Luis Nery will be among the most astute observers for the undisputed junior featherweight championship to take place just before year’s end.

The former two-division champion is guaranteed to land first crack at the winner of the December 26 Naoya Inoue-Marlon Tapales four-belt unification bout at Ariake Arena in Tokyo. Inoue will put his WBC and WBO titles on the line in a bid to become a two-weight undisputed champion in just over a year, while the Philippines’ Tapales brings the IBF and WBA belts to the table.

Nery sits pretty as the WBC mandatory challenger in waiting.

“I am waiting for the winner,” Nery said of the anticipated title fight.

Nery (35-1, 27KOs) previously held the WBC titles at bantamweight and junior featherweight. The Tijuana-bred southpaw claimed top honors at bantamweight with an August 2017 fourth-round knockout of unbeaten, long-reigning champ Shinsuke Yamanaka on the road in Kyoto, Japan. The win was marred by a positive drug test for the banned substance Clenbuterol, though chalked up to by the WBC as contamination.

His reign was further disgraced, however, when he badly blew weight for his March 2018 rematch with Yamanaka, whom he knocked out In just over four minutes of action. His pre-fight scale follies earned what was regarded at the time as a lifetime ban issued by the no-nonsense Japanese Boxing Commission.

Nery won his next five starts, including a September 2020 unanimous decision over Aaron Alameda to claim the vacant WBC junior featherweight title. He suffered his lone career defeat one fight later, a seventh-round knockout to Brandon Figueroa in their May 2021 battle of unbeaten boxers.

Four wins have followed for Nery, a run that included his sensational eleventh-round knockout of Azat Hovhannisyan on February 18 in Pomona, California. The bout was a WBC final eliminator and remains high among the short list of candidates for 2023 Fight of the Year.  Nery tacked on a second-round knockout of Froilan Saludar in a July 8 stay-busy bout in Metepec, Mexico.

One positive sign of a straightaway title shot is the fact that Yokohama’s Inoue (25-0, 22KOs) name-dropped Nery as a primary reason why he plans to remain at junior featherweight.

Inoue has won titles at junior flyweight, junior bantamweight, undisputed at bantamweight and now the unified WBC/WBO champ at junior featherweight. There were already talks of a possible shot at a featherweight title in 2024.

However, Inoue prefers to remain put at 122 where he hopes to fully unify versus the resilient Tapales (37-3, 19KOs). The fight was put together months after Tapales outpointed then-unbeaten Murodjon Akhmadaliev to win the WBA and IBF belts on April 8 in San Antonio, Texas.

Nery’s place at the head of the line was confirmed by the WBC during its annual convention earlier this month in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman declared Nery as the mandatory challenger and to next challenge the Inoue-Tapales winner in the year ahead.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for X (formerly Twitter): @JakeNDaBox