It's a rare scenario in boxing when any given bout features all four major titles at stake (WBC, WBA, IBF, WBO), and such is the allure that comes with the scheduled August 19 super welterweight showdown between unbeaten, unified titlists Terence Crawford and Julius Indongo.
The only problem is, all four belts aren't at stake—yet.
Plans remain intact for the battle to proceed, airing live on ESPN from Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska, roughly an hour from Crawford's Omaha hometown. However, there remains a lingering issue of getting the IBF—whom along with the WBA are represented at super lightweight by Indongo—to grant its full blessing for the contest.
The pairing has remained a sensitive matter from the moment it was first discussed this past spring, in the wake of Indongo's 12-round win over Ricky Burns in their title unifier this past April. The win by the unbeaten boxer from Namibia created the unique scenario of two unified titlists in the same weight division, as Crawford owns the WBC and WBO titles in addition to recognition as the division's World (lineal) champion by virtue of his 12-round whitewash of previously unbeaten Viktor Postol last July when they were rated the top two boxers in the division.
While Crawford is caught up on his mandatory obligations (WBC top contender Antonio Orozco made it easy by continuing to move in a different direction), Indongo is left in a pickle. His bout with Burns came as a result of an approved exemption request to enter a unification bout while a mandatory title defense loomed overhead. The IBF—whose title Indongo claimed in a stunning one-punch 1st round knockout of Eduard Troyanovsky last December in Russia—blessed the contest on the condition that the winner would face its mandatory challenger, unbeaten Sergey Lipinets who was granted a stay-busy fight in March while waiting out the result of Indongo-Burns.
Lipinets (12-0, 10KOs) earned the mandatory ranking following an 8th round knockout of Leonardo "Lenny Z" Zappavigna in their title eliminator last December.
It is common for sanctioning bodies to field and accept requests for unification as one of the few exceptions to a mandatory title defense. The rub is that it can only be used once, which left Indongo and his team—which now includes U.K. leading promoter Eddie Hearn—to scramble for alternate scenarios as to further delay a showdown with Lipinets, which was due to take place in July.
As luck would have it, discomfort in his wrist qualified him for a medical exemption request. While such request has been filed, it has yet to be formally or even conditionally approved by the sanctioning body, despite insistence to the contrary as reported by other media outlets.
"Indongo asked for an exception. A Champion may request an exception to any IBF rule," IBF President Daryl Peoples informed FightNights.com. "That is what is being done right now. We will consider this like any other exception request from a champion."
This bit of news doesn't at all sit well with Lipinets, who has been adamant in his stance of refusing any step=aside package offered to allow the IBF title to be at stake for this contest, in addition to demanding proof of injury and review of Indongo's submitted medical records. His handlers threatened to sue the New Jersey-based sanctioning body upon Top Rank's announcement of the fight being formed, until learning that false information was attached to said news release.
That said, the IBF plans to review this matter as it would any other request—lawsuit threats be damned.
"We aren't violating any IBF rule in doing so," Peoples insists. "The exception request and any response to the request received within 72 hours will be presented to the Board for consideration."
Crawford (31-0, 22KOs) will attempt the sixth defense of at least one alphabet title in the forthcoming matchup. The 29-year old switch-hitting two-division world champion won the WBO belt in a 6th round stoppage of Thomas Dulorme in April '15, before adding the WBC title—and lineal championship—in his aforementioned boxing lesson of Postol last July. Most recently, he effortlessly turned away the challenge of 2008 Olympic Gold medalist Felix Diaz, stopping the Bronx-based Dominican in eight rounds this past May in his debut as a headlining act in the main room at Madison Square Garden.
His showdown with Indongo—with or without all four belts at stake—will mark the third installment of Top Rank's new deal with ESPN, coming two weeks after the planned August 5 headliner between fellow two-division title claimant and pound-for-pound entrant Vasyl Lomachenko and fringe contender Miguel Marriaga.The series debut to a ratings win, although in the wake of controversy as Jeff Horn scored a disputed 12-round decision over Manny Pacquiao in their July 1 battle that drew 2.8 million viewers on ESPN's flagship network.