Joe Cordina’s brief title reign ends with a whimper.

A hand injury suffered during training camp has forced Cordina to withdraw from his mandatory title defense against unbeaten challenger Shavkat Rakhimov. Their bout was due to take place on November 5 in Abu Dhabi, which was already more than two months past the original IBF deadline for the fight to take place per a previous ruling that allowed Cordina to fight for the title ahead of Rakhimov.

With no more exemption requests at his disposal, Cordina is now reduced to former titleholder status without a single defense.

“On May 3, 2022, the IBF sent notification to Matchroom Boxing and Team Rakhimov acknowledging that an agreement had been reached for IBF Jr. Lightweight Champion Kenichi Ogawa to participate in an optional defense of the title against Joseph Cordina on June 4, 2022, after the IBF denied an Exception request to do so,” the IBF explained in a press statement. “The IBF sanctioned the Ogawa vs. Cordina bout with the following pertinent conditions:

1.     The IBF will not sanction any bouts to further delay the mandatory defense of the IBF Jr. Lightweight title including requests for unification bouts, nor will the IBF grant any further Exception requests.

2.     The winner of the June 4, 2022, bout must make a mandatory defense of the IBF Jr. Lightweight title against Shavkat Rakhimov within 90 days or by September 2, 2022.

 “On July 7, 2022, the IBF granted Joseph Cordina a medical extension allowing the fight to be rescheduled for November 5, 2022, in the UAE. On September 21, 2022, the IBF received an email from Matchroom Boxing stating:

‘Unfortunately, Joseph Cordina has sustained an injury in training and will be forced to postpone his mandatory [defense] of the IBF World Super Featherweight Title against Shavkat Rakhimov, which was scheduled for November 5 in Abu Dhabi, UAE.”

A visit with orthopedic hand surgeon consultant Mike Hayton revealed that the recovery period would put Cordina out of the ring until at least late January 2023, with March 2023 as a realistic time frame. Even a best-case scenario still leaves the unbeaten Welshman out of the ring beyond the 60-day-medical exemption period which would expire on January 4, 2023.

Cordina (15-0, 9KOs) won the title in a spectacular second-round knockout of Japan’s Ogawa on June 4 in his hometown of Cardiff, Wales. The fight was supposed to go to Rakhimov (16-0-1, 13KOs), who agreed to step aside with the promise that he would get the winner by no later than September 2. Cordina, through Matchroom Boxing, filed for a medical exemption to push the fight back to November 5, to have served as the co-feature of a three-title fight show.

Per IBF rule 11(J), “a reigning Champion shall not be permitted to request more than one Exception to delay a mandatory obligation. The IBF has declared the IBF Jr. Lightweight title vacant as a result.”

The card will move forward, headlined by the Dmitry Bivol-Gilberto ‘Zurdo’ Ramirez WBA light heavyweight title fight. Also on the show, two-division and undisputed welterweight queen Jessica McCaskill drops back down to junior welterweight, where she will challenge unbeaten and unified champ Chantelle Cameron for the undisputed 140-pound crown.

It remains unclear as this goes to publish whether Tajikistan’s Rakhimov will remain on the show. His next move will be to challenge for the vacant title against the next highest available contender. Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett (28-1, 16KOs) is currently number-two and fights under the Matchroom banner, though would have to be ready to fight in one month for the fight to serve on the existing November 5 DAZN card.

The development leaves Rakhimov to fight for the vacant IBF title for a second time. He was due to challenge then-reigning IBF 130-pound titlist Joseph ‘JoJo’ Diaz, who badly blew weight ahead of their title fight last February 13 in Indio, California. Diaz was forced to vacate at the scales, though their fight ended in a draw to leave the belt unoccupied.

Rakhimov was ordered to face Ogawa for the vacant title but unable to go through with the fight. Ogawa wound up facing and beating Azinga Fuzile—whom Rakhimov knocked out in a September 2019 title eliminator—to win the vacant title last November 27 in New York City before surrendering the title to Cordina earlier this year.

Rakhimov has fought just once since his draw with Diaz, scoring a second-round stoppage of Sardor Muzzafarov in a rust-shaker last December in Ekaterinburg, Russia.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox