By David Finger
The final day of the 32nd annual WBO convention in Tokyo, Japan concluded last night (Thursday, December 5th) with the event that always has no shortage of drama: the Championship and Ratings Committee meeting. And in boxing’s biggest weight class there was one undeniable fact…the division was in a holding pattern as they waited for this weekend’s fight to conclude between Andy Ruiz and Anthony Joshua. With the winner mandated to fight two separate fighters (Aleksandr Usyk, the WBO #1 ranked contender and mandatory challenger to the belt as well as IBF mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev) and with the #2 ranked heavyweight (Tyson Fury) on a crash course towards a WBC world heavyweight title fight against Deontay Wilder there was no question as to who the big winner would be once the dust settled.
“Joseph Parker remains the only man to beat your champ Andy Ruiz,” David Higgins said to the WBO President and the championship committee. “He’s very grateful to the WBO and would like to challenge for the WBO title should (Tyson) Fury move out. He’d like to move up to #3.”
Higgins, the manager of the former WBO heavyweight champion, was clearly positioning the Kiwi fighter for the most important spot in the rankings that was still in play. What was apparent was that such a move could put Parker in line for a title fight in the next few months if the winner of the Ruiz-Joshua fight elected to give up his WBO belt and defend his belt against the mandatory IBF challenger instead. Such a move would almost certainly lead to an Usyk-Parker fight for the vacant title.
“If the belt becomes vacant he (Parker) would like to raise his hand and fight Usyk of the vacant title.” Higgins added.
There was no question that Parker remains highly regarded by many on the WBO, and it did appear that Joseph Parker was the man who found the last Golden Ticket in his Wonka Bar.
“He has been a great champion and we are very proud of him,” President Valcarcel said of the Kiwi.
In other heavyweight news, the prospect of an interesting Pacific heavyweight clash became a bit closer to reality as undefeated Chinese bomber Zhilei Zhang (21-0, 16 KOs) received a push from promoter Dino Duva after having been dropped from the rankings due to inactivity.
“He lost his rank due to inactivity,” Duva admitted. “(But this was) due to visa issues.” Duva also made it clear that his Chinese fighter would be more than willing to fight New Zealand’s Junior Fa (19-0, 10 KOs) who is currently the #7 ranked heavyweight contender.
Another fighter from the Far East, Japan’s Kyoto Fujimoto (21-1, 13 KOs) also received a push to reenter the world rankings. Shinto Suzuki requested a top ten ranking for the local boxer, who is currently slated to fight undefeated Daniel Dubois on December 21.
In the light heavyweight division, Lee Eaton from MTK Global made a push to see #11 ranked Steven Ward move up the rankings.
At 168 pounds President Francisco “Paco” Valcarcel admitted that the WBO has given champion Billy Joe Saunders “a lot of leeway” when it came to making his mandatory defense, indicating that Saunders would have to fight a mandatory in his next title fight.
In the welterweight division, Lee Eaton made a push for the WBO European champion Michael Mckinnon (the #9 ranked contender) to move into the #6 slot, noting that he did recently defeat the #6 ranked welterweight recently.
In the 140-pound division, Francis Warren made a push for #14 ranked Sam Maxwell (the WBO European champion) while Angelo DeCarlo made a push for the #11 ranked lightweight, Jason Ng to move into the top ten.
At 122-pounds Sean Gibbons made a push for the #10 ranked Mexican Cesar Juarez, who is making a strong push for comeback fighter of the year. Juarez is slated to fight undefeated prospect Angelo Leo (18-0, 8 KOs) on December 28. With Leo ranked #14 in the WBO Gibbons pushed for a top 3 ranking for Juarez should he win.
In the 105-pound division, a push was made for Melvin Jerusalem to move into the top five.
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In other business conducted on the final day, Puerto Rico was selected as the venue for the 2020 WBO convention, with Florida being named the backup. The event closed with the much anticipated Gala Dinner that night, where Vasyl Lomachenko was named WBO Fighter of the Year.