By Keith Idec
The WBC ordered the best featherweight fight that can be made in boxing during its annual convention Wednesday in Kiev, Ukraine.
The Mexico City-based sanctioning organization announced that its featherweight champion, Gary Russell Jr., must make a mandatory defense of his title against fellow champion Leo Santa Cruz. Russell-Santa Cruz is one of the fights Premier Boxing Champions’ Al Haymon wants to make at some point in 2019, but the WBC’s order could expediate scheduling that 126-pound showdown and make it the next fight for each champion.
Russell (29-1, 17 KOs) made a mandatory defense of his 126-pound championship in his last bout. The southpaw from Capitol Heights, Maryland, out-boxed previously undefeated Joseph Diaz Jr. (27-1, 14 KOs) in that 12-rounder May 19 at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
The 30-year-old Russell fights infrequently, though, which limits his opportunities to make voluntary title defenses between meeting mandatory obligations. The 2008 Olympian has fought just three times since knocking out Mexico’s Jhonny Gonzalez in the fourth round to win the WBC featherweight crown in March 2015.
The 30-year-old Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19 KOs) owns the WBA “super” featherweight title and thus isn’t ranked among the WBC’s top 40 featherweight contenders. In his most recent bout, the Rosemead, California, native beat Abner Mares (31-3-1, 15 KOs) by unanimous decision in a 12-round rematch June 9 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
As the WBA’s world featherweight champion, Mares was the mandatory challenger for Santa Cruz’s crown.
The Philippines’ Mark Magsayo (18-0, 13 KOs) is the WBC’s No. 1 contender for Russell’s title.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.