As the holder of all four junior middleweight belts, undisputed champion Jermell Charlo has various mandatory defenses stacking up, but there is a dispute over which one should be next – IBF mandatory challenger Bakhram Murtazaliev or Tim Tszyu, the WBO mandatory challenger.
On May 14, Charlo knocked out then-WBO titlist Brian Castano in the 10th round of a rematch of their draw last summer to unify all four titles, setting the stage for a mandatory defense next since Charlo (35-1-1, 19 KOs), 32, of Houston, indicated he planned to remain at 154 pounds rather than move up in weight.
On Sunday, BoxingScene reported that Charlo and Tszyu had come to an agreement for the fight, which has not been formally announced but the story quoted WBO attorney Gustavo Olivieri saying, “The Charlo-Tszyu fight is going forward.” The WBO ordered that bout on May 31 and gave the sides 20 days to make a deal or there would be a purse bid.
News of the deal came as a surprise to the team of Murtazaliev, who has been the IBF mandatory challenger for more than two years and claims it has a signed agreement to fight Charlo.
Murtazaliev’s team sent WBO president Paco Valcarcel and TGB Promotions president Tom Brown, Charlo’s promoter, a letter on Monday to reminding them that Charlo’s IBF mandatory defense is supposed to come before the WBO’s under the rotation system for mandatory defenses that was agreed to years ago by the sanctioning organizations for them to operate under when there is a unified champion. Under the rotation system the oldest mandatory takes precedence.
“There exists a contract for Jermell Charlo to fight against Bakhram Murtazaliev and it appears that the WBO is interfering with that contract and with the prospective economic advantage of Bakhram Murtazaliev,” Pat English, the attorney for Murtazaliev promoter Main Events, wrote in the letter, which was copied to several others involved, including Team Tszyu and IBF members, and obtained by Big Fight Weekend.
“In order that there be no dispute regarding the Charlo/Castano rematch certain promises were made, in writing, by both Jermell Charlo and TGB Promotions. Charlo agreed that he had ten days to either relinquish the title (after the Castano rematch) or he would proceed to fight Bakhram, who is the IBF mandatory,” English continued in the letter. “Mr. Charlo did not relinquish the IBF title and plans have been proceeding for that match. Indeed, there is a contract and a substantial sum of money in my trust account for the fight.”
Russia’s Murtazaliev’s (20-0, 15 KOs), 29, who fights out of Oxnard, California, became IBF mandatory challenger via a unanimous decision over Jorge Fortea in a title elimination bout on Nov. 2, 2019. He has since fought three times in nontitle fights, two on Charlo undercards and one on Tszyu’s March 26 undercard, that were part of a step-aside deal that had allowed Charlo to temporarily bypass the him.
English pointed out in the letter that Tszyu (21-0, 15 KOs), 27, of Australia, did not even appear in the WBO rankings until checking in at No. 12 in September 2019 and did not become the organization’s mandatory challenger until defeating Takeshi Inoue in November 2021 – two years after Bakhram ascended to the mandatory position in the IBF.
“Thus there can be no question as who has precedence under the rotation system,” English wrote. “The WBO has never, to my knowledge, violated the rotation system, a system set up before the WBO was even formed but which the WBO has adopted. … We feel we must send this letter respectfully but firmly demanding that Bakhram Murtazaliev’s rights and those of Main Events not be interfered with. We do not like to threaten, but all receiving this letter should be assured that those rights will be protected”
As part of English’s letter to the WBO and Brown, he included a document signed by Charlo on Jan. 22 acknowledging his commitment to next face Murtazaliev.
In the letter, Charlo agreed that if he still held the IBF title following the rematch with Castano that he would have 10 days to decide whether to vacate that belt or “next engage in my mandatory against Bakhram Murtazaliev. If notice of my decision is not provided within said ten business day period, I shall defend my IBF title against Murtazaliev in my next bout.”
Charlo further promised that he would not apply to the IBF for another exception to the mandatory to fight anybody other than Murtazaliev. He also authorized TGB Promotions “to give notice on my behalf under this Acknowledgement. I agree to be bound by the terms of this Acknowledgement. I understand that New Jersey Sports Productions, Inc. (Main Events), as the promoter of Bakhram Murtazaliev, and Bakhram Murtazaliev, are relying on this Acknowledgement.”