A far more prominent plan was in place for Bektemir Melikuziev when the year began.

Hopes of a breakthrough performance were dashed when former three-time light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev tested positive for a banned substance ahead of their eventually canceled January 30 crossroads bout at Fantasy Springs Casino in his adopted hometown of Indio, California. The unbeaten Uzbekistani southpaw—who won a Silver medal during the 2016 Rio Olympics—has instead seen his post-pandemic activity limited to a pair of stay-busy knockout wins.

Next up for the rising super middleweight is a step up in class, perhaps not as advanced as he would like but still a formidable challenger in former title challenger Gabriel Rosado. Their scheduled 12-round regional title fight takes place Saturday afternoon, live on DAZN beginning at 3:30 pm. Eastern and 1:30 p.m. local time from Don Haskins Center on the campus of The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP).

“I’m not going to complain about what I’ve experienced the past year or so,” Melikuziev said at Thursday’s press conference in the John J. Pershing Ballroom at Hotel Paso del Norte near the fight venue. “The whole world slowed down during the pandemic, yet I’ve still been able to fight twice.

“I’m so grateful to my manager, my promoters Andriy Ryabinsky, Oscar De La Hoya, Eric Gomez—they have all believed in me.”

Melikuziev (7-0, 6KOs) only recently celebrated two years in the pro ranks, yet is already talking about fighting for a super middleweight title. There is a long enough line ahead of him to where the 25-year-old will continue to develop well before that day arrives.

With that comes a proper next step in facing Rosado (25-13-1, 14KOs), who is a deceptive 4-8-1 (1KO) with one No-Decision in his past 14 fights dating back to his January 2013 seventh-round stoppage to then-unbeaten WBA middleweight titlist Gennadiy Golovkin. The stretch is unflattering, though the 35-year-old Philadelphia product—who now lives and trains in Los Angeles—was considered unlucky in a split decision loss to former middleweight titlist Daniel Jacobs last November and in a November 2018 draw with Luis Arias. Rosado showed his mettle in a ten-round unanimous decision defeat to Poland’s Maciej Sulecki, with both boxers hitting the deck twice apiece in their March 2019 shootout in Philly.

Melikuziev has barely lost any of the 23 rounds he has fought so far as a pro. Despite that statistic and his confidence of being ready for any super middleweight in the world, he is also smart enough to recognize a stiff challenge.

“I’m not a big talker. I promise to do all of it in the ring,” notes Melikuziev. “Gabe is a good boxer. I definitely respect him. I’m not thinking about what this fight does for my career. I’m just ready to fight anyone my team puts in front of me.

“In the ring is when I’m the most excited. It doesn’t matter how long the fight lasts, whether it’s one round or twelve. I was told Gabe promised to knock me out. I’m not going to make that promise. I’m just going to go in there and give a good performance.”

The bout serves as the chief support to a scheduled twelve-round middleweight contest before unbeaten former WBO junior middleweight titlist Jaime Munguia (36-0, 29KOs) and middleweight title challenger Kamil Szeremeta (21-1, 5KOs).

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox