- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather, focused on bigger fights at heavier weights, vacated his junior welterweight title this week, Mayweather adviser Leonard Ellerbe told ESPN.com.
Mayweather, who has held belts at junior lightweight, lightweight and junior welterweight, moved up to welterweight late last year and beat Sharmba Mitchell but was considering a return to 140 pounds to defend his title in marquee fights.
However, Mayweather instead decided to take a second consecutive fight at 147 pounds against Zab Judah on April 8 (HBO PPV).
Ellerbe said that because Mayweather didn't plan to go back to 140 pounds, he felt the right thing to do was to vacate the WBC belt and give other contenders a chance to win the title.
Ellerbe said he sent a letter to the WBC informing the organization of the decision.
Junior Witter of England, who has been the mandatory challenger, is expected to face former titlist DeMarcus "Chop Chop" Corley of Washington, D.C., for the vacant belt this summer.
The only significant fight for Mayweather at junior welterweight would have been a unification fight with division kingpin Ricky Hatton, "but he's not even looking Floyd's way until at least 2007," Ellerbe said. "So there's no need to hold up the belt and the division. The only reason to keep the title would be to make a big fight at 140 in a unification fight with Hatton, but that isn't in the cards right now. So Floyd has given up the title. This way guys like Witter and Corley will have the opportunity to fight for the title and the opportunity to reach their dream."
Hatton, the recognized division ruler, is also planning to go up to welterweight for a May 13 fight with titlist Luis Collazo.
Mayweather won the 140-pound belt with a dominant sixth-round TKO of Arturo Gatti in June 2005 and never defended it.
Witter, of England, hoped to fight Mayweather but is happy to get a shot at the vacant belt.
"I would have happily fought Mayweather for the title," Witter said. "He is one of the biggest names in boxing, but this will mean I don't have to hang around for anything. Things are mapping themselves out nicely for me."
Witter said he intends to defend his European title against Giuseppe Lauri in Italy in April and then expects to fight Corley for the vacant WBC belt this summer.
"I have seen a few of Corley's fights on tape," Witter said. "I was down to fight him once when he had the WBO title, and although it never came about, I took a look at him. He's a decent fighter, but he doesn't scare me at all. I see opportunities. He's going down."
Around the Ring
Next for Rahman: With heavyweight titlist Hasim Rahman having retained his belt on a draw against James Toney on Saturday night in Atlantic City, N.J., the question of who Rahman will face next is up in the air.
Originally, it was expected that Rahman would move on to a mandatory defense against Oleg Maskaev, who spectacularly knocked Rahman out -- and literally out of the ring -- in 1999. However, given the close nature of the fight last week, Rahman could meet Toney in a rematch.
Either way, Rahman and promoter Bob Arum just want to know who Rahman must face so they can make plans for a late summer fight.
"There appears to be a dispute between the Oleg Maskaev camp and the James Toney camp on whom Hasim Rahman has to fight next," Arum said. "Our position at Top Rank, as promoter of Hasim Rahman, is that we will do what the WBC decides. We only ask that the WBC decide the issue expeditiously so we at Top Rank can begin planning for Rock's next championship fight."
Rahman will be the in-studio guest on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights," (9 ET) and will discuss the Toney fight and his future.
Toney promoter Dan Goossen, however, is making his case for a rematch with Toney.
Goossen told ESPN.com that he has filed a written protest with the WBC in an effort to force a rematch. Goossen's case is built on his assertion that Rahman landed an overwhelming number of illegal blows, particularly to Toney's kidneys, during the fight.
"I studied the tape and I was disturbed by the tremendous amount of illegal kidney shots that Rahman was able to put onto James without any intervention from the referee," Goossen said. "Eddie Cotton is usually a top-notch referee, but in this case I was just aghast that he didn't take control of something that it appeared Rahman planned to do. He hit James in the kidneys and the back throughout the fight. In the first round, it was 17 times. The second round was 27 times. The third round was 22 times, and it kept going like that throughout the fight."
Goossen said that Toney, 37, was so beat up to his kidneys and back, especially the left kidney, that he vomited blood on the flight back to Los Angeles and had to be briefly hospitalized.
"[Toney] had an inflamed kidney the size of a melon because of the illegal punches," Goossen said. "He was also dehydrated, but what was really causing him problems was the pain in his kidneys. The doctor told me he thought it was amazing that James could go all 12 rounds taking that kind of punishment and pounding to his kidneys. Just plop in the tape and take a look. We're not making this up."
Goossen said he was disappointed that Cotton only warned Rahman once late in the fight for the illegal blows.
In addition, Goossen said the WBC's mandate was for the Rahman-Toney winner to next fight Maskaev. However, because the fight was a draw, there was no winner. Goossen said that means Rahman should have to fight Toney again to determine a winner.
"There was no winner. End of story," Goossen said. "We can twist the word draw, but when it's said and done, there was no winner. Legally, the WBC is within its rights to order the rematch based its rules and regulations. I believe that is what should happen. I am not here to hurt Oleg Maskaev, but they said that the winner had to fight Maskaev. Bottom line? There was no winner."
Ruiz not surprised: Former heavyweight titlist John Ruiz feels that Toney's "listless performance" against Rahman strengthens his lawsuit against Toney.
"Toney looked sluggish against Rahman," Ruiz said. "He didn't have the same energy he did against me, but that's what steroids do. Toney had a lot of energy right through the last round in our fight. If I fought that Toney [from the Rahman fight], I guarantee it would have been a completely different fight. He had to cheat to beat me."
Toney outpointed Ruiz in April 2005 to claim a heavyweight title, but the result of the fight was changed to a no decision, and Toney was stripped of the title after he tested positive for steroids in his postfight drug screen. Toney was also fined and suspended.
In November, Ruiz sued Toney for using illegal performance-enhancing steroids in advance of their fight. In the lawsuit, Ruiz claimed that Toney's use of nandrolone dramatically enhanced his ability to fight by artificially augmenting his strength, speed and power.
Toney said the positive test was a result of medication that he used to rehabilitate a seriously injured left arm remaining in his system.
"A videotape of Toney's fight against Rahman will be presented as Exhibit B," Ruiz's attorney, Anthony Cardinale, said. "Exhibit A is a tape of Ruiz-Toney. Toney had less than six weeks to prepare for his fight against Johnny, yet he showed a lot more energy, especially late in the fight, than he did at any point against Rahman. I wouldn't be surprised if Toney was drug-tested during training camp for last Saturday's fight. He was calm at the weigh-in and press conferences, unlike his outrageous steroid-rage outbursts leading up to his fight against Johnny."
Since his fighting Toney, Ruiz has called for boxing organizations to improve their standards, testing and penalties to prevent and deter the use of banned performance-enhancing substances.
Ratner resigns: Marc Ratner, one of the most respected boxing regulators in the world, is leaving as executive director of the Nevada Athletic Commission to accept a lucrative three-year contract to become a vice president for the Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Ratner, the calm in the eye of many boxing storms, has been with the commission since 1985 and was appointed executive director in 1992. His last day with the commission will be May 13.
"I love the commission and I love working for the state, and so from that standpoint, this was a very difficult decision," Ratner told the Review-Journal. "The commission has been such a huge part of my life for so long. But I had to think of my family, and this offer was amazing."
With UFC, a growing company that puts on mixed martial-arts cards, Ratner will be involved in all aspects of the operation, but he will concentrate on regulatory issues and dealing with state athletic commissions.
Cotto on pay-per-view: After listening to offers from both HBO and Showtime, promoter Top Rank has decided to move forward with plans to go it alone on pay-per-view June 10 with a card headlined by junior welterweight titlist Miguel Cotto vs. Paulie Malignaggi at New York's Madison Square Garden.
The card, which will go head-to-head with HBO PPV's Antonio Tarver-Bernard Hopkins light heavyweight championship card, figures to draw well in New York given that Malignaggi is from Brooklyn and Cotto is Puerto Rican, and the fight is in the New York the night before the annual Puerto Rican Day parade.
Official announcement of the fight is scheduled Wednesday at a news conference at the Garden.
Top Rank plans to air at least five live bouts on the pay-per-view, including junior lightweight Carlos Hernandez vs. Kevin Kelley as well as bouts involving hot middleweight prospect John Duddy -- who recently sold out Madison Square Garden's Theater -- and prospects Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Juan Manuel Lopez. Top Rank is going to add a sixth fight to the broadcast -- doubling the amount of fights planned for the Tarver-Hopkins pay-per-view, which will cost more.
Had Top Rank accepted HBO's offer of about $1.4 million, Cotto-Malignaggi would have aired live on the network June 9, a Friday night. However, the offer didn't meet Top Rank's financial expectations, and neither did Showtime's.
Showtime was prepared to add a second card to its March schedule even though the network's Championship Boxing series normally airs only on the first Saturday of the month.
Significant 'FNF': Britain's Howard Eastman, a longtime middleweight contender in need of a victory, faces power-punching rising contender Edison Miranda of Colombia this week on "Friday Night Fights" (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET) in an intriguing and meaningful main event.
The winner will become the mandatory challenger for middleweight titlist Arthur Abraham, a German-based Armenian.
Although Miranda has been impressive during his rise, Eastman is his most experienced and accomplished opponent, by far.
"I don't know a great deal about Miranda, but judging by his record he looks like a fighter who is on a mission," Eastman said. "He showed he meant business by relocating to the States recently. It's a tough fight, but this is my chance to prove that I am still one of the world's best."
Eastman (40-3, 34 KOs) badly needs a victory. He lost both of his starts in 2005, dropping a decision to then-champ Hopkins followed by a decision loss to Abraham in a non-title fight.
This will be Eastman's fourth fight away from the United Kingdom. He has lost his previous three -- twice in the U.S. to Hopkins and William Joppy and to Abraham in Germany.
Eastman knows the importance of winning the fight.
"Because of what's happened recently, I need to prove to people that I can go in there and take these guys out properly," Eastman said. "There can be no room for doubt."
The carrot for Eastman is a rematch with Abraham, who went on to win a title after they fought.
"The fight with Abraham is a fight that was destined to have a rematch," Eastman said. "I am looking forward to fighting him again. I still want rematches against Joppy and Hopkins, but we are doing things backward. I am fighting the third guy I lost to, first. Hopefully we can get to the others afterwards."
Golden schedule: Oscar De La Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions has a busy spring on tap as it gets several major cards in order. Here's a look at the lineup:
• May 6 (HBO PPV): De La Hoya, who hasn't fought since being knocked out by Hopkins in a middleweight title challenge, will come off a 20-month layoff to challenge junior middleweight titlist Ricardo Mayorga in Las Vegas.
One of the fights on the broadcast will be junior featherweight titlist Daniel Ponce De Leon (27-1, 25 KOs) in his first defense against Alejandro Barrera (18-0, 12 KOs).
• May 20 (HBO): Unified junior lightweight champ Marco Antonio Barrera (61-4, 42 KOs) defends against Rocky Juarez (25-1, 18 KOs), a top featherweight moving up in weight for the title shot. On the undercard of the fight at the Staples Center in Los Angeles will be junior lightweight titlist Jorge Barrios (45-2-1, 32 KOs) against mandatory Janos Nagy (23-0, 14 KOs) of Hungary. This card was supposed to take place Saturday but Jesus Chavez was injured, so it was postponed until May and Juarez replaced Chavez.
• May 27 (HBO): Bantamweight titlist Jhonny Gonzalez, who stopped Mark "Too Sharp" Johnson (32-4, 28 KOs) last month, defends against junior bantamweight titlist Fernando Montiel (32-4, 28 KOs) in a potentially explosive fight between Mexican champions on a "Boxing After Dark" card at the outdoor Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.
The opening TV fight has not been decided but if HBO is willing to do the fight, it can have a tremendous welterweight match between rising contenders Paul Williams (28-0, 20 KOs) and Walter Matthysse (24-0, 23 KOs) of Argentina. It's just the sort of high-risk, high-reward, potentially exciting fight that "Boxing After Dark" built its reputation on. Both fighters have interim bouts scheduled and would have to win to make their match possible.
If HBO and Golden Boy decide against Williams-Matthysse, the opening fight would match former junior middleweight titlist Kassim Ouma against Marco Antonio Rubio.
Jantuah gets shot: Longtime contender Kofi Jantuah -- who knocked Rubio cold in the first round in September 2004 -- has accepted an offer to go to Germany to face middleweight titlist Arthur Abraham on May 13, Jantuah promoter Lou DiBella told ESPN.com.
Jantuah (30-2, 19 KOs), of Ghana and based in Las Vegas, has been a longtime junior middleweight contender but moved up to middleweight for his last fight in December.
In his only previous world title fight, Jantuah lost a decision to then-junior middleweight titlist Kassim Ouma in January 2005.
DiBella is happy to see his fighter get another opportunity.
"I think any time you can get your fighter an opportunity, you have to be happy about it and this is an opportunity," DiBella said. "We all know Kofi can punch and we were moving him to 160 anyway because that is where the action is. Kofi has a great chance to win. He's one of those guys who is live against anybody."
Big opportunity: Julio Diaz (32-3, 24 KOs) is a former lightweight titlist who has been looking for another chance to fight for a belt. At age 35 and a professional fighter for 17 years, Ricky Quiles (39-6-3, 8 KOs) has just wanted at least once chance to fight for a title. Now, they both have what they are seeking.
Due to a severe arm injury to titlist Chavez, which will sideline him for at least six months and forced him to cancel Saturday's defense against Barrera, Diaz, 26, and Quiles have been approved to fight for the interim belt. The Diaz-Quiles winner would have to face Chavez upon his return.
Diaz and Quiles will meet May 18 in Hollywood, Fla., on a Warriors Boxing pay-per-view card.
Leon Margules, the executive director of Warriors Boxing, said the Diaz-Quiles fight would headline the card, although he was still working on the undercard.
Green-Mundine postponed: The super middleweight showdown between bitter rivals Danny Green (21-2, 19 KOs) and Anthony Mundine (25-3, 20 KOs), expected to be the biggest fight in Australian history, will have to wait a little longer.
Originally scheduled for April 19 at a 40,000-seat-plus outdoor soccer stadium in Sydney, the fight has been postponed for a month after Green injured his upper back in training this week. The new working date for the bout is May 17 at the same venue.
Reports out of Australia indicate that Green will need two weeks to off before he can resume training.
Can he do it? Junior lightweight knockout artist Edwin Valero is 18-0 with an astonishing 18 first-round knockouts. The punching prodigy from Venezuela will look to extend that mind-boggling mark when he faces Genaro Trazancos (21-7-1, 12 KOs) Saturday in Kobe, Japan. Trazancos does not appear to be a sacrificial first-round lamb. Although he has lost four of his last five fights, Trazancos has faced good competition and only suffered one first-round defeat, 11 years ago in his second professional bout. Valero, a 24-year-old southpaw, is already the mandatory challenger for titlist Vicente Mosquera but needs to win to retain his position.
In the main event, bantamweight titlist Hozumi Hasegawa (19-2, 6 KOs) of Japan faces former champ Veeraphol Sahaprom (52-2-2, 37 KOs) of Thailand in a rematch.
Sahaprom, 37, who had made 15 successful defenses, lost a close unanimous decision to Hasegawa, 25, in an upset in Tokyo last April.
Ridiculous rankings: The WBC's March rankings are out, with some utterly preposterous listings, although they should come as no surprise given that this is the same organization that had the retired Felix Trinidad climbing the middleweight rankings a few months ago (he has since been removed).
Here are just three of the most head-scratching items in the rankings released this week:
• Former champion Oliver McCall (45-8, 32 KOs) is ranked third at heavyweight, the same McCall who has not notched a meaningful victory since knocking out Henry Akinwande in 2001. McCall was easily outpointed by Juan Carlos Gomez in his last fight, although the official result was a no contest because Gomez flunked a postfight drug test.
• Former undisputed middleweight champ Hopkins, who has lost his last two fights via close decisions to Jermain Taylor and hasn't fought as a light heavyweight since his pro debut in 1988, has been installed as the No. 2 light heavyweight. Although Hopkins is challenging Ring magazine light heavyweight champion Tarver on June 10 in what Hopkins says is his farewell fight, few would argue that he should be ranked second among all 175-pounders, if at all.
• At junior middleweight, De La Hoya, who is coming off a knockout loss to Hopkins and hasn't fought in 20 months, is ranked No. 1.
• Perhaps the most ridiculous item in the organization's rankings is at flyweight, where Thailand's Pongsaklek Wonjongkam has reigned as champion since 2001 and made 13 defenses.
However, in July 2005 the WBC inexplicably allowed No. 1 contender Jorge Arce to fight for the interim title rather than mandate a Wonjongkam-Arce fight. Wonjongkam was not injured and nothing was preventing the fight from being made or holding a purse bid.
Arce won the interim belt and has defended it three times. He has a fourth defense scheduled against Rosendo Alvarez on April 8. Meanwhile, Wonjongkam has remained active but has not made a mandatory defense since November 2003, although one is due annually.
The WBC still refuses to mandate a Wonjongkam-Arce fight. Instead, the organization continues to collect sanctioning fees from each titleholder while allowing for two fighters in the same division to be called flyweight champion.
• Middleweight Sergio "The Latin Snake" Mora (17-0, 3 KOs), who won Season 1 of "The Contender" reality series, will return in the main event of an ESPN "Contender" special May 4 at the Aladdin Resort in Las Vegas. Mora will face Armenian Archak "Shark Attack" Ter-Meliksetian (15-3, 12 KOs). Ter-Meliksetian is a dangerous puncher but is coming off back-to-back losses against Sechew Powell and Giovanni Lorenzo.
• Promoter Gary Shaw has been given HBO's July "Boxing After Dark" card. Although the date has not been specified -- it could be July 8 or 29 -- Shaw told ESPN.com that he plans to put former junior welterweight titlist Vivian Harris on in the main event. One possibility is for Harris to face up-and-comer "Mighty" Mike Arnaoutis, a fight that HBO likes. Other names that Shaw tossed out as potential Harris opponents are Joel Casamayor or Juan Urango. The undercard slot could go to either flyweight titlist Vic Darchinyan, who made a splash with his one-punch knockout of Diosdado Gabi March 3 on Showtime, or Chad Dawson, a top prospect who is moving from super middleweight to light heavyweight.
• Undisputed cruiserweight champ O'Neil Bell was supposed to face mandatory challenger Steve Cunningham May 6 on a Showtime card, but the fight appears unlikely because Bell had complications last week from "major dental work," according to Margules of Bell promoter Warriors Boxing. Margules said he asked the IBF, the organization that lists Cunningham as the No. 1 contender, for a medical exception and included a letter from Bell's dentist outlining the problem. However, Margules said that after talking to the IBF, he didn't think the exception would be granted and that Bell probably would be stripped of that belt. Margules said Bell, who is also the Ring magazine champion and the recognized division king, didn't care if he was stripped by the IBF. "He told me his whole mouth is infected and that the dentist told him he can't train for two weeks," Margules said. "He said if they take his belt because of that, fine, they can take their belt and stick it you know where."
• In a prelude to a possible summer rematch, British promoter Frank Warren announced that heavyweights Danny Williams (35-4, 28 KOs) and Matt Skelton (18-1, 17 KOs) will fight separate opponents in eight-rounders April 1 in London. In one of England's biggest heavyweight fights in years, Williams won a split decision against Skelton in a brutal fight Feb. 25. Skelton badly wants a rematch. "I've had so many people come up to me in the street and say that they though that I won, which is fantastic support to have, but I want to prove that they were right by getting it on again with Danny," he said. "I believe that I deserve it because it was such a close call. I'm ready whenever Danny wants the rematch." If Williams and Skelton each win, July 15 is the target date for the rematch.
