Zolani Tete is now officially a two-division world champion.
The 29-year old southpaw has spent the past two years gunning for a bantamweight title in the wake of his super flyweight title reign ending with his being stripped over a dispute in the purse offering for a mandatory title defense. In a strange twist, his new title reign comes about due to the previous claimant also being forced to relinquish his crown outside the ring.
Tete's 12-round whitewash of Arthur Villanueva earlier this month was originally slated as a final title eliminator, with the winner to get next line versus whomever emerged victorious in the title fight scheduled one day later in Japan between defending champ Marlon Tapales and local challenger Shohei Omori.
Tapales was removed from that equation after missing weight by nearly two pounds, thus forced to concede his title at the scales. The development prompted the World Boxing Organization to upgrade Tete-Villanueva from a final eliminator to an interim title fight.
Tete cruised to victory in Leicester, England, after which he played the waiting game to see how things would shake out between Tapales and Omori, the latter whom was still eligible to win the vacant title since made weight. He offered a spirited effort, but a closely contested affair endured a dramatic plot twist when Omori - who was dropped four times in a 2nd round knockout loss to Tapales in Dec. '15 - was decked hard late in round ten. He beat the count, but was still worse for the wear as Tapales finished him off 0:16 into round eleven.
The outcome meant the WBO was faced with a decision - have interim champ Tete enter a vacant title fight versus the next highest-rated available contender, or advance him to full bantamweight titlist.
A phone call placed on Wednesday gave Tete the news he dreamed of hearing.
“I think I am dreaming. Please do not wake me up because this is an incredible dream," Tete (25-3, 20KOs) said of being named full titlist. "I left the United Kingdom as an interim champion. To become a full world champion without getting into the ring is nothing short of a miracle. This shows that Nick Durandt's spirit is with me."
Tete's biggest regret in his previous title reign was leaving a lot of unfinished business on the table. He only made one successful defense - an 8th round knockout of Paul Butler in March '15 - before disapproving of the meager payday offered for his mandatory title defense.
Now that he's back in the championship saddle, the goal is to hit the ground running.
“It has always been my dream to fight for another World Title. Now I have the WBO belt I want to clean up the rest of the division," Tete insists. "I want to be remembered as one of the greatest African boxers of all time."