On the heels of ordering a fight for its currently vacant junior lightweight title, the IBF has taken measures to secure a future mandatory challenger down the road.
The IBF is set to formally order a title eliminator between England’s Martin Ward and South Africa’s Azinga Fuzile to determine the next number-one contender for the 130-pound title. Eddie Hearn, Ward’s promoter confirmed the development during an Instagram Live session on Wednesday when commenting on his fighter’s future plans.
With both fighters accepting an invitation to participate in such a fight, the IBF will next formally order a 30-day negotiation period between camps. Should the two sides fail to reach terms, the matter will be subject to a purse bid hearing.
The winner will face whoever prevails in the recently ordered vacant title fight between Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (15-0-1, 12KOs) and Kenichi Ogawa (25-1-1, 18KOs), with both parties already in negotiations.
Ward (24-1-2, 11KOs) is currently the number-four ranked contender in the IBF junior lightweight ratings. The 29-year old from Brentwood, England has won his last five starts since suffering a 5th round knockout at the hands of James Tennyson, who parlayed the May 2018 win into a title shot of his own before moving up to lightweight.
In his most recent start, Ward managed a 10-round shutout win over Jesus Amparan last February in Sheffield, having not fought at all since the pandemic.
Fuzile (14-1, 8KOs) has been out of the ring a few months longer, as he has been forced to sit on the lone loss of his career—an 8th round knockout at the hands of Rakhimov in their Sept. 2019 title eliminator.
Original plans called for Fuzile to face Ogawa in such a fight, to have taken place May 2019 in Japan. Event handlers Teiken Promotions—who won a purse bid hearing to stage the event—were unable to secure a travel visa in time for Fuzile to make the trip, resulting in a purse bid default. The bout was rescheduled for September, only for Ogawa to instead accept an interim fight which removed him from contention.
Fuzile went on to face Rakhimov, whom he soundly outboxed for seven rounds. Things took a drastic turn as Rakhimov rallied in round eight to drop and stop the unbeaten contender on his home turf in East London, South Africa.
The fight became the subject of a near four-month long investigation conducted by a three-person independent panel. Fuzile’s camp alleged that Rakhimov benefitted from the aid of foreign substances, including smelling salts used in between rounds.
The matter was resolved with the original verdict upheld but with Fuzile assured of a second chance. The IBF ordered then-newly crowned titlist Joseph ‘JoJo’ Diaz to next face Rakhimov, while a suggested title eliminator was offered between Fuzile and Tevin Farmer, whom Diaz outpointed to win the title last January in Miami.
The latter fight never transpired, with Fuzile remaining in the title mix and seemingly with a willing dance partner in Ward.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox