IT seemed a few weeks ago that a cruiserweight title fight between Aleksandr Usyk, owner of all the belts, and Tony Bellew, a former WBC champion, was a mere formality for some time in November.
But with the World Boxing Association (WBA) around, there is no such thing as a formality in boxing, nor much in the way of common sense, and, according to reports, it’s their intention to order Usyk, a WBA champion, to defend his belt against Denis Lebedev, their number one contender, thus scuppering everyone else’s fun.
Lebedev, the WBA’s so-called ‘Champion in Recess’, boxes Hizni Altunkaya on Friday night and knows victory could lead to a challenge against Usyk in the very near future. Which, under different circumstances, is fine. But what a Lebedev win might also mean is that Usyk and Bellew falls apart, or is delayed, and that’s anything but fine.
There is a chance Usyk could be granted an exception by the WBA, which would allow the Bellew fight to go ahead, but it’s unclear at this time whether this will be pursued. An alternative option is this: Usyk and Bellew give up the dream of competing for all the cruiserweight titles and instead do the deed at heavyweight, a division in which Bellew has recently found success and one Usyk will inevitably visit at some stage. That would be a clever way of sticking it to the WBA and placing the fight and its riches above bogus belts in the pecking order. It would, indeed, be quite the statement.
All in all, this latest twist is a strange one, a sad one, and puts the WBA in the firing line should Usyk vs. Bellew fail to come to fruition. In much the same way they allowed Alexander Povetkin, their number one contender at heavyweight, to intercept and confuse negotiations between Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder, they have now potentially put the kibosh on a second fight eagerly anticipated by fans around the world. Thanks, guys.
Then again, it’s worth remembering this is the same sanctioning body who recently arranged a WBA interim heavyweight title fight between BJ Flores, a man crushed in three rounds by Bellew, and the unproven Trevor Bryan. After that monstrosity, nothing the WBA decides to do should come as a surprise.
Amir Khan fights Samuel Vargas this Saturday (September 8) in Birmingham and knows a victory will do very little for his legacy but means a great deal in the context of staying on track for a fight against either Kell Brook or Manny Pacquiao.
From what we can gather, it’s the Brook fight which is favoured by his promoter, Eddie Hearn, as well as the majority of UK boxing fans, but it’s Pacquiao, his one-time training partner, who appeals most to Khan.
According to Chris McKenna of the Daily Star, talks have already taken place regarding a Pacquiao vs. Khan showdown in December, with Cardiff’s Principality Stadium and options in the Middle East mentioned deemed potential hosts. However, there is clearly a long way to go, and StarSport are just as quick to reveal it could take a windfall of around £10 million to tempt Pacquiao over to the UK to fight Khan. Ouch.
Still, the Bolton man remains optimistic.
“Who would I rather face next? Pacquiao, definitely,” Khan told StarSport. “He is a legend of the sport and I want to fight a legend.
“That would be the biggest fight of my career and beating Pacquiao would be amazing.”
In addition to Pacquiao vs. Khan talks, it’s believed Eddie Hearn has also had discussions with the Filipino superstar about joining his burgeoning US stable and fighting on streaming service DAZN. Succeed on that front and it would surely bring the Khan fight closer to completion. Perhaps.
Of course, given the difficulties Hearn has had bringing Khan and Kell Brook together, there can be no guarantee promotional common ground or, indeed, the very fact two men are rivals in the same division and from the same country, means a natural fight – one bubbling away for over five years now – gets made. This is boxing, after all.