WBA super and IBF super-bantamweight champion Murodjon Akhmadaliev defends his unified titles on Saturday night against Ronny Rios, but the fight that many really want to see is MJ against Stephen Fulton Jr.
Luke G. Williams previews a bout that is already being overshadowed by a contest that probably won’t come to pass…
Given the institutionalised chaos and dysfunctionality that reigns in the boxing universe, it has been somewhat surprising – and heartening – that in the last 13 months there have been three fights that have crowned an ‘undisputed’ world champion.
In May 2021, Josh Taylor beat Jose Ramirez for the light-welterweight championship of the world; Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez defeated Caleb Plant in November of the same year for the super-middleweight crown, and in May of this year Jermell Charlo bested Brian Castano for all the light-middleweight marbles (itself a rematch of an undisputed title fight from last year which ended in a draw).
While it is too early to extrapolate whether this trend will become the norm, or is merely some sort of fleeting outbreak of sanity within the most insane sporting circus on the planet, it does make one wonder.
I mean, take this weekend’s super-bantamweight showdown between Murodjon Akhmadaliev (10-0, 7 KOs) and Ronny Rios.
The undefeated Uzbek holds the WBA and ‘super’ and IBF 122lbs crowns and has won his fair share of glowing reviews since turning over in 2019. He’s a unified world title holder after a mere ten paid fights, but his latest bout is in serious danger of being utterly overshadowed by talk of a potential undisputed title contest against Philadelphia’s richly talented Stephen Fulton Jr (the WBC and WBO champ, 21-0, 8 KOs).
If there’s a downside to a renewed focus on undisputed title fights, perhaps it’s the fact that decent match-ups that don’t have four gaudy belts attached to them may be overlooked, or go completely unnoticed, which is what seems to be happening with the Akhmadaliev-Rios fight, which forms part of a trio of world title fights on Saturday night’s DAZN and Matchroom USA card in San Antonio.
True, Rios is far from the best opponent out there for Akhmadaliev (the 32-year-old Californian isn’t, for example, ranked among Boxing Social’s top ten super bantams), but he is no mug. He gave Rey Vargas a decent argument in a WBC title showdown in 2017 and has gone 5-1 since that night at the StubHub Center, with his most impressive victory being his 2019 upset stoppage of the then undefeated Diego De La Hoya.
Certainly Akhmadaliev is not underestimating Rios, who is his WBA mandatory challenger (the duo were originally due to fight last year, only for Akhmadaliev to contract Covid. Rios also subsequently caught the virus).
“Ronny is a good fighter;” MJ told Phil Rogers for a Boxing News feature this week. “He’s been in the ring and fought for the world title and he’s always performed. He always comes to fight.”
Interestingly, the somewhat modest Akhmadaliev also emphasised to Rogers that he is “still learning” as a professional despite already being a two belt world title holder. “It’s learning on the job,” the 27-year-old said. “I’m young in my professional career but I’m getting pushed by all the sanctioning bodies and everyone.”
Akhmadaliev’s formidable technical grounding is likely to prove too much for Rios, with the confident pick here being a mid to late round stoppage in the Uzbek’s favour.
Once Rios is out of the way, talk can once again turn to undisputed titles and potential super fight dreams against Fulton Jr.
If Matchroom and PBC can come together – as they have all too infrequently lately – to make that fight a reality then perhaps boxing really will have placed the perennial disappointments that seem to form part of its sporting DNA in the rearview mirror and a brave new world really will be upon us.