Shavkat Rakhimov and Zelfa Barrett are in the process of finalizing a deal to fight for the IBF's vacant junior lightweight title on Nov. 5 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, a source told ESPN.
Rakhimov (16-0-1, 13 KOs) was slated to fight Joe Cordina for the title on that date before the champion withdrew from the bout with a hand injury that required surgery. The IBF informed Cordina (15-0, 9 KOs) on Monday that he was being stripped of the title.
"Absolutely gutted," Cordina, ESPN's No. 7 130-pounder, tweeted Tuesday. "Worked my whole life to become a world champion and I haven't even had the chance to defend the title. Feel like I've been robbed!"
The 30-year-old Welshman will be the mandatory challenger for the winner of the Rakhimov-Barrett fight. He's expected to be sidelined until March.
When the IBF sanctioned a fight between its then-champion Kenichi Ogawa and Cordina, it did so under the provision that the winner fight Rakhimov by Sept. 2. Cordina, an Olympian, won the title in June with a highlight-reel KO in the second round.
In July, the IBF granted Cordina a medical extension to allow the fight against Rakhimov, the mandatory challenger, on Nov. 5. The IBF granted Cordina another medical extension that would expire on Jan. 4, but he won't be available to compete until approximately March, according to an orthopedic hand surgeon consulted by the organization.
Rakhimov, ESPN's No. 2 junior lightweight, was slated to fight Ogawa last year but withdrew because of injury. In his lone title challenge, the Tajikistan-born fighter was held to a draw against Joseph Diaz Jr. in February 2021. Diaz failed to make weight ahead of the fight, so the belt became vacant, setting up Rakhimov, 28, for a mandatory shot.
Barrett (28-1, 16 KOs) isn't rated by ESPN, but the 29-year-old from Manchester has impressed in a recent string of fights against European-level opposition.
A light heavyweight title fight between Dmitry Bivol and Gilberto "Zurdo" Ramirez will headline Matchroom Boxing's Nov. 5 event in Abu Dhabi.