Dan Rafael: Ola Afolabi

Interim titles are one of the scourges of boxing but, to the IBF’s credit, they are used very, very rarely and only in one specific instance (which makes perfect sense) -- in the event that a titleholder is legitimately injured and will be sidelined for an extended period. And when that titleholder does return, his first bout must be against the interim titleholder.

It is not like other organizations, where an interim title is created solely for the sake of generating additional sanctioning fees and the titleholder can defend an interim belt time and again without being forced to face the full titleholder (or vice versa).

In fact, in about the past decade-plus, the IBF has used an interim title only three times: because of injuries to then-junior welterweight champion Kostya Tszyu, then-lightweight titlist Jesus Chavez and then-junior flyweight titlist Ulises Solis.

The IBF will now use a rare interim title again because cruiserweight titleholder Yoan Pablo Hernandez (29-1, 14 KOs) is sidelined for an extended period with a right elbow injury. Hernandez had been scheduled to face mandatory challenger Ola Afolabi (21-3-4, 10 KOs) on Dec. 6 in Oldenburg, Germany, but withdrew after getting injured preparing for the bout.

According to IBF championships chairman Lindsey Tucker, with Hernandez unavailable, England’s Afolabi has been ordered to face former titlist Victor Emilio Ramirez (21-2, 17 KOs), of Argentina, for the vacant interim belt.

The winner of the bout, which still needs to be negotiated (or a purse bid will be ordered), will have to face Hernandez upon his return. However, Tucker said that if Hernandez is unable to return by Aug. 6, he will be stripped and the Afolabi-Ramirez winner will become the full titleholder.
A few notes from around the boxing world:

•  The ongoing litigation over Canelo Alvarez’s promotional contract between Golden Boy Promotions and All-Star Boxing was scheduled to go to trial next week in Dade County circuit court in Florida. However, according to All-Star Boxing promoter Tutico Zabala, the trial has been delayed and won’t start until January. No reason was given for the delay. Zabala is suing Golden Boy, claiming it interfered with his contract with Alvarez. Golden Boy and Top Rank are currently negotiating a spring fight between Alvarez and middleweight champion Miguel Cotto.

•  Former two-time Olympic gold medalist Zou Shiming (6-0, 1 KOs) of China suffered a cut over his left eye from a head butt in a lopsided decision victory against Kwanpichit OnesongchaiGym in a November flyweight eliminator on the Manny Pacquiao-Chris Algieri undercard in Macau, China, so Zou's return (penciled in for February) has been pushed back to March 7 (also in Macau) to give the cut time to heal. Zou is slated to challenge world titleholder Amnat Ruenroeng (14-0, 5 KOs) of Thailand.

•  Fan-friendly cruiserweight prospect Oleksandr Usyk (5-0, 5 KOs), the 2012 Olympic heavyweight gold medalist, will face South Africa’s Danie Venter in a 10-rounder on Dec. 13 at the Sport Palace in Kiev, Ukraine, Usyk's home country. Usyk's training for the fight included two weeks of sparring with cruiserweight contender Ola Afolabi. Venter (19-6, 14 KOs) has won four fights in a row.

“Training was terrific and I learned a great deal sparring with Ola,” said Usyk, who has also trained with heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko. “He’s one of the very best cruisers in the world and it was a tremendous experience. I’m getting better with each bout and looking to close out 2014 in style.”

Price returning from hand surgery

November, 14, 2014
Heavyweight David Price, who underwent surgery to repair a damaged tendon in his right hand in July, will return from the injury on Dec. 6, Sauerland Event announced on Friday.

Price (18-2, 15 KOs), a 2008 British Olympic bronze medalist and the 2012 ESPN.com prospect of the year, will face Argentine journeyman Emilio Ezequiel Zarate (18-13-3, 9 KOs) at the EWE Arena in Oldenburg, Germany.

The fight is on the undercard of the show that includes light heavyweight titlist Juergen Braehmer defending against Pawel Glazewski and cruiserweight titleholder Yoan Pablo Hernandez squaring off with Ola Afolabi.

“I can’t wait to get back into the ring and back to what I do best," Price said. “This will be my first fight on terrestrial television and it’s a great opportunity for me to show everybody what I can do.”

