Jermell Charlo’s next fight will be a mandatory title defense.
Against which mandatory is currently a matter for the sanctioning bodies to resolve amongst themselves.
As previously reported by BoxingScene.com, WBO president Francisco ‘Paco’ Valcarcel announced over the weekend that a deal was reached for Charlo to next face WBO junior middleweight mandatory challenger Tim Tszyu, thus avoiding a purse bid hearing that would have been scheduled later this month.
That ruling is now being challenged by representatives for Bakhram Murtazaliev, the longtime IBF mandatory challenger who was believed to be next in line for the undisputed junior middleweight championship.
“There exists a contract for Jermell Charlo to fight against Bakhram Murtazaliev and it appears that the WBO is interfering with that contract and with the prospective economic advantage of Bakhram Murtazaliev,” Pat English, lead counsel for Murtazaliev’s promoter Main Events, noted to the WBO and all involved parties in a legal letter, a copy of which was obtained by BoxingScene.com. “In order that there be no dispute regarding the Charlo/[Castano] rematch certain promises were made, in writing, by both Jermell Charlo and TGB Promotions.
Charlo agreed that he had ten days to either relinquish the title or he would proceed to fight Bakhram, who is the IBF mandatory . Mr. Charlo did not relinquish the IBF title and plans have been proceeding for that match. Indeed, there is a contract and a substantial sum of money in my trust account for the fight.
An Acknowledgement Letter signed by Charlo on January 24 specified that—with a win over Castano—that he would have “ten business days to decide whether… to vacate the IBF 154 lb. title or next engage in my mandatory against Bakhram Murtazaliev. If notice of my decision is not provided within said ten business day period, I shall defend my IBF title against Murtazaliev in my next bout. I shall make no further applications after the Castano bout to the IBF to extend my mandatory bout or to fight anyone other than Murtazaliev.”
Charlo beat Castano via tenth-round knockout to fully unify all four major titles in their memorable May 14 clash at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. The Houston-based champion and pound-for-pound entrant acknowledged after the fight the challenge ahead of keeping the titles together given that all four sanctioning bodies have a mandatory challenger in waiting.
The WBO mandatory was inherited by Charlo following his win over Castano. Also lurking is interim WBC junior middleweight titlist Sebastian Fundora, while the WBA has at least provided a cushion in ordering a title elimination rematch between Israil Madrimov and Michel Soro which is scheduled for July 9 in London.
That said, Charlo entered the Castan rematch of the belief that his overdue IBF mandatory would be his next order of business.
“I understand that [Main Events] as the promoter of Bakhram Murtazaliev… are relying on this Acknowledgment,” Charlo noted in the signed statement.”
Murtazaliev (20-0, 15KOs) became the IBF mandatory challenger following a twelve-round win over Jorge Fortea in November 2019. The pandemic altered plans for an immediate shot at the title, which was held at the time by Julian Williams who in turn lost the WBA/IBF titles to Jeison ‘Banana’ Rosario. Charlo and Rosario entered a WBC/WBA/IBF unification bout on September 26, 2020, which featured Murtazaliev in a non-televised undercard bout as part of an agreement to allow the three-belt title fight to take place.
Murtazaliev again appeared on a Charlo undercard, this time ahead of Charlo’s first fight with Castano which ended in a split-decision draw last July 17 in San Antonio, Texas. The failure to produce a winner left Murtazaliev in a position whether to decide on forcing his mandatory status or taking another step-aside package that would once again include a stay-busy fight on a PBC undercard.
The 29-year-old contender instead took out an insurance policy, guaranteeing both another fight and then a clear shot at Charlo. The former came in a walkout bout immediately following Tszyu’s U.S. debut this past March 26 in Minneapolis. Apparently, the pair of unbeaten contenders left town of the belief they were next in line.
According to the IBF and WBO, they were both right.
Tszyu (21-0, 15KOs) and No Limit Boxing, his local promoter in Australia, entered a multi-fight agreement with PBC earlier this year. His debut was to come on the undercard of the originally scheduled March 19 rematch between Charlo and Castano. The event was postponed by two months when Castano suffered an injury in training camp, which—thanks to a filed protest by Tszyu and his team—required his responding to a WBO Show Cause letter just to retain the title and keep the rematch intact with Charlo.
A new date was granted both for that fight as well as Tszyu’s U.S. debut which came as the March 26 Showtime main event. Tszyu was also ringside for Charlo’s win over Castano, after which he insisted that Charlo had 120 days to either fight him or vacate the title.
The threat came at a time when Charlo was already committed in writing to next facing Murtazaliev, as argued by Murtazaliev’s legal team.
“Important to understand is that the ratings organizations have had a rotational order for mandatory bouts,” argued English. “That rotational order came from a case in which I represented Evander Holyfield in a Chancery Division case in which Mike Tyson attempted to block the Holyfield Foreman bout, where there were conflicting assertions of rights by different ratings organizations. Judge Amos Saunders informed the one rogue organization that the champion could not split himself and as an equity Judge he declared that there was to be a rotation system, with the oldest mandatory taking precedence.”
Castano was actually the last mandatory contender to receive a title shot, facing and defeating then-reigning WBO titlist Patrick Teixeira last February 13 in Indio, California. Castano’s long wait for his title shot disputes the repeated claims from Tszyu that he has been the mandatory challenger for two years, when in fact he wasn’t formally named as such by the WBO until last summer.
A dispute of the Australian’s recollection of events was made by Murtazaliev’s team.
“Bakhram became mandatory in IBF following his 11/2/19 fight with Jorge Fortea, two and a half years ago,” English reminded the room. “Tim Tszyu first shows up in WBO rankings in September of 2019 at #12 after defeating Dwight Richie, who was not ranked. In July of 2020, Tszyu was ranked #9. In August of 2020 he moved up to #2 after defeating Jeff Horn, who was ranked #5 in the July 2020 rankings.
“Tszyu First appears at # 1 in January of 2021 after defeating Bowen Morgan, who is not ranked. The next time Tszyu fights a ranked fighter is 11 /21 when he defeats Takeshita Inoue. That is when he earned his mandatory. This is two years after Bakhram. Thus, there can be no question as who has precedence under the rotation system.”
The matter will be further addressed by all involved parties to determine the best course of action. The spirit of the letter was born from reports that the WBO was prepared to move forward with its mandatory title fight, though the intention of it to prompt a discussion in lieu of a legal battle.
“The WBO has never, to my knowledge, violated the rotation system, a system set up before the WBO was even formed but which the WBO has adopted,” noted English in his best effort at providing an olive branch. “The immediate reason for this letter is that the WBO has reportedly told journalists that a contract had been reached for Charlo to fight [Tszyu]. I learned of this after I spoke to you at the Boxing Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. Mr. Brown of TGB has denied the accuracy of this.
Given that there is an existing contract and that, in any case, Bakhram Murtazaliev is next in the mandatory line we feel we must send this letter respectfully but firmly demanding that Bakhram Murtazaliev's rights and those of Main Events not be interfered with. We do not like to threaten, but all receiving this letter should be assured that those rights will be protected.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox