As the lightweight division continues to take shape even in the current pandemic climate, there remains work to be done.
Several moves have been made within the WBC 135-pound rankings, with a Diamond title fight set, an interim title fight was ordered and a voluntary defense was granted to its unbeaten world champion Devin Haney. Meanwhile, the IBF is prepared to line up a mandatory challenger in waiting for the winner of a forthcoming three-belt unification bout between WBA/WBO lightweight titlist Vasiliy Lomachenko (14-1, 10KOs) and IBF title claimant Teofimo Lopez (15-0, 12KOs).
In reviewing the pecking order, the WBO would seem to be next in line to enforce a mandatory challenger which could serve of benefit to a perennial top contender who could benefit from the profile.
Ghana’s Emmanuel Tagoe (31-1, 15KOs) is a little further down in the current WBO rankings than should be the case. The streaking lightweight was the number-one contender last May, remaining as such for three months until leapfrogged by Lopez who was already committed to fight for the IBF title by that point.
From there came the insertion of Wales’ Lee Selby as the top-rated WBO contender, having since remained in that position although the former featherweight titlist has since committed himself to a final title eliminator with the IBF. Selby is due to face Australia’s George Kambosos Jr., with their twice-postponed but contracted fight now due to take place October 3 in Selby’s hometown of Wales.
That would leave Tagoe—currently ranked number three—and California’s Ryan Garcia (20-0, 17KOs) as the next available boxers not contractually committed to another bout.
“Emmanuel Tagoe has been ready to take on any challenge for the past year,” Peter Kahn, 2019 Manager of the Year nominee and the driving force behind Tagoe’s career noted to BoxingScene.com. “He was training for a fight in March that would have strengthened his case to challenge for the WBO title, but was canceled due to the (ongoing) coronavirus pandemic.
“He remains in shape and ready to return to the ring, especially for the opportunity to position him for his long overdue world title shot.”
With the last WBO mandatory title defense having been made back in August 2018—when Jose Pedraza was honored as such in place of Roman Andreev in dethroning Raymundo Beltran—the Puerto Rico-based sanctioning body would be next in rotation. Lomachenko was already the WBA “Super” champion when he faced and beat Pedraza in their WBA/WBO title unification bout in December 2018.
Since then has only come a mandatory defense of his WBA title versus former champ Anthony Crolla last April. Lopez was the IBF mandatory at the time of his two-round destruction of exiting titlist Richard Commey last December.
That leaves the WBO as the next in line.
Garcia (20-0, 17KOs) was recently ordered to next face England’s Luke Campbell for the WBC interim title fight. Such a fight has yet to be agreed to, as Garcia still has personal and professional business to hash out with Golden Boy Promotions, his promoter before being in a position to negotiate any fight. Even once that’s resolved, there comes the matter of Golden Boy hashing out a deal with Matchroom Boxing, whom promotes Campbell, Selby and Haney.
Ready to do business with any party are Kahn and DiBella Entertainment on behalf getting Tagoe his just due.
“Right now, Ryan García has a clear path to challenge for the WBO title sooner than he would the WBC, considering recent history,” points out Kahn. “For whatever reason, it seems that somebody wants Ryan out of the way with the WBO.
“Either way, Emmanuel Tagoe is the benefactor and we’re here ready to take on whoever is named.”
Regarding Garcia and his current WBC dilemma, precedence is not lacking in a boxer being ordered to enter more than one sanctioned eliminator or title fight. Such action by the WBO would be consistent with past actions, along with providing the sanctioning body its first mandatory challenger in two years.
Tagoe has won 31 straight since losing his pro debut more than 16 years ago, including four fights carrying WBO sanctioning. Among them was a 12-round shutout victory over former lightweight titlist Paulus Moses in October 2018, followed by an equally dominant win over former title challenger Vyacheslav Gusev last February to further elevate his standing in the WBO 135-pound rankings.
Hopes of Tagoe fighting this past March in Florida were shut down due the ongoing global health crisis. Even with boxing action having resumed, it cannot take place with fans in attendance. None of that matters to the 31-year old contender, whom would openly welcome a showdown with the fast-rising García.
The winner would be guaranteed a crack at the winner of Lomachenko-Lopez targeted for September. With García now slated to fight in October, it is conceivable that the WBO title could become vacant by the time he enters the ring. Lopez has already vowed to campaign at 140 pounds in the near future, while Lomachenko is exploring superfight as well as the possibility of moving back down to junior lightweight.
Standing in the way of such a fight being ordered is the WBO’s yet-to-be-explained reason for allowing another boxer already committed to another fight, to block such action.
“There is no reason for Lee Selby to remain the number-one challenger when he is committed to a fight with another sanctioning body,” notes Kahn, whom also manages Kambosos. “We are well aware that the fight has been delayed due to COVID-19, but we can’t have some fighters benefit from the pandemic while others are punished.
“There needs to be parity across the board, which is why we have these rankings and rules in place.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox