Israel ‘Jiga’ Gonzalez is back on course where a win will lead to his next title opportunity. has confirmed that terms were reached between the former four-time title contender and Willibaldo Garcia to meet in an IBF-sanctioned title eliminator. The pair of contenders from Mexico were able to reach a deal within their 30-day negotiation deadline and are set to meet on January 29 in Gonzalez’s hometown of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

The winner will become the mandatory challenger to current IBF junior bantamweight title holder Fernando ‘Puma’ Martinez, who will be permitted a voluntary defense.

Gonzalez (28-5-2, 11KOs) has remained in the title picture despite having not won a fight since last April. He has since dropped a twelve-round decision to Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez in their WBC junior bantamweight title fight last September in Las Vegas and was held to a ten-round draw with Jonathan Rodriguez on July 7 in Monterrey, Mexico.

All but one career defeat has come in major title fights. He was stopped In the tenth-round of a February 2018 challenge of Jerwin Ancajas’ IBF title. He also dropped decision defeats in separate WBA 115-pound title fights to then-unbeaten Khalid Yafai in June 2019, the legendary Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez in October 2020.

Still, Gonzalez advanced into the title eliminator picture when a similarly offered opportunity was declined by former three-division titlist Kosei Tanaka (19-1, 11KOs). The IBF sent the same letter to Tanaka and Garcia in September, but it is widely speculated that Tanaka is waiting out the title status of countryman Junto Nakatani who may soon vacate his WBO junior bantamweight title.  

Garcia (20-5-1, 12KOs) does not boast a glossy record though two of his losses have come versus fighters who went on to win major titles. The 33-year-old Mexican contender from Copala, Guerrero has won eight in a row since a June 2021 defeat to England’s Paul Butler, a former IBF bantamweight titlist at the time who won the WBO belt one fight later. Among his current stretch of victories is an eighth-round knockout of Marion Rios on April 22 with an IBF regional title at stake to advance in the rankings and into contention.

Garcia also dropped a September 2020 majority decision to countryman Alexandro Santiago, who went on to win and currently holds the WBC bantamweight title.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox