Another tournament is being eyed by the World Boxing Organization.
Given the current struggles to establish a mandatory challenger in the lightweight division, the San Juan, Puerto Rico-headquartered sanctioning body is in the process of ordering a box-off between the four highest rated available contenders. The decision was made by the WBO brass after failing to line up its desired title eliminator earlier this week.
“After Ryan Garcia’s decision on pursuing the [Luke] Campbell bout, WBO is considering ordering later this year, two lightweight elimination bouts to determine a mandatory challenger at 135 [pounds],” Francisco “Paco” Valcárcel announced. “[The process will be the same] as ordered at 175 [pounds] to determine a champion.”
Efforts to draw a straight line have proven troublesome, only a week after the WBO even began the process. A final elimination bout was ordered between number two ranked Ryan Garcia (20-0, 17KOs) and Ghana’s Emmanuel Tagoe (31-1, 15KOs)—the WBO number three contender—on July 6, with both parties interested in next steps. That good feeling lasted for all of 36 hours, when García–through Golden Boy Promotions—informed the WBO of his desire to instead enter talks with England’s Luke Campbell (20-3, 16KOs) for their ordered WBC interim lightweight title fight.
Such negotiations remain ongoing.
Tagoe—through DiBella Entertainment and 2019 Manager of the Year nominee Peter Kahn—took the proactive approach of opening dialogue with Ukraine’s Denys Berinchyk (13-0, 7KOs), the next highest-rated WBO lightweight contender at number four. As previously reported by BoxingScene.com, both Tagoe and Berinchyk—the latter whom is represented by Alex Krassyuk’s K2 Promotions-Ukraine—are interested in squaring off for a fight that would determine the mandatory challenger to current WBO lightweight titlist Vasiliy Lomachenko.
Such a fight has yet to be ordered, with the reveal from the WBO president clearly illustration the reason for that not taking place.
Among the top six in the current WBO ratings (last updated in June), four boxers—García, Lee Selby, George Kambosos, Jr. and Jorge Linares—are committed to other fights.
As mentioned earlier, García is pursuing an interim title fight with Campbell (unranked by the WBO). Selby (28-2, 9KOs) and Kambosos Jr. (18-0, 10KOs)are due to collide October 3, in a bout to establish the IBF lightweight mandatory challenger to current unbeaten titlist Teofimo Lopez (15-0, 12KOs). Linares (47-5, 29KOs) is locked in for an August 28 clash versus Javier Fortuna (35-2-1, 24KOs) in a bout with the WBC Diamond lightweight title at stake.
Going down the list once moving past Tagoe and Berinchyk are Russia’s Roman Andreev (23-0, 16KOs, WBO #7), England’s Liam Walsh (23-1, 15KOs, WBO #8), Belfast’s James Tennyson (26-3, 22KOs, WBO #9) and Australia’s Jacob Ng (13-0, 10KOs, WBO #10).
Tennyson is due to fight for the British lightweight title on August 1, as part of promoter Eddie Hearn’s Fight Camp series in Brentwood, Essex, England. None of the other three aforementioned boxers are scheduled to fight, nor have appeared in the ring at all in 2019.
Also of interest is a scheduled ESPN telecast on July 16 in Las Vegas. Appearing on the show is WBO #13-ranked Felix Verdejo, whom faces unbeaten Will Madera (15-0-3, 8KOs), with a win by the 2012 Puerto Rico Olympian figuring to considerably improve his current rating—valid only if a four-man tournament hasn’t been established by that point.
The WBO provided a similar box-off in an attempt to crown a new champion at light heavyweight. The title has remained vacant since Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez abandoned his reign barely 45 days after knocking out Sergey Kovalev in 11 rounds last November in Las Vegas.
The light heavyweight final four has yet to get off the ground, however. A semifinal eliminator between former champ Eleider Alvarez and former title challenger Joe Smith Jr. was due to take place July 16 in Las Vegas, only to endure a postponement after Canada’s Alvarez suffered an injury and was forced to withdraw.
Waiting on the other side of the bracket is a clash between Russia-bred contenders Umar Salamov (25-1, 19KOs) and Maksim Vlasov (45-3, 26KOs). Both boxers have long ago agreed to terms, but are awaiting a fight date from Top Rank, who signed both contenders earlier this year.
The long-term goal for the WBO to have a challenger in waiting for its lightweight title, although it could conceivably serve as a vacant title fight by that point. Lomachenko—who owns the WBO and WBA titles—is preparing for a three-belt clash versus IBF claimant Lopez. Their mouthwatering showdown is currently targeted to take place October 3, a slight delay from a previously-eyed September 19 date.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox