Notebook: Joyce, Usyk close to deal

Agreement would clear hurdle toward making Fury-Joshua

It’s not a done deal yet but the camps of heavyweights Oleksandr Usyk and Joe Joyce are close to a deal to meet for the vacant interim WBO title, which would clear one of the remaining hurdles to making the undisputed heavyweight title fight between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua.

Usyk is Joshua’s WBO mandatory opponent and the fight is due. By agreeing to fight Joyce for the interim title as part of a step-aside deal it would free Joshua from the obligation of facing Usyk next and allow him to fight Fury without losing the WBO belt. That means all four major sanctioning body belts would be on the line in the fight, a first for a heavyweight championship fight.

“For sure were working on it,” Sam Jones, Joyce’s co-manager told Fight Freaks Unite on Monday. “That’s who we want next and I am confident it’s going to happen.”

Joyce (12-0, 11 KOs), 35, of England, who claimed the super heavyweight silver medal in the 2016 Olympics, is coming off his biggest pro win, a 10th-round knockout of Daniel Dubois on Nov. 28. Usyk (18-0, 13 KOs), 34, of Ukraine, the former undisputed cruiserweight world champion and 2012 Olympic heavyweight gold medalist, is coming off a unanimous decision over Dereck Chisora on Oct. 31 in his second fight as a heavyweight.

Usyk and Joyce have fought before. In March 2013, Usyk won a shutout five-round decision against him in London in a World Series of Boxing bout.

Canelo undercard takes shape

Flyweight world titlist Juio Cesar Martinez (17-1, 13 KOs), 25, of Mexico, will make his third defense when he faces mandatory challenger McWilliams Arroyo (20-4, 15 KOs), 35, of Puerto Rico, in the co-feature of the Canelo Alvarez-Avni Yildirim super middleweight championship fight on Feb. 27 (DAZN) at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.

Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn announced the bout Monday on social media.

The addition of the fight to the card comes as no surprise since Martinez is trained by Eddy Reynoso, who also trains Alvarez. Martinez was supposed to fight on Alvarez’s Dec. 19 undercard but dropped out due to a non-Covid-19 illness. Arroyo is 0-3 in world titles fights (two at flyweight, one at junior bantamweight).

Another fight on the card will match heavyweights Zhilei Zhang (22-0, 17 KOs), 37, of China, and Jerry Forrest (26-4, 20 KOs), 32, a Lafayette, Louisiana, native, according to sources with knowledge of the plans.

IBF featherweight title update

The IBF on Monday issued a letter to all of its registered promoters in which it formally ordered the all-British fight between Kid Galahad (27-1, 16 KOs), 30, and James “Jazza” Dickens (30-3, 11 KOs), 29, for the 126-pound world title Josh Warrington vacated last week. A purse bid is scheduled for Feb. 4 at noon ET, although the camps could still make a deal until 15 minutes before the bids are unsealed.

In order for a promoter to participate, a $5,000 non-refundable fee must be paid to the IBF at least five days prior to scheduled purse bid. The promoter is also required to submit a check representing 10 percent of the total amount of the bid. If the purse bid takes place each fighter would receive 50 percent of the winning figure.

Plant-Truax undercard

Premier Boxing Champions announced the fights that will be on the Fox Sports 1 portion (6 p.m. ET) of Saturday night’s Fox card (8 p.m. ET) headlined by super middleweight world titlist Caleb Plant against mandatory challenger and former titlist Caleb Truax.

In the featured preliminary fight at the Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall in Los Angeles, former junior lightweight and lightweight titlist Rances Barthelemy (27-1-1, 14 KOs), 34, will face All Rivera (21-4, 18 KOs), a 27-year-old southpaw from the Philippines. Barthelemy, a Cuban defector based in Las Vegas, is moving up in weight. He fought his last bout at lightweight in a sleep-inducing draw with former titlist Robert Easter Jr. in April 2019. Rivera will be fighting in the United States for the second time.

Also on the FS1 portion of the show, light heavyweight amateur standout Atif Oberlton will make his pro debut against Nathan Sharp (4-2, 4 KOs) in a four-rounder and middleweight Brandyn Lynch (10-1, 8 KOs) will fight Mark Hernandez (14-3-1, 3 KOs) in an eight-rounder.

Barrera dropping to super middleweight

Former light heavyweight world title challenger Sullivan Barrera, idle since a decision loss to Jesse Hart in June 2019 plans to drop down to super middleweight in an effort to get a meaningful bout.

Barrera (22-3, 14 KOs), 38, a Cuban defector fighting out of Miami, who had trained for an April fight against former three-time light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev only to have it canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, is frustrated.

“I wasted a lot of time and energy for the Kovalev fight.  I just want to fight and I have called out all of the champions, contenders and top prospects and no one wants to fight me," said Barrera, whose title shot against Dmitry Bivol in 2018 ended in a 12th-round knockout loss. “I am going to move down in weight. It won’t be a problem for me. I am a free agent so making a deal is easy. David Benavidez, Caleb Plant, Billy Joe Saunders, Callum Smith and even young fighters like Edgar Berlanga are all on my radar. I would fight any of them. They say I am old and washed up so I should be easy for them.

“I think I have a good resume.  I have fought several top fighters. My win over Joe Smith (in 2017) looks better all the time.  If I am so easy then these guys should accept my challenge. Who wants to meet me in the ring?”

2nd Fernando Vargas son going pro

Amado Fernando Vargas, son of former junior middleweight world titlist Fernando Vargas Sr., will make his professional debut on Friday in a four-round featherweight bout against Martin Sanchez (2-4-1) in Hermosillo, Mexico. He will join his brother, Fernando Vargas Jr., in the pro ranks. Fernando Jr. won his pro debut last month. Amdao Vargas, 20, of Las Vegas, who was 42-7 as an amateur, is trained by his father.

“It’s an honor to continue the legacy that my father has left,” Vargas said. “Now it’s my turn to show the world that these Vargas boys can really fight.”

Vargas Sr., who was also a 1996 U.S. Olympian, added, “I’m thrilled to have Amado follow the footsteps of Fernando Jr. in turning professional. Amado takes boxing very seriously and has dreams of becoming a world champion but he understands the work and discipline that is involved.”

New Muhammad Ali card set

Anyone who knows me knows I love collecting boxing stuff, mainly posters, programs and cards. So, I was excited to see the recent announcement from Topps that it has launched “The People’s Champ,” a 100-card set that will honor Muhammad Ali.

Topps will offer two new cards per week throughout 2021 on is website as part of its on demand program each Tuesday at 12 p.m. ET. The cards will be available for one week and only the number of each card ordered will be printed. The cost is $9.99 per card or both of the week’s offerings for $17.49 via, although there are bulk discounts. Also, cards can be had for far less on ebay from dealers who pre-sell.

According to Topps, it has “selected from a plethora of classic and never-before-published photographs that define Ali’s world – in and out of the ring – throughout his life.”

“This will be the most comprehensive dedicated collection of Ali cards ever created, one which will resonate with a broad array of fans across sports and pop culture,” said Jeff Heckman, Global Director of eCommerce for Topps, noting that Topps is collaborating with the Ali family on the project.

Quick hits

The WBC on Monday ordered an immediate rematch between interim bantamweight titlist Reymart Gaballo (24-0, 20 KOs), 24, of the Philippines, and former world titlist Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-2, 12 KOs), 28, of Puerto Rico. On Dec. 19, Gaballo won a controversial split decision over Rodriguez to win the vacant interim belt on Showtime at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. Rodriguez appealed to the WBC for a rematch, which reviewed the bout and ordered one.

Plans are in the works for former two-time super middleweight titlist David Benavidez (23-0, 20 KOs), 24, of Phoenix, to return on a Premier Boxing Champions card in March, according to a source with knowledge of the plans. In August, Benavidez was stripped of the WBC title for missing weight for a defense against Roamer Alexis Angulo. Benavidez stopped him in the 10th round, leaving the title vacant. He plans to continue boxing as a super middleweight.

Junior bantamweight world titlist Jerwin Ancajas (32-1-2, 22 KOs), 29, of the Philippines, who is training in Los Angles, will face mandatory challenger Jonathan Rodriguez (22-1, 16 KOs), 25, of Mexico, on a Top Rank card in April, manager Sean Gibbons told Fight Freaks Unite. “I am waiting on the exact date; then we’re looking at all the top dogs.” Ancajas-Rodriguez was scheduled to headline a Top Rank on ESPN card last April 11 in Las Vegas but was postponed due to the pandemic.

Show and tell

The late Vernon Forrest had convincingly defeated then-pound-for-pound No. 1 Shane Mosley in back-to-back fights in 2002 to win the WBC welterweight title and defend it. So, when Forrest was matched with WBA counterpart but little known Ricardo Mayorga in a unification bout for his second defense, Forrest was a huge favorite. He had just signed a lucrative multi-fight contract with HBO and Mayorga was viewed as a sure win on his way to bigger fights. Then a funny thing happened that night, Jan. 25, 2003 (18 years ago Monday): Mayorga lured Forrest into a firefight and drilled him in the third round to unify titles. Here’s a very scarce program in my collection.

Joyce photo: Queensberry Promotions

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