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Vacant title vortex leaves Mick Conlan World Title path unsure

Mick Conlan, ideally, is two wins away from a world title shot but the featherweight scene he is a central part of is currently in flux.

The Belfast switch-hitter is currently in camp in London with a fight date sometime next month to be announced shortly.

Win this bout – and another fight before the end of the year – and Conlan [13(7)-0] will be primed for a world title fight at Madison Square Garden next St Patrick’s Day according to brother and manager, Jamie.

There are a lot of moving parts however – and plenty of movement in the past few days.

The world title Conlan would seem to be targeting is the WBO, and he is ranked #1 with the Puerto Rican organisation with strong links to promoter Top Rank.

Additionally he is #3 with the WBA, #6 with the IBF, and #13 with the WBC, all of which are realistic options should the WBO route be blocked off.

However, the path to the brown belt is somewhat clear at the minute after champion and Conlan rival Shakur Stevenson relinquished the strap yesterday.

Stevenson [14(8)-0] took the crown last October with a dominant unanimous decision win over Joet Gonzalez and moves up in weight without ever having made a defence.

In an official statement, the WBO confirmed that “on July 7, Shakur wrote to the WBO to notify this sanctioning body that he was having serious difficulties making the division’s 126-pound limit. Because of this, he decided to move up in weight requested to be ranked in the Junior Lightweight (130 pound) division, where Jamel Herring is the current WBO ruler.”

With the WBO being unique among governing bodies in affording champions moving up in weight the mandatory position in their new class, this could cause problems for the Herring-chasing Carl Frampton who wants to challenge for the belt by the end of the year. That said, Stevenson himself is more keen on WBC champion Miguel Berchelt.

The aforementioned WBO rule could also muddy the waters for Conlan.

Ordinarily, #1 Conlan would be ordered to negotiate with the highest-ranked available and willing contender – currently Californian Ruben Villa [22(5)-0].

Alas, recent WBO super bantamweight champion Emanuel Navarrete [32(28)-1(0)] has also relinquished his belt and now finds himself in Top Rank stablemate Conlan’s 126lbs division.

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The fearsome Mexican is keen to fight for the now-vacant belt as soon as possible, something which does not fit into Conlan’s Paddy’s Day plans.

Those plans, it should be said are from the cool head of the retired elder Conlan, with the Olympic bronze medallist himself stating numerous times that he would box for a belt in his next bout.

Meanwhile, whether Villa will want to step in with ‘El Vaquero’ remains to be seen and WBO #3 Ryan Walsh is currently preparing for the lucrative Golden Contract final. Going down through the list, WBO #4 and another Top Rank fighter, Jessie Magdaleno, is keen on the bout.

An opponent for Conlan’s next fight is due to be confirmed shortly and, with Navarrete having fought just last month, the WBO vacant title will not be claimed until later in the year. This could allow a final fight of 2020 for Conlan and then the big world title fight next March as planned.

For now though, they are just plans.

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: joneill6@tcd.ie