Murodjon Akhmadaliev is doing his part to clear out mandatory title defense obligations to proceed with the one fight in the division that truly matters above all else.
The reigning WBA/IBF junior featherweight titlist has heard name mentioned as a desired opponent for WBC/WBO champ Stephen Fulton. The schedules for the pair of undefeated and unified title claimants are fairly aligned, with Fulton recently outpointing former champion Danny Roman three weeks ago while Akhmadaliev prepares for a title defense versus WBA mandatory challenger Ronny Rios this Saturday at Tech Port Arena in San Antonio.
There is hardly the guarantee of a win, which is acknowledged by the unbeaten Uzbek fighter though with hopes of pursuing greatness should he prevail this weekend.
“I’m not looking past Ronny,” Akhmadaliev insisted during Thursday’s final pre-fight press conference at Regency East at Hyatt Regency near San Antonio’s famed Riverwalk. “I respect him. He’s a great fighter, never in a boring fight. He’s a warrior who comes to fight. But so am I.
“I didn't come into this sport just to become a world champion. I want to be undisputed champion and prove myself against the best every time I step into the ring.”
Akhmadaliev (10-0, 8KOs) has done so since turning pro, fighting at an elevated level early in his career following a Bronze medal run during the 2016 Rio Olympics. His stock was high enough to land a slot on one of the final telecasts of HBO’s World Championship Boxing series in just his fifth pro fight, scoring a ninth-round knockout of Isaac Zarate in November 2018.
Three fights later and just his eighth as a pro, Akhmadaliev edged California’s Roman to win the WBA/IBF titles in their Fight-of-the-Year-level battle preceding the 2020 Super Bowl weekend in Miami, Florida. Two defenses followed, though met with two separate delays in trying to get the fight with Rios (33-3, 16KOs) on the books.
Akhmadaliev tested positive for Covid last summer to cause the first postponement, while Rios contracted the infectious disease just days ahead of his rescheduled challenge last November 19 in Manchester, New Hampshire. Akhmadaliev faced late substitute Jose Velasquez, whom he outpointed over twelve awkward rounds.
The bout came just eight days prior to Philadelphia’s Fulton outpointing Brandon Figueroa—a training stablemate of Akhmadaliev—to win the WBC title while defending his WBO strap in their Fight of the Year candidate last November 26 in Las Vegas. With all four belts held by two unbeaten titlists, it’s only natural for there to exist demand for the fight.
For now, it is Rios who has the undivided attention of Akhmadaliev who always knew a mandatory title defense would be next before eying the truly big fights.
“Thank God, we’re healthy,” noted Akhmadaliev. “The coronavirus hit both of us last year. We’re here, we’re healthy and both looking forward to a great fight on Saturday.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox