By Jake Donovan
It's been a long time coming, but Claudio "Matrix" Marrero finally has a good feeling about landing his second major title shot.
The once-beaten featherweight has watched negotiations drag out for a desired showdown with World Boxing Association (WBA) interim featherweight Carlos Zambrano, but with the imposed deadline rapidly approaching comes the sense that 2017 will finally be the year his career comes full circle.
"I've been chasing him all year," Marrero (21-1, 15KOs) told BoxingScene.com of his exhausted pursuit of the unbeaten titlist from Peru. "He came up with a million excuses to avoid me, he even tried to hide behind Floyd Mayweather (Zambrano signed with Mayweather Promotions over the summer).
"Now, all he can do is hand over his title. He can be a man about it and losing it by trying to defend it against me, or he can take the other way out and vacate if he don't want to catch these hands."
Zambrano and his side will have until December 15 to make that decision, at which point the World Boxing Association will host a mandatory purse bid at its headquarters in Panama City, Panama.
The bout will mark the second title defense for the 32-year old Zambrano (26-0, 11KOs), who won the vacant strap with a 12-round win over Daniel Ramirez in March '15. His lone successful defense came in Aug. '15, scoring a 12-round unanimous decision over Jose Sanmartin in Peru where he has fought exclusively since 2011.
A minimum bid of $100,000 must be placed in order for a promoter to obtain rights to present the fight. The purse will split 75-25 in favor of Zambrano as the defending titlist.
"Obviously we hope for it to be more than $100,000 and a $25,000 payday for us," admits Herman Caicedo, Marrero's longtime trainer. "But even if the money isn't there for this fight, Matrix deserves this opportunity. He's been jerked around all year waiting on this guy to settle in and fight. We were supposed to fight in the beginning of the year. Then May, then June, then July.
"We did what we had to do in the meantime, moving on and taking stay busy fights just to keep fresh. Even that wasn't easy, we had opponents pulling out left and right. But we no longer have to worry about it. We tried negotiating terms, but will let the WBA handle the rest and look forward to getting another shot at the featherweight title."
Marrero's previous crack at alphabet hardware resulted in the lone loss of his career, dropping a competitive decision to Jesus Cuellar in Aug. '13. Cuellar still serves as a champ, in fact putting his belt on the line versus former three-division titlist Abner Mares this weekend in Los Angeles, California.
The winners of that bout and Zambrano-Marrero will be ordered to meet at some point in 2017, as part of the WBA's continued efforts to consolidate its titles.
"I'd love nothing more than to get revenge against Cuellar, who has also decided to look the other way whenever it came time to negotiate a fight with us," insists Marrero. "That's why we chose to instead go this route. Once we win the interim title, he'll have to face us - assuming, of course he can get past Abner Mares. If not, we'd be honored to face a great champion like Abner next year.
"It doesn't matter, though. Whoever wins (on December 10) is just keeping my belt warm. Zambrano gets it first, then I'm coming for the main belt after that. 2017 will be my year that I rise to the top."