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Thursday, September 6, 2012
Hard-luck Ajose earns headlining role

By Dan Rafael
ESPN.com

Olusegun Ajose
An active soldier in Nigeria's army, Olusegun Ajose predicts a knockout against Lucas Matthysse.

Olusegun Ajose of Nigeria has been in position for a mandatory title shot for a year, but the WBC has ignored his rights time and time again. It has simply screwed him and left him with little leverage other than a costly lawsuit that nobody wants.

It is boxing politics at its absolute most heinous.

Ajose dropped Ali Chebah twice and won a unanimous decision in an official final eliminator last September, in a fight that made him the mandatory challenger for the WBC's 140-pound title. In other words, he had next.

Ajose-Chebah took place shortly after the WBC wrongfully stripped Timothy Bradley Jr. of the belt but, because it's an organization that always gives Mexican fighters the benefit of the doubt, it approved Erik Morales to face late substitute Pablo Cesar Cano for the vacant title. That was preposterous because the WBC's two top contenders, Ajose and Chebah, were scheduled for a final eliminator shortly thereafter; that's the fight that should have filled a vacancy that was absurd to begin with.

After Morales won the vacant belt, Ajose (30-0, 14 KOs) was again ignored. Instead of following its rules that say a fighter who wins a vacant title is then supposed to make a mandatory defense, the WBC pathetically allowed Morales to defend against Danny Garcia (and Morales wound up losing the title because he did not make weight, then lost a clear decision to Garcia).

Then Garcia was supposed to fight Ajose next. Instead, he was put off again as Garcia's handlers got the WBC to approve a summer unification fight with Amir Khan, after Lamont Peterson tested positive for a banned substance and his fight with Khan was canceled.

Garcia knocked out Khan, but instead of Ajose finally getting his opportunity, he was left on ice yet again as the WBC let the mandatory slide and approved a rematch between Garcia and the undeserving Morales (who lost his last fight AND didn't make weight). They meet again on Oct. 20.

So what of the 32-year-old Ajose? His consolation prize is an "opportunity" to fight knockout artist Lucas Matthysse (31-2, 29 KOs) of Argentina for the organization's vacant interim belt at 140 pounds. Ajose accepted it because, well, what other choice does he have? He can still make more money in this fight than any other but the full title fight. In addition, Damian Ramirez, Ajose's manager, told me that the WBC has promised to pay Ajose $75,000 to make up to him for the royal screwing, although he hasn't yet seen the money. And, of course, the WBC also promised him a mandatory title shot a year ago.

After almost a year off while this all played out (and not to Ajose's benefit) he will return to action to face Matthysse for the interim belt on Saturday night (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET/PT) at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. The fight was originally the co-feature on the card, but it was elevated when welterweight titlist Randall Bailey, citing a back injury in training, postponed his first defense against Devon Alexander.

"It's common knowledge I've been deprived of this fight for so long," Ajose said. "I've been ready to fight for a championship for four years. Now that I have this opportunity, I'm not going to let it go. I better win this fight. I'm going to give everything I have to win this fight."

Ajose, who spent some time living in England and in New York, is an active solider in Nigeria's army and plans to return to duty after the fight.

"I'm coming to America to win a world title," he said. "After the fight, I'm going back to join the army and live and train in the barracks. That's the way it is. I'm a soldier. You don't become a soldier if you're not tough."

And you also don't beat Matthysse if you're not tough. He is one of boxing's best pure punchers, but Ajose said his power is not a concern to him.

"Just because he can punch other boxers doesn't mean he can fight me," Ajose said. "He has never fought me. When he punched Zab [Judah], did he knock him out? No. Did he knock out [Devon] Alexander? No. I'm at their level. Knock me out? That's not going to happen. It's going to be me knocking him out, not the other way around.

"Ali Chebah had an 80 percent knockout ratio and when he hit me, it didn't hurt me. I proved my chin. I knocked him down twice but he didn't hurt me. I felt some of his power, but nothing I couldn't handle."

Lucas Matthysse
Promoter Mario Arano believes Lucas Matthysse, left, would be undefeated if he hadn't been "robbed" in losses to Devon Alexander, right, and Zab Judah.

Matthysse, 29, lost controversial split decisions to Judah and Alexander in their hometowns and he is coming off a sensational fifth-round knockout of former two-division titleholder Humberto Soto in June.

"I know he's one of the toughest in the division," Ajose said. "He's quite tough. He lost twice, but I think he was robbed both times. I know he comes to fight, but I only saw two of his fights -- against Devon Alexander and Zab Judah. I didn't see his fight against Humberto Soto. There are more fights of me on YouTube than there are of him, so he probably knows more about me. But when we fight, we'll learn a lot about each other.

"My advantage is my skills, my experience in the ring -- not that he's had more fights [in the U.S.] than I have. That doesn't matter. He may have fought more times here, but he's never faced anyone like me."

And if Ajose wins, he wants the shot at Garcia he has been denied.

"Danny Garcia, that's who I want to fight, 100 percent," Ajose said. "After I beat [Matthysse], I want Danny. He's been saying he's better than me. OK, come out and fight if you think you're a superstar. Show me you're good, because right now I have a bigger fish to fry, and that's Lucas. Lucas is way better than Danny. Right now I'm thinking about Lucas. After I beat him, we'll think about Danny."