The card is being carried on free network television in England on Channel 5.

“I’m working hard every day in the gym and the time I’ve spent out with injury has only made me hungrier,” Price said. “On Dec. 6, people are going to see me at my most dangerous. I’m coming with bad intentions. I want to put in a performance and entertain all the fans watching at home on Channel 5."

Said promoter Nisse Sauerland: “[Price] is without a doubt one of the most exciting heavyweight boxers on the planet. We’re excited to be working with [promoter] Mick Hennessy to give the U.K. audience a chance to see him live in action on Channel 5.”

Price injured his hand during a 10-round decision victory against Yaroslav Zavorotnyi on June 7 in Germany. Price, 31, has won three bouts in a row since his stunning back-to-back upset knockout losses to American Tony Thompson in 2013.

Hernandez ordered to face Afolabi

August, 20, 2014
Cruiserweight titlist Yoan Pablo Hernandez (29-1, 14 KOs) won a split decision against former titlist Firat Arslan (34-8-2, 21 KOs) to retain his title for the fourth time on Saturday in Germany and the next day was ordered by the IBF to begin negotiations for his mandatory defense against Ola Afolabi (21-3-4, 10 KOs).

According to the organization, the fight must take place by Dec 31.

Afolabi, who is from England and living in Los Angeles, was supposed to face Pawel Kolodziej of Poland in a title eliminator to earn the shot. But when Kolodziej pulled out of their July 26 fight that was scheduled for the Gennady Golovkin-Daniel Geale undercard in New York, Afolabi instead smashed substitute Anthony Caputo Smith in the third round. That fight was not an eliminator but Afolabi is getting the shot because Hernandez’s mandatory defense is due and Afolabi is the IBF’s leading available contender.

“I’m thrilled to be challenging for the IBF world title,” Afolabi said. “[K2 Promotions managing director Tom Loeffler] and K2 have done a great job promoting me and putting me in this position and I will take the title from Hernandez.”

Said Loeffler: “We’re excited that Ola is now the mandatory challenger. Ola has proven to be one of the best cruiserweights in the world and we strongly believe that he will bring home the IBF world title in this fight.”

The fight will be Afolabi’s fourth shot at a world title. He is 0-2-1 against Marco Huck fighting for another organization’s belt.

Afolabi looking for new foe

July, 2, 2014
Cruiserweight contender Ola Afolabi is on the hunt for a new opponent after Pawel Kolodziej pulled out of their title eliminator.

Afolabi (20-3-4, 9 KOs), 34, of England, who has had three cracks at titleholder Marco Huck and come up short each time (going 0-2-1), was supposed to face Kolodziej (33-0, 18 KOs), 33, of Poland, in a title eliminator on July 26 at Madison Square Garden in New York on the Gennady Golovkin-Daniel Geale undercard. The winner was to become the mandatory challenger for titlist Yoan Pablo Hernandez.

However, K2 Promotions' Tom Loeffler told ESPN.com that Kolodziej has dropped out and he is looking for a new opponent to face Afolabi.

Loeffler said that no specific reason was given but that, "The fighter would not commit to the fight once I sent over the New York bout agreement."

K2 won the promotional rights to the fight for $40,000 as the only bidder at an April purse bid. Kolodziej was entitled to 75 percent ($30,000) and Afolabi 25 percent ($10,000).

Tapia-Melson added to GGG card

June, 25, 2014
TapiaEd Mulholland/Top RankAll-action Glen Tapia has been added to the Gennady Golovkin-Daniel Geale undercard in New York.
Junior middleweights Glen Tapia and Boyd Melson will square off in an eight-round fight that has been added to the undercard of the Gennady Golovkin-Daniel Geale middleweight title fight at Madison Square Garden in New York on July 26.

K2 Promotions, looking to add some local ticket sellers to the card, worked things out with Tapia's handlers, Top Rank and manager Pat Lynch, to add him to the show. With Tapia being from Passaic, New Jersey and Melson from Brooklyn, the fight was a natural since both fighters have their share of fans.

"We're excited to add this fight between these two local fan favorites to an already stellar HBO doubleheader," said Tom Loeffler of K2 Promotions. "Tapia and Melson are both very popular in the New York City area and have a lot to gain with a win. Fighting on the sport's biggest stage will no doubt bring out the best in each of them and give them the most publicity for their career."

The 24-year-old Tapia (21-1, 13 KOs) suffered his first loss in December at the hands of powerful James Kirkland, who stopped him in the sixth round. Tapia, now being trained by Hall of Famer Freddie Roach, rebounded for a first-round knockout victory against Keenan Collins on June 14.

Melson (14-1-1, 4 KOs), a 32-year-old southpaw, who is 6-0-1 in his last seven bouts, donates all of his purse money to help fund research on spinal cord injuries.

Another Top Rank/Lynch fighter was also added to the card in welterweight prospect Julian Rodriguez (4-0, 3 KOs), a former amateur standout from Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey. He will face an opponent to be determined in a four-round bout.

"Although only 19-years-old, Rodriguez is one of the most talked about young fighters in the sport and fans are in for a real treat with his all-action style," Loeffler said.

Loeffler also said that cruiserweight contender Ola Afolabi, who has had three cracks at titleholder Marco Huck and come up short each time (going 0-2-1), will also be on the card.

Afolabi (20-3-4, 9 KOs), 34, of England, will face Pawel Kolodziej (33-0, 18 KOs), 33, of Poland, in a title eliminator. K2 Promotions won a recent purse bid for the fight. The winner will become the mandatory challenger for titlist Yoan Pablo Hernandez.
Cruiserweight contender Ola Afolabi has had three cracks at a world title, but they all came against Marco Huck and resulted in Huck winning two of the battles and getting a draw in another.

Now Afolabi (20-3-4, 9 KOs), 34, of England will go in another direction and is looking to fight for another belt. He is one win away. He will face Pawel Kolodziej (33-0, 18 KOs), 33, of Poland, in a title eliminator after K2 Promotions, Afolabi’s promoter, won the purse bid for the fight that will give the winner a mandatory shot at titleholder Yoan Pablo Hernandez.

K2 Promotions was the only bidder at Wednesday’s auction, offered $40,000. Kolodziej’s promoter Andrew Wasilewski did not bid, according to the IBF.

Kolodziej is entitled to 75 percent ($30,000) of the winning bid and Afolabi will get 25 percent ($10,000).

The fight is supposed to take place by June 22, but it could be tricky getting it to take place by then.

Ponce De Leon moving up to 130

September, 2, 2013
Former junior featherweight and featherweight titlist Daniel Ponce De Leon (44-5, 35 KOs) lost his featherweight belt by ninth-round knockout to Abner Mares in May and has decided to move up in weight, manager Frank Espinoza told ESPN.com. He said Ponce De Leon, having trouble continuing to make 126 pounds, will move up to the 130-pound junior lightweight division for his next fight, which hasn't yet been scheduled.

• Cruiserweight contender Ola Afolabi (19-3-4, 9 KOs) of England concluded his trilogy with titleholder Marco Huck by losing a spirited majority decision in June to go 0-2-1 in the rivalry. Now Afolabi is moving on and will fight Nov. 2 at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York, K2 promoter Tom Loeffler told ESPN.com. Afolabi, whose opponent isn't set, will fight on the undercard of middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin's defense against Curtis Stevens.

• Former heavyweight titlist Ruslan Chagaev has only two losses in his career, both in world title bouts, against Wladimir Klitschko and Alexander Povetkin. For his next fight, Chagaev will appear on the undercard of their championship showdown on Oct. 5 in Moscow. Chagaev (31-2-1, 20 KOs) will face Jovo Pudar (30-3, 17 KOs) of Serbia in a scheduled 12-round bout. Pudar is 42 and was retired from 2004 to 2010 but has won his eight fights since returning, although he has faced low-level opposition.

• Cruiserweight titlist Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (48-2-1, 34 KOs) of Poland and Italy's 43-year-old Giacobbe Fragomeni (30-3-2, 12 KOs), who briefly held a belt from late 2008 until mid-2009, are due to meet for the third time in a mandatory fight. Wlodarczyk promoter Leon Margules of Warriors Boxing told ESPN.com that if the sides don't make a deal, there will be a purse bid on Sept. 7. Wlodarczyk was saddled with a disputed draw against Fragomeni in a 2009 title fight and then knocked him out in the eighth round of a dominant performance in a 2010 rematch. If Margules wins the purse bid, he might try to bring the fight to Chicago, where there is a large Polish community that has been very supportive of Polish fighters.

Afolabi moving on from Huck

June, 21, 2013
Cruiserweight contender Ola Afolabi isn't giving up on his dream of winning a world title in the wake of his June 8 loss to Marco Huck.

Afolabi and Huck fought three times in all, with Huck going 2-0-1 in three excellent fights. Last year's rematch, one of the best fights of 2012, ended in a draw. The third bout was another really good fight, but Afolabi, who had been the interim titlist, just couldn't get over the hump and lost on scores of 117-111, 115-113, 114-114 in a majority decision.

Afolabi, who is from England but lives in Southern California, is putting the Huck trilogy behind him.

"I congratulate Marco, he fought a very good fight," Afolabi said. "This is the third time we've fought, so I'm ready to move on to other challenges. I'll be back in the gym shortly, fully focused on fighting my way back into world title contention."

Although Afolabi couldn't come up with a win, he made a lot of fans because of the spirited efforts he gave against Huck. He spent some time last week making the rounds in England with appearances on Sky Sports and BoxNation.

While Afolabi (19-3-4, 9 KOs), 33, takes a break, K2 Promotions managing director Tom Loeffler will work on plans for his next bout.

"Ola and Marco have very different styles, but are very similar in talent so that every time they fight it is always an exciting and close battle," Loeffler said. "Ola and I have spoken and we're going to work hard towards getting him back for another title shot in the near future. He was in excellent shape for this bout and we believe he will still accomplish his goal of being a world champion."

Germany's Huck (36-2-1, 25 KOs), meantime, is moving on to his 12th title defense, a Sept. 14 rematch with former titlist Firat Arslan (33-6-2, 21 KOs). In Huck's fight prior to the third bout with Afolabi, he outpointed Arslan in a highly competitive, action-packed fight in November.

Huck confident of keeping title

May, 30, 2013
Marco Huck, Ola Afolabi Karina Hessland/Bongarts/Getty ImagesMarco Huck, right, is confident he will retain the title against Ola Afolabi.

One of the sleeper fight of the year candidates in 2012 was the rematch between cruiserweight titlist Marco Huck and interim titlist Ola Afolabi, which ended in a draw.

Not too many people in America saw the fight, because it took place in Erfurt, Germany, and was not televised here. But it’s worth a look on YouTube. It was a tremendous battle. Both fighters were in trouble at different times, and they closed with a ferocious 12th round.

Huck scored a decision win against Afolabi in their first meeting in 2009, so he’s up 1-0-1 in the series, retaining his title both times. But the third fight was mandated after the draw, and they are meeting again on June 8 at Max-Schmeling-Halle in Berlin, Huck’s home city.

Huck will be making his 11th defense when he faces England’s Afolabi, against whom he also made his first and ninth defenses.

Huck is confident that he will once again will retain the title against his biggest rival.

“All good things come in threes,” Huck said. “So far Afolabi hasn’t been able to find a way to beat me, and it won’t be any different this time around.”

Huck has not fought in Berlin since a 2010 defense against Denis Lebedev, so he is happy to be fighting at home again.

“I’m so excited to be back in Berlin, and I want to give the boxing fans in Germany’s capital a real spectacle,” said Huck, who will be fighting for the first time under the promotional contract extension signed with Sauerland Event. “That is why I will be giving it a 100 percent during my preparation. The spectators inside the Max-Schmeling-Halle have a real barn burner to look forward to.”

It’s hard to imagine it being a better fight than the second one was last May, but you never know.

Besides Huck (35-2-1, 25 KOs) and Afolabi (19-2-4, 9 KOs) going at it, the fight also pits two of Germany’s most famous trainers against each other: Ulli Wegner (Huck) and Fritz Sdunek (Afolabi).

“We have laid down the foundations. Now we are waiting to see if Marco is able to stick to the tactics we worked on when he is under the pressure of sparring,” Wegner said. “Afolabi will present a difficult challenge, partially due to Fritz Sdunek standing in his corner.”

Golovkin-Macklin close, plus more

April, 10, 2013
Here's the lowdown on a bunch of fights that are either set, in the works or falling apart:

• Middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin (26-0, 23 KOs) of Kazakhstan and former title challenger Matthew Macklin (29-4, 20 KOs) of Great Britain have a deal in principle to fight June 29 in the main event of an HBO tripleheader, according to both camps. The fight likely will be finalized in the coming days and could be announced as soon as Saturday at a news conference in New York, where many boxing writers will be covering the Nonito Donaire-Guillermo Rigondeaux junior featherweight unification bout. No site is set yet, but the Foxwoods resort in Mashantucket, Conn., is the front-runner to host.

The co-feature will pit South African super middleweight Thomas Oosthuizen (21-0-1, 13 KOs) against Sacramento's Brandon Gonzalez (17-0, 10 KOs). The fight has been agreed to but isn't yet signed. The opener will feature Cleveland junior middleweight Willie Nelson (20-1-1, 12 KOs), although promoter Lou DiBella and HBO have been arguing over an opponent for days.

• Fresh off his junior lightweight title defense against Diego Magdaleno in Macau, China, last Saturday, Roman "Rocky" Martinez (27-1-2, 16 KOs) is looking toward his next defense. It could come against former featherweight titlist Orlando Salido (39-12-2, 27 KOs) in September in Martinez's native Puerto Rico, according to Salido's manager, Sean Gibbons. Salido, who lost his featherweight belt to Mikey Garcia in January, will fight June 1 in Mexico or June 15 in Puerto Rico before the possible bout with Martinez.

• Light heavyweights Tony Bellew (19-1-1, 12 KOs) of England and Isaac Chilemba (20-1-2, 9 KOs) of South Africa will meet in a rematch May 25 in London on the undercard of the Mikkel Kessler-Carl Froch super middleweight title rematch, according to Chilemba's promoter, Lou DiBella, who said he made a deal with Bellew promoter Eddie Hearn. Once again, Bellew and Chilemba will fight for the right to become champion Chad Dawson's mandatory challenger. Bellew and Chilemba met on March 30 in Bellew's hometown of Liverpool, England, and fought to a draw.

• The third fight between cruiserweight titlist Marco Huck (35-2-1, 25 KOs) and interim titlist Ola Afolabi (19-2-4, 9 KOs) is scheduled for May 11 in Germany, and both fighter camps say their man is training. However, promoter Don King, who doesn't handle either fighter yet won the purse bid for a whopping $1.5 million, still doesn't have a specific site or a television deal, leading both sides to believe the fight won't come off as scheduled. According to the Afolabi camp, the WBO, which is sanctioning the bout, has given King a Wednesday deadline to produce signed contracts for the fight or he will forfeit his right to promote the bout.

• Lightweight Ameth Diaz (31-11, 22 KOs) of Panama will travel to Martin Gethin's hometown of Walsall, England, for a lightweight title eliminator on May 24. Diaz was supposed to face Marvin Quintero in the eliminator on April 5 in Santa Ynez, Calif., but Quintero suffered a broken nose, needed surgery and withdrew from the fight. Since Quintero was unavailable, Gethin (24-3-1, 11 KOs) was the next available contender in the IBF's rankings for the eliminator. The Diaz-Gethin winner will become the mandatory challenger for Miguel Vazquez.

• Featherweight titlist Evgeny Gradovich (16-0, 8 KOs) of Russia will make his first defense against mandatory challenger Mauricio Munoz (26-3, 12 KOs) of Argentina. An April 16 purse bid was canceled after the sides made a deal. Top Rank, Gradovich's promoter, plans to put the fight on in June or July, probably on the undercard of featherweight titlist Mikey Garcia's first defense.

• The promoters for junior lightweights Rances Barthelemy (18-0, 11 KOs), a Miami-based Cuba native, and Thailand's Fahsi Sakkreerin (39-3-1, 21 KOs) reached an agreement for their title elimination bout. Warriors Boxing promoter Leon Margules told ESPN.com that the sides have agreed on the terms and that the fight will be promoted in the United States this summer. The Barthelemy-Sakkreerin winner will become the mandatory challenger for 130-pound titlist Argenis Mendez.

