Recently a number of fights have been made or mooted at the top of a division where Ireland has a massive stake in the form of WBA champion Ryan Burnett.
The Belfast fighter was this week forced to relinquish his status as a unified champion at 118lbs. Burnett won and unified the IBF and WBA straps last year, however he has fallen victim to two pending mandatories.
An Interim title fight between the highest-ranked Emmanuel Rodriguez and Lee Haskins, whom Burnett dethroned, looked to have somewhat solved the issue – with the Antrim Road fighter agreeing to fight Venezuelan Yonfrez Parejo.
However, Haskins wasn’t keen on the interim belt and elected to go the European route instead. With Rodriguez and his team returning to Burnett and looking to force the issue, the Irishman had to vacate the IBF strap.
Burnett will put his WBA belt on the line against his mandatory challenger on Saturday March 31st at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on the Anthony Joshua v Joseph Parker heavyweight unification pay-per-view undercard.
Puerto Rican Rodriguez now looks likely to face one of Burnett’s Matchroom stablemates for the vacant red belt. The IBF #3 and #4 Paul Butler are now the two-highest ranked available contenders and a fight on the Amir Khan v Phil Lo Greco card on Saturday April 21st in Liverpool at the Echo Arena has been mooted.
However, Butler, who over the years had been linked to a fight with Jamie Conlan and seems a natural fit for Burnett further down the line, hasn’t sounded too definitive when asked about the bout.
Butler has long expressed his desire to fight WBA interim trinket-holder Jamie McDonnell – but the Doncaster fighter now looks set to face fearsome Japanese star Naoya Inoue. ‘Monster’ Inoue, a two-weight champion, has stepped up in weight recently and, in theory, the winner of this bout will be in line to face the winner of Burnett-Parejo.
Then you have WBO champion Zolani Tete who is not giving up in his quest to get in a ring with Burnett.
The South African and his team have been vocal about making the match-up in recent months despite the fact Matchroom boss Eddie Hearn has claimed it’s not a fight he wants for the Belfast star.
Indeed, so keen is ‘Last Born’, his team will jet him into Belfast to fight for a second successive time and Tete will put his WBO title on the line against veteran Argentine Omar Andres Narvaez on the massive Carl Frampton v Nonito Donaire card on on April 21st – the same night as Khan-Lo Greco and, possibly, Rodriguez-Butler.
Last time he was in town, back in October, Tete made noise in and out of the ring. The mercurially talented African scored a record-breaking eleven-second KO against countryman Siboniso Gonya, the quickest stoppage in world title history before calling out Burnett.
After news broke that he will return to the hometown of Burnett, Tete once again made his intentions clear.
“Let’s see who the real bantamweight king is,” Tete said. “I want to unify the division and Ryan Burnett is standing in my way. Let’s not rob the public of a brilliant fight, they want to see the best fight the best.”
Finally there is the situation with the WBC. Long-reigning champion and former-pound-for-pound-rated star Shinsuke Yamanaka was dethroned by Mexican Luis Nery last August. The fourth-round knockout though was thrown into doubt after Nery subsequently tested positive for a banned substance – albeit a substance (Zilpaterol) – found primarily in contaminated meat – and the WBC ordered a direct rematch.
The governing body stated that “based on the evidence the WBC examined concerning this matter, the WBC cannot make a determination with sufficient certainty as to whether Mr. Nery’s adverse finding was the result of intentional ingestion of a banned substance to improve performance. All information and facts lead to conclude that the adverse finding was due to consumption of contaminated food products.”
This will take place in Yamanaka’s native Japan at the Kokugikan in Tokyo.on Thursday March 1st.