A path has been cleared to crown an undisputed 122-pound king.
It’s now up to the reigning unified titlists to seize the opportunity.
Newly crowned WBA/IBF junior featherweight titlist Marlon Tapales was granted permission by the WBA to enter a voluntary title defense, specifically targeting the winner of the July 25 Stephen Fulton-Naoya Inoue WBC/WBO junior featherweight title fight. The significance of the ruling frees the Filipino from a mandatory title defense obligation or an immediate rematch with Murodjon Akhmadaliev, whom Tapales edged via split decision to win the titles on April 8 in San Antonio, Texas.
Akhmadaliev previously held the WBA/IBF titles since January 2020 and made three successful defenses prior to what the Uzbek southpaw and his team felt was a controversial loss to Tapales. Co-promoters Matchroom Boxing and World Of Boxing petitioned the WBA to order a second fight between the two, only to instead receive instructions to enter a title eliminator versus Japan’s Tomoki Kameda to become mandatory challenger.
“Tapales defeated Akhmadaliev last April 8 to retain the crown in a controversial and close fight,” WBA Championship
Committee chairman Carlos Chavez acknowledged in the final ruling. “Matchroom Boxing made a direct rematch request to the WBA and although there are elements that could support it, it is not feasible to do so at this time.
The new champion and his team asked the WBA for permission to fight the winner of Inoue and Fulton, whose bout will be on July 25.
“This bout would be a unification of the WBA, IBF, WBC and WBO titles, which is a powerful reason to admit it for the sake of boxing.”
The ruling is not as enticing to either Akhmadaliev or Kameda, given the acknowledgement that the mandatory wouldn’t be enforced until after an undisputed fight either takes place or is confirmed to not happen next.
Tapales (37-3, 19KOs) entered the April 8 fight as the IBF mandatory challenger. The current IBF 122-pound rankings have the number-one and number-two spots vacant, though a new mandatory will be crowned in the June 17 eliminator between Ra’eese Aleem (20-0, 12KOs) and Sam Goodman (14-0, 7KOs) in Broadbeach, Queensland, Australia. The WBA is next in the mandatory rotation for Tapales’ two titles.
Philadelphia’s Fulton (21-0, 8KOs) will attempt his third overall title defense and second as unified WBC/WBO titlist. He will travel to Tokyo for a pound-for-pound showdown versus Inoue (24-0, 21KOs), who abandoned his undisputed bantamweight championship reign in a bid to become a four-division champion.
The already high stakes for their July 25 clash have significantly increased, should the winner opt to next face the now available Tapales for all the belts.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox