This past weekend we saw Uzbek sensation Murodjon Akhmadaliev (8-0, 6) claim the WBA "super" and IBF Super Bantamweight titles with an excellent win over Daniel Roman. The performance, in just his 8th professional bout, was a real statement from Akhmadaliev, despite a bizarre 12th round, and a sign of the rising wave of the Uzbek fighters, which include the likes of Israil Madrimov, Bektemir Melikuziev and Bakhodir Jalolov.
With his win at the weekend it's going to be interesting to see what Akhmadaliev does next. The Super Bantamweight division is a very interesting one, and as a double champion there are some very interesting potential moves for "MJ" going forward. So with that in mind lets look at Five for... Murodjon Akhmadaliev
1- Ryosuke Iwasa (27-3, 17)
The obvious next next fight for "MJ" is a mandatory defense of his titles against IBF "interim" champion Ryosuke Iwasa. If MJ avoids this fight, for whatever reason, he'd likely be stripped of the IBF title and given how he spoke about being a unified champion we don't imagine him wanting to relinquish either belt any time soon. In the ring this would be a really interesting match up. It would be the first time MJ has fought a hard hitting southpaw, though he has faced two lefties already in his career, and would also see whether or not Iwasa has figured fellow southpaws himself, or whether his performance against Marlon Tapales was a fluke. Given the heavy hands both men have we wouldn't be surprised to see this one end inside the schedule and for both to be rocked at some point.
2- Emanuel Navarrete (30-1, 26)
Whilst Akhmadaliev may be a unified champion there are still titles out there for him to go and capture. The reality is that a bout between "MJ" and WBC champion Rey Vargas wouldn't be an enjoyable watch, however a fight between the unbeaten Uzbek and marauding Mexican Emanuel Navarrete would be something special. It would be beautifully brutal, with both men firing off heavy shot. It would be "Vaquero's" pressure, against MJ's movement and boxing ability, it would be champion against champion, and it would be stylistically the most pleasing and exciting unification bout the division could give us right now. This would be something to get very, very excited about.
3- Daniel Roman II (27-3-1, 10)
Lets be honest the first fight between Akhmadaliev and Daniel Roman was good, really good...so good we want to see it again! Of course with the bout being a WBA mandatory there's no obligation for "MJ" to give Roman a rematch, but it did seem like both wanted to do it again, and we sure as hell would love to see them go again. Their first bout showed they were well matched, and with 12 rounds already between the men we would love to see what changes they make for a rematch. We would expect more output from Roman in the early going, especially given the way he seemed to have Akhmadaliev in trouble in the final round, whilst we expect Akhmadaliev to pace himself just a tough more and be able to fight hard in the final round. Alternatively the first 12 rounds may have allowed one man to find a weakness in the other they could exploit early in a rematch. Although we don't expect this to be next, we do expect this to be excellent when, and if, it happens.
4- Brandon Figueroa (20-0-1, 15)
Another really interesting match up from a style point of view would see "MJ" take on "The Heartbreaker" Brandon Figueroa. Whilst Akhmadaliev is the WBA "Super" champion Figueroa is the "Regular" WBA champion, so it would get rid of one of those pesky WBA belts, at least temporarily. MJ would certainly be favoured over the unbeaten Figueroa, but that doesn't take away from the fact this would be very, very exciting to watch and would see him up against a big, strong, powerful and aggressive foe. In many ways this would be like Akhmadaliev facing a lesser quality version of Emanuel Navarrete, and would work as a nice tune up for a bout with the Mexican down the line.
5- Naoya Inoue (19-0, 16)
Possibly entering to the realms of a dream fight here, but "MJ VS The Monster" is a mouth watering proposition, and potentially something we'll see somewhere down the line. In terms of height and reach the guys are very similiar, but both are also very different. MJ is probably the better boxer, and the better mover, but we suspect Inoue is the better puncher, and and the slightly quicker on the trigger. Either way we would love to find out, in what would be arguably the most intriguing bout either could have. This would see Inoue stepping up in weight again, attempting to become a 4-weight champion, but again given the fact the men are so similar in size, we wouldn't imagine that being a problem. In fact instead size being the key to victory it would be what they can do in the ring, and we would love to see match up of sensational young champions at some point, preferably sooner rather than later.
The new year is fast approaching and I'll be honest I'm really excited about the coming year. It's fair to say that 2018 has been a great year for boxing, despite being a pretty poor year on a personal level, but I'm expecting 2019 to be even better as the sport continues to develop, and be reshaped into something more and more spectacular. If I'm being honest I suspect 2019 may well be one of the best year's the sport has had in a very long time, building on the momentum of a great 2018.
With that in mind I've put together 5 predictions for the new year, and how I think they will effect the boxing world in general
Naoya Inoue wins the WBSS
An obvious one to start with. Japan's Naoya Inoue is strongly favoured to win the WBSS Bantamweight series and for good reason. "The Monster" is one of the few fighters who really lives up to his reputation every time he steps in the ring, and in 2018 he quickly despatched recognisable foes Jamie McDonnell and Juan Carlos Payano without breaking a sweat. I suspect that his current impressive run takes him to the Muhammad Ali Trophy in the coming year, beating Emmanuel Rodriguez in the Spring before winning the final in the Summer. After that it's unclear whether he'll immediately look for bigger challenges at Super Bantamweight or will look to clean up at Bantamweight, with a potential fight against Luis Nery certainly a possibility.
Fast Tracking continues
If we've seen anything really come to the fore these past few years it's been that fast tracking has really exploded. No longer is it just a Japanese and Thai thing but we're seeing Europeans, and Central Asian's fighters all stepping up incredibly quickly. I suspect that actually intensifies in the coming year, with more and more fighters shrugging off the usual preliminary stages of their professional careers and being moved aggressively. Lu Bin was too aggressively matched, but I expect others, like Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Apichet Petchmanee, Ginjiro Shigeoka and Israil Madrimov, to be competing for world titles within 7 fights. Top amateur fighters making their debuts next year will also be pushed hard early on.
A big year for India
Top Rank have made a very conscious effort in signing two of the most notable Indian fighters, Vijender Singh and Vikas Krishan, and I suspect that will only be the start for what could be a massive year for Indian boxing. The market is ripe for surge, and top young amateur fighters like Amit Panghal and Gaurav Solanki could well have professional promoters trying to snap them up as key figures for the long term growth of Indian boxing. The sport isn't huge in India, yet, but with over 1,000,000,000 people living there the potential is massive, if a promoter can sign the right fighters and work well with the local media. It will be a risky market to jump into but given the right promoter it could end up being a game changer. I also expect to see aforementioned Vijender Singh challenge for a world title before the end of 2019.
Boxing Grows in non-Boxing Countries
It's not just India that I expect to see boxing grow in but also Vietnam, Teipai, Malaysia and Singapore. We've certainly seen Singapore and Malaysia develop their scenes recently, but Vietnam and Teipai will likely follow suit, albeit for different reasons. Malaysia and Singapore are key hubs for the area, and money in those countries towards boxing has grown due to the promoters wanting to build the scenes. For Vietnam and Teipai however it seems likely that the OPBF will be the fulcrum behind their growth, and the development of the OPBF Silver titles, specifically in those two countries, will be key. In fact we could see that extending into other locations like Mongolia as the OPBF become more than just a title body but also, in association with the JBC, an overseer of several, non-boxing countries as they plant seeds of potential growth.
An Uzbek Take Over
It's hard to believe that only two Uzbek fighters have ever won world titles, Artur Grigorian and Ruslan Chagaev. This coming year I'm expecting that to change and wouldn't be massively surprised to see that number double in 2019, with the likes of the aforementioned Akhmadaliev along with Shakhram Giyasov, Elnur Abduraimov and Kudratillo Abdukakhorov all likely to be fighting for world titles by the end of the year. The Uzbek take over will be a hostile one, as the fighters look to put not only themselves on the boxing map, but also their country and we suspect the number of Uzbek amateurs turning professional will grow substantially in not only 2019, but also 2020. Uzbek fighters who miss out on the 2020 Olympics will likely jump at the chance to turn professional, and I expect them to do so with a lot of ambition to climbing the rankings as quickly as possible.
Thinking Out East
With this site being pretty successful so far we've decided to open up about our own views and start what could be considered effectively an editorial style opinion column dubbed "Thinking Out East" (T.O.E).