As the boxing career of Austin Trout continues, so too does his ongoing legal battle with the World Boxing Organization.
The former World Boxing Association (WBA) junior middleweight champion will continue the good fight in the courtroom, after the United States Court of Appeals granted an appeal in Trout’s favor in the latest round of his $40 million lawsuit filed against the WBO.
The ruling was handed down in the First Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday, extensively outlined in a 26-page Opinion & Order document of which BoxingScene.com has obtained a copy. Friday’s verdict returns the lawsuit back in the presence of the trial court.
Trout’s previous request for review of the case was denied by that same court, thus underlining the significance of this latest development.
“Through its Opinion, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has afforded boxers the opportunity to be heard by a fair finder of fact and law,” Miguel J. Ortega-Nuñez, representing Trout on behalf of the Cancio, Nadal and Rivera, LLC. law firm in San Juan told BoxingScene.com. “This decision should send a message everywhere in the boxing industry: the Muhammad Ali Act will not bend to particular interests.
“Any and all boxers having a claim under the Muhammad Ali Act shall be heard by an impartial forum.”
Trout (32-5-1, 18KOs) officially filed his lawsuit in November 2015, a few months after the New Mexico-bred southpaw was denied an opportunity to fight for the vacant WBO 154-pound title. Trout was ranked number-four by the Puerto Rico-based sanctioning body at a time when a review process was ongoing to determine whether Demetrius Andrade should have been permitted to extend his largely inactive title reign.
Andrade was stripped of the title on August 1, 2015, following an unforgivable 14-month inactive stretch which included his bailing from a planned December 2014 title defense versus Jermell Charlo. At the time of the WBO declaring the title vacant, Trout—who was consistently ranked number-four—suddenly disappeared from the WBO Top 15 altogether.
For months, Trout remained ranked only behind Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez—who was already angling towards a showdown with then-lineal and WBC middleweight champion Miguel Cotto—Oleksandr Spyrko and France’s Michel Soro. Upon declaring Andrade unfit to remain WBO 154-pound titlist, Trout should have been eligible to fight for the vacant crown versus Soro, given that Alvarez and Spyrko were unavailable at the time.
The opportunity instead went to England’s Liam Smith, who also previously fell prey to a ratings omission in June 2015 after having been ranked number-five in May. The Brit was reinserted in the July ratings at number-four, replacing Trout whom was dropped altogether. Soro and Smith were promoted to number two and three, respectively in the August 2015 rankings, leaving them as the two highest-rated available contenders to fight for the vacant title.
Soro was unavailable, as was Spyrko (number-four at the time), leaving Smith to face New Jersey’s John Thompson, who—following his winning run in the ESPN2 Friday Night Fights Boxcino Tournament that May—entered the WBO 154-pound set in June at number five. His placement at the time was one spot below Trout, where he once again found himself in the September 2015 rankings when Trout was reinserted in his old position.
By that time, Smith and Thompson were already signed and sealed for a vacant title fight on October 10, 2015. Justification for Trout’s prior removal was offered by the sanctioning body.
Francisco ‘Paco’ Valcárcel, longtime president of the WBO claimed at the time that Trout’s commitment to a September 2015 clash versus Joey Hernandez—which headlining the inaugural installment of Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) on FS1—was deemed as his being unavailable to fight for the title.
“When it appeared that our title would become vacant, Trout had signed on to face Joey Hernandez (in September 2015)," Valcárcel told El Vocero at the time. “And when he signed to fight Hernandez, he could not fight with Liam Smith [for the vacant belt]. Both Trout and Smith were removed (from the rankings) but Trout never requested that he be restored [at the time], which is his right to do so, and Smith [did request to be restored], and by our regulation we matched Smith against the next champion of the division, that was the champion of the NABO [Thompson].
“Trout was simply committed to fighting with Joey Hernandez when the opportunity arose [to fight for the vacant belt].”
Efforts to seek further clarification in present day were limited to the merits of the case.
“We are prevented by legal ethics from commenting on the Trout appellate decision since it is an active case pending legal action,” Gustavo Olivieri, Esq., in-house counsel for WBO informed BoxingScene.com.
In the five years since the initial filing, Trout has fought just six times. Three of the six have come in bids for the IBF and WBC junior middleweight titles.
Trout dropped a competitive and debatable 12-round decision to then-IBF 154-pound titlist Jermall Charlo in May 2016. Nearly 17 months later came the lone stoppage loss of his career, as he was forced to retire on his stool at the end of the 10th round of an otherwise competitive challenge of then-unbeaten IBF champ Jarrett Hurd.
A comeback win in his adopted hometown of El Paso Texas in February 2018 paved the way for his latest title fight, suffering two knockdowns in a 12-round majority decision defeat to then-unbeaten WBC titlist Jermell Charlo—Jermall’s twin brother—in June 2018.
Two fights have since followed—a 10-round draw with Terrell Gausha last May in Biloxi, Mississippi, followed by a 2nd round knockout of Rosbel Montoya this past February in Ruidoso, New Mexico.
During that same stretch has come several rounds of legal wrangling between Trout and the WBO.
The former WBA titlist filed a lawsuit against the WBO in November 2015 in his local Dona Ana County Court in New Mexico. Nearly two years later came the bold declaration of an amended $40 million lawsuit filed against the sanctioning body, with Trout claiming violation of the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act (MABRA).
Such a claim was based on the WBO’s handling of assembling a Grievance Committee—defined as “a fair and independent arbitrator of any grievance arising out of WBO Participation and it shall conduct all of its proceedings as Amiable Compositeur (unbiased third-party mediator).” The motion advanced the case to the federal court in the District of New Mexico and then, pursuant to a clause in the WBO's Championship Regulations ("Championship Regulations"), successfully moved to transfer the case from there to the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico.
From there, the WBO sought to compel arbitration pursuant to a separate clause in its championship regulations and the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). At the time, the District Court granted the motion and dismissed Trout’s claim without prejudice.
The most recent ruling in the First Circuit Court of Appeals gives the boxer a chance to fight another day—in and out of the ring—thus also placing the responsibility back in the hands of the District Court.
“This is, indeed, a great victory for Mr. Trout and boxing in general,” Ortega-Nuñez told BoxingScene.com. “However, there is still a very long road ahead in order to bring the Muhammad Ali Act to its full potential. We will do our share of the job, by prosecuting this case until justice is done to Mr. Trout, who’s claim exemplifies exactly why the Muhammad Ali Act was created in the first place.
“We are ready for the next round.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox