By Craig Daly: IBF/WBA super bantamweight champion Murodjon Akhmadaliev (11-0, 8 KOs) defends against his #1 IBF ranked contender Marlon Tapales (36-3, 19 KOs) next in the spring in a fight that is said to be taking place outside of the United States.
Akhmadaliev will be making his fourth defense of his IBF & WBA belts that he captured three years ago. In three previous title defenses, Akhmadaliev defeated Ronny Rios, Jose Velasquez, and Ryosuke Iwasa.
He captured the IBF/WBA 122-lb belts with a narrow 12 round split decision over Daniel Roman in January 2020. In the three years that Akhmadaliev has held the IBF & WBA titles, he’s failed to substantially increase his popularity.
You can argue that the lackluster opposition that Akhmadaliev has faced in his three title defenses has held him back, as he should have made a move already to face Stephen Fulton, the WBC/WBO champ.
Unfortunately, it’s too late for that fight to happen now, as Fulton (21-0, 8 KOs) will be vacating his titles after his next defense and going up to featherweight  to begin campaigning in that weight class. What a shame.
Boxing fans were hoping to see the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Akhmadaliev face former three-division world champion Naoya ‘Monster’ Inoue next rather than the little-known 30-year-old Tapales.
It’s unclear why Akhmadaliev’s management is going the route of Tapales instead of Inoue because the Japanese star is interested in capturing all four titles at 122 as quickly as possible, and he’d likely jump at the chance to snatch Akhmadaliev’s IBF & WBA super bantamweight belts from him right away.
Could it be that ‘Monster’ Inoue is going to have problems trying to get title shots against Akhmadaliev and WBC/WBO champion Stephen Fulton? If so, it might be in Naoya’s best interest to move up to 126 and go after WBO featherweight champion Emanuel Navarrete, IBF champ Luis Alberto Lopez, WBC champ Rey Vargas or WBA belt holder Leigh Wood.
“The unified junior featherweight championship bout is slated to take place in early spring, likely outside the U.S.,” said Mike Coppinger of ESPN.
Tapales comes into the fight with Akhmadaliev having won his last three contests against obscure opposition. His victories came against Eden Sonsona, Hiroaki Teshigawara, and Jose Estrella.
For whatever reason, the IBF felt those were good enough wins to give Tapales a #1 ranking with their organization. In December 2019, Tapales was knocked out in the 11th round by Ryosuke Iwasa.