The WBA has denied Leo Santa Cruz’s request for an exemption to face new WBC featherweight titleholder Rey Vargas, ordering him to face “regular” titleholder Leigh Wood next or risk being stripped.

The WBA announced the decision on Tuesday, just over a week after Santa Cruz submitted the request, two days after Vargas defeated Mark Magsayo by split decision  to win the title.

The WBA, which ordered the Santa Cruz-Wood fight on April 6, adds that Wood’s promoter Matchroom Boxing had refused to step aside for the bout. Now Santa Cruz (38-2-1, 19 knockouts) has 24 hours to respond to the WBA’s order.

Santa Cruz won the title in January of 2017 with a majority decision over Carl Frampton and has made three defenses, but hasn’t made a mandatory defense since his 2018 unanimous decision win over Abner Mares.

Santa Cruz hasn’t even fought at featherweight since February of 2019, when he beat Rafael Rivera. His last three bouts have been at 130 pounds.

The WBA has provided significant latitude to Santa Cruz and his status as featherweight champion. They had ordered a mandatory in June of 2020, which never occurred. A December 2021 letter inquiring about whether Santa Cruz intended to fight again at 126 pounds was not responded to, the WBA claims.

Wood (26-2, 16 KOs) of Gedling, England has handled business at 126 pounds over the past year, stopping Can Xu in the twelfth to win the “regular” title last July, and then solidifying his position in the division with a twelfth round stoppage of Michael Conlan in March.

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