds the WBA “World” title in addition to the WBC crown. The WBA belt in his possession is a secondary version to the “Super” title held by Akhmadaliev. The belt is not at stake November 27, nor did the WBA offer its blessing for Figueroa to enter the fight with Fulton. As such, he will be stripped of the belt the moment he enters the ring.
A similar fate awaits Aleem, who puts at risk his number-one contender status with the WBA should he move forward with the fight versus Baez which—for now—remains the plan.
Aleem-Rios was first ordered August 27, at the time with Aleem due to face Baez on September 18. The WBA agreed to suspend negotiations until after Aleem-Baez was completed. However, the September 18 date was scrapped and the show was postponed by more than two months due to Figueroa testing positive for Covid-19.
Marshall Kauffman, Aleem’s promoter petitioned the WBA to reconsider its stance on reordering the fight given the untimely delay, though the sanctioning body sided with Hovhannisyan and Golden Boy who rejected the request.
“For his part, Kauffman, representing Aleem, responded on October 6 to that objection and stated that the September 18 event had been rescheduled for November 27 for the previously signed bout against Baez,” explains Chavez.
“In this case, the decision for not granting the postponement request to Aleem’s team was because they failed to demonstrate the reason why the fighter is contractually obligated to face Baez. The reason for the postponement was not due to medical disability of the fighters.
“On the other hand, the Aleem-Baez bout is not for a championship or unification, so it is not significant enough to grant the postponement. The deadline set, November 5, is the final date and if they do not reach an agreement, the bout will be opened for bidding.”
Aleem has not fought since January 23, enjoying a breakout performance in a one-sided 11th round knockout of unbeaten Vic Pasillas to win the WBA interim junior featherweight title. The reign lasted until August 25, when the WBA removed the belts from circulation in its continued effort to reduce its number of recognized titlists. The previous claimants were inserted as mandatory challengers where seen fit.
Such was not the case at junior featherweight, where Rios was already ordered to next face Akhmadaliev and with Figueroa’s secondary title status now in limbo.
Hovhannisyan (20-3, 16KOs) has won six fights in a row since a failed title bid versus then-WBC champ Rey Vargas in May 2018. The 33-year-old Los Angeles-based Armenian—who knocked out Rios in the sixth-round of their March 2018 fight to earn the title shot—has fought twice in 2021, most recently in a ten-round decision win over Jose Santos Gonzalez this past July 9 at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles.
His next move could come as mandatory challenger by default.
“In the event Aleem participates in a bout other than the eliminator against [Hovhannisyan], his recognition will be revoked and [Hovhanisyan] will be certified as the mandatory challenger,” the WBA previously declared.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox