Bektemir Melikuziev may have missed an opportunity to fight Sergey Kovalev, but he is not about to waste any time proving why he could be the future at 168 pounds.
Melikuziev will face Morgan Fitch tonight at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, California. The eight-round bout will open the live DAZN stream (8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT) and will precede the world title fight between WBO junior middleweight titleholder Patrick Teixeira and mandatory challenger Brian Castano.
In the main event of the Golden Boy Promotions card, mandatory challenger Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov will attempt to win the IBF junior lightweight title after Joseph ‘JoJo’ Diaz was stripped Friday afternoon after weighing 133.6 pounds.
Melikuziev (6-0, 5 knockouts), who is originally from Uzbekistan and now lives and trains in Indio, was scheduled to fight three-time world light heavyweight titleholder Sergey Kovalev on January 30. The fight was originally scheduled to take place in Moscow, Russia, but was moved to Indio earlier last month due to COVID-19 concerns.
Over a month ago, Kovalev tested positive for a banned substance (synthetic testosterone). On January 15, the California State Athletic Commission officially cancelled the fight.
Despite testing positive for a banned substance, Melikuziev still wanted to fight Kovalev, a fight he had been looking forward to for the last several weeks. At the very least, he stays active against Fitch.
“I was a little frustrated,” Melikuziev told Boxingscene through co-manager Alik Frolov Thursday night. “I just take this as a new experience in professional boxing. (It) was a huge opportunity for me so I hope the Sergey fight is still possible when everything will get cleared.
“Even if you were to ask me four months ago, I would’ve accepted a fight against Sergey. After I signed my (promotional) contract with Golden Boy Promotions, my team believed in me and knew I was ready for these challenges. I was confident from day one that I could face any of the toughest and top fighters in boxing, especially Kovalev, who has had a great boxing career. He is a three-time world champion and, even thought he lost to Canelo (Alvarez), we had to learn from film what type of fighter he was from his previous fights and why he was the best a few years ago. I learned more about him and we prepared for him with my coaches.”
Melikuziev, who is also managed by Vadim Kornilov, has been trained by Joel Diaz since turning pro. Melikuziev also works with brother Antonio Diaz.
Despite the stellar amateur career that saw him win a silver medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Melikuziev has benefited from working with Joel Diaz to compliment his devastating punching power. He has been grateful for the work he has put in with Diaz since turning pro in July 2019.
“We did win a lot of amateur titles, but I knew the pro games is different,” said Melikuziev. “I’m appreciate of the work my amateur coach put in with me. I feel the difference working with Joel Diaz, especially with the amount of rounds of sparring. Coach Joel and Antonio Diaz have given me more technical training. I felt the different approach from day 1 working with them. I have put in the hard work in the gym.”
Fitch (19-4-1, 8 KOs), who resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has not fought since losing by knockout to then-unbeaten Anthony Sims, Jr. in October 2019. The 37-year-old has lost four of his last five bouts.
Melikuziev may feel a letdown not fighting Kovalev, but as a professional, he has a job to do. Aside from fighting the likes of Kovalev next, he hopes to fight the top contenders at 168 pounds.
Should he continue winning impressively, a world title fight next year at 168 or 175 pounds is not out of the question, even if it against those familiar with him. Melikuziev first must get by Fitch tonight.
“Right now, I’m only concentrated on my fight (tonight). I do not underestimate anyone. I know it’s a real fight. My promoters and managers have plans for my next fights. I can only tell you that I’m not scared of anyone between 160 and 175 pounds. Teammate and friend (WBA light heavyweight titleholder) Dmitry Bivol is the only boxer I will not fight.
“World title belts are the goal, but if no one gives me (the) opportunity, then we’ll chase (the) biggest fights possible.”
Francisco A. Salazar has written for BoxingScene since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing.