By Jake Donovan
Maybe the third time won’t be a charm after all for Ali Funeka.
Efforts to have the South African contend for a third title shot in as many fights have proven futile, with the latest unfortunate event coming earlier this week when Rolando Reyes withdrew from their IBF-mandated vacant lightweight title fight.
The search is on for a new opponent after Reyes’ team declined to accept an offer that would have their fighter travel to Funeka’s hometown of East London, South Africa for the fight, as per the terms of the purse bid. Branco Sports Productions, whom represents Funeka in South Africa, won the right to promote the fight with their winning purse bid of $140,000.
Reyes loses his spot in line as a result, with the IBF turning to Joan Guzman and Miguel Vazquez (in that order) to step in. The replacement would still have to fight on April 16, presumably in the same location.
Guzman and Funeka fought to a hotly contested draw last November for the very same title that will celebrate its one-year anniversary of vacancy come Sunday. Many believed Funeka not only deserved the nod in the fight, but that it ranked among the year’s worst decisions.
The two fighters remained in the top two rated spots in the IBF’s lightweight rankings, but Guzman was passed over for the latest vacant title fight due to being placed on medical suspension following their fight. Reyes was the next highest rated contender, and at the time was willing to accept the fight.
However, complications came about after Branco Sports insisted on allowing the fight to go to purse bid rather than listen to any negotiated offer.
Ironically, it was Funeka’s stateside promoter – Gary Shaw – who saw this potential fallout coming a mile away. The New Jersey-based promoter expressed grave concern over Branco Sports’ plan the moment he caught wind of it, knowing that it would be far more difficult to find a willing party to travel to South Africa.
Shaw’s original plan was to have Funeka-Reyes as the co-feature to last weekend’s Showtime headliner between Edwin Valero and Antonio DeMarco. It would’ve been the wisest move for a number of reasons, and the easiest move to make since Shaw was already the promoter of record for the show.
Instead, Branco Sports Productions got what they wished for – only to now be left without a fight for the moment.
The IBF has contacted Guzman’s promoter, Golden Boy Promotions, to see if their fighter will be willing to accept the terms in place to once again challenge for the vacant title. Guzman is no longer under suspension, and has seen his name attached to a number of rumored fights – including in-house Golden Boy matchups with Joel Casamayor and Michael Katsidis.
Should Guzman decline the offer, the IBF will move on to Miguel Vazquez, a physical Mexican contender who is currently enjoying a four-fight win streak.
Vazquez (25-3, 12KO) scored the biggest win of his career in his last fight, a 10-round split decision over previously unbeaten Breidis Prescott on ESPN2 Friday Night Fights last summer. His only losses to date have come against top shelf opposition (Tim Bradley and a pair of closely contested decisions against Saul Alvarez) and above the lightweight limit.
While Vazquez isn’t the most recognizable name of the bunch, he boasts something neither Funeka nor Guzman can claim – a win since 2008.
Funeka is now 0-1-1 in the past year and change, with the aforementioned draw to Guzman having been preceded by a heartbreaker to Nate Campbell a year ago. Campbell lost his lightweight belts on the scales after failing to make the lightweight limit. The belts were only on the line for Funeka, who suffered knockdowns early and late to lose a close, but rightly scored, majority decision.
His last win came in July 2008, when he stopped Zahir Raheem in four rounds in East London, South Africa, though also not without controversy. Funeka dominated the fight, dropping Raheem three times within the first three rounds, but the finishing sequence – a left hook followed by a straight right hand to floor Raheem – came after the bell to end the fourth.
The infraction went unnoticed by referee Ernie Sharif, who counted out Raheem to give Funeka the win in the sanctioned title eliminator.
More than 18 months later, Funeka remains in the front of the line for a third crack at the same title. All he needs now is a lightweight willing to travel to South Africa to fight him.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com and an award-winning member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Contact Jake at JakeNDaBox@gmail.com.