Super middleweight contenders Jose Uzcategui and Andre Dirrell will meet for a vacant interim world title on May 20 in a fight confirmed Monday as Showtime finalized a deep spring boxing schedule that will feature seven fight cards in eight weeks.
Many of the fights have already been announced, but a few were officially added to Showtime's schedule for the first time, including Uzcategui-Dirrell.
They will box in the co-feature of featherweight titlist Gary Russell Jr., in his first home area fight as a professional, taking on interim titlist Oscar Escandon in a mandatory bout at the new MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C.
"I'm very excited to be facing a fighter the quality of Andre Dirrell," Uzcategui said. "These are the types of fights that I've wanted, and I look forward to coming out victorious. This fight will be another step on the way to my dream of becoming a world champion."
Uzcategui (26-1, 22 KOs) loomed as the mandatory challenger for world titleholder James DeGale. However, DeGale will be sidelined for several months as he recovers from injuries suffered in a draw with Badou Jack in their January unification fight. That opened the door for an interim title fight against Dirrell (25-2, 16 KOs), the next leading available contender in the IBF's 168-pound rankings. The winner will have to face DeGale upon his return, though DeGale could vacate and move up in weight, leaving the Uzcategui-Dirrell winner to take over as full titleholder.
"This fight is a massive step towards my journey to success in 2017," said Dirrell, who got knocked down twice and dropped a unanimous decision challenging DeGale for the vacant title in May 2015. "To me, this is my championship fight leading up to the rematch with the current champion, James DeGale. Jose has all of the tools of a champion, so he's fierce competition for me. But I will show the world that I'm up for the task. This is my year!"
Uzcategui, 26, a Venezuela native fighting out of Mexico, will end a nine-month layoff. He has won four fights in a row since suffering his lone defeat, a unanimous 10-round decision to middleweight Matt Korobov, after which Uzcategui moved up to super middleweight. Dirrell, 33, of Flint, Michigan, will be coming off a 13-month layoff.
Also added to the May 20 telecast was a junior welterweight title elimination bout between former lightweight and junior lightweight titlist Rances Barthelemy, who is moving up in weight, and former world title challenger Kiryl Relikh.
Barthelemy (25-0, 13 KOs), 30, a Cuban defector fighting out of Las Vegas, will end an 11-month layoff since he made his only lightweight title defense, a split-decision win against Mickey Bey last June, before vacating in order to rise in weight.
"I'm very excited to be back in the ring, especially on Showtime, against a top-ranked contender in Kiryl Relikh," Barthelemy said. "This victory will get me one step closer to fulfilling my dream of becoming the first Cuban to win world titles in three different weight classes. I'm very motivated, and I will not be denied on May 20."
Relikh (21-1, 19 KOs), 27, of Belarus, will fight in the United States for the first time and for the first time since he lost a split decision challenging then-junior welterweight titlist Ricky Burns in his home country of Scotland in October. The Barthelemy- Relikh winner will become a mandatory challenger for unified titleholder Julius Indongo, who easily outpointed Burns to unify two belts on Saturday.
"I'm thrilled to have this opportunity in a world-title eliminator," Relikh said. "Rances Barthelemy is a good fighter, but my experience at this weight will help me get the victory. I'm ready to do whatever it takes to get this win and eventually wear that world title belt around my waist."
Here's the rest of Showtime's spring schedule that was unveiled Monday:
• On Saturday, Showtime has a card at Barclays Center in Brooklyn that includes former welterweight titleholders Shawn Porter (26-2-1, 16 KOs) and Andre Berto (31-4, 24 KOs) meeting in a title eliminator in the main event, with junior middleweight titlist Jermell Charlo (28-0, 13 KOs) defending against mandatory challenger Charles Hatley (26-1-1, 18 KOs) in the co-feature.
• Showtime announced earlier Monday that it finalized a deal with rival HBO under which they will both televise the heavyweight world titlist Anthony Joshua (18-0, 18 KOs) defending against former champion Wladimir Klitschko (64-4, 54 KOs) on April 29 from Wembley Stadium in London, where a British-record boxing crowd of 90,000 will be on hand for one of the biggest heavyweight fights of the past 20 years. Showtime will air the fight live beginning at 4:15 p.m., while HBO will have a primetime replay beginning at approximately 10:45 p.m. ET/PT.
• Also May 20, Showtime will carry live coverage on its "Showtime Boxing International" series of junior lightweight titlist Gervonta Davis (17-0, 16 KOs) making his first defense against mandatory challenger Liam Walsh (21-0, 14 KOs) at the Copper Box Arena in London.
• Welterweight titlist Kell Brook (36-1, 25 KOs) will defend against mandatory challenger Errol Spence Jr. (21-0, 19 KOs) on May 27 at Bramall Lane Football Ground in Sheffield, England, Brook's hometown, in a heavily anticipated bout.
• The rematch between light heavyweight world champion Adonis Stevenson (28-1, 23 KOs) and Andrzej Fonfara (29-4, 17 KOs), which will take place June 3 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, was finalized earlier this month and added Monday to Showtime's schedule. In 2014, also on Showtime, Stevenson outpointed Fonfara in a grueling and close fight in which both men were knocked down. In the co-feature, Eleider Alvarez (22-0, 11 KOs), who is Stevenson's mandatory challenger, will risk his status against former world champion and fellow Montreal-based fighter Jean Pascal (31-4-1, 18 KOs).
• On June 9, Showtime's prospect-oriented series "ShoBox: The New Generation" will return with a card from the Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, New York, headlined by junior welterweight Joel Diaz Jr. (23-0, 19 KOs) fighting Abel Ramos (17-2-2, 12 KOs) in a 10-round bout. The card will take place on induction weekend of the nearby International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, a 10-minute drive from Turning Stone. Among the inductees will be two of the voices of "ShoBox": blow-by-blow announcer Barry Tompkins and analyst Steve Farhood.
In addition to the bouts made official, Showtime announced that it will have separate cards this summer featuring welterweight contender Adrien Broner (33-2, 24 KOs), a former four-division titlist, and lightweight titleholder Mikey Garcia (36-0, 30 KOs).
"Showtime continues its unrivaled commitment to the sport. There simply is no other network in boxing delivering world-class events on a consistent basis," Showtime Sports executive vice president and general manager Stephen Espinoza said. "Our 2017 schedule already includes some 17 live boxing telecasts, 15 world championship fights, with the top-rated fighters squaring off in boxing's deepest weight divisions.
"We continue to break the glass ceiling on women's boxing, deliver the biggest bouts from overseas and see champions take on champions to unify divisions. We are proud to be reshaping the boxing landscape both in and out of the ring."