The rotation has been sorted out for Murodjon Akhmadaliev’s next fight.
BoxingScene.com has confirmed that Uzbekistan’s Akhmadaliev (10-0, 7KOs)—the reigning WBA “Super”/IBF junior featherweight titlist—will next face Ronny Rios in a mandatory defense of his WBA title. The ruling comes on the heels of a purse bid hearing previously scheduled Friday to determine promotional rights for his IBF mandatory defense versus Philippines’ Marlon Tapales.
Akhmadaliev was previously faced with dueling title obligations, as the WBA and IBF both enforced mandatory title defenses with weeks of one another. It has been agreed upon by both sanctioning bodies that Rios (33-3, 16KOs) is next in line, maintaining his slot after losing out on a previously scheduled fight with Akhmadaliev. Rios was due to face the unbeaten southpaw last November 19 but was forced to withdraw after testing positive for Covid a little more than a week before the DAZN event in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Akhmadaliev went on to beat late replacement Jose Velasquez by unanimous decision, only to walk into mass confusion surrounding his unified title reign.
By the time of the fight, the WBA had already declared Azat Hovhannisyan (20-3, 16KOs) as its next mandatory contender. The ruling came under the assumption that Akhmadaliev-Rios would proceed as planned, with little clarification offered until this past Tuesday, when the sanctioning body re-ordered Akhmadaliev-Rios along with a 90-day deadline for the rescheduled fight to take place.
The IBF had already ordered Akhmadaliev-Tapales by that point, even delaying a January 18 purse bid hearing to further sort out matters despite the insistence from Tapales’ team to proceed with the session.
Rios is currently riding a four-fight win streak, including a ten-round decision over Oscar Negrete last February in Indio, California. The California-based contender has won five of his last six starts since his previous title challenge, a twelve-round decision to unbeaten Rey Vargas in their August 2017 WBC junior featherweight title fight.
Interestingly, the lone loss in that period for Rios came at the hands of Hovhannisyan, who won via sixth-round knockout in their March 2018 meeting. Hovhannisyan went on to face and lose to Vargas in his own title bid, having since won six in a row including a ten-round decision over Jose Santos Gonzalez last July.
However, Rios emerged as the mandatory challenger after being owed a title shot during more confusing times when the WBA recognized multiple titlists in each weight division. He was previously ordered to face Brandon Figueroa, who went in a different direction and ultimately relinquished his secondary version of the WBA title to fight for and win the WBC belt.
By that time, Rios was advanced to challenge for the main title as the WBA ordered his fight with Akhmadaliev last April. Matchroom obtained the rights to the fight, which has since endured two delays due to both participants testing positive for Covid at separate times. The fight is now back in play, after the IBF conceded that the WBA remains first in the mandatory rotation that comes with unified titlists.
Tapales (35-3. 18KOs) will now have to wait out the winner of Akhmadaliev-Rios for his shot at the WBA/IBF junior featherweight crown. The resurgent contender from Kapatagan, Philippines—who is represented by MP Promotions, Sanman Boxing, Shapiro Sports, and Viva Promotions—has won two straight since a heartbreaking eleventh-round knockout to Ryosuke Iwasa in their December 2019 IBF title eliminator.
In his most recent start, Tapales punched his way back into contention with a second-round knockout of Hiroaki Teshigawara last December 11 in Carson, California. The fight came with the IBF’s blessing as a final eliminator, which was followed by Akhmadaliev-Tapales being ordered by the New Jersey-based sanctioning body on January 4. Tapales’ team requested an immediate purse bid hearing in lieu of a negotiation period, only to be met with a ten-day delay and now losing position in the mandatory title challenger rotation.
Akhmadaliev became a unified titlist in just his eighth pro fight, outlasting Daniel Roman to win a split decision and the WBA/IBF junior featherweight title fights in their January 2020 scorcher. The 2016 Olympic Bronze medalist made his first defense last April, stopping Iwasa in the fifth round of a homecoming fight in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox