The path to crowning a new WBA junior welterweight titlist has become more difficult than necessary.
In the wake of Josh Taylor severing ties with the WBA 140-pound title, the sanctioning body has paused on ordering a straight-away vacant title fight between its top two contenders. Instead, a two-hour block has been reserved beginning Tuesday 11:00 am ET to speak with each of the top six contenders in the current WBA junior welterweight rankings, to determine who will next vie for the crown.
“The World Boxing Association (WBA) called for a hearing with the representatives of the top six super lightweight ranked fighters with the intention of seeking the best solution to the vacancy of the world title of the category,” the sanctioning body explained in a notice to all involved parties on Sunday evening. “The pioneer organization, through its president Gilberto Jesus Mendoza, called the hearing for this Tuesday, May 17 via online at 11:00 a.m. U.S. Eastern time. The teams summoned are the representatives of Alberto Puello, Ismael Barroso, Ohara Davies, Sandor Martín, Regis Prograis and Batyr Akhmedov.
“The hearing will be attended by WBA Chief of Staff Gary Shaw and a panel composed of Anthony Cardinale and Seymour Zivick. Each team will have 15 minutes to present its case with no time extension. The panel will have 5 minutes after each presentation to ask questions and after a time of deliberation on each case, will present its opinion to President Mendoza, who will have the final decision.”
The ruling comes barely 24 hours after Scotland’s Taylor (19-0, 13KOs) was removed as WBA titlist on May 14 for failure to honor an ordered mandatory title defense versus Dominican Republic’s Alberto Puello (20-0, 10KOs). The expectation was for Puello to face the next highest ranked available contender, which would be Venezuela’s Ismael Barroso (23-3-2, 21KOs) despite the former interim lightweight titlist having not fought since a first-round knockout on a club show last January in his adopted Miami hometown.
Puello previously served as the interim WBA 140-pound titlist prior to the secondary belts being removed from circulation last August as part of a forced title reduction campaign. The unbeaten Dominican has since called for fights with Taylor as the WBA “super” champion and with then-WBA ‘World’ junior welterweight titlist Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis (26-0, 24KOs) as he was installed as the mandatory challenger, only for neither fight to materialize.
Barroso was permitted to retain the number-two position given his status as WBA ‘Gold’ titlist, a regional belt which allows its claimants to advance in the rankings. Barroso won the belt in a twelve-round decision over Yves Ulysse Jr. in December 2019, though has fought just once in the 29-month period since.
The inactivity could cost Barroso a title shot. His merits do not stack up well against the other remaining contenders, as will be presented during Tuesday’s meetings between each boxer and the WBA.
London’s Davies (23-2, 16KOs) is riding a current five-fight win streak, including a ten-round decision over Nicholas Mwangi last November 26 in Dubai. The bout was a sanctioned WBA title eliminator, though meant for the winner to advance in the rankings as opposed to a traditionally-ordered fight to determine the next title challenger.
Barcelona’s Martin (40-2, 13KOs) has won eleven straight and is perhaps the hottest commodity among the group.
The 28-year-old Spanish southpaw soared sky high in the public eye following a ten-round decision win over former four-division titlist Mikey Garcia (40-2, 30KOs) last October in Fresno. The bout took place at an agreed-upon maximum weight of 145-pounds, though with Martin making his intentions clear of immediately returning to the 140-pound division, where he dominated Jose Felix over ten rounds this past April at home in Barcelona.
Prograis (27-1, 23KOs) is by far the most accomplished of the lot, though his last fight could actually hurt his chances.
The 33-year-old New Orleans product—who trains in Houston—is a former WBA junior welterweight titlist, whose only loss is his narrow majority decision to Taylor in their October 2019 World Boxing Super Series tournament final. Three wins have followed for Prograis, including a one-sided, sixth-round knockout of Belfast’s Tyrone McKenna this past March 19 in Dubai. As impressive as was the feat, it was also sanctioned as a WBC junior welterweight title eliminator. Prograis is currently number-three in the WBC rankings and with a potential title shot should Taylor vacate that belt as well in lieu of an ordered mandatory title defense versus Jose ‘Chon’ Zepeda (35-2, 27KOs).
Uzbekistan’s Akhmedov (9-1, 8KOs) has won two in a row since a disputed twelve-round decision defeat to Mario Barrios in their September 2019 secondary WBA 140-pound title. Akhmedov—a 2016 Olympic quarterfinalist for Turkey—is coming off a career-best win, an eighth-round stoppage of Argenis Mendez in a WBA-sanctioned title eliminator last June 26 in Atlanta. The 31-year-old southpaw also owns a ninth-round round knockout of Barroso in August 2018, coming in just his fifth pro fight.
Puello is already owed a mandatory title shot which should leave Tuesday’s meeting down to the remaining five candidates. Puello waited out the undisputed championship clash last May 22, where Taylor added the WBC/WBO belts to his WBA/IBF collection following a twelve-round decision over Jose Ramirez.
The waiting game continued when Davis requested permission to retain secondary title status in two divisions—135 and 140—through his December 5 bout with Mexico City’s Isaac Cruz (23-2-1, 16KOs), whom Davis outpointed over twelve rounds in their lightweight fight before relinquishing the 140-pound title. Puello still had to allow Taylor to next face England’s Jack Catterall (26-1, 13KOs) in a WBO mandatory title fight which was to have taken place last December 18.
Taylor suffered a training camp injury, causing a two-month postponement. Taylor defeated Catterall in a highly questionable split decision this past February 26 in Glasgow, prompting an investigation. The verdict was ultimately upheld but the investigation resulted in the demotion of judge Ian John-Lewis whose 114-111 scorecard in favor of Taylor was widely scrutinized.
Taylor-Puello was ordered shortly thereafter, eventually going to an April 22 purse bid hearing won by TGB Promotions with a bid of $200,000 as the only participant. The fight was targeted for July 16 in Las Vegas, with Puello—who is promoted by Shuan Boxing—agreeing to all terms as he was due 45% of the purse bid amount ($90,000) as the former interim titlist. Taylor never responded to the order, although he claimed in a tweet following the WBA’s final ruling that he agreed to vacate the belt, while still owning the lineal/WBC/IBF/WBO championships.
For now, Puello must wait at least one more day as to why he deserves a title shot that has been owed to him all along. The final ruling, along with purse splits for the two challengers, will be decided upon the conclusion of Tuesday’s meetings with all six contenders.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox