A major roadblock has been cleared on the road to crowning an undisputed heavyweight champion.
BoxingScene.com has confirmed that the IBF has formally rescinded its previous order for its number-one heavyweight contender, Filip Hrgovic to next face unified WBA/IBF/WBO heavyweight titlist Oleksandr Usyk. The fight was demanded by the sanctioning body more than two months ago but Usyk is no longer on the hook to honor that ruling, at a point when talks continue for a hoped-for showdown with lineal/WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury.
“On November 12, 2022, the IBF ordered Champion Oleksandr Usyk to commence negotiations with IBF Mandatory challenger Filip Hrgovic who became the IBF Heavyweight Mandatory contender on August 20, 2022, by winning an IBF Elimination bout against Zhilei Zhang,” IBF president Daryl Peoples informed Wasserman Boxing, Hrgovic’s co-promoter, in an official letter, a copy of which was obtained by BoxingScene.com. “On November 14, 2022, the WBA notified the IBF that the WBA was next in the “rotation” system established by the IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO. The IBF agrees that the WBA is next in the rotation.
“Based on the information provided by the IBF, the IBF is rescinding the order for Oleksandr Usyk to commence negotiations with Filip Hrgovic for a Mandatory defense of the IBF Heavyweight title dated November 12, 2022.”
Big Fight Weekend’s Dan Rafael was first to reveal the news, via social media.
The development comes nearly two months after the fight was initially ordered, at which point Matchroom Boxing and Wasserman Boxing—Hrgovic’s co-promoters—demanded an immediate purse bid hearing. The request is within sanctioning body rules, as any party can call for a purse bid at any point during the assigned negotiation period.
No other notification was given in the two months that followed prior to Monday, other than Wasserman hinting through the media that its side was exploring legal action to be taken if Hrgovic was not granted his due title shot.
The WBA called for a title consolidation bout between Usyk—who holds the ‘Super’ version of the WBA heavyweight title—and ‘Regular’ titlist Daniel Dubois (19-1, 18KOs) on December 12 during its annual convention which took place in Orlando, Florida. At the time, it was not specified that the WBA and IBF were already in contact regarding the proper rotation order. The IBF was still reviewing the matter, thus creating more confusion at a time when Fury-Usyk was the only title fight that carried any public demand.
The ruling was the right call, though the IBF misidentified the most recent WBO mandatory title defense as noted in the same letter.
The IBF stated that “Oleksandr Usyk made a Mandatory defense of the WBO Heavyweight title against Anthony Joshua on September 25, 2021.” It was the other way around, as England’s Joshua (24-3, 22KOs) sought to make the second defense of his second unified title reign he regained in a twelve-round points win over Andy Ruiz in their December 2019 rematch.
Joshua-Ruiz II was approved by the IBF solely on the basis that the winner would next face IBF mandatory Kubrat Pulev. Joshua honored the ruling when he faced and defeated Bulgaria’s Pulev in a December 2020 ninth-round knockout.
Usyk (20-0, 13KOs) waited in the wings as the WBO mandatory. The Ukrainian southpaw defeated Joshua in September 2021 to become a two-division champ, having previously held the undisputed cruiserweight championship. Usyk repeated with a points win over Joshua in their rematch last August in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
On the undercard of the Usyk-Joshua rematch, Hrgovic (15-0, 12KOs) survived a knockdown to claim a disputed split decision victory over Zhang (24-1-1, 19KOs) in their IBF final eliminator.
Ignored in all of this—and factoring into Monday’s ruling—was the absence of a WBA mandatory title defense for more than four years.
Dubois claimed the WBA ‘Regular’ title in a sixth-round knockout of unbeaten Trevor Bryan last June 11 in Miami, Florida. With the win came the anticipation of a title consolidation clash with the winner of the Usyk-Joshua rematch which was still two months away at the time. It was a reasonable expectation, considering the last WBA heavyweight mandatory title defense was made in September 2018, when a then-unbeaten Joshua scored a seventh-round knockout of Alexander Povetkin.
Interestingly, the instance marks the second time in barely a year where the IBF was forced to walk back an ordered mandatory title defense.
Unified IBF/WBA junior featherweight titlist was ordered to make an IBF mandatory title defense versus Marlon Tapales in an official notice sent roughly this time one year ago. The WBA informed the New Jersey-based sanctioning body that its mandatory challenger, Ronny Rios was next in the rotation. The IBF obliged and subsequently informed Tapales’ team of the bad news.
Akhmadaliev went on to score a 12th round stoppage of Rios last June 25 in San Antonio, Texas. He suffered a broken hand in the process, which delayed talks for a revisited IBF mandatory title defense versus Tapales which is now in play for some time this spring, as previously reported by BoxingScene.com.
Monday’s official ruling on the heavyweight division clears a path for Usyk to accept a fight with Fury—if Usyk wants it, as an exception could be filed with the WBA.
It can come either from Usyk in pursuit of an undisputed championship or by Dubois who is still recovering from an injury sustained in his off-the-canvas, third round stoppage of Kevin Lerena last December 10 in North London. The feat occurred on the undercard of Fury’s one-sided drubbing of Derek Chisora, with Usyk seated ringside and calmly confronting Fury immediately after the main event to build interest towards an undisputed championship.
The most ambitious reports have Fury-Usyk taking place sometime this spring, though a deal has yet to be finalized. The IBF’s decision to stand down on its mandatory title defense will, for now, at least allow all the belts to be at stake for such a fight, as Usyk is not pressured to vacate the title in lieu of facing Hrgovic.
Whatever comes of that matter, Hrgovic is still guaranteed a title shot.
“The winner of the WBA Heavyweight Mandatory defense will be ordered to make a defense of the IBF Heavyweight title within one hundred eighty (180) days of the WBA Mandatory defense,” noted Peoples.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox