A featherweight doubleheader is in store for the first quarter of the new year.
BoxingScene.com has confirmed that the IBF and WBA featherweight titles will be at stake in separate bouts as part of a March 2 ESPN telecast. Luis Alberto Lopez will attempt the third defense of his IBF belt versus mandatory challenger Reiya Abe, while Otabek Kholmatov and Raymond Ford vie for the now vacant WBA strap.
A location was not yet finalized for the event, though it is widely speculated to land at the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, New York.
The news comes as Lopez (29-2, 16KOs) celebrated his one-year anniversary from his title-winning effort over Josh Warrington last December on the roads in Leeds, England. The streaking Mexicali native has not at all slowed down, with a knockout win over Michael Conlan in May and a twelve-round victory over Joet Gonzalez gracing his 2023 campaign.
Talks surfaced of a unification bout versus Robeisy Ramirez, who defends his WBO featherweight title versus Rafael Espinoza as this goes to publication. However, the 30-year-old was met with a mandatory obligation, which his team honored without resistance.
Japan’s Abe (25-3-1, 10KOs) has won his last six starts. The most notable of the lot came in a twelve-round, unanimous decision over former two-division titlist Kiko Martinez in their April 8 IBF title eliminator in Tokyo.
Top Rank secured the rights to the Kholmatov-Ford vacant WBA title fight through a November 27 purse bid hearing. Uzbekistan’s Kholmatov (11-0, 10KOs) signed with Top Rank prior to the purse bid, while Ford is with Matchroom Boxing but will be on loan for at least this fight.
The bout was ordered when Nottingham’s Leigh Wood vacated the title shortly after his come-from-behind, seventh-round knockout of Warrington on October 7 in Sheffield, England.
Kholmatov has been out since a fifth-round knockout of unbeaten Thomas Patrick Ward in their title eliminator on March 4 in Newcastle, England. The bout was his first in nearly a year, when he soundly outpointed undefeated Adranik Grigorjan last March 26 in Orlando, Florida.
Ford (14-0-1, 7KOs; 1NC) is on the verge of his first one-fight campaign as a pro. The 24-year-old southpaw from Camden, New Jersey has been out since an April 8 win over former titlist Jessie Magdaleno on April 8 in San Antonio Texas,
Prior to and after the win over Magdaleno, Ford called for a showdown versus Kholmatov, regardless of the stakes. Kholmatov was previously ordered to next face Wood, who was instead permitted to enter a voluntary title defense versus former two-time featherweight Josh Warrington. Wood scored a dramatic, 9th round knockout to retain the WBA featherweight title but subsequently vacated to campaign at junior lightweight.
Boxing Scene has additionally learned that Brian Norman Jr. (25-0, 19KOs) could land on the undercard versus The Bronx’s Peter Dobson (16-0, 9KOs) in a battle of unbeaten welterweights.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. X (formerly Twitter): @JakeNDaBox