Emmanuel Rodriguez and Vincent Astrolabio are set to compete for a bantamweight title.
Just not the same title—nor any longer versus one another.
BoxingScene.com has learned that talks for the previously ordered Rodriguez-Astrolabio vacant IBF bantamweight title fight have been abandoned. The sanctioning body has now ordered a new fight between Puerto Rico’s Rodriguez and Miami’s Melvin Lopez, who enters the mix as the next highest-ranked available contender.
Be advised that # 2 Emmanuel Rodriguez and # 4 Melvin Lopez are the highest ranked available contenders in the IBF Bantamweight division and are being ordered to participate in a Vacant Championship title bout,” IBF Championship Committee chairman Carlos Ortiz stated to the management teams for both boxers via official letter, a copy of which was obtained by BoxingScene.com. “The winner will be the IBF Bantamweight Champion. Negotiations should begin immediately and be concluded by March 28, 2023.
“Any boxer who is contracted with a promoter, a network, or a state, tribal or national commission to take another fight, or who is ill, injured, under a legal impediment which could prevent the bout from taking place in the opinion of the IBF, or on suspension at the time the Championships Chairman and the President order a bout under this rule shall be considered unavailable.”
All four bantamweight titles were vacated by former undisputed champion Naoya Inoue (24-0, 21KOs) on January 13. The move came exactly one month after fully unifying the bantamweight division in an eleventh-round knockout of England’s Paul Butler on December 13 in Tokyo.
The ruling comes just as the deadline was reached for Rodriguez (21-2, 13KOs; 1NC) and the Philippines’ Astrolabio (18-3, 13KOs) to reach terms for their fight which was ordered February 1.
Astrolabio will instead likely face Australia’s two-time title challenger Jason Moloney (25-2, 19KOs) for the vacant WBO title. BoxingScene.com has learned that talks are ongoing, with both sides hopeful of soon coming to terms.
Rodriguez largely fights under the Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) banner but is directly tied to local promoter Juan Orengo’s Fresh Productions. Their side will now enter talks with William Ramirez, the longtime manager for Lopez (29-1, 19KOs), who was previously in line to challenge for the WBA title before the latest ratings update bumped him out of contention.
Lopez has won eight in a row since suffering his lone career defeat, a ninth-round knockout of Jose Velazquez in October 2019. His most recent win came in a ten-round decision over Jobert Alvarez last December 11 in Orlando, Florida, as part of a show on the eve of the WBA Centennial Convention. The win should have secured his place in line for a fight with Japan’s Takuma Inoue, Naoya’s younger brother and the leading WBA bantamweight contender.
Takuma Inoue will instead next face Venezuela’s Liborio Solis—a former WBA junior bantamweight titlist—on April 8 at Ariake Arena in Tokyo.
The vacant WBC title will be in play for a yet-to-be-announced clash between former four-division champion Nonito Donaire (42-7, 28KOs) and Mexico's Alexandro Santiago.
Rodriguez previously held the IBF title, which he won in a May 2018 victory over Butler. One successful defense followed, a split decision victory over Australia’s Jason Moloney in their October 2018 World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) tournament. Rodriguez advanced to the WBSS semifinal round before suffering a second-round knockout loss to Inoue in their May 2019 WBSS semifinal.
The 30-year-old Boricua is 2-1 with one No-Contest in his post-title run. The win over Russell came more than a year after their August 2021 meeting ended in just 16 seconds, when a cut from a clash of heads left Rodriguez unable to continue.
Rodriguez’s win over Russell left him in prime position to once again challenge for his old title.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox
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