Richard Abril got a bit of a surprise recently as he was preparing for his fight with Sharif Bogere, which comes off on Saturday night at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
Abril, who has held an interim lightweight title since outpointing former titleholder Miguel Acosta in October 2011, found out that he had been elevated to the WBA's full 135-pound titlist even though he hasn't fought since last April, when he lost a split decision -- one of the biggest robberies in recent years -- to Brandon Rios.
Abril was supposed to fight Rios for the vacant belt. Rios came in overweight and wasn't eligible to win the belt, so when he got the gift decision, the title remained vacant.
However, the decision was so controversial that the WBA allowed Abril to keep the interim belt and he was scheduled to fight Bogere for the vacant title before the fight was postponed. They were supposed to fight Nov. 24, but Bogere injured his Achilles tendon, causing the delay.
So, officially, the fight on Saturday night (Showtime 10 ET/PT) will be Abril's first title defense.
"I had no idea it was happening and it was definitely a surprise," Abril said of receiving the title. "But it was a great surprise. Every fighter has aspirations of becoming a world champion. Anybody who watched absolutely knows I beat Brandon Rios and that I deserved the decision. Ever since then, in my heart, I always considered myself the WBA champion. The WBA only made it official.
"This motivates me even more to put on a good fight for the fans and show them that I'm the real deal."
Abril (17-3-1, 8 KOs), 30, a native of Cuba living in Miami, lost by split decision in all three of his defeats -- to Rios, Hanky Lundy in 2008 and Breidis Prescott in 2008. He's a crafty boxer who doesn't make the best fights, and maybe sometimes judges don't give him credit for his defense and slick moves.
Bogere (23-0, 15 KOs), 24, who is from Uganda but lives in Las Vegas, is the opposite. He's an all-action guy. His best win came in May 2011 when he outpointed Raymundo Beltran.
He said he was happy for Abril getting the full title, which, of course, he expects to take home Saturday night.
"I don't think anybody is satisfied fighting for an interim title. We want a full title, a world title," Bogere said. "I've been waiting my whole life for this chance. Uganda is one of the poorest countries on the planet. Most people don't know how hard it's been to get from where I started to where I'm at now. Fighting for the WBA title is an opportunity of a lifetime."
Bogere, who wears a lion's head during his, let's say, interesting ring walk, wants to be known for more than that. He wants the belt.
"People talk about my ring entrance, and that's really good. It's gotten me a lot of attention," he said. "They may not know my name, but they've maybe heard of the kid and his lion. I'm confident that after Saturday, people will know my name and know who I am."
In the co-feature, 2011 ESPN.com prospect of the year Gary Russell Jr. (23-0, 15 KOs) of Capitol Heights, Md., faces Russia's Vyacheslav Gusev (20-2, 5 KOs) in a scheduled 10-round featherweight fight.