Home Boxing News Two world featherweight titles on the line on ESPN+ this Saturday night

Two world featherweight titles on the line on ESPN+ this Saturday night

Otabek Kholmatov and Raymond Ford. Photo credit: Mikey Williams/Top Rank

A world championship doubleheader will take place in the featherweight division this Saturday night when Otabek Kholmatov 12-0 (11) and Raymond Ford 14-0-1 (7) clash for the vacant WBA crown while Luis Alberto ‘Venado’ Lopez will defend his IBF belt against Reiya Abe 25-3-1 (10) at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York live on ESPN+.

Uzbek Kholmatov is a former international amateur champion who debuted as a pro in August 2021 and secured nine impressive victories before the year ended. Last March, Kholmatov traveled to enemy territory to battle undefeated British contender Thomas Patrick Ward. The 25-year-old powerhouse dropped Ward three times, forcing his corner to throw in the towel in the fifth round.

“It has been my dream to fight for a world title,” Kholmatov said. “I’ve been training my whole life for this. I’m ready… I love to fight. That’s all I have done in my life. So, I’m going to bring the fight on Saturday.”

Ford was a two-time national Golden Gloves champion before entering the paid ranks in March 2019. In fifteen pro fights, he has only had one blemish, a draw against then-unbeaten Aaron Perez in March 2021. Since then, the 24-year-old native of Camden, New Jersey, has gone 6-0 with three knockouts, including wins over undefeated prospects Edward Vazquez and Richard Medina, as well as a victory over former world champion Jessie Magdaleno.

“This means the world to me,” southpaw Ford said. “I’ve been fighting my whole life for this opportunity. It’s finally here and I’m going to take full advantage of it… I’m willing to stay for one more fight at 126 if it’s to defend against a champion or a big money fight. If it makes sense, I’m definitely here for it. But it has to be right away. If not, I’m moving up to 130.”

In the co-feature Lopez will make the third defence of the IBF 126-pound title Japanese contender Abe.

The 30-year-old Lopez, the fighting pride of Mexicali, Mexico, captured the IBF strap by dethroning Josh Warrington in his hometown of Leeds, England in December 2022. In May, the 30-year-old traveled to Belfast and beat hometown hero Michael Conlan via fifth-round TKO. Lopez defended his title against division mainstay Joet Gonzalez, emerging victorious via unanimous decision after 12 hard-fought rounds in September.

“We know he’s a fighter who likes to move a lot. He likes to be on his toes and moving backward. But if he wants to be the new champion, he’s going to have to come here and fight,” Lopez said.

“We will do everything possible to win early… the faster a unification fight happens, the better for me. It would be great for my career.”

Abe, the IBF number one contender, suffered a few early career setbacks before a breakout performance against then-undefeated Ren Sasaki in October 2020. The 30-year-old southpaw is unbeaten in five bouts since the Sasaki triumph. He is coming off a points victory in a world title eliminator against former two-division world champion Kiko Martinez.

“I think Lopez is a good champion,” Abe said. “But this will be the day that I show that I’m the best at 126 pounds… the level of boxing in Japan has been improving and I’m pleased to have been recognised there. The pressure has increased, but I consider it to be necessary to become stronger.”