Murodjon Akhmadaliev is currently presented with the dilemma of moving forward with a new assignment or revisiting an old foe.
The unified WBA “Super”/IBF junior featherweight titlist is in the uncomfortable position of having to juggle two mandatory title defenses. Akhmadaliev was recently ordered by the WBA to revisit previous plans for a title defense versus California’s Ronny Rios (33-3, 16KOs).
“The World Boxing Association (WBA) gave a deadline of 90 days, until next April 24, to carry out the mandatory bout between the super bantamweight super champion, Murodjon Akhmadaliev, and his mandatory challenger, Ronny Rios,” Carlos Chavez, chairman of the WBA Championship Committee declared in a notice to all parties on Monday. “Akhmadaliev is the 122-[pound] world champion and will face Rios, who occupies the first position in the ranking of the pioneer organization.”
The announcement comes as Akhmadaliev’s IBF-ordered title defense versus number-one contender Marlon Tapales is currently scheduled for a January 28 purse bid hearing. The IBF summoned Akhmadaliev to begin talks earlier this month, only for the team surrounding Tapales—including the ubiquitous Sean Gibbons—requesting to forgo the free negotiation period and head straight to a purse bid.
Akhmadaliev (10-0, 7KOs) was due to face Rios last November 19 on a DAZN show from SNHU Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire. Rios was forced to withdraw after testing positive for Covid, as he was replaced by Chile’s Jose Velazquez whom Akhmadaliev outpointed in a voluntary title defense.
Rios’ status was unclear at the time, further confused by the WBA previously announcing Azat Hovhannisyan (20-3, 16KOs) as the next mandatory challenger. A ruling by the IBF came with the suggestion that they were next in the rotation since the WBA mandatory title defense was already scheduled—regardless of Rios’ medical status.
Rios will enter his second career title fight once his opportunity arises. His previous attempt resulted in a twelve-round, unanimous decision defeat to Rey Vargas in their August 2017 WBC junior featherweight title fight. He has since won five of his last six starts—the lone defeat coming in a sixth-round knockout to Hovhannisyan in March 2018. Most recently, Rios earned a ten-round shutout win over Oscar Negrete last February in Indio, California.
Philippines’ Tapales (35-3, 18KOs) awaits his first career title fight. The 29-year-old southpaw punched his way to contention following a second-round knockout of Hiroaki Teshigawara in their IBF title eliminator last December 11 in Carson, California.
A discussion between the IBF and WBA will have to sort out this mess, absent both sanctioning bodies standing firm which could result in Akhmadaliev having to vacate a belt. For now, Rios is next in line according to the WBA.
“Matchroom Boxing won the rights to organize the fight on May 24, 2021,” noted the letter. “However, the fight had to be suspended due to Covid-19 and Akhmadaliev received special permission to defend against Jose Velazquez last November.
“Once the voluntary defense was completed, the Championships Committee sent the communication form to the company in charge of organizing the fight with the established deadline to promote the [fight].”
Akhmadaliev has served as the unified titlist since a twelve-round, split decision win over Danny Roman in January 2020. The unbeaten Uzbek southpaw—a Bronze medalist in the 2016 Rio Olympics—fought in his home country for the first time as a pro, coming in his first title defense when he stopped Japan’s Ryosuke Iwasa in the fifth round of an IBF mandatory title defense last April in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox