WBO orders mandatory fights for 2 division belts

The WBO on Tuesday ordered a pair of mandatory world title fights: unified junior welterweight titlist Jose Ramirez against Jack Catterall, and Shakur Stevenson against Joet Gonzalez for the organization's vacant featherweight belt.

Ramirez, however, has two mandatory challengers on his plate so it remains to be seen which opponent he will face next.

On July 27 in Arlington, Texas, Ramirez (25-0, 17 KOs), 26, of Avenal, California, knocked out Maurice Hooker in an action-packed 140-pound unification bout to retain his WBC belt and take Hooker's WBO title. Catterall is the WBO's No. 1 challenger while former titlist Viktor Postol is the WBC's mandatory challenger and that fight has also been ordered.

"The winner of the Hooker-Ramirez fight, going into the fight, was going to be obligated to make two mandatory defenses, Postol with the WBC and Catterall with the WBO," Top Rank vice president Carl Moretti told ESPN. "So what Jose's next fight is will have to be figured out."

Moretti said that when Top Rank promoter Bob Arum is in London later this month for the lightweight world championship fight between Vasiliy Lomachenko and Luke Campbell on Aug. 31, he and Catterall promoter Frank Warren meet to discuss the situation.

"We will figure it out," Moretti said.

In the WBO's notification letter to the Ramirez and Catterall camps, it said that on July 8 the WBO championship committee notified Ramirez and Hooker that their unification bout had been sanctioned while also setting forth the provision that the winner must face the WBO mandatory challenger within 120 days of their bout.

"Moreover, said provision was to be confirmed and acknowledged by both participants. On the same day (July 8th 2019), Mr. Carl Moretti of Top Rank, Inc., confirmed and acknowledged via email on behalf of Mr. Jose Ramirez, the established conditions set forth in the foregoing letter," the WBO letter said, adding that Ramirez's victory triggered the provision.

The WBO gave Top Rank and Warren 30 days to make a deal for Ramirez-Catterall or a purse bid will be ordered with a minimum bid of $150,000 -- though the bout would almost certainly go for seven figures if there is an auction. Top Rank or Warren can call for an immediate purse bid if either of them decides not to negotiate a deal.

If Ramirez and Top Rank prefer to make the mandatory fight against Postol (31-2, 12 KOs), 35, of Ukraine, instead, it is possible Ramirez could vacate his WBO belt or be stripped, and vice versa if he opts to fight Catterall (24-0, 13 KOs), 26, of England, over Postol. One of the organizations could also agree to give Ramirez an exception to fight somebody other than the mandatory challenger next.

Ramirez won the vacant WBC title in March 2018 by unanimous decision against Amir Imam and has made three defenses, none of which was a mandatory. The last WBO mandatory defense came when Hooker knocked out Alex Saucedo in November.

Stevenson and Gonzalez, as expected, were ordered to fight for the WBO's vacant title in the wake of Oscar Valdez's decision last week that after six title defenses he was vacating the 126-pound belt and moving up in weight.

That left Stevenson (12-0, 7 KOs), 22, of Newark, New Jersey, who had been Valdez's mandatory challenger, ordered to face Gonzalez (23-0, 14 KOs), 25, of Los Angeles, who is the next contender in the WBO rankings.

The WBO gave Top Rank, Stevenson's promoter, and Gonzalez promoter Golden Boy Promotions 30 days to come to an agreement for the fight or a purse bid will be ordered. Minimum bid is $150,000 and either side can seek an immediate purse bid if they do not want to negotiate a deal.

"We'll figure out the best way to do this fight with Golden Boy," Moretti said. "The main thing is it will be a good fight in the ring."