This coming Saturday in San Antonio, we'll see unified Super Bantamweight champion Murodjon Akhmadaliev (10-0, 7) defending his WBA "super" and IBF Super Bantamweight titles, as he takes on Ronny Rios (33-3, 16). The bout will be Akhmadaliev's third defense of the title he won in 2020, when he beat Danny Roman in a sensational bout, whilst it will also serve as the second world title shot for Rios, who came up short in 2017 against Rey Vargas in a competitive contest. It will also be a bout between two legitimate top 10 fighters at 122lbs, which is one of the most interesting division's in the sport right now, and is one that has the potential to be something very special.
Aged 27 Akhamdaliev has been moved through the ranks like very few others. He turned professional after an impressive amateur and was world ranked within a year of his professional debut. By late 2019 he was knocking on the door of a world title fight, and were it not for an injury to Danny Roman there's a good chance that "MJ" would have won a world title in September 2019. Instead he had to wait for Roman to recover, with the two men clashing in January 2020, with Akhmadlaiev taking a split decision, and the the unified IBA/WBA "super" titles. That was in just his 8th professional bout. Sadly Covid has stopped his rise to stardom, and since winning the titles he has fought just twice, beating the then IBF mandatory challenger Ryosuke Iwasa and beating late replacement Jose Velasquez, who replaced Rios for a bout late last year when Rios contracted Covid19.
In the ring Akhmadaliev can pretty much do it all. At his best he's a patient, but aggressive, pressure-puncher. He's naturally heavy handed, puts his shots together well, picks his moments and applies mentally draining and consistent front foot pressure. When he needs to box he can, as we saw against Roman, he can also change the tempo of bouts, and it a very complete all rounder. At times he can fight the wrong fight, an unfortunate consequence of being such a brilliant all rounder, but he's able to adapt and take control when he needs to. For a man with just 9 bouts to his name he has already proven he has world class power, hurting Danny Roman and stopping Ryosuke Iwasa, he has great stamina, going 12 rounds and picking up the pace in some of the later rounds against Roman, and he's proven he can take a shot, as he showed against Roman. The one question mark about him, is whether he can come out on top in an intense inside war, and that's hopefully something we'll see later in the year in a potential clash with Stephon Fulton.
Rios was a solid amateur himself, not the level of Akhmadaliev who competed at the very highest level of the sport but a solid one who twice won US national championships. Aged 31 Rios is a very experienced professional who debuted as a professional back in 2008 and ran off a very impressive 23-0 (10) record before losing in an upset to the always unpredictable Robinson Castellanos. Prior to his first loss he had notched notable wins over Andrew Cancio and Rico Ramos. Rios would bounce back well from the loss to Castellano by scoring 5 wins, including a victory against Jayson Velez, before getting a shot at WBC Super Bantamweight champion Rey Vargas. Despite losing to Vargas he did give the talented Mexican a really tough bout and showed he belonged at that level, but soon afterwards suffered his third loss, a KO defeat to Azat Hovhannisyan, which seemed to spell the end of his career at the top level just as it seemed he belonged there. Amazingly however he has rebuilt and won 4 in a row, including very solid wins over Diego De La Hoya and Oscar Negrete, to earn this show at Akhmadaliev.
In the ring Rios is a fun fighter to watch. He likes to set a good tempo, let his hands go, and is a technically very good fighter, usually. He is however a fighter who has been stopped twice, and does make mistakes, as we saw repeatedly in his bout to Hovhannisyan who rocked him in round 3 and stopped him in round 6. His recovery ability is questionable, and whilst he knows how to survive, he is the type of man who can take a long time to clear his head when hurt. When facing fighters who don't have fight changing power, he is an awkward, aggressive fighter who can be a nightmare for many in the division. Sadly though with his stoppage losses, and his overall performance against Hovhannisyan, there will always be question marks about his heart, desire, and will to win. He has done a lot to answer those questions, but we will always wonder if he can turn things around when the going gets tough.
We suspect Rios will be hungry to make a statement, and will look to press the fight early, taking the fight to Akhmadaliev. Sadly for him we don't see this as a tactic that will actually work. Instead we see his aggression being used against him as he essentially walks into Akhmadaliev's range, and ends up taking big shots from the champion. He might have some moments, but Rios' success will come at a price and he will take a lot of punishment. In the middle rounds that punishment will take a toll on Rios who will come undone completely and be stopped, for the third time in his career.
Prediction - TKO7 Akhmadaliev
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The biggest fights get broken down as we try to predict who will come out on top in the up coming world title bouts.