When Andre Berto vacated the IBF welterweight title this week in order to set up a lucrative rematch with Victor Ortiz, two theories were in play as to how the belt's vacancy would be filled:
- Mandatory challenger Randall Bailey would face Carson Jones for the title.
- The IBF would decide to screw the patient Bailey, and put the title up in the December 3 fight between Mike Jones and Sebastian Lujan.
Turns out neither of those is the plan. According to Lem Satterfield, the IBF has settled on this scenario: Jones vs Lujan will be for the chance to fight Bailey for the vacant belt.
"As soon the Jones-Lujan fight is over, we'll send out an order for them to start negotiations with Bailey. If they reach an agreement, fine. If not, then we'll go to a purse bid and go from there." (IBF Championships Chairman Lindsay Tucker)
Bailey (42-7, 36 KO) earned the title shot back in March 2010, when he stopped Jackson Osei Bonsu in the first round. He was then scheduled for a second eliminator nine months later against Said Ouali. That fight ended in a no-contest in the second round, when Bailey slammed and injured Ouali.
On September 17, Ouali lost a fight to Carson Jones, so I guess in effect the idea of Ouali being a top contender was written off. Carson Jones (32-8-2, 22 KO) was elevated to fifth in the IBF rankings at that point. Currently, Bailey is in the No. 2 slot, followed by Mike Jones (25-0, 19 KO) and Lujan (38-5-2, 24 KO).
The Mike Jones vs Lujan fight was, according to Tucker, scheduled to fill the vacant No. 1 spot in the rankings before Berto vacated the belt, and the IBF has simply decided to go with that. Berto won the title on September 3 in Biloxi, Miss., defeating Jan Zaveck.
Berto vs Bailey was then set to go ahead, after Bailey had stepped aside to allow Berto to get the shot at Zaveck in the first place. But that fight never seemed like it was certain to go ahead, and after HBO turned down the fight, it had little chance of going forward. Promoter Lou DiBella would have had to take the fight to independent pay-per-view to get it on U.S. TV, and Berto is accustomed to a certain pay scale that can't be met without HBO money.
So Berto vs Ortiz is the fight for Berto, and make no mistake here: Though that fight isn't done yet, and the promoters are playing it close to the vest, it must be all but done for Berto to take the risk of vacating his belt. DiBella would not have allowed him to give up strap leverage without something real on the table, and an Ortiz fight is rich enough to give it up. Either that or something even bigger. There are few bankable welterweight stars out there right now, and Berto and Ortiz are still two of the biggest names and best fighters, plus they have history.
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Just for kicks (the ol' fun & games), here's what it would look like if the IBF took their rankings right now and were able to make a seeded, eight-man tournament for the vacant belt:
(1) Randall Bailey vs (8) Paulie Malignaggi
(4) Carson Jones vs (5) Hector David Saldivia
(3) Sebastian Lujan vs (6) Kell Brook
(2) Mike Jones vs (7) Jan Zaveck
If that went down, my picks would be Malignaggi over Bailey, Jones over Saldivia, Brook over Lujan in a great fight, and Jones stopping Zaveck on cuts. Second round I'd take C. Jones over Malignaggi and Brook over M. Jones in a nail-biter. Finals I'd take Brook over Carson Jones.