LAS VEGAS – Jamal James will take a seven-fight winning streak into his welterweight title defense against Radzhab Butaev on Saturday night.
James last lost five years ago, when Yordenis Ugas out-boxed him and won their 10-rounder by unanimous decision. Ugas and James have ascended to greater heights since that August 2016 meeting in Verona, New York, so high that a championship rematch might make sense in the near future.
James realizes, though, that he’ll have a tough time when he battles Butaev in the main event of a “Showtime Championship Boxing” tripleheader at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino’s Michelob ULTRA Arena (10 p.m. EDT). If he can beat Butaev, Minneapolis’ James doesn’t see any reason why he and Ugas shouldn’t settle the welterweight championship mess that the WBA created by crowning four champions in the 147-pound division once upon a time.
“Well, first, I’m not gonna overlook my opponent over here, first and foremost,” James stated during a press conference Thursday at Mandalay Bay. “So, I gotta get past this fight first. But God willing, I am victorious in this fight, then my message is we need to run that back. You know what I mean? He had a great win over Pacquiao. He’s a great fighter.
“When I competed against him, I didn’t have a full camp. You know, it was a very short-notice fight. I don’t like to talk about that much because I don’t like to make it sound like I’m making excuses. He was the better man that night, obviously. But I think when we both have full camps that it could definitely be a different story. But, you know, let me get past my guy over here first.”
Cuba’s Ugas (27-4, 12 KOs), who upset Manny Pacquiao two months ago, has won four consecutive contests since he nearly upset Shawn Porter in March 2019. His suspect, split-decision defeat to Porter is Ugas’ only loss since May 2014.
His career-changing victory over Pacquiao pushed Ugas into position for welterweight title unification fights against Errol Spence Jr. (27-0, 21 KOs), who is recovering from retina surgery, and the winner of a November 20 bout between Porter (31-3-1, 17 KOs) and WBO champion Terence Crawford (37-0, 28 KOs). The WBA has ordered Ugas to defend his “super” title against Lithuania’s Eimantas Stanionis (13-0, 9 KOs, 1 NC), but Ugas has been very vocal about not wanting to face Stanionis next.
James (27-1, 12 KOs) was ordered to box Butaev (13-0, 10 KOs, 1 NC) as part of the WBA’s four-fighter welterweight tournament.
“I’m just happy to have this opportunity to get back in the ring, you know?,” James said. “It’s been a while since I’ve got back in the ring. I know Ugas felt indifferent about [the tournament] and he didn’t like it. And he made a good point. You know, he just beat Pacquiao and they wanted him to fight the Lithuanian kid – forgive me, I forget his name [Stanionis]. But, you know, he didn’t have as much fights, and it was one of those things where it’s like, you know, how do these guys become mandatory challengers? And where do they come from? So, he was just frustrated with that. And I can get that to a degree.
“But I’m down for the tournament. And regardless if there isn’t a tournament, and God willing I come out victorious in my fight with Butaev, then I’m still the WBA champion. So, it would still make sense that we have to run it back. If he’s gonna be the ‘super’ champion and I’m the ‘regular’ champion, well then, if we’re gonna eliminate two titles, then me and him gonna have to run that back. It just makes sense to me.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.