Mayweather talks about jail term

April, 3, 2013
A little of this and a little of that from the boxing world:

• As part of the lead-up to the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Robert Guerrero welterweight title fight on May 4 (Showtime PPV) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the documentary “30 Days In May” debuts on Wednesday night (Showtime, 10 ET/PT). The one-hour film chronicles the days between Mayweather’s May 5, 2012, win over Miguel Cotto and the June 1 start of a three-month jail term for domestic abuse at the Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas. The film concludes on Aug. 3, Mayweather’s self-described “best day of my life,” when he was released early for good behavior after serving two months behind bars. The documentary features the only interviews Mayweather has conducted (so far) about his incarceration, which he calls a “life-changing experience.”

• Middleweight champ Sergio Martinez (50-2-2, 28 KOs) and challenger Martin Murray (25-0-1, 11 KOs) of England, who meet April 27 (HBO) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Martinez’s home country, were both inside the limit of what they were allowed to weigh for their 30-day weight check. They were each 170 pounds a month before their 160-pound championship fight.

• "Friday Night Fights” fan favorite Delvin Rodriguez (27-6-3, 15 KOs) returns to the ESPN2 series on May 24 at the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, Conn., where Connecticut resident Rodriguez is a good draw. He’ll face fellow former welterweight title challenger Freddy Hernandez (30-4, 20 KOs) in a scheduled 10-round junior middleweight bout.

• The epic Mike Alvarado-Brandon Rios rematch at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas on Saturday night was another hit for HBO, which said that, according to Nielsen Media Research, it drew 1.2 million viewers for the live airing. That was a 45 percent increase in viewership from the first Rios-Alvarado fight, which was also a barn-burner, but on an undercard. Saturday’s undercard fight between unknown junior welterweight prospect Terrence Crawford and Breidis Prescott drew 845,000 viewers, according to the network.

• Promoter Don King, who won the purse bid for the third fight between cruiserweight titlist Marco Huck (35-2-1, 25 KOs) and Ola Afolabi (19-2-4, 9 KOs) despite not handling either fighter, told the camps that the fight would take place May 11 in Germany. However, King, who bid a surprising $1.5 million, still does not have a specific venue lined up or a television deal in place The fighters are both in training camp, but their handlers remain skeptical that the fight will come off. Without a TV deal, King would likely default on the bid.

Huck-Afolabi III coming together

February, 25, 2013
Cruiserweight titlist Marco Huck and interim titleholder Ola Afolabi -- who already have fought two good bouts with each other -- are going to meet for a third time. But with Huck's promoter (Sauerland Event) and Afolabi's promoter (K2) unable to reach a deal, a purse bid will be held Tuesday morning in Miami.

The minimum offer is $300,000 for the fight. Huck will receive 80 percent of the winning bid, and Afolabi will be due 20 percent. The WBO has an interesting way of determining the split between a titlist and interim titlist. It uses a ratio based on the average purse of the fighters' previous three bouts, although it can never be wider than an 80-20 split.

Germany's Huck (35-2-1, 25 KOs) outpointed England native Afolabi (19-2-4, 9 KOs) in a 2009 title defense and also retained the title in a May 2012 draw in one of the best fights of the year.

Huck-Afolabi III likely will take place in April in Germany.
Two of the best fights in Germany in 2012 were title bouts promoted by Sauerland Event, the country's biggest promoter.

Sauerland put on the rematch between cruiserweight titlist Marco Huck and Ola Afolabi, who battled to a highly entertaining draw in May, and in August former middleweight titlist Arthur Abraham claimed a super middleweight belt with a decision win against Robert Stieglitz in a competitive and exciting fight.

We are likely to see both of these matchups again in the spring. Sauerland Event is working on both bouts. If they are finalized, Huck-Afolabi III would take place in March and Abraham-Stieglitz II in April. The exact dates are not set yet.

Huck-Afolabi II (a rematch of Huck's decision win in a 2009 title bout) was one of the best fights of 2012 in any country -- and the 12th round was one of the rounds of the year. A third fight makes sense.

Stieglitz had a rematch clause in his contract for the fight with Abraham, who was allowed to take an interim defense in December. Abraham stopped Mehdi Bouadla in the eighth round of an easy defense, paving the way for Stieglitz to exercise his rematch clause.