Featherweights Vasyl Lomachenko and Gary Russell Jr. were ordered by the WBO on Thursday to fight for the organization's vacant 126-pound belt.
The sides have 30 days to negotiate a deal or the fight will put up for a purse bid, which is likely because Lomachenko is promoted by Top Rank and Russell is with its bitter rival, Golden Boy Promotions, and they do not negotiate fights with each other.
Assuming it goes to a purse bid, the company that wins the auction would have sole promotional rights to the bout.
If the fight comes off, it would match two decorated amateurs, both southpaws. Lomachenko won Olympic gold medals for Ukraine in 2008 and 2012, while Russell, of Capitol Heights, Md., was a 2008 U.S. Olympian. Russell was the 2011 ESPN.com prospect of the year, and Lomachenko was the 2013 ESPN.com prospect of the year.
The 26-year-old Lomachenko (1-1, 1 KO) hoped to fight for a world title in his pro debut, but that was not possible. However, Top Rank promoter Bob Arum promised to get him a shot in his second fight if he performed well in his debut.
Lomachenko knocked out fringe contender Jose Ramirez in the fourth round in October and then met Orlando Salido on March 1 in San Antonio. Salido had been stripped of his world title the previous day because he failed to make weight, but they made a deal for the bout to go on anyway -- Lomachenko got an extra $15,000 -- with Lomachenko eligible to win the vacant belt.
Lomachenko wound up losing a hotly contested split decision and the belt remained vacant. Salido is moving up to junior lightweight, where he might get a title shot, while Lomachenko has been given a chance to again fight for the vacant belt against Russell, who had already been in the mandatory challenger position to face the Salido-Lomachenko winner.
"We are in the position where we are getting a second shot at the title and we are very happy," Egis Klimas, Lomachenko's manager, told ESPN.com. "I already spoke to our promoter, Bob Arum, and asked him to arrange the fight. If the negotiations are not going to go on, our promoter is willing to go into a purse bid. Lomachenko has nothing to lose after fighting Salido. The question is, will Russell fight Lomachenko?
"Lomachenko made such a big announcement by fighting Salido that to take a step back in competition and take the easy way -- it would be nonsense."
In the WBO resolution ordering Lomachenko-Russell, the organization said it took into account Salido's failure to make weight and the fact that the Salido-Lomachenko decision "has been billed by many as a controversial 12-round split decision due to repeated low blows landed by Salido on Lomachenko during the fight that went unpenalized by referee Laurence Cole" in "a very competitive and physical fight."
"[It will be a] very interesting process to see if the fight gets made, or goes to purse bid," Top Rank vice president Carl Moretti said. "I told Lomachenko after the Salido fight, 'The past is behind you, learn from it. The future is ahead, prepare for it and the future could be Russell for vacant title.' Lomachenko is on board 110 percent."
The 25-year-old Russell (24-0, 14 KOs) has a lot more professional experience than Lomachenko, but he has fought extremely weak competition comparatively and has seemingly been reluctant to fight top opponents.
Russell last fought on Jan. 30, knocking out overmatched Miguel Tamayo in the fourth round of a one-sided fight. Russell fought just twice in 2013.
Golden Boy Promotions chief executive Richard Schaefer said he received the letter from the WBO and would talk to Russell adviser Al Haymon to see what they wanted to do about the fight.
"I have to discuss it with Gary's team and see how we want to go about it, but I think it's a very interesting matchup," Schaefer said. "Gary has been waiting for a world title shot for a while. I will talk to them next week. Maybe we can make it happen. Maybe it won't. Maybe it will go to a purse bid. It's a fight we'd like to do."