Heavyweight contenders Joseph Parker and Andy Ruiz Jr., were ordered on Thursday to fight for the vacant WBO world title during a meeting at the sanctioning body's annual convention in San Juan, Puerto Rico. They will square off on Dec. 10 in Auckland, New Zealand.
Parker and Ruiz will meet for one of the belts that troubled Tyson Fury relinquished earlier this month because he is dealing with cocaine and alcohol problems in addition to mental health issues that caused him to cancel his rematch with former champion Wladimir Klitschko, which was scheduled for Oct. 29.
Parker is the organization's No. 1-rated heavyweight and Ruiz is No. 3. Klitschko is No. 2 but he is instead pursuing a fight for the vacant WBA belt or could fight IBF titleholder Anthony Joshua. Klitschko and Joshua hoped that the WBO would also sanction their possible fight for the vacant title but that was a non-starter for the organization. Duco Events promoter Dean Lonergan, who promotes Parker, and Top Rank's Bob Arum, were in discussions for the fight before the convention began figuring that the fight would be ordered for the vacant title.
WBO president Francisco "Paco" Valcarcel told ESPN a few days before the convention began that he hoped to fill the vacant title by putting together a four-man box-off of the organization's top-ranked contenders, but once it came down to making the decision on Thursday the traditional way of filling the title was implemented instead as the two leading available contenders were ordered to meet for the title.
Arum told ESPN that he and Lonergan met this week in Los Angeles and made a deal for the fight to take place in New Zealand, Parker's home country, because that is where it would generate the most money. Arum said he has assurances there will be a neutral referee and judges.
Arum said the fight will be televised in the United States on tape delay on his "Solo Boxeo" series on Spanish-language network UniMas.
Arum said the deal he made with Lonergan was contingent on the WBO ordering the fight for the title, because they were unsure if it would be sanctioned when they met this week.
"We have worked a deal out with Parker's people and Andy signed the contract earlier this week, but it was all subject to the sanction," Arum said. "We got the sanction and it's a done deal. I met with Dean on Monday. He was in California before he went on to the Puerto Rico for the convention.
"My (matchmakers) think Andy has a hell of a shot. The kid is pumped because apparently he's sparred with Parker and more than held his own. I've seen some of Parker's fights on YouTube clips. He's a tremendous puncher but he doesn't look to me to be particularly fast and Andy is a very fast heavyweight."
When Arum and Lonergan began discussing the fight Arum wanted to move it into January because Dec. 10 posed a conflict for Abel Sanchez, who recently began training Ruiz at his Big Bear Lake, California, gym. Sanchez, who was the 2015 Boxing Writers Association of America trainer of the year, also trains unified middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin, who was penciled in for a Dec. 10 fight with Daniel Jacobs. But when negotiations for the fight could not be wrapped up in time, they decided to skip Dec. 10 and try to get the fight done for early 2017. By doing so it left Sanchez available to train Ruiz for Dec. 10.
"We checked with Abel about the date," Arum said. "Andy is up there training with him now and Abel is absolutely free to do the fight on Dec. 10."
The 24-year-old Parker (21-0, 18 KOs) was also a mandatory challenger for Joshua but elected to pursue the WBO route, especially given that the title fight would be planned for his home country. Ruiz also figures to be an easier opponent than Joshua would be.
"I see Ruiz as a fighter who has a lot of experience and will take this opportunity very serious," Parker recently told ESPN when the prospect of the fight was raised. "He's a dangerous fighter. With fighting good fighters it brings out the best in me.
"If we do fight for a world title and hold it in New Zealand it'll be historic moment for myself, family and country. Exciting times ahead and I'm really looking forward to it. Also, fighting for a world title has always been a dream of mine. Dream come true to fight for it and win it."
Parker has beaten two fringe contenders in his last three fights, a unanimous decision against Carlos Takam in May and a stunningly one-sided third-round destruction of Alexander Dimitrenko on Oct. 1. Ruiz (29-0, 19 KOs), 27, a Mexico native fighting out of Imperial, California, has a far less impressive resume than Parker. He is coming off a lopsided 10-round decision win against journeyman Franklin Lawrence on Sept. 10. Ruiz's most notable victories are a fourth-round knockout of former world title challenger Ray Austin in May and a 10-round decision win against former world titleholder Sergey Liakhovich, but they were both way past their best days.
If Ruiz defeats Parker, he would become the first Mexican heavyweight world titleholder in boxing history.
"If he wins the title Andy will be a very valuable fighter," Arum said.
Arum even said he had an idea for who he could match Ruiz with if he wins the title. "I'll put him in with (Julio Cesar) Chavez Jr.," sad Arum, laughing about the former middleweight titleholder he used to promote and who has a notorious history of problems making weight.