LAS VEGAS – Bakhram Murtazaliev kept himself in position Saturday to fight the winner of the Jermell Charlo-Tim Tszyu 154-pound title fight.

The unbeaten Russian contender, who is the mandatory challenger for Charlo’s IBF junior middleweight title, beat Roberto Valenzuela Jr. by unanimous decision in the eight-round opening bout on the Frank Martin-Michel Rivera undercard at The Chelsea, a venue inside The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. All three judges scored Murtazaliev a shutout winner over Valenzuela, 80-72.

Murtazaliev comfortably boxed well off his back foot and crisply countered an aggressive Valenzuela for much of their eight-round, 154-pound bout. When Mexico’s Valenzuela landed, Murtazaliev took those shots well and stuck to his game plan.

Valenzuela (20-4, 19 KOs) has lost two of his past three bouts, both by unanimous decision.

Murtazaliev (21-0, 15 KOs), who is promoted by Main Events, fought for the fourth time on a Premier Boxing Champions undercard since he became the mandatory challenger for the IBF junior middleweight title in March 2020.

He has accepted sizeable purses and slots on PBC undercards to allow Jeison Rosario, who owned the IBF belt when Murtazaliev was named the IBF’s mandatory challenger, to fight Charlo in September 2020 and Charlo to fight Brian Castano twice in two more title unification fights in July 2021 and this past May 14. Tszyu (21-0, 15 KOs) is the WBO’s mandatory challenger for another of Charlo’s championships.

Valenzuela clearly needed a knockout entering the eighth and final round, but he couldn’t hurt Murtazaliev in those final three minutes.

Murtazaliev drilled Valenzuela with a counter left hook that made him reset his feet in the final minute of their bout.

Murtazaliev stunned Valenzuela with a straight right in the opening minute of the seventh round. Another flush right hand by Murtazaliev later in the seventh round made Valenzuela hold him tightly.

A left uppercut by Murtazaliev landed as Valenzuela came forward in the middle minute of the sixth round. Murtazaliev nailed Valenzuela with two right hands in the first minute of the sixth round that moved Valenzuela backward.

Valenzuela tried to rough up Murtazaliev during the fifth round and landed several right hands in the first half of that round. Valenzuela also caught Murtazaliev with a flush right hand as Murtazaliev backed into Valenzuela’s corner just before the bell sounded to end the fifth round.

Murtazaliev’s short left hook on the inside backed up Valenzuela in the middle minute of the fourth round. Valenzuela pressed forward, but Murtazaliev continued to counter him effectively.

Murtazaliev connected with several right hands from various distances in the final 30 seconds of the third round. A counter left hook by Valenzeula knocked Murtazaliev off balance in the opening minute of the third round.

Murtazaliev cracked Valenzuela with a left hook a few seconds before the bell sounded to end the second round. Murtazaliev and Valenzuela exchanged hard right hands on the inside in the opening minute of the second round.

An aggressive Murtazaliev landed a left hook up top and then a straight right hand that moved Valenzuela backward during the final minute of the first round. Murtazaliev landed back-to-back right hands in the middle minute of the first round.

Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.