- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Anyone who reads my blog with any regularity knows that -- to put it nicely -- I'm not a big fan of the sanctioning organizations. But a good thing about one of them, the IBF, is that at least there is a clear set of rules that are followed when it comes to determining a mandatory challenger.
I'm not particularly fond of the IBF's ratings, but at least the organization follows a generally coherent set of rules to select a mandatory challenger. The IBF sanctions eliminators in different divisions on a regular basis, and low and behold, the winner of the eliminators and the titleholder are ordered to fight within a set time frame. There's no messing around. If the titleholder won't do the fight -- poof! -- the belt is stripped. Other organizations -- yeah, I'm looking at you, WBC -- regularly play games.
In the bantamweight division, Leo Santa Cruz won the vacant IBF belt June 2 with a dominant, near-shutout decision against South Africa's Vusi Malinga. This was a fun fight to watch because Santa Cruz threw about a billion punches, but it was in no way, shape or form competitive. Malinga was totally outclassed, just as he had been the first time he fought for a world title.
The loss dropped Malinga to 0-2 in world title fights. In 2009, he had fought Hozumi Hasegawa for the WBC's version of the 118-pound title and was knocked out in the first round. So I think it has been pretty well established that Malinga has a tough time at the top level, and it should take some time before he gets handed another shot. He needs to truly earn it.
So, much to my surprise, after weathering Santa Cruz's assault for 12 rounds (after which one judge gave Malinga a single round and the other two gave all 12 rounds to Santa Cruz), Malinga is absurdly in position to get another IBF title shot without having to do very much.
Who would be remotely interested in seeing a Santa Cruz-Malinga rematch? But it could happen, and here's why: The IBF didn't drop Malinga far enough down the rankings after he was pasted by Santa Cruz, nor does it have a rule in place that prohibits a losing fighter from being awarded another title fight so quickly.
So now Malinga (20-4-1, 12 KOs) is scheduled to face England's Jamie McDonnell (19-2-1, 2 KOs), the European champion, on Oct. 20 in Sheffield, England, on the undercard of Kell Brook's welterweight title eliminator against Hector Saldivia. The winner of McDonnell-Malinga will be Santa Cruz's next mandatory.
McDonnell is, of course, just thrilled to be in the eliminator, no matter whom he is facing.
"It's the next progressive step in my career, having cleaned up domestically and in Europe," he said. "It's a big step, but one I will take and go on to become world champion."
Santa Cruz is scheduled to fight Eric Morel in a title defense Sept. 15 and might be able to squeeze in one more fight this year after he routes Morel (which I expect to happen). Santa Cruz might even be able to get in another fight in early 2013 before he has to fight the winner of McDonnell-Malinga.
Ideally, McDonnell will beat Malinga to save us the lunacy of a rematch with Santa Cruz. If it turns out that Malinga beats McDonnell, what an unfortunate waste of everyone's time it will be.