Tim Tszyu was able to plead a stronger case as to why he should be favored over Magomed Kurbanov as the number one contender to the World Boxing Organization (WBO) junior middleweight title.
The move still doesn’t guarantee an immediate crack at the belt, however.
A thorough review by the WBO resulted in Tszyu maintaining his place as the mandatory challenger to reigning junior middleweight titlist Brian Castano, the sanctioning body announced Friday. Tszyu and Kurbanov were contacted via email by the San Juan, Puerto Rico-headquartered organization earlier this month, at which point they were given five days to plead their case to earn the number-one ranking to the WBO junior middleweight title.
Tsyzu’s team offered their pitch, with a response by Kurbanov’s handlers prompting an active email chain and plenty of data to be taken into consideration by the WBO. In the end, it was decided that Australia’s Tszyu was more deserving of the top contender slot, though respecting Kurbanov’s case and achievements.
“[H]aving carefully examined the parties' submissions, the uncontested facts stated herein and having reviewed the WBO Regulations of World Championship Contests and applicable provisions, we are of the position that Tim Tszyu best satisfies the required criteria for the designation of Mandatory Challenger in the Jr. Middleweight Division,” Luis Batista Salas, chairman of the WBO Championship Committee noted in a resolution submitted to both parties and published on the sanctioning body’s website. “[T]he Committee believes that Tszyu’s activity has been significant considering that upon winning the Vacant WBO Global Jr. Middleweight Championship Title on August 14, 2019, Tszyu has successfully defended his Regional Championship on five (5) occasions within a two (2) year term.”
Several factors went into the final decision, namely the level of opposition and dominance enjoyed by Tszyu (19-0, 15KOs), a second-generation boxer who is the son of Hall of Fame former junior welterweight king Kostya Tszyu. The younger Tszyu has racked up four wins since the pandemic, including an eight-round slaughter of former WBO welterweight titlist Jeff Horn, a ranked junior middleweight contender at the time of their well-celebrated clash last August in Townsville, Australia.
Tszyu was equally as dominant in a fifth-round stoppage of former two-time title challenger Dennis Hogan this past March in Newcastle. However, it was noted that Ireland’s Hogan—who is now based in Australia—was entering the fight having lost two straight and on the heels of a 15-month inactive stretch.
In his most recent start, Tszyu scored a third-round stoppage of Stevie Spark, a late replacement for Michael Zerafa who pulled out of the grudge match with Tszyu over concern of Covid quarantine protocol.
Russia’s Kurbanov (22-0, 13KOs) holds the most significant win between the two, claiming a twelve-round, unanimous decision victory over former WBO junior middleweight titlist Liam Smith. Their bout took place this past May in Kurbanov’s hometown of Ekaterinburg, winning by scores of 115-113, 115-113 and a questionable 117-112 tally. Many observers saw the bout as close and competitive, with several making the case that England’s Smith ultimately deserved the nod.
That part was not lost on the WBO, referencing the disputed outcome in its resolution.
“Bear in mind that although Kurbanov’s total combined record of his last five (5) opponents is similar to Tszyu’s, there are particular distinctions we must address,” noted Batista. “First, the level of opposition faced by Kurbanov is questionable, with only the former WBO Jr. Middleweight Champion Liam Smith being a legitimate opponent. Further, this Committee cannot overlook that the Kurbanov/Smith bout decision was considered highly controversial, including Team Smith filing a request for “Return Fight” (Rematch), which the WBO denied.
“Secondly, three (3) out of the last five (5) participants lost via unanimous decision (UD), including the controversial decision with Liam Smith. Whereas against Mikhaylenko and Ochkin, Kurbanov won via TKO and KO, respectively.”
Tszyu has scored knockouts in each of his past five fights spanning the same period. All five bouts came with a WBO regional title at stake, whereas Kurbanov’s disputed win over Smith was one of just two over that stretch.
With that, Tszyu can now claim to be the next mandatory challenger in line to the WBO title. However, it doesn’t guarantee a straightaway title shot. In fact, he could wait at least two more fights should all four major belts become unified if Castano enters a rematch with Jermell Charlo (34-1-1, 18KOs) and with the sequel producing a winner this time around.
“This ruling shall not be understood as an automatic enforcement of the mandatory title defense obligation as such obligations may be subject to modification or extension by the WBO World Championship Committee for a good cause, including but not limited to, granting sanction approval for a Unification Championship Bout(s) as such terms and conditions determined by the Championship Committee. Furthermore, this ruling shall not be interpreted to grant nor create additional rights to Tim Tszyu,” notes the ruling. “The scope of this “Resolution” is hereby limited to the designation of Mandatory Challenger in the Jr. Middleweight Division.
“Therefore, in the event that the Jermell Charlo/Brian Castaño rematch bout is agreed, the WBO World Championship Committee reserves its right to grant sanction approval considering that Unification Championship Bouts trump WBO mandatory title defense obligations.”
Houston’s Charlo is the recognized lineal champion and also holds the WBC/WBA/IBF belts. Charlo and Castano attempted to crown the division’s first-ever undisputed king in the four-belt era, only for their July 17 clash to end in a questionable twelve-round draw.
Talks surfaced of a rematch, though not officially advancing beyond rumors. Charlo was ordered by the IBF to enter talks for an overdue mandatory title defense versus unbeaten Bakhram Murtazaliev. BoxingScene.com has learned that the two sides have reached an agreement as to avoid a purse bid hearing, though representatives for both boxers have declined comment as to whether it means a straightaway fight or if Murtazaliev will once again step aside.
The only such exception would be for an undisputed championship, although the IBF has already granted two consecutive exceptions.
The New Jersey-based sanctioning body allowed then-unified IBF/WBA titlist Jeison ‘Banana’ Rosario’ to enter a title unification bout with WBC champ Charlo, who won their September 26 clash via eighth-round knockout. Charlo was then permitted by the IBF to enter a four-belt clash with Castano, on the condition he next face Murtazaliev (19-0, 14KOs), a 28-year-old Russian who is now based in Oxnard, California.
A rematch would be permitted by the IBF on the condition that it is agreeable to Murtazaliev, who is promoted by Main Events and managed by Egis Klimas. Murtazaliev has appeared on the undercard of Charlo’s last two title unification bouts, undoubtedly due to enjoy a similar slot in the event of a Charlo-Castano rematch.
Should that be the case, Murtazaliev would come in the rotation before Tszyu. Castano was the mandatory challenger ahead of his eventual twelve-round, unanimous decision win over Brazil’s Patrick Teixeira this past February in Indio, California.
The last IBF mandatory title fight came in May 2019, when then-number one contender Julian Williams dethroned WBA/IBF champ Jarrett Hurd. Murtazaliev became the next mandatory contender following a twelve-round, unanimous decision win over Jorge Fortea in November 2019.
In the event that Charlo winds up facing Murtazaliev—or anyone other than Castano—the WBO can then step in and order Castano to next defend versus Tszyu.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox