Jennings, Perez to headline HBO card

Heavyweight contenders Bryant Jennings and Mike Perez will square off May 24 in a title elimination fight that will guarantee the winner a mandatory shot at a world title.

The fight, which will headline an HBO "Boxing After Dark" card, will be at a site to be determined, likely on the West Coast, Gary Shaw, Jennings' promoter, told ESPN.com on Monday.

Shaw and Perez promoter Tom Loeffler of K2 Promotions both said they have made a deal for the fight.

Terms were also agreed to for the opening co-featured bout, which will pit former middleweight titlist Daniel Geale against former title challenger Matthew Macklin in a strong match of top-10 160-pound fighters.

Vitali Klitschko vacated his version of the heavyweight title in December and retired. Bermane Stiverne and Chris Arreola will meet in a rematch to fill the vacancy on May 10 (ESPN) at the Galen Center at USC in Los Angeles. The winner of the vacant title is required to make back-to-back mandatory defenses under the WBC's rules. Deontay Wilder, the 2008 U.S. Olympic bronze medal winner, is up first and will face the winner next.

The fighter that emerges with the title from Stiverne, Arreola and Wilder will be due to face the winner of Jennings-Perez in his next bout, meaning the Jennings-Perez winner is probably looking at the title shot next spring.

Jennings (18-0, 10 KOs), 29, of Philadelphia, had a breakout year in 2012 with five nationally televised victories. He only fought once in 2013, but opened this year strong with an HBO-televised 10th-round knockout of previously undefeated Artur Szpilka.

"I honestly think Perez is more dangerous that Szpilka because he's so used to being the bully," Jennings told ESPN.com from his training camp in Houston. "Both of them are slick but Perez has this type of bully aspect and I always bully the bully. I would hope (Perez trainer) Abel Sanchez makes sure Perez is smart and they take their time to do everything correctly because they are dealing with someone who is well-skilled and well-conditioned and ready to fight. I hope Perez brings his A-game and please do not sleep on Bryant Jennings."

The opportunity to land a world title shot is what has Jennings pumped up for the fight.

"I think it's the best matchup right now. We ain't ducking nobody. We're fighting for a position that we would both love to be in," said Jennings, who turned pro in 2010. "It's all about the position."

Said Shaw, "This is a real heavyweight fight. It's a really good fight between two top contenders. I know Jennings is ready. He trains all the time. I think it's a 50-50 fight. The questions I have is can Jennings use the lateral movement that I believe Perez cannot handle? Will Jennings start off slowly and be a sitting duck for Mike Perez to tee off on, because Jennings is historically a slow starter? Can he start quicker with more movement like he was going into the fourth round not the first? I believe he can."

Perez (20-0-1, 12 KOs), 28, a former Cuban amateur standout who defected to Ireland and turned pro in 2008, has fought his last two fights on the big HBO stage.

In November, he won a 10-round decision in a brutal fight against Magomed Abdusalamov, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in the fight and, after spending a month in a coma, is in a rehabilitation clinic unable to speak or move much.

Dedicating his next fight to Abdusalamov, Perez returned in January and fought Carlos Takam to a 10-round draw.

"I think it's a great matchup between two of the top undefeated fighters in the heavyweight division," Loeffler said. "I believe the winner of this fight will ultimately go on to win the WBC heavyweight championship. Both fighters have already been featured on HBO and there is a lot of anticipation for this fight now."

The winner of Geale-Macklin figures to put himself in the picture for another title shot and a bigger payday.

"Stylistically, it's a great fight and the outcome is doubt. This isn't one of those fights where you know who the winner is going to be," said Lou DiBella, Macklin's promoter. "Neither of these guys is a huge favorite in the fight. These are two guys who like to fight, who like to throw punches and they'll go at each other. But I have confidence in my guy.

"This is a good, old-fashioned 'Boxing After Dark' fight and I think the winner will get a title fight or a fight as economically big or bigger than a title fight." Geale (30-2, 16 KOs), 33, of Australia, won a world title in 2011, made four successful defenses, including outpointing Felix Sturm in a unification fight, before losing a split decision to Darren Barker in August. Geale has fought once since, scoring a sixth-round knockout of countryman Garth Wood in February.

"I believe Geale is the better fighter, a late bloomer, and will bring it all, no different then what he did in the Barker fight," said Shaw, Geale's promoter.

Macklin (30-5, 20 KOs), 31, of England, has fought for a middleweight world title three times, losing by controversial split decision to Sturm in 2011, getting stopped in the 11th round by Sergio Martinez in 2012 and getting knocked out by a rib-cracking body shot from Gennady Golovkin last June. Macklin bounced back from the loss to Golovkin with a clear 10-round decision victory against previously unbeaten prospect Lamar Russ in December.