In November we counted down a number of honourable mentions for our 20 for 20. Now it's time to look at the 20 fighters who have managed to make it into the list properly, and they come from all over Asia and all over the weight classes. Some of these you may already be aware of, some are perhaps less well known, but either way these 20 men are going to be well worth following in the new year as they look to push forward in their career and move towards major success.
For these fighters we will look at the the reason why you should follow them, our expectations for them in the coming year and the issues they may face going forward. The one rule with all of these fighters is that they can have fought for a world title at the time of writing, as the fighters who have are, essentially, already ones to watch having dabbled at world level. Some of these are world ranked, and some of these may well be set for world title fights in the near future, but so far they have not had that top level bout.
Without any further ado, lets take a look at the man we have ranked #2 in our list of Ones to watch in 2020
Murodjon Akhmadaliev (7-0, 6)
Uzbekistan (based in the US)
Talented Uzbek fighter Murodjon Akhmadaliev was supposed to get a world title fight in 2019, before Danny Roman was ruled out due to injury. Whilst Roman is certainly not a gimme for anyone at Super Bantamweight there is a real feeling that had that injury not happened Akhmadaliev could already be a world champion. Thankfully he is still the WBA's mandatory challenger and will get his shot in early 2020, with a date of January 30th set for the clash. With a shot lined up that alone is a reason to watch Akhmadaliev, who is a heavy handed, aggressive, and exciting Super Bantamweight with a very strong amateur pedigree. He doesn't always show the polish that such an accomplished amateur should, but at the end of the day he's putting on a show rather than just getting wins.
We love fighters showing ambition and drive to get to the top and Akhmadaliev has shown that from very early on. In just his 4th bout, just 5 months after his debut, he had taken his first regional title and was well into the WBA world rankings by the end of 2018, thanks to a big win over Isaac Zarate.
As well as his professional career the 25 year old really was an exceptional amateur. He won bronze at the 2016 Olympics, in Brazil, a Silver at the 2015 World Amateur Championships, and scored around 300 amateur wins. He had long established himself as an international level amateur fighter and also competed in the World Series of Boxing. That WSB experience is part of the reason he has been able to be moved as quickly in the professional ranks as he has, and why his team have shown no fear of strapping a rocket to his back straight away.
What do we expect?
The least we expect from Akhmadaliev is a world title fight. The Roman fight is signed and set and if that doesn't take place, again, we would be absolutely gob smacked. It really is that simple for the minimum expectancy on the shoulders of the Uzbek.
The truth however is that we expect much, much more from him than just fighting for a world title. We instead expect him to win a world title. Whether he beats Roman in January or needs another bite of the apple later in the year to achieve that is less clear, but he'll get there, and we suspect he'll get there in style.
Longer term we wouldn't be surprised to see him moving up and having success at Featherweight in the years to come. Up at Featherweight he would need to rely more on his actual boxing skills, rather than his physicality, and he would certainly have to tighten up his defensive flaws and be more intelligent in regards to offensive work, but we do know that he can be smarter in the ring than we typically see from him.
At 25, and turning 26 later in the year, Akhmadaliev hasn't yet hit his physical prime but also ticks a lot of boxes. He's already a very strong and powerful young fighter and as he continues to mature into his body that physicality will only build, making him and even more threatening fighter. If he then polishes that off we expect he'll begin the climb towards a pound for pound placing over the coming years.
The obvious concern for "MJ" is Danny Roman. Roman is an exceptional fighter and with Akhmadaliev taking him on in January it's very possible that the Uzbek will find himself biting on more than he is ready for at this particularly moment in time. We do favour Akhmadaliev, but we certainly expect him to be tested and this will not be a gimme for the 25 year old.
Going forward we also have concerns about the WBA and IBF Super Bantamweight titles. Due to the injury to Roman the mandatory title fights were essentially pushed backwards and it's now hard to imagine them being unified for long, especially with Ryosuke Iwasa sitting as the IBF interim champion and Angelo Leo pushing for a mandatory fight himself. The WBA picture is also a mess with multiple champions and other pursuing title fights.
As for Akhmadaliev himself, we do have concerns about his defense, his openness and how well his style will work against better fighters. He's faced "world ranked" guys a few times but the reality is that there is a massive gulf between fighters in the world rankings and the top guys in the division. His style has worked against the limited opposition that he's shared the ring with, but we're not sure how that style will work against much, much better fighters than he's been in with already. We'll definitely see that answered in 2020 though!
When we have some free time we're hoping to add a series of fun articles to the site. Hopefully these will be enjoyable little short features