• Heavyweight Kirk Johnson (36-3-1, 26 KOs), underwent successful surgery last week to repair the torn patella tendon in his right knee, according to co-promoter Goossen. Johnson, a former title challenger who has been beset by injuries, hurt himself again March 3 when Javier Mora stepped on his foot, causing Johnson, 33, to slip to the canvas during the seventh round. Johnson injured the knee, could not continue and was ruled a TKO loser. Goossen said Johnson would be sidelined for at least four months.
• Main Events will make official its June 24 HBO "Boxing After Dark" doubleheader at a news conference Tuesday in New York. Heavyweight contender Calvin Brock (28-0, 22 KOs) of Charlotte, N.C., faces Timor Ibragimov (20-0-1, 12 KOs) of Uzbekistan in the 12-round main event at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. In the co-feature, red-hot contender Joel "Love Child" Julio (27-0, 24 KOs) of Colombia faces Carlos Quintana (22-0, 18 KOs) of Puerto Rico in a 12-round welterweight title eliminator. With all four fighters owning glossy records, the card has been dubbed "Undefeated ... But Not for Long."
• Perhaps with an eye on the stardom reached by Filipino hero Manny Pacquiao, Golden Boy Promotions has signed two of the brightest prospects from the Philippines, 19-year-old bantamweight Rey "Boom Boom" Bautista (19-0, 14 KOs) and 23-year-old junior featherweight Z Gorres (22-1-1, 12 KOs).
"The hottest talent pool in the boxing world right now is in the Philippines, so to bring exciting young fighters like Bautista and Gorres to the States to train and fight is an important step in the development of our company because we want to continue to bring the best fighters in the world to fight fans," said De La Hoya, president of Golden Boy.
• Johnny Bredahl, 37, who gave up his bantamweight world title belt and retired in October 2004, is coming back. Bredahl, of Denmark, is scheduled to fight Alexander Fedorov in Copenhagen on March 30. Bredahl would like to eventually challenge Wladimir Sidorenko, who claimed the vacant belt after Bredahl abruptly retired following three successful defenses.
• Scottish junior lightweight contender Alex Arthur (22-1, 17 KOs), the European champion and one of the most exciting fighters in the 130-pound division, defends his title against George Ashie (9-1, 5 KOs) on April 29 in Edinburgh. Arthur, 27, is wasting no time in getting back to action after outpointing Ricky Burns Feb. 18. "I'm delighted to be back in the ring so soon after my win over Ricky, and the main aim for me this year is to keep busy with four or five fights, hopefully culminating in a world title fight," said Arthur, who has enlisted the help of former bantamweight champ Wayne McCullough to work his corner.
• Former two-division champ Danny Romero, 31, was arrested on DWI charges Monday night in his hometown of Albuquerque, N.M. The Albuquerque Tribune reported that Romero had a blood-alcohol level of 0.16, twice the legal limit of intoxication in New Mexico. According to the newspaper, police found Romero throwing up near his 1999 Cadillac parked in the middle of the road. This was Romero's second DWI arrest, the first coming in 1993. He pleaded guilty to that charge. Romero (44-5-2, 37 KOs) returned to the ring after a two-year layoff in May 2005 and got a draw with Alex Baba in an eight rounder on the Winky Wright-Felix Trinidad card in Las Vegas. Romero won world titles as a flyweight and junior bantamweight.
Quotable: "I respect Wright, but there's no way somebody is going to come knock on the door at my house and beat me up. He's going to have to kill me to beat me, and nobody has ever killed anybody with just defense."
-- middleweight champion Jermain Taylor, talking about the defensive style of Winky Wright, against whom Taylor will defend his title June 17 in his adopted hometown of Memphis, Tenn.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.