Notebook: Fulton-Figueroa II to top Showtime tripleheader on Feb. 25
Key hurdle cleared to Fury-Usyk undisputed title fight; Joshua to train in U.S. for planned April return; Villa willing to give Ellis rematch; Quick hits; Show and tell
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After Stephen Fulton edged Brandon Figueroa via majority decision to unify the WBO and WBC junior featherweight titles in an action-packed 2021 fight of the year candidate, they argued with each other and looked like they were on the verge or throwing more punches during the post-fight interview on Showtime. But they professed interest in a rematch.
Now it will happen.
They will meet again on Feb. 25 in the main event of a Showtime-televised tripleheader at The Armory in Minneapolis, a source with direct knowledge of the card told Fight Freaks Unite.
The rematch comes as no surprise as the WBC approved the bout for the vacant interim featherweight title at its annual convention in November.
The interim title at 126 pounds was made available because titlist Rey Vargas is moving up in weight for his next fight, which will be against O’Shaquie Foster for the vacant WBC junior lightweight belt on Feb. 11 at the Alamodome in San Antonio in a Showtime fight that has already been announced.
Vargas will have to decide soon after the bout whether he will remain at junior lightweight or return to featherweight to defend his title. If he opts to stay at 130 pounds, the Fulton-Figueroa II winner would be elevated to full titleholder.
Fulton (21-0, 8 KOs), 28, of Philadelphia, has fought once since defeating Figueroa, a unanimous decision to retain the belts against former unified titlist Daniel Roman in June 2022, and now will move up in weight.
Figueroa (23-1-1, 18 KOs), 26, of Weslaco, Texas, has also only fought once since the first Fulton fight. He moved up to featherweight and knocked out Carlos Castro in the sixth round of a WBC title eliminator in July.
Fulton and Figueroa first met on Nov. 27, 2021. Fulton won 116-112 on two scorecards and it was 114-114 on the third card.
The Feb. 25 card will also include Jeremias Ponce against Subriel Matias for the vacant IBF junior welterweight title, the source said. The third bout on the telecast has not been set, according to the source.
Ponce-Matias was also expected to be one of the various bouts Showtime and Premier Boxing Champions would put on in early 2023. In November, TGB Promotions was the only bidder when it won a purse bid for the bout for $510,000. Each boxer entitled to 50 percent.
The title became vacant in August when Josh Taylor relinquished it in order to pursue a rematch with Jack Catterall rather than face mandatory challenger Ponce.
Ponce (30-0, 20 KOs), 26, of Argentina, will be fighting in the Untied States for the first time, although he has boxed in several countries. He scored his biggest win when he knocked out Lewis Ritson in his hometown of Newcastle, England in June 2021.
Matias (18-1, 18 KOs), 30, of Puerto Rico, has won four fights in a row since an upset 10-round decision loss to Petros Ananyan in February 2020. Matias stopped Ananyan in the ninth round of a rematch in his last fight last January.
A Fury-Usyk hurdle cleared
An undisputed heavyweight championship fight between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk, which the camps hope to put on in the spring, cleared an important hurdle on Monday when the IBF rescinded its order for Usyk to make a mandatory defense next against Filip Hrgovic.
That means the path is clear to all four sanctioning body titles to be at stake — Fury’s WBC belt and the IBF, WBO and WBA titles Usyk holds — if the bout is finalized. There has never an undisputed heavyweight champion in the four-belt era.
Hrgovic co-promoters Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing and Nisse Sauerland of Wasserman Boxing were pressing the IBF hard to schedule a purse bid for Usyk-Hrgovic, but IBF president Daryl Peoples on Monday notified the teams in a letter emailed to Sauerland and copied to Hearn and others involved that the IBF made an error in ordering its mandatory and that, in fact, the WBA mandatory defense is up next in what is called “the rotation system” for establishing the order of mandatory defenses for unified titleholders.
After Hrgovic outpointed Zhang Zhilei in a final IBF title eliminator in August, the IBF ordered Usyk and Hrgovic to begin negotiations in November. After the order was made the WBA notified the IBF that it was next up for a mandatory under the rotation system. The IBF ultimately agreed and rescinded its mandatory order.
That means WBA “regular” titlist Daniel Dubois is supposed to be up next but he is sidelined by a knee injury and, more notably, shares promoter Frank Warren with Fury. They have no plans to press the mandatory issue and the WBA is willing to allow the undisputed fight while Dubois heals.
The IBF said that the winner of the far-off-from-happening WBA mandatory defense between the Fury-Usyk winner and Dubois will be ordered to make the IBF mandatory defense within six months of the WBA mandatory fight.
Fight Freaks Unite obtained the letter Peoples wrote to Sauerland (and copied to others) outlining the ruling. See it below:
Joshua to train in U.S.
Former two-time unified heavyweight titleholder Anthony Joshua is expected to return to the ring in April in London against an opponent to be named, Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn said on the DAZN Boxing Show.
Joshua (24-3, 22 KOs), 33, of England, has lost two fights in a row, both decisions to Oleksandr Usyk that first cost him his three title belts in September 2021 followed by a more competitive loss in the rematch this past August.
“April 1 is the targeted date in London,” Hearn said during the interview. “Really, I have a call (later) to go through the final list of opponents, the final bits and pieces around the date. We’re almost ready, really. He’s excited.”
In preparation for Joshua’s return, Hearn said on the show that he likely will train in the United States, although after a one-fight union with trainer Robert Garcia, Joshua is in the marker for a new trainer.
Like he did after splitting with career-long trainer Robert McCracken after the first loss to Usyk, when he hired Garcia, Joshua has again been making the rounds at U.S. gyms working with various trainers as he looks for a new one to hire.
“He is gonna train in America, and he’ll start that camp in the next week,” Hearn said during the interview. “He’ll be flying out. You guys will get the news soon. AJ’s his own man and something like that (a new announcement) is for him to confirm once he’s happy to confirm it.”
Hearn’s view was that it will be good for Joshua to train away from England, where he is a celebrity.
“The problem is, being in the U.K., he can’t breathe, you know? When he goes to America, people still know who he is, but it’s just a different world,” Hearn said. “Can you imagine that Anthony Joshua, where he’s gonna be training, can rent a house or stay in a hotel, and can go for a walk and go and sit in a coffee shop and have a bit of breakfast and a bit of coffee with some friends, and, yeah, someone might come over and go, ‘AJ, man, how you doin’?’ But literally, that is an impossibility (at home).”
Villa open to Ellis rematch
Welterweight Roiman Villa, who scored two 12th-round knockdowns to eke out a majority decision win over Rashidi Ellis in an IBF title elimination fight on Saturday night’s Gervonta Davis-Hector Luis Garcia Showtime PPV undercard, said he is willing to give Ellis a rematch.
“If he says he has doubts (about the scorecards), we can do this again,” Villa said. “There’s nothing different he could do to change things and if he tries to surprise me and exchange punches, then I can go home earlier next time. I’ll put him to sleep.”
Villa won 114-112 on two scorecards — thanks to the knockdowns — and the third judge had it 113-113. Many on press row had Ellis winning a close decision.
Ellis (24-1, 15 KOs), 29, of Lynn, Massachusetts, outboxed Villa for much of the fight until Venezuela’s Villa (26-1, 24 KOs), 29, came back strong beginning in the ninth round.
“He disrespected me. That was his biggest mistake,” Villa said. “At the (pre-fight) press conference, he was only talking about fighting Jaron Ennis next and ignoring me. That gave me extra power.”
Sampson Lewkowicz, Ellis’ promoter, also said he would be open to making a rematch.
“If Ellis wants to complain, he can have a rematch any time. Just ask,” Lewkowicz said. “Villa will do it again, but this time it will be even quicker. If not, we are ready for ‘Boots’ Ennis if he wants to fight.”
Robert Diaz, the longtime Golden Boy Promotions vice president and matchmaker, parted ways with the company on Tuesday when CEO Oscar De La Hoya did not renew his expiring contract, sources told Fight Freaks Unite. Diaz, who was instrumental in recruiting talent to the company and developing its young fighters, worked as an adviser to Hall of Famer Marco Antonio Barrera before joining Golden Boy in 2007.
DAZN announced that will carry the Chris Eubank Jr.-Liam Smith card on Jan. 21 from the AO Arena in Manchester, England, in the United States, Canada, Japan and a handful of European countries. It’s the first time DAZN has done a deal to carry an event promoted by Boxxer. Eubank (32-2-0, 23 KOs), 33, and former junior middleweight titlist Smith (32-3-1, 19 KOs), 34, meet in an all-British middleweight 12-rounder. It will be Eubank’s first bout since his planned Oct. 8 showdown with Conor Benn was canceled after Benn tested positive for a banned performance-enhancing drug. Smith has won three in a row by knockout, including against former world titlist Jessie Vargas and Anthony Fowler.
As expected, the WBO has ordered the all-Japanese mandatory fight between junior bantamweight titleholder Kazuto Ioka (29-2-1, 15 KOs), 33, a four-division titlist, and former WBO flyweight titlist Junto Nakatani (24-0, 18 KOs), 25, who vacated after two defenses and won his junior bantamweight debut in November. Ioka retained his title against WBA titlist Joshua Franco in a unification fight that ended in a disputed majority draw on Dec. 31. The WBO sent a letter to the Ioka and Nakatani teams giving them 30 days to make a deal or a purse bid will be ordered. Minimum bid would be $100,000.
Top Rank made official on Tuesday that the card headline by the women’s junior flyweight unification bout between WBC titleholder Kim Clavel (16-0, 3 KOs), 32, of Montreal, and WBA counterpart Jessica Nery Plata (28-2, 3 KOs), 28, of Mexico, will stream live on ESPN+ on Friday (7 p.m. ET) at Place Bell in Laval, Canada, which is just outside of Montreal. Top Rank made a deal with promoter Yvon Michel for the U.S. rights. The fight was originally scheduled for Dec. 1 but postponed a few days beforehand because Clavel came down with the flu. Four additional bouts will be streamed, including Canadian southpaw Mazlum Akdeniz (17-0, 8 KOs) defending his regional junior welterweight belt against Mexico’s Cristian Bielma (19-4-2, 7 KOs) in a 10-rounder.
Manager Peter Kahn announced he has signed flyweight Yankiel Rivera (2-0, 2 KOs), 25, who was a 2020 Puerto Rican Olympian. “I have received several offers from good, well intended entities, but I am convinced (Kahn) is the manager I need to get where I want to get,” Rivera said. “I look forward to working closely with him and performing to the best of my capabilities along with fighting for my family and Puerto Rico.” Rivera was 133-14 as an amateur and a seven-time Puerto Rican national champion. “He’s in a very exciting division as a professional and has all of the tools necessary to become a world champion and a dominant force in his weight class,” Kahn said. “He has a great team behind him and I am looking forward to being a part of his journey.”
Show and tell
Hall of Famer George Foreman was one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all time and one of the biggest punchers in boxing history. He won the title twice. First, he famously ripped it from Joe Frazier, whom he knocked down six times — three in the first round and three in the second — in a second-round knockout in Kingston, Jamaica in 1973. Nearly 20 years later to the day from when he lost the title to Muhammad Ali in the famed “Rumble in the Jungle,” Foreman was down on all three scorecards in a one-sided fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas when he rallied to shockingly knock out the favored Michael Moorer with a short right hand down the middle in the 10th round to reclaim the title and become, at age 45, the oldest champion in boxing history (a record broken years later by Bernard Hopkins).
Big George turned 74 on Tuesday. Happy birthday to the legend! In his honor here are high-grade programs in my collection from both of his heavyweight title victories.
Fulton-Figueroa photo: Sean Michael Ham/TGB Promotions; Joshua photo: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing; Villa photo: Amanda Westcott/Showtime
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The colors chosen for the Foreman - Frazier poster really pop
Fulton figueroa2 will be a great fight same result as the first