Ra’eese Aleem recently went on record claiming he is the most avoided fighter in the junior featherweight division.
The unbeaten contender now has two fights from which to choose, one on paper and the other with a hard deadline that could affect his play for a major title.
A recent ruling from the World Boxing Association (WBA) calls for Aleem (18-0, 12KOs) to enter negotiations for a title eliminator with Azat Hovhannisyan (20-3, 16KOs). The two sides will have fifteen days to agree to terms for a fight to determine the mandatory challenger for the WBA “Super” title held by Murodjon Akhmadaleiv (9-0, 7KOs), who also holds the IBF title.
The bout was originally ordered August 27, though with the WBA agreeing to postpone the negotiation period as Aleem was due to face Eduardo Baez (20-1-2, 7KOs) as part of a September 18 Showtime card that was since pushed back to November 27 due to WBC junior featherweight titlist Brandon Figueroa (22-0-1, 17KOs) having to postpone his title unification clash with WBO titlist Stephen Fulton (19-0, 8KOs) after testing positive for Covid.
Aleem-Baez was made without the knowledge of the WBA, though the sanctioning body was willing to compromise as long as the next move for Aleem—had he won—was to discuss a final eliminator with Los Angeles-based Hovhannisyan. The two-month postponement causes a problem, as did a second request from Aleem’s camp—led by promoter Marshall Kauffman—that prompted the sanctioning body to take action.
“The World Boxing Association (WBA) Championships Committee gave a 15-day time limit from October 21, 2021 teams of Ra’eese Aleem and Azat Hovannisian to reach an agreement for their super bantamweight eliminator fight, which will decide the next mandatory challenger in the category,” explained Carlos Chavez, chairman of the WBA Championship Committee. “The pioneer organization denied the request for a postponement of the negotiations until November 29 submitted by Aleem’s team on the grounds that there are no valid reasons to do so.
“The fight between Aleem and Hovannisian was ordered last August 27. At that time, Marshall Kauffman… requested a postponement so that [Aleem] could participate in a bout scheduled without the knowledge of the body, which was to take place last September 18. [B]ecause the date of that fight was close to the date on which the obligation to negotiate was sent, the WBA considered letting him fight and if Aleem won to continue negotiations. [W]hen that fight was canceled because Brandon Figueroa, who was the featured fighter of that event, tested positive for Covid 19 on September 7, there was no need to send a formal communication to allow him to fight Baez and the negotiations for the mandatory fight request should continue.”
Fulton-Figueroa and Aleem-Baez are due to take place November 27, as part of a rescheduled Showtime Championship Boxing event airing live from Park MGM in Aleem’s current hometown of Las Vegas. The event moving forward in present form could impact the WBA junior featherweight division two-fold.
Figueroa currently holds the WBA “World” junior featherweight title, a secondary version of the real title currently held by Akhmadaliev. The sanctioning body has already ruled that Figueroa will be stripped of the belt once he enters the ring to face Fulton, as the WBC and WBO would not recognize the title at stake.
The move also falls in line with the WBA’s continued efforts to reduce its number of recognized titlists. Part of the program included the removal of all interim titles, which affected Aleem who won such a belt following a one-sided stoppage win over Vic Pasillas in their January 23 battle of unbeaten contenders.
Several former interim titlists were inserted as the mandatory challenger where applicable, though the junior featherweight division proved too crowded a field. Ronny Rios (33-3, 16KOs) was already owed a mandatory title shot, which will come November 19 versus Akhmadaliev in Manchester, New Hampshire.
On the heels of the August 25 announcement to eliminate all WBA interim titles, Aleem-Hovhannisyan was among the several eliminators, mandatories and title consolidation bouts ordered by the WBA. The fight was re-ordered October 4, citing the cancellation of the September 18 event as grounds to renew talks. The request by Aleem’s team to postpone talks until after his bout with Baez was rejected by Hovhannisyan and Golden Boy Promotions.
“For his part, Kauffman, representing Aleem, responded on October 6 to that objection and stated that the September 18 event had been rescheduled for November 27 for the previously signed bout against Baez,” explains Chavez.
“In this case, the decision for not granting the postponement request to Aleem’s team was because they failed to demonstrate the reason why the fighter is contractually obligated to face Baez. The reason for the postponement was not due to medical disability of the fighters.
“On the other hand, the Aleem-Baez bout is not for a championship or unification, so it is not significant enough to grant the postponement.”
Baez is 11-0-1 with nine knockouts since his lone loss, a six-round decision to current top featherweight Mauricio Lara in April 2017 when both were developing prospects. Included among the run are back-to-back wins over unbeaten prospects Narek Abgaryan and Abimael Ortiz, both taking place on Ring City USA cards nationally televised on NBC Sports Network.
However, the 26-year-old from Mexicali is not ranked by the WBA. In fact, he only appears in the WBO ratings, where is currently ranked number-twelve. That makes things problematic for Aleem if he wants to remain one win away from at least challenging for the WBA title.
“The deadline set, November 5, is the final date and if they do not reach an agreement, the bout will be opened for bidding,” declared Chavez. “In the event Aleem participates in a bout other than the eliminator against [Hovhannisyan], his recognition will be revoked and [Hovhanisyan] will be certified as the mandatory challenger.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox