By Jake Donovan
It’s likely that Errol Spence will have to move into the mandatory challenger position in order to force the hand of reigning welterweight titlist Kell Brook.
The trick is finding a willing opponent to help get him to that point.
The unbeaten Long Island-born, Texas-bred contender is now looking at Italy’s Leonardo Bundu as his next foe, simply due to his being next in line for the ordered title eliminator. As the International Boxing Federation (IBF) recognizes Brook as its welterweight titlist, the sanctioning body has gone through great lengths to secure a mandatory challenger.
Spence (20-0, 17KOs) moved into the #2 position following a 5th round knockout of Alejandro Barrera last November on a Saturday afternoon edition of Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) on NBC. His next fight took place live in primetime on the free-to-air network, flooring former 140 lb. titlist Chris Algieri three times en route to a 5th round knockout this past April in Brooklyn.
Following the bout, Spence immediately entered negotiations with #3 ranked contender Konstantin Ponomarev, as ordered by the IBF.
There were varying takes on the progress of such talks. Some insiders suggested Ponomrev – who one week prior to Spence’s win over Algieri scored a career-best victory of his own in outpointing Brad Solomon in a matchup of unbeaten welterweights – was going to move in a different direction. Others insisted a deal was reached behind closed doors and that the fight would be staged this summer, the start of a newly formed pact between Top Rank (Ponomarev’s promoter) and Al Haymon, who advises Spence.
The former turned out to be true, with Ponomarev’s plans unknown at present time while Spence continues his quest for a welterweight title. The opportunity for a title eliminator was offered to – and rejected by – Australia’s Jeff Horn and U.S.-based contenders Lamont Peterson and Sammy Vasquez, both of whom may or may not be facing each other in an eliminator for a separate title.
Moving down the list, Bundu was the next ranked contender in line and – as confirmed by the IBF to BoxingScene.com on Wednesday – has agreed to enter negotiations with Spence. The two sides will have until June 22 to reach terms, at which point a purse bid hearing will be held at IBF headquarters in Springfield, New Jersey.
Bundu (33-1-2, 12KOs) is best known to U.S. audiences for his 12-round loss to reigning welterweight titlist Keith Thurman in Dec. ’14. However, the now 41-year old boxer from Italy earned his way to contention to that point with an impressive eight-fight stretch that included a draw a win over previously unbeaten countryman Daniele Petrucci as well as becoming the first to hang a loss on Antonio Moscatiello and Frankie Gavin.
The latter win marked his second straight trip to the United Kingdom, coming up big on the road in their Aug. ’14 clash leading to his aforementioned loss versus Thurman. He has since won two straight, outpointing Mexico’s Pablo Munguia last June in the U.S., followed by a return home to Italy for a 9th round stoppage over Jussi Koivula this past April.
Spence remains on a quest to become the first member from the 2012 U.S. Olympic male boxing squad to win a major title, although there stands – from a betting perspective – that at least one of his teammates will beat him to the punch.
Rau’Shee Warren – the only U.S. boxer in history to compete in three separate Olympic games – is in the final stages of training for his June 18 rematch with unbeaten bantamweight titlist Juan Carlos Payano, against whom he dropped a competitive and disputed 12-round decision last August. Their sequel airs live in primetime on NBC from Chicago, Illinois.
One week later, heavyweight contender Dominic Breazeale travels to jolly old England for a crack at 2012 Olympic Gold medalist and reigning unbeaten IBF heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua. Their scheduled 12-round clash airs live on Showtime.
Regardless of where Spence falls in terms of 2012 U.S. Olympians capturing a major belt, the undefeated contender remains the standout talent from the squad and pegged by many as the future of the always talented welterweight division.
All he needs are willing participants to jump in the ring and either aid that cause or disrupt his quest. Hopefully the answer to that question comes at some point between now and June 22.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Follow his shiny new Twitter account: @JakeNDaBox_v2