A four-man box-off has been ordered in the weight division responsible for the WBA taking steps to clean up its act.
The Panama City-headquartered sanctioning body has called for a title consolidation tournament in the welterweight division, with WBA “Super” champion Yordenis Ugas and WBA “World” titlist Jamal James now committed to separate mandatory title defenses. A resolution was reached on Thursday, calling for a single titlist to be identified by no later than end of March 2022.
Ugas is required to next face Eimantas Stanionis, while James is locked into an overdue mandatory defense versus Radzhab Butaev. From there the winners are required to meet to create one WBA-recognized welterweight titlist.
“The championship committee call(s for a) Box-Off as necessary for WBA Welterweight division in order to have one champion,” Carlos Chavez, chairman of WBA Championship Committee declared in the final resolution, a copy of which has been obtained by BoxingScene.com. “Based on the hierarchy of WBA rankings the eligible boxers are: Yordenis Ugas (“Super Champion”), Jamal James (“Regular Champion”), Radzhab Butaev (“official challenger”) and Eimantas Stanionis (“leading available contender”).
“In accordance to the previous resolution, Jamal James shall box official contender in Radzhab Butaev by November 2021. Yordenis Ugas must defend the title against the next leading available contender Eimantas Stanionis within 120 days from the date of this resolution. The Super Champion must box the regular champion by the end of March 2022.”
Minneapolis’ James (27-1, 12KOs) has been locked into a mandatory title defense versus Russia’s Butaev (13-0, 10KOs; 1NC) since receiving an upgrade from WBA “interim” to WBA “World” welterweight title claimant. The promotion came February 4, well ahead of recent developments that has seen the sanctioning body since declassify all previous interim title claimants.
Despite maintaining his title status, James has yet to make his way back to the ring since first putting a belt around his waist. That moment came last August, when he outpointed Dulorme over twelve rounds in their classified WBA “interim” title fight atop a PBC on Fox telecast from Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Six months later came the upgrade to “World” titlist along with instructions to enter talks for a showdown with Dulorme. No word has since followed as to when they are expected to meet, with the WBA taking additional steps to force everyone’s hand in moving this fight over the line.
“If the bout has been agreed the delivery of the contracts is requested,” noted Chavez to all involved parties.
Butaev is owed a title shot following his controversial loss-turned-No-Contest versus Alexander Besputin in their November 2019 vacant WBA “World” welterweight title fight. The outcome was nullified after Besputin tested for the banned substance Lingandrol, resulting in his being stripped of the title.
The original order called for Butaev to face Ugas, though the unbeaten Russian—now based out of Brooklyn—agreed to what was intended as a stay-busy fight. Butaev scored a third-round knockout of Terry Chatwood on a PBC on FS1 telecast last December at Shrine Auditorium & Expo Hall in Los Angeles, but has since spent his time waiting for a fight with James to materialize. The two now have until the end of November to make that happen.
Ugas (27-4, 12KOs) is coming off a career-best win, having outpointed the legendary Manny Pacquiao over twelve rounds in their August 2021 Fox Sports Pay-Per-View headliner in Las Vegas. The opportunity came on short notice for Ugas, who stepped in to replace injured WBC/IBF welterweight titlist Errol Spence (27-0, 21KOs)—who suffered a torn retina requiring immediate surgery—after being scheduled to appear on the undercard. The 35-year-old Miami-based Cuban was due to face Argentina’s Fabian Maidana, who withdrew due to suffering a cut during training camp.
The timing worked out perfect for Ugas, who held the WBA “Super” title that Pacquiao argued was wrongly removed from his possession. Pacquiao was downgraded to WBA “Champion In Recess” after failing to respond to repeated requests from the sanctioning body aiming to confirm his plans after having not fought since July 2019. The debate proved moot once the bell sounded, as Ugas won by unanimous decision in by far his most high-profile fight to date.
With that comes somewhat of a step backwards, though no less of a challenge for the defending titlist.
Stanionis (13-0, 9KOs; 1ND) has angled for a title shot since the year began, further pleading his case following a twelve-round win over former title challenger Thomas Dulorme this past April in Uncasville, Connecticut. His most recent bout wasn’t as productive, as Stanionis—who represented Lithuania in the 2016 Rio Olympics—was denied a developing win over former titlist Luis Collazo, who was unable to continue after a clash of heads ended their August 7 PBC on Fox headliner inside of four rounds. The bout came to a close at 2:21 of round four, just thirty-nine seconds shy of an official fight by which point Stanionis would have won a technical decision.
Instead, the end result was a No-Contest, though atop a card where another welterweight bout forever changed the manner in which the WBA now conducts its business.
The evening’s chief support saw Venezuela’s Gabriel Maestre (4-0, 3KOs) take a highly questionable twelve-round, unanimous decision win over Mykal Fox (22-3, 5KOs) to claim the WBA “interim” welterweight title fight. The horrendous decision garnered a swarm of negative publicity, including but not limited to judge Gloria Martinez-Rizzo—whose scorecard of 117-110 in favor of Maestre warranted immediate banishment—exposed for her history of racism, which was found in violation of the WBA’s Code of Ethics.
The manner was addressed by the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC), who also drew attention to the WBA’s sordid history of crowning multiple titlists per weight division. The WBA has since agreed to clean up its act, which has resulted in a number of title consolidation bouts and box-offs having been ordered, along with the removal of “interim” titles as most of the previous claimants were since installed as mandatory challengers in weight divisions where one did not already exist.
“Boxers and promoters are obligated to know and be familiar with all [WBA] rules, as part of WBA goals of “[enhancing] the sport of boxing”, “with impartial, honest and fair” [principles], “make boxing a prestigious sports activity with credibility and institutional recognition” and “help to improve the image of boxing through the appreciation, enjoyment and positive perception on behalf of the public,” notes Chavez. “If the Champion in Recess or prior Interim Champion is unwilling to participate in a contest to determine a sole champion in the division” both or a portion holder may lose their recognition.
“In the alternative, the Championships Chairman may order a Box-off between four available ranked boxers (WBA rule 31). Since the past “multi-champion” policy establish[ed] a new hierarchical order, the top contenders and mandatory will be considered to participate.”
While all involved parties are expected to participate in lieu of the WBA any longer granting favors resulting in multiple titlists, a grievance procedure does exist within the sanctioning body’s by-laws. However, James-Butaev is already well past the deadline and will have to move forward absent either side abandoning the process altogether.
Ugas would love nothing more than to enter another major PPV headliner. However, his options are limited. There exists little public demand for a rematch with Pacquiao. Spence remains in recovery mode following his eye injury. WBO welterweight titlist Terence Crawford is committed to a November 20 mandatory title defense versus Shawn Porter, who barely edged Ugas in their March 2019 WBC welterweight title fight.
All things considered, entering a tournament that ensures—with wins—two fights in the next nine months beats waiting around for one that is not guaranteed to materialize. It also beat the alternative of not having a title at all to defend or fight for, regardless of any other next step considered by the four welterweights assigned to this tournament.
“If a boxer declines to participate in a Mandatory Defense, Elimination Bout, or Box-Off, his title may be vacated, or he may be demoted, or removed from the rankings,” declares Chavez. “The committee will have three business days to appoint the next eligible boxer to participate.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox