Whilst many bouts featured in our Treasure Trove series are rather obscure, and not particularly well known, not all of them are and today's Treasure Trove bout is one of the most notable bouts from 2020. In fact it's one of the bouts that should have been included in any legitimate "Bout of the Year" short list from the major media outlets, but because it took place in January 2020, it was really forgotten by the end of the year. Especially given how boxing was put on the back burner just a few weeks later.
Murodjon Akhmadaliev (7-0, 6) vs Daniel Roman (27-2-1, 10)
Over the past few years the Super Bantamweight division has been slowly, but surely bringing through a new era of fighters as the division has repeatedly shifted it's focus from big names and established fighters, to newer younger fighters. Whilst that was happening there wasn't really any focus point for the division, which was in many a good thing, as it was a division that had really spent a while not doing much.
As we entered 2020 there were two men to focus on at the top of the division. One of those was the exciting Emanuel Navarrete, though he was a man who's time in the division seemed very limited and he would leave the division later in the year, and there was IBF and WBA "Super" champion Daniel Roman.
Roman had done everything he could to get his head above the rest and to show his ability globally. He had won the WBA title in Japan, beating Shun Kubo, had defended it in Japan against Ryo Matsumoto and then returned to the US for two more defenses before unifying with a 2019 FOTY contender against TJ Doheny, in which Roman won the IBF title. In his first defense of the unified titles he took on the rising Murodjon Akhmadaliev. In the ring Roman was a tough, exciting fighter, who didn't hit hard, but hit a lot, and really was a high tempo, high schooled fighter who had real grit, determination and an amazing will to win. He had long been under-rated and was now starting to get the respect he deserved.
Akhmadaliev was one of the many rising hopefuls in the division, and had been moved a lot more aggressively than any of the others. He, along with Stephen Fulton, Brandon Figueroa, Carlos Castro and Angelo Leo, looked like the new generation of fighters that the division needed. They weren't big names going into the year, though they were all expected to be part of the scramble to become the #1 man in the division. As part of that scramble Akhamadaliev had the first major opportunity as he took on Roman for the unified throne, in just his 8th professional bout. He had been a fantastic amateur, but had only been a professional for around 2 years and had only fought 28 professional rounds prior to this bout.
Heading in to this bout there was a genuine sense of excitement and anticipation. Could Akhmadaliev really be this special this early in his career? Was Roman going to have the experience and tools to over-come the confident upstart? From the off fans had a sense of anticipation and it was genuinely a fight that delivered.
The opening round was faster than a typical opening round. It wasn't a war, or an all out slugfest of an opening round, but it was a high tempo start to the bout, with both men boxing really well, and both showing some really high level stuff. Both were respectful of the other and both mixed stuff up really nice. For the most part Akhmadaliev was on the front foot, putting the pressure on, but Roman picked his spots well and it was a really close round fought at an incredible level.
In round 2 we saw the tempo step up again, as Akhmadaliev picked up his work rate, and forced Roman to come with him. This resulted in a genuinely brilliant round that saw Akhmadaliev being tagged early on, before recomposing himself and getting his own shots off. It was a continuation of the high level action of the opening round, with both men picking some fantastic shots, but it was high level action with an offensive edge. Both men were happy to lets shots fly, neither seemed happy to just sit back and instead both wanted to prove they could fight coming forward as well as going backwards.
The tempo again picked up in round 3, with Roman likely 2-0 and knowing he had to turn the heat up. It was heat that Akhmadaliev coped with without too many issues, and as the round went on he came back into the round himself, picking some sensational combinations and looking very composed for such a professional novice. Roman was having plenty of success but it never fazed Akhmadaliev who seemed very comfortable, and showed his brilliant amateur pedigree.
In round 4 Roman began to get a foot hold in the bout, amping up his pressure, working the body, and it seemed like momentum began to shift in the middle rounds. The champion was beginning to find his grove and it seemed to be at the right time. After all Akhmadaliev had only been beyond 6 rounds once, and there were question marks about his gas tank. The body work and extra aggression of Roman continued to play a factor through the middle rounds, along with some brilliant uppercuts that he used when Akhmadaliev left a gap up top. It was a sign that the champion had got a read on the challenger and that the momentum was turning.
Going into final rounds the scores could easily have been all over the place, though Akhmadaliev seemed to do enough in rounds 10 and 11 to take them. Albeit narrowly.
Heading into the final round it was clear this was a close one. Both men had had some great success at times, but it was going to be a hard one to confident say who was winning. Akhmadaliev had started so well, before Roman came back. And then Akhmadaliev gritted his teeth and showed his fire in the later stages, but was it enough for him to be in the lead?
Prior to the final round Roman's corner seemed unsure if their man was up, and told him he had to go for it. It seemed however that Akhmadaliev had been told it was in the bag as he got on his bike, a very risky strategy and one that could have bit him in the backside. Through the entire final round Akhmadaliev threw very little and let Roman dictate the round, until the dying seconds when Akhmadaliev finally let his hands go. By then he had given away the round. In fact it was the clearest round of the fight and the only one that seemed impossible to make any case of going the other way.
At the bell Roman celebrated, likely feeling the final round had been enough to see him keep the title, even if it was going to be a draw.
The three judges all turned in scores cards reading 115-113, showing just how close and competitive this was. Though thankfully for Akhmadaliev all 2 of those cards favoured him, crowning him the new champion in just his 8th bout. It was, however, a nail biter. A razor thin, highly competitive, totally compelling, highly skilled, high tempo chess match. This was brilliant... and sadly because it took part in January, was all but forgotten by fans come the "awards season" in December.
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.