Warrington vacates IBF 126-pound strap, wants Russell Jr., Can

Josh Warrington has today vacated his IBF World Title after the IBF refused to sanction his proposed unification fight in April.

Earlier this month, the proposed mega fight with Xu Can was delayed with a new working date of April 24. Matchroom will now look to finalize that fight or make a giant match up with WBC king Gary Russell Jr.. Both the Can and Russell fights would be for the coveted Ring Magazine belt.

“It’s so important for Josh to be in a mega fight after (Mauricio)Lara on February 13,” said Matchroom Sport Managing Director Eddie Hearn. “He has his heart set on the Ring belt and it’s up to us to make the Can or Russell fights for April or early May. I’ve been working hard with Robert Diaz of Golden Boy to close Xu Can and also had several conversations with Luis De Cubas regarding a Gary Russell bout – both fights are Fight of the Year contenders.”

“It’s disappointing we couldn’t have the IBF Title on the line, but I can’t let those decisions stand in the way of me going down in British boxing history by facing the very best in the division,” said Warrington. “I’ve always dreamt about winning the Ring belt, for me it leaves no doubt who the king of the division is. Right now, my mind and focus is on Lara for February 13 and then I’m looking to pick up that beautiful red and blue belt.”

Canelo on fight with Yidirim: ‘I know we will put on an exciting fight’

Saúl ‘Canelo’ Álvarez will defend his WBC, WBA Super and Ring Magazine World Super-Middleweight titles against Avni Yidirim on Saturday February 27 at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, live on DAZN in over 200 countries and territories (excluding Mexico) or on cable/satellite pay-per-view in the U.S. and Canada.

Canelo (54-1-2 36 KOs) cemented himself as one of the pound-for-pound fighter in the world and the top dog in the 168-pound division with a dominant win over previously unbeaten Briton Callum Smith in San Antonio, Texas in December with the WBA, vacant WBC and Ring Magazine belts on the line in front of a sold-out socially distanced crowd in the Lone Star state.

The Mexican star declared after the fight his desire to become the undisputed champion at Super-Middleweight, but before targeting the remaining belts, the four weight World ruler must deal with his dangerous WBC mandatory Yildirim at the home of the Miami Dolphins and Miami Hurricanes.

“Avni Yildirim is a good boxer and I know we will put on an exciting fight,” said Canelo. “I’m very glad that we are able to bring this event to Miami, a short distance from where my hero, Muhammad Ali, trained. February 27 will be a great night for the sport.”

Yildirim (21-2 12 KOs) has been biding his time to fight for the WBC title once again, having been frustrated in his last outing when his clash for the vacant crown with Anthony Dirrell in Minnesota in February 2019, with the clash ending in a technical decision win for Dirrell after he suffered a cut over his eye.

The 29 year old challenger will be aiming to shock the world two years on from that disappointment and does so in his third fight in the States and second in Miami, having beaten the ‘Road Warrior’ Glen Johnson in August 2015, and the Turkish star returns to the Sunshine State for the biggest night of his career.

“I am honored as a mandatory to fight again for the big green belt – thank you to everyone who is involved,” said Yildirim. “I always give my all – and everybody should be ready to see a war. I am coming to make my country proud – I am representing the whole of Turkey.”

Following a great night in San Antonio, Canelo teams up with Matchroom and Eddie Hearn for a two-fight deal starting with the clash with Yildirim, and Hearn is excited to develop the relationship with Canelo and his Ring Magazine trainer of the year and manager Eddy Reynoso.

“It is an absolute honor to promote the pound-for-pound number one and I’m so excited to head to Miami and the home of the Dolphins at the Hard Rock Stadium,” said Hearn. “Even in a pandemic, Saúl is looking to be more active than ever and in his plan to be undisputed he must overcome his mandatory challengers to keep his belt. Yildirim is the first of those challenges who will be attempting to dethrone the king on February 27. We look forward to a huge night of boxing on DAZN and the start of a huge year for Canelo.”

Plant: ‘I’m on a mission to be the first undisputed super middleweight champion in boxing history’

Unbeaten IBF Super Middleweight World Champion Caleb “Sweethands” Plant will defend his title against former champion Caleb “Golden” Truax in the FOX PBC Fight Night main event and on FOX Deportes Saturday, January 30 from Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall in Los Angeles.

A rising superstar who first captured his 168-pound world title in January 2019, Plant makes his third world title defense live in primetime once again as he is opposed by the crafty veteran Truax, whose own super middleweight glory came in 2017 when he traveled overseas to dethrone James DeGale for the IBF belt. In the co-feature Michael Coffie and Darmani Rock clash in a 10-round battle of unbeaten heavyweights. Super welterweight sensation Joey Spencer takes on Isiah Seldon in an eight rounder to open the telecast at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.

The event will be promoted by TGB Promotions and Sweethands Promotions, in association with Warriors Boxing, and will take place without fans in attendance at the Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall, an AEG venue, in downtown Los Angeles.

The 28-year-old Plant (20-0, 12 KOs) has scored back-to-back stoppage victories on FOX in his two title defenses, beating then undefeated Mike Lee in July 2019 before most recently turning away Germany’s Vincent Feigenbutz in a homecoming event last February in Nashville, Tennessee. The Ashland City native now lives and trains in Las Vegas and captured the title in a 2019 victory over Jose Uzcategui. Plant was the underdog coming into the Uzcategui fight, before turning the tables with two early knockdowns on his way to a unanimous decision. It was an emotional night for Plant, who had dedicated his championship victory to the memory of his late daughter Alia, who suffered from a rare disorder that caused seizures.

Truax, the highest-ranked IBF super middleweight contender, will be Plant’s second consecutive mandatory challenger as Feigenbutz was also the IBF mandatory challenger.

“I want to say I’m grateful to be making my 2021 debut on FOX.  On January 30th I’m facing Caleb Truax who is going to be coming with everything he’s got, so I’ll be prepared to go to battle with everything that I got,’’ Plant said. “Everyone knows I’m on a mission to be the first undisputed super middleweight champion in boxing history. With that being said, fans can expect to see me at my absolute best.  This fight ends in a knockout.”

Truax (31-4-2, 19 KOs) became a real-life Cinderella Man with his world championship-winning victory in December 2017. Truax was a 50-1 underdog when he traveled to DeGale’s native U.K. and overcame the odds by wresting the title away in one of the year’s biggest upsets. Truax dropped a narrow decision to DeGale in their 2018 rematch. A former college football player fighting out of Saint Michael, Minnesota, Truax has faced an impressive lineup of super middleweights and middleweights throughout his career, including DeGale, Anthony Dirrell, Peter Quillin and Daniel Jacobs.

“I’m hungry and I’m treating this like my last opportunity to win my title back,” Truax said. “I’m going in as the underdog, but I’ve been in that position before and I’ve beaten the odds.”

A Marine Corps veteran who picked up boxing after returning from overseas, Coffie (11-0, 8 KOs) quickly impressed in amateur tournaments enough to earn sparring assignments with Deontay Wilder and Adam Kownacki. The 34-year-old was born in the Bronx, but now fights out of Brooklyn. Coffie most recently improved his unbeaten record with a TKO victory over hardnosed veteran Joey Abell on FOX on Nov. 11.

“I think this is going to be a really good fight.  We match up with our physical stature both height and weight. It should be a tough and gritty fight for the fans,” Coffie said. “My thought is that Rock is a good fighter. He has never been put in a position where he has had to dig deep. I feel like that I always have had to dig deep because I never had a huge amateur background.  Every fight I have had to will myself. A win will be another step closer to fighting the fights that people want to see.’’

The unbeaten Rock (17-0, 12 KOs) is a hard-hitting 24-year-old from Philadelphia who is establishing himself as a force in the heavyweight division as he climbs the ladder into contention. Rock will have to scrape off some ring rust when he steps in against Coffie. He didn’t fight at all last year. His last fight was a stoppage victory over Maurenzo Smith on Oct. 19, 2019.

“The layoff might have a little impact on me, but I don’t think it will be a big problem. I just got to do what I got to do,’’ Rock said. “I don’t really know much about him. I know he looks strong. The main thing I have to do is get the feel back and listen to my corner and my Pop and follow instruction and have fun. I’m glad this is on Jan. 30, because I want to be as busy as possible this year and make up for that year layoff that I had and stay in shape.’’

The 20-year-old Spencer (11-0, 8 KOs) has made fast strides since turning pro in February 2017. The Linden, Michigan native kicked off 2020 in January with a six-round decision victory over Erik Spring and returned with a KO victory over Shawn West in August on FOX. Those two wins built on an impressive four-win 2019.

“I’m super excited to get back in the ring and kickoff 2021 with an explosive performance for my fans,’’ Spencer said. “I’m having an incredible training camp and I’m in the best shape of my life.’’

Seldon (14-3-1, 5 KOs), the son of former heavyweight champion contender Bruce Seldon, got a late start to boxing, turning pro when he was 22 years old in Atlantic City, N.J. under the tutelage of Bill Johnson, the same man who trained his father. The 32-year-old Seldon of Somers Point, N.J. is coming off an impressive second round KO victory over Darryl Bunting last March.

“I am excited for the opportunity.  I have seen a lot of film on Spencer.  He is a very good fighter with an excellent amateur background,’’ Seldon said.  “I can’t wait until January 30th.  I have a lot of time to prepare and have had a great training camp with Danny Davis.  When this opportunity presented itself, I jumped on it, and I will put on a great performance on January 30th.”

Shields: ‘I can’t wait to fight Marie Eve Dicaire on March 5’

In the 10-round main event of “SUPERWOMEN,’ a historic night of live, all-female pay-per-view boxing (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT) celebrating women’s sports and dedicated to International Women’s Day 2021, undefeated three-division world champion Claressa Shields will attempt to become the first boxer in the four-belt era to become an undisputed world champion in two weight divisions when she faces unbeaten IBF Super Welterweight Champion Marie-Eve Dicaire in a 154-pound unification bout between the #1 and #2 junior middleweights in the world.

‘SUPERWOMEN’ will be held on Friday, March 5, from the Dort Financial Center in Shields’ hometown of Flint, Michigan. The pay-per-view will cost $29.95

The winner of the women’s superfight will walk away with Shields’ WBC and WBO titles, Dicaire’s IBF belt, and the WBA (Super) crown, the first time in its 99-year history that the WBA has awarded a Super Champion belt to a female boxer. In the four-belt era, only seven fighters have been undisputed in one division, including Shields, Katie Taylor, Cecilia Braekhus, Bernard Hopkins, Jermain Taylor, Terence Crawford, and Oleksandr Usyk. Shields, if victorious, will make history as the first man or woman to have become undisputed champion in two weight divisions in the four-belt era.

The most accomplished amateur boxer in U.S. history, 25-year-old Shields (10-0, 2 KOs) is the first American boxer – male or female – to win two consecutive Olympic Gold Medals. She turned professional following the 2016 Olympics and headlined the first women’s boxing main event in premium cable television history in just her second professional fight in 2017.

Shields became Unified Super Middleweight World Champion in just her fourth professional fight, the Unified Middleweight World Champion in her sixth professional fight and Unified Super Welterweight World Champion in her tenth fight. She now holds the record for becoming a two- and three-weight world champion in the fewest professional fights. Shields participated in the biggest fight in women’s boxing history by beating Christina Hammer for the Undisputed Middleweight Championship of the World on April 13, 2019. On January 10 in Atlantic City, N.J., Shields became the fastest fighter in history, male or female, to win world titles in three different weight divisions by claiming the WBC and WBO 154-pound world championships with a dominating unanimous decision over Ivana Habazin.

“I’m excited to be fighting another undefeated champion and to have the opportunity to make history by becoming the first fighter – male or female – to be undisputed champion in two weight divisions in the four-belt era,” said Claressa Shields. “Headlining my first pay-per-view event with this historic all-women’s card, particularly at such an important time in the evolution of women’s boxing and around the International Women’s Day celebration, is so meaningful to me. We’re going to put on one heck of a show for the world to see. It’s one big step for boxing and one giant step for Womankind. I can’t wait to fight Marie Eve Dicaire on March 5.”

34-year-old Dicaire (17-0) is from Saint-Eustache, Quebec, Canada, and started karate at the age of six. She worked her way up through the ranks until she obtained her black belt. After winning five world championship titles, Dicaire turned her attention to boxing and won the IBF Super Welterweight World Championship in December 2018 by dethroning Uruguay’s Chris Namus at the Quebec City Videotron Center. In her last fight, in November 2019, Dicaire defended her title for the third time beating experienced Venezuelan Ogleidis Suarez by unanimous decision. Dicaire will be fighting outside of the province of Quebec for the first time on March 5.

“I’m happy to finally be able to get back in the ring and face Claressa Shields,” said Dicaire. “It’s been a year now that I’ve been preparing exclusively for this fight. I’m used to making history in women’s boxing. I was the first woman to lead an event in a major amphitheater in Canada. On two occasions, my IBF defenses have been shown on pay-per-view in Canada. I have a lot of respect for everything Shields has accomplished; I am excited about this opportunity for my career and for the advancement of international women’s boxing. Like Claressa I am undefeated and, just like her, I am coming to defend my world crown. We are going to have a lot of fun on March 5 measuring our skills, without restraints, and putting on a grandiose and memorable show. We have been waiting for this moment for a very long time. I would like to thank all those who made this event possible and I invite you to be there on March 5 in large numbers!”

The supporting bouts will highlight some of the best talent of today and a look at rising stars of the future and is expected to include outstanding undefeated 6-foot tall 198-pound heavyweight Danielle Perkins, powerful undefeated Floyd Mayweather Sr.-trained light heavyweight Nadia Meknouzi and super-talented current WBA interim super welterweight champion Raquel Miller – all in bouts to be announced over the next days and weeks.

As an amateur, Danielle Perkins was a 2019 Amateur Boxing World Champion. With a dream of becoming world professional heavyweight champion, Perkins registered an impressive victory in her August 20, 2020, pro debut when she knocked down and unanimously decisioned previously unbeaten Monika Harrison. Already a world-class athlete standing 6’0″ tall and weighing 197 pounds, Perkins was a standout collegiate basketball player at St. John’s University where she led the team in rebounding and blocked shots including two trips to the NCAA Tournament, followed by a professional basketball career in Europe. After an automobile accident left her critically injured and temporarily paralyzed, Perkins underwent a rigorous rehabilitation program for five years. Upon her recovery, Perkins dedicated herself to boxing and quickly demonstrated great skill. She won the USA National Championships, and then as a member of Team USA, won the 2019 World Championships in Russia, becoming the first American man or woman to win a world championship since Claressa Shields won the gold medal at the world championships in 2016. Perkins trains under the tutelage of trainer James Cooper.

Originally from the country of Morocco, Nadia “The Lion” Meknouzi first rose to prominence around the globe in the martial arts, achieving multiple black belts and remaining undefeated for two years with 200 fights at 2 minutes each, bringing home 40 gold medals. In July 1998, she was honored by His Majesty the King of Jordan El Hussein, decreeing her, “Top Female Fighter.” Meknouzi moved to the USA in the year 2000 and gradually moved away from her combat-sport background. Meknouzi met Floyd Mayweather Sr. in November 2018, who ordered her to get back to training, regardless of her weight of 249 pounds. After just two months, she had her boxing pro debut in December 2018. Meknouzi is trained in boxing by Floyd “Joy” Mayweather Sr and Cromwell “Bullet” Gordon and also continues training in MMA and plans to go back to competition July 2021. Away from fighting, Meknouzi does stunt work in various projects and films.

Known for her exciting, aggressive style, Raquel “Pretty Beast” Miller (10-0, 4 KOs), from San Francisco, CA, won the interim WBA super welterweight title in her last fight against the previously unbeaten Alma Ibarra. She was a U.S. Olympic Alternate, as she lost a close split decision to Claressa Shields in the finals of the Olympic Trials, and she is determined to avenge that defeat in the professional ranks. Prior to winning her world title, Miller seized the NABF belt as well. She was also a 2012 National champion, a silver medalist at the Women’s World Championships and a gold medalist at the 2013 Colorado Springs Golden Gloves tournament. 

Potvetkin-Whyte 2, other fights announced by Matchroom Boxing for the early part of 2021

Eddie Hearn and Matchroom announced details of their upcoming UK schedule on Friday following the British Boxing Board of Control’s confirmation earlier this week that Boxing tournaments under its jurisdiction will resume in the middle of February. All of the action will be shown live on Sky Sports in the UK and on DAZN in the U.S. and more than 200 countries and territories, with Alexander Povetkin vs. Dillian Whyte 2 shown live on Sky Sports Box Office in the UK and on DAZN in all other markets excluding the UK and Ireland.
 
Matchroom’s 2021 schedule launches with a bang on Saturday February 13 as Josh Warrington (30-0, 7 KOs) faces Mexico’s Mauricio Lara (21-2, 14 KOs) as he waits for a huge fight later in the year, Manchester Super-Featherweight contender Zelfa Barrett (24-1, 15 KOs) defends his IBF Intercontinental Title against Spain’s former Super-Bantamweight World Champion Kiko Martinez (41-9-2, 29 KOs) in the chief support bout, Nottingham’s Leigh Wood (23-2, 13 KOs) clashes with unbeaten Doncaster man Reece Mould (13-0, 6 KOs) for the vacant British Featherweight Title, fast-rising Sheffield Super-Lightweight talent Dalton Smith (6-0, 5 KOs) takes on Rotherham’s Lee Appleyard (16-5-1, 5 KOs) and Leeds Featherweight Hopey Price (3-0, 1 KO) looks to build on his win over Jonny Phillips at Fight Camp last summer. 
 
Russia’s European Welterweight Champion David Avanesyan (26-3-1, 14 KOs) makes his long-awaited Title defence against Josh Kelly (10-0-1, 6 KOs) at the top of the bill the following week on Saturday February 20, undefeated Welterweights Florian Marku (7-0-1, 5 KOs) and Rylan Charlton (6-0-1, 3 KOs) meet in what promises to be an explosive ten-round battle, Liverpool Super-Welterweight Anthony Fowler (13-1, 10 KOs) returns against Spain’s Jorge Fortea (21-2-1, 7 KOs) following his win over Adam Harper at Fight Camp, Amy Timlin (4-0-1) and Carly Skelly (3-0-1) rematch for the vacant Commonwealth Super-Bantamweight Title after their split draw on the Oleksandr Usyk vs. Derek Chisora undercard last October and explosive Romford Heavyweight Johnny Fisher makes his highly anticipated professional debut. 
 
Alexander Povetkin’s (36-2-1, 25 KOs) blockbuster Heavyweight rematch with Dillian Whyte (27-2, 18 KOs) lands on Saturday March 6, shown live on Sky Sports Box Office in the UK and on DAZN in all other markets excluding the UK and Ireland, with details of the chief support bout to be announced shortly, Bermondsey’s Ted Cheeseman (16-2-1, 9 KOs) meets Liverpool’s James Metcalf (21-0, 13 KOs) for the vacant British Super-Welterweight Title, Ipswich Heavyweight talent Fabio Wardley (10-0, 9 KOs) steps-up again against USA’s former World Title challenger Eric Molina (27-6, 19 KOs), Manchester Super-Featherweight Campbell Hatton – son of British fight legend Ricky Hatton – makes his professional debut and Wembley Super-Featherweight Youssef Khoumari ( 11-0-1, 4 KOs) faces Birmingham’s Kane Baker (14-7).
 
Hackney Cruiserweight Lawrence Okolie (15-0, 12 KOs) attempts to become Britain’s next World Champion in just his sixteenth fight when he clashes with Krzysztof Glowacki for the vacant WBO crown on Saturday March 20, Northampton’s Chantelle Cameron (13-0, 7 KOs) makes the first defence of her WBC Super-Lightweight Word Title against Puerto Rico’s Melissa Hernandez (23-7-3, 7 KOs), Bournemouth’s Commonwealth Cruiserweight Champion Chris Billam-Smith (11-1, 10 KOs) takes on Chelsea’s English Champion Deion Jumah (13-0, 7 KOs) for the vacant British Title, Somali-British prospect Ramla Ali (1-0) steps through the ropes for a second time as a pro and Birmingham’s former Team GB standout Solomon Dacres makes his professional debut. 
 
On Saturday April 10 rising Welterweight star Conor Benn (17-0, 11 KOs) defends his WBA Continental Title against Samuel Vargas (31-6-2, 14 KOs) following his career-best performance last time out against Sebastian Formella. ‘The Destroyer’ dominated Germany’s Formella over ten rounds, impressively outfighting and outboxing the former IBO World Champion to remain undefeated in the red hot 147lbs division. Vargas has shared the ring with current WBC and IBF Welterweight World Champion Errol Spence Jr, two-weight World Champion Danny Garcia and former Unified Super-Lightweight World Champion Amir Khan.

Also on the card, Aldridge’s Rachel Ball (7-1) and Watford’s Shannon Courtenay (6-1, 3 KOs) rematch with the vacant WBA Bantamweight World Title on the line, Hartlepool’s Savannah Marshall (9-0, 7 KOs) makes the first defense of her WBO Middleweight World Title after her emphatic win over Hannah Rankin in October, Commonwealth Middleweight Champion Felix Cash (13-0, 9 KOs) fights for the first time since his win over Jason Welborn and Glasgow Bantamweight Kash Farooq (14-1, 6 KOs) returns after his masterclass win over Angel Aviles. 

Aleem on fight with Pasillas: ‘This fight is the turning point in my career’

Undefeated 122-pound prospect Ra’eese Aleem previewed his upcoming showdown against fellow unbeaten Victor Pasillas before they battle for the interim WBA super bantamweight title Saturday, January 23 live on SHOWTIME® in a Premier Boxing Champions event from Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.

Originally from Muskegon, Mich., Aleem (17-0, 11 KOs) now lives and trains out of Las Vegas, Nev. where he moved to years ago to further pursue his championship dreams. After a stoppage victory over Marcus Bates on SHOWTIME in August, Aleem now faces Pasillas with a chance to move one step closer to that ultimate goal.

The 30-year-old is trained by Bobby McCoy in Las Vegas as he nears that potential world title opportunity, including a possible showdown against the winner of the January 23 main event between WBO 122-pound champion Angelo Leo and unbeaten rising star Stephen Fulton Jr. Here is what Aleem had to say about training camp, Pasillas and more:

On his matchup with Victor Pasillas:

“Pasillas is a good fighter with a lot of skills, but he’s not on my level physically and mentally. I have the speed advantage, along with a better ring IQ, so I believe I’m the more polished fighter. This is going to be a dog fight and a lot of hard punches are going to be thrown by both of us. I envision myself dominating this fight and coming out victorious by any means necessary.”

On his recent training camp in Las Vegas with coach Bobby McCoy:

“Coach Bobby and I are working harmoniously together, and we put in a lot of hard work during this training camp. There’s no place like Las Vegas as far as training and sparring goes, so I’m going to be well prepared going into this fight. We have a solid game plan set in place and adjustments will be made as the fight goes on. We are making the final push and I’m in great shape.”

On fighting for the interim WBA 122-pound title:

“This fight is the turning point in my career being that it’s for the WBA interim title. I’ve always said I want to fight the best fighters in the division and that’s exactly what I’m doing when I step in the ring with Victor Pasillas. I’m coming for all the belts and it starts on January 23.”

On making his third appearance on SHOWTIME:

“There’s nothing like fighting on SHOWTIME and I hope they see that I’m a fighter that brings a lot of excitement to the big stage. I want to thank my manager Greg Hannley, my promoter Marshall Kauffman, and everyone else who has helped me get to the point.  I’m honored that PBC and SHOWTIME are giving me this opportunity, and I can’t wait to see my hands raised in victory after this fight.”

Photo: Team Prince Ranch Boxing

Fulton: ‘To me, it means everything to be a world champion from Philadelphia’

WBO Junior Featherweight World Champion Angelo Leo and unbeaten rising star Stephen “Cool Boy” Fulton Jr. previewed their long-awaited championship showdown during a virtual press conference Wednesday as they prepare to battle live on SHOWTIME Saturday, January 23 in a Premier Boxing Champions event from Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.

The first SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING® telecast of 2021begins at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT and features a co-main event pitting two more undefeated 122-pound boxers against each other as Ra’eese Aleem and Victor Pasillas face off in a 12-round bout for the interim WBA title. In the telecast opener, rising prospect Rolando Romero squares off against Justin Pauldo in a 12-round lightweight bout for Romero’s interim WBA title. The combined ring record of the six fighters on the card is a remarkable 96 wins with just one loss.

Leo and Fulton were originally scheduled to meet on SHOWTIME for the vacant title in August, before Fulton received a positive COVID-19 test. Leo went on to defeat Tramaine Williams by unanimous decision to capture the title and will now make his first defense against the unbeaten Fulton.

Here is what Fulton had to say Wednesday:

“January 23 is going to be fireworks. Leo is the champion and has that spark and fire. We’re both coming hungry and prepared to make this a great fight. This fight is actually a bit underrated because we’re smaller guys, but we’re both in the top five of this division. Leo and I both have something to prove and I’m ready to get it on.

“I don’t think the layoff will affect me at all. I think it makes me even more ready. I can’t wait to get in the ring and get back to doing what I love.

“My game plan remains the same as if I was fighting him in August. We’re always ready to make adjustments, but I believe I’m much better than if I had fought in August. From losing that opportunity and now coming back, it’s made me better physically, mentally and emotionally.

“Going through the experience of having the fight against Leo cancelled just changed my mindset. I felt like I lost everything. It made me train even harder. I took that rage and anxiety and used it every day in training. I’m just ready to fight.

“To me, it means everything to be a world champion from Philadelphia. This is what I’ve been working for my whole career. To my city, it would show people from my neighborhood that there’s a way out. But I don’t feel any pressure because of it. This sport teaches us the discipline to perform in moments like this. The pressure is just a part of my job.

“My streak of taking fighters’ ‘0’ is going to continue on January 23. Fighters have their thing that they’re known for: Gervonta Davis knocks people out, Chris Colbert shows off his flashy skills, and I take fighters’ ‘0’s. Come fight night, we’ll both be prepared and ready. I’m ready to put on a show and I believe Leo will be ready to do the same.

“I’m one of the guys leading the new era of Philadelphia boxing, but I can’t get ahead of myself. I just have to stay smart, calm and do my job. It’s all about doing what I came there to do.

“I am that next wave and I’m just ready to stamp it by getting this belt. I’m going to solidify what everyone already knew about me. I have the superstar quality in me and I’ll show it in this fight.

“Leo’s performance against Williams was what I expected. I knew he was going to come forward and be a dog, but I don’t think Williams expected it. He’s a good fighter, he earned his way here, and now we just have to fight.”

Flores-Velez added to Berchelt-Valdez

Undefeated super featherweight standout Gabriel Flores Jr. will fight former world title challenger Jayson Velez in a 10-round tilt Saturday, Feb. 20, as the co-feature to the highly anticipated all-Mexican showdown between WBC super featherweight world champion Miguel Berchelt and former featherweight kingpin Oscar Valdez.

Velez replaces former world champion Andrew Cancio, who suffered a back injury.

Promoted by Top Rank, in association with Zanfer Promotions, Berchelt-Valdez and Flores-Velez will be televised live on ESPN and ESPN Deportes at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT.

Velez (29-7-1, 21 KOs), from Juncos, Puerto Rico, makes a quick comeback to the ESPN airwaves following his spirited effort against Valdez last July. He lost via 10th-round TKO after suffering a pair of knockdowns in that round. A 14-year pro, Velez has victories over former two-weight world champion Juan Manuel Lopez, former WBC super bantamweight world champion Victor Terrazas and then-unbeaten prospect Alberto Mercado.

Leo: ‘My experiences with Floyd(Mayweather) last camp going to really put me in a great position going’

In the long-awaited battle between undefeated rising junior featherweight stars, WBO 122-pound World Champion Angelo Leo meets Stephen “Cool Boy” Fulton Jr., in the main event of the first SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING telecast of 2021 Saturday, January 23 at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT live on SHOWTIME from Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., in a Premier Boxing Champions event.

The co-main event pits two more undefeated 122-pound boxers against each other as Ra’eese Aleem and Victor Pasillas face off in a 12-round bout for the interim WBA title. The telecast opener features rising prospect Rolando Romero against Justin Pauldo in a 12-round lightweight bout for Romero’s interim WBA title. The combined ring record of the six fighters on the card is a remarkable 96 wins with just one loss.

“The super bantamweight division will have a clear world title contender emerge from the co-main event, a battle of unbeatens between Aleem and Pasillas. Add in the opening bout of ‘Rolly’ Romero vs. Justin Pauldo, a fight that can launch a prospect into a contender, and we have an excellent fight card to kick off the year.”

Leo (20-0, 9 KOs), who fights out of the Mayweather Promotions stable, became the first world champion from his hometown of Albuquerque, N.M., since legendary three-division champion Johnny Tapia when he defeated Tramaine Williams by unanimous decision in August. The 26-year-old was originally scheduled to face Fulton for the vacant WBO junior featherweight world title that evening in the first SHOWTIME boxing event following the pandemic shutdown of the sport, but Fulton was forced to withdraw following a positive COVID-19 test.

“It’s been a crazy year for everyone but to say I walked out of 2020 a world champion is truly incredible and humbling,” said Leo. “I spent 16 years training for that moment to become a champion, and here I am, preparing for my next camp for my first defense top of 2021. That’s a blessing, and I thank Mayweather Promotions and my teamf or that. My experiences with Floyd last camp going to really put me in a great position going into this fight.

“My father Miguel has been instrumental in keeping me grounded and reminding me that all of these fighters are eyeing my spot. My goal in 2021 is to remain champion and get more belts and Fulton is that next test.”

Born and raised in West Philadelphia, Pa. Fulton (18-0, 8 KOs) has faced impressive competition in his young career while rising up the 122-pound ranks, where he is currently rated No. 1 by the WBO. In his last 12 professional fights, the 26-year-old has beaten seven unbeaten fighters, including Josh Greer, Adam Lopez and Luis Saul Rosario. Fulton’s two most recent wins are a knockout over Isaac Avelar in August 2019 before most recently scoring a dominant 12-round unanimous decision victory over Arnold Khegai in January.

“Training is going great,” said Fulton. “I feel like everything happens for a reason because I’m 10 times more ready now than I was the first time around. I’m excited to fight for the title and I expect nothing but Angelo Leo to be himself and fight his fight on January 23.”

Ranked in the top-10 by the WBA and IBF at 122 pounds, Aleem (17-0, 11 KOs) can take a big step closer to a world title shot when he faces fellow unbeaten Pasillas for the interim WBA strap on January 23. Raised in Michigan and training out of Las Vegas, Nev., Aleem, 30, has stopped his past six opponents inside the distance as he continues to step up his competition.

“This is a high-stakes fight and the winner will get a guaranteed world title fight,” said Aleem. “It’s going to be a good fight, but I am at the top of the heap. I knew I belonged at the top a long time ago and after my last fight that was proven. Winning this fight makes me the number-one contender, and the only thing left after this is to win the world title.”

Pasillas (15-0, 8 KOs), who hails from East Los Angeles, is fresh off a dominating sixth-round knockout over then-unbeaten Ranfis Javier Encarnacion in September 2020 which launched him into the WBA’s top-10 rankings. Like Aleem, the 28-year-old Pasillas also carries significant power. He has stopped his four most recent foes including a first-round knockout of Ernesto Guerrero.

“I’ve envisioned being in this position since I first stepped into a boxing gym at age eight and now it’s time to seize the moment,” said Pasillas. “I’m going to take full advantage of this opportunity and show the world, and everyone watching on SHOWTIME, that I belong on the big stage with the elite fighters at super bantamweight. Aleem is a good fighter, but he won’t be able to hang with me. I’m going to punish him until I knock him out. East L.A. in the house, let’s go!”

Born and raised in Las Vegas, Nev., Romero (12-0, 10 KOs) returns to SHOWTIME following his controversial unanimous decision victory over Jackson Marinez in August. The 25-year-old captured the interim WBA lightweight title with that win and went the distance for just the second time in his professional career. Fighting under the Mayweather Promotions banner, Romero has been matched tough early in his career with just two losses among his four most recent opponents including the once-defeated Pauldo.

“I’m going to approach this fight like I do any other fight, I don’t feel the need to sell myself,” said Romero. “I’m thankful for my fans who have been with me since day one. I fight for them, because a fan of Rolly is to be an underdog, to be doubted, and that’s all I have ever been. Whether you’re with me on January 23 or against me, I know you will be watching.”

Following an impressive unanimous decision victory over a tough Josec Ruiz in August 2020, Pauldo (14-1, 7 KOs) returns against the stiffest test of his career when he faces blue-chip prospect Romero. Hailing from Orlando, Fla. and training in Houston, Texas, Pauldo, 26, owns a four-inch reach advantage over Romero, who is the third unbeaten foe of his career.

“I’m thankful for this opportunity and I’m excited for all of my years of hard work to pay off on January 23,” said Pauldo. “I was already training and in shape when I got the call for this fight, so I’m going to be 100% on fight night. Romero is a one-gear type of fighter who comes straight forward. I believe that I have the better skills and am the better all-around fighter. This is definitely going to be an interesting fight with contrasting styles, and I can’t wait to show off my skills and bring this title home.”

Berchelt-Valdez, Flores-Cancio set for February 20

The 2021 Fight of the Year race has officially started, as Miguel Berchelt and Oscar Valdez will face off in one of the most anticipated all-Mexican fistic showdowns in years.

Cancun’s Berchelt will defend his WBC super featherweight world title against Nogales native Valdez in a special Top Rank on ESPN telecast Saturday, February 20.

The 10-round super featherweight co-feature will see rising 20-year-old Gabriel Flores Jr. against former world champion Andrew “El Chango” Cancio.

Promoted by Top Rank, in association with Zanfer Promotions, Berchelt-Valdez and Flores-Cancio will be televised live on ESPN and ESPN Deportes at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT.

“Miguel Berchelt and Oscar Valdez are two proud Mexican warriors who will give boxing fans a memorable fight,” said Top Rank chairman Bob Arum. “Top Rank promoted all three bouts between Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales, and I view Berchelt-Valdez as this generation’s Barrera-Morales.”

Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) has held the WBC super featherweight title since January 2017, when he knocked out Francisco Vargas in the 11th round. His last five title defenses have ended via the quick route, including a ninth-round TKO over Miguel Roman, a sixth-round TKO over Vargas in their May 2019 rematch, and a fourth-round knockout over former world champion Jason Sosa. He fought last June in a non-title bout and knocked out Eleazar Valenzuela in six one-sided rounds.

“This fight is the one that I dreamed of since we were both amateur fighters,” Berchelt said. “Valdez is a great fighter, and it will be a great fight. I am preparing with everything to win by knockout and leave no doubt that I am the best super featherweight in the world.”

Valdez (28-0, 22 KOs) is a two-time Mexican Olympian who vacated the WBO featherweight world title last year after six title defenses, which included scintillating 12-round barnburners against the likes of Scott Quigg, Genesis Servania and Miguel Marriaga. He suffered a severely broken jaw against Quigg in March 2018, returned 11 months later, and has since won four consecutive bouts. Since moving up to 130 pounds, Valdez has scored stoppage wins over Adam Lopez and Jayson Velez.

Valdez said, “Whenever there are two Mexicans in the ring, it is a guaranteed war, and it will be an honor for me to bring a great war to my fans.”

Flores (19-0, 6 KOs), from Stockton, Calif., signed a professional contract with Top Rank at 16 years old and went 3-0 in 2020 as he graduated from prospect to contender. He started the year Feb. 22 on the Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury II undercard and dominated Matt Conway over eight rounds. Flores shined on a pair of occasions inside the MGM Grand Las Vegas Bubble, winning decisions over Josec Ruiz and Ryan Kielczweski. Flores now steps up against Cancio (21-5-2, 16 KOs), a fellow Californian who formerly held the WBA super featherweight world title. Cancio knocked out Alberto Machado in February 2019 to win the title and repeated the deed with another knockout over Machado that June. Rene Alvarado ended Cancio’s ascension with a seventh-round knockout in November 2019, and early last year, Cancio inked a promotional contract with Top Rank.

“My main goal is to win a world title,” Flores said. “Dominating a former world champion will put me in a great position to challenge for a title soon.”

Cancio said, “I’m very excited to return to battle on February 20 against Gabriel Flores Jr. I’m working hard in the gym, and I know that this fight is the first on my path to becoming a two-time world champion. I would like to thank my fans, who have been so incredibly supportive. I’ve heard you loud and clear and can’t wait to put on another great show for you.”