EXCLUSIVE: Akhmadaliev Expecting Great Fight against Tapales, Hopes for Inoue-Fulton Winner

Unified 122-pound champion Murodjon “MJ” Akhmadaliev thinks he is on a different level from challenger Marlon Tapales and hopes to face the winner of the Stephen Futon-Naoya Inoue clash and become undisputed champion.

Akhmadaliev (11-0, 8 KOs) is coming off a unanimous decision win over Ronny Rios in San Antonio last June; he will be returning to the same site for his title defense against Tapales (36-3, 19 KOs) in the co-main event of Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez’s defense of his WBO flyweight title against Cristian Hernandez on April 8. 

“He’s a southpaw. Quick, strong, big puncher,” said Akhmadaliev of Tapales, who won a vacant bantamweight title in 2017 before losing it on the scales in his first defense. “But I’m coming into the ring with one intention, to defend my titles. Only the ring can show who’s the better fighter. But honestly, I think I’m just at a different level. All around, I think I’m a better fighter.”

Akhmadaliev turned professional in 2018 after a storied amateur career that included bronze at the 2016 Olympics and silver at the 2015 World Championships, and that background has, he says, been instrumental in his success so far as a professional. Equally as important, he insists, is having the right people around him.

"I’m still learning, I’m still picking up things, I’m trying to get better as much as I can,” he told ProBoxTV News through an interpreter. “I had 300 plus amateur fights, 200 of which were international, world level. I do have that background. I also have a background of being injured, of being hurt in camps and things like that. So, I try to use everything as a lesson. I feel it myself from fight to fight that I’m getting better, I’m getting stronger, I’m getting physically more fit, I’m getting ready to go 12, 15 rounds. It's no problem for me now, whereas three or four years ago it was a big issue. Thanks to my coaches, thanks to my management team, we're managing to get the best out of me. When I turned pro, I asked Allah to give me a good team, to surround me with good people, and thank God I am very happy with them, but that’s all part of the process. My team, my management team, my coaches, my amateur coaches – without one of these links, the whole chain would be broken.”

Also key to his well-being, he says, are his friends and fellow pugilists, welterweight Israil Madrimov and super middleweight Bektemir Melikuziev – both of whom are, like Akhmadaliev, from Uzbekistan – and Kyrgyzstan-born light-heavyweight kingpin Dmitrii Bivol. All four are now based in Indio, California, which Akhmadaliev says is the ideal location. 

“California is the best place for us. The whole team is here. Bek is here, Israil is here, Bivol is here. My friends since childhood, we were living together and training together. We always try to support each other. We always try to pick each other up and give advice to whoever is fighting. I will always try to give any advice I can, and the other guys will always try to help me. Being in California automatically puts you in the regime: eating, sleeping, training; eating, sleeping, training. That’s all we do.”

Akhmadaliev won the WBA and IBF titles when he outpointed Daniel Roman via split decision in January 2020; Tapales will be his fourth defense. The other two belts are in the possession of Fulton, who was scheduled to defend them against undisputed bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue on May 7, in a clash that has now been delayed by an injured knuckle suffered by Inoue in training camp. And he acknowledges that holding all four is a clear goal.

“Most definitely,” he admits. “My priority right now is Tapales. I’m not looking past him. But as a professional, as a champion, as a boxer, my goal is to be undisputed and that’s what I’m aiming for. That’s the opportunity that I want. So, if the other guys fight, then that’s what I would like next – if inshallah, I am successful in my title defense.”

As for who he would be more likely to face for that undisputed championship, he isn’t sure.

“Honestly, I would love to tell you something, but I can’t, because first of all, I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen much of them both. I think I’ve seen one fight of Fulton, the one with Figueroa – and maybe one against the Ukrainian guy [Arnold Khegai], but not much other than that. Inoue, I’ve seen a couple of fights. I enjoyed watching him, but I never looked at it to study him, so it’s hard for me to say. I’ve seen a little bit more of Inoue and I think that he’s all-around a great fighter. He's a more well-rounded fighter, and the fight being in Japan probably will also help him. I just wish them both good luck and the best health in their training camps, and I just hope we can figure out who’s the best man. But other than that, I can’t predict. I see it as a great fight, a clash of styles, may be the best man win, and God bless them and their training camps.”

Before that can happen, though, he must first deal with Tapales – and, while confident of victory, the Uzbek is also expecting fireworks.

“It’s definitely going to be a great fight because we’re very similar in style. We both can punch, we both come to fight. I believe it’s going to be a good fight. I will try my best to use my best abilities – my power, speed, ring IQ, everything – and the ring will show everything.”

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