Friday, May 12, 2023

Zhanibek Alimkhanuly: The Next Star Of The Middleweight Division?

The 160lb. Middleweight division in addition to being one of the most competitive throughout the history of Boxing is also a division that has been defined by fighters that have through their success in the weight class, have gone on to be stars in the sport with many ultimately being regarded as legends when their careers are over. In recent times the fighter most identified with the Middleweight division has been two-time Middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin, who's first reign as champion saw him tie the record set by Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins for most consecutive successful title defenses of twenty.

Throughout Golovkin's reign, which this observer chronicled as "A Path Of Destruction" due to Golovkin also compiling a streak of knockouts in addition to making a run for the record held by Hopkins, I also routinely discussed the parallels between him and another legendary Middleweight world champion, the late great Marvelous Marvin Hagler in that much like Hagler, Golovkin literally forced his way to a position where he was regarded as a star in the sport, despite several fighters who had that star label choosing to avoid fighting him and used his reign atop the Middleweight division to do it. As most know in Golovkin's case, it eventually led to his trilogy with Saul "Canelo" Alvarez where two of the three fights ended in controversial decisions that many felt should have gone Golovkin's way, not all unlike Hagler losing a close and controversial split decision to Sugar Ray Leonard in April 1987 and with it the loss of his Middleweight crown.

Following his second loss to Alvarez in September of last year, where he moved up in weight to challenge Alvarez for his Undisputed Super-Middleweight world championship, Golovkin appears to be heading to retirement as he began relinquishing world championships that he had once again unified during his second reign, which began in 2019 following his first loss to Alvarez in their second fight in 2018 at Middleweight. Ironically, as one fighter's career appears to be at its end, the vacancies created by Golovkin relinquishing his portions of the World Middleweight championship has given way to a new world champion, who like Golovkin, might be the next star to carry the division.

Enter Zhanibek Alimkhanuly. Alimkhanuly similar to how Gennady Golovkin initially became a world champion, earned his position by becoming a mandatory challenger for then WBO world champion Demetrius Andrade. When Andrade decided to vacate his world championship and move up to the 168lb. Super-Middleweight division, Alimkhanuly per his holding a mandatory challenger position and with it, an interim champion designation, became the recognized WBO Middleweight world champion. With his reign now recognized, Alimkhanuly now prepares for what will be the second defense of his title when he faces WBO number six rated Super-Middleweight contender Steven Butler on Saturday, May 12th at the Stockton Arena in Stockton, CA.

The story going into this fight, which can be seen here in the United States on digital subscription sports streaming network ESPN+ is largely what type of champion Alimkhanuly might be. While this will be his second defense of a reign that initially began under an interim champion designation, Alimkhanuly does have a limited, but impressive resume to this point being unbeaten in thirteen professional fights with nine knockouts. The most recognizable name on the champion's record to date is former WBO Middleweight world champion Hasan N'Dam, whom Alimkhanuly defeated in November 2021 via stoppage.

A recurring theme that will be present at least for a while assuming that Alimkhanuly is able to keep his portion of the World Middleweight championship is he will likely be facing fighters with more experience in terms of professional fights than he has. It is a scenario that he will face in going against Steven Butler.

Butler, a former Canadian amateur champion, has a respectable record of 32-3-1, with 26 Knockouts coming into this challenge for a world championship in what will be the first world title fight in his career. Butler had previously come up short in attempting to secure an interim designation when he was stop by Ryota Murata in 2019. Despite having more experience than the champion coming into this bout, a potential red flag against Butler is he has been stopped in each of his three losses. What Butler does have going for him in addition to having more professional experience than the champion is he has won his last four fights and it will be interesting to see what he brings with him in this fight against a fighter in Zhanibek Alimkhanuly that has yet to be tested thus far in his career.

Ultimately, despite the unknowns that surrounds Zhanibek Alimkhanuly, despite being a world champion, due to his limited experience, what will hang over the Middleweight division at least for the immediate future if Gennady Golovkin does decide to retire, will be a period of transition where both contenders and world champions try to establish themselves as the division's next central figure. Whether Zhanibek Alimkhanuly or Steven Butler are among the fighters who will be vying for that position in the post-Golovkin era of the Middleweight division remains to be seen.

"And That's The Boxing Truth."

Alimkhanuly vs. Butler takes place on Saturday, May 13th at the Stockton Arena in Stockton, CA. The fight as well as it's full undercard can be seen in the United States on digital subscription sports streaming network ESPN+ beginning at 6:10PM ET/3:10PM PT. ESPN+ is available through the ESPN app on mobile, tablet, and connected streaming devices/Smart TVs. For more information about ESPN+ including schedules, list of compatible streaming devices, platforms, Smart TVs, and to subscribe please

*Check your local listings internationally.*

*Card and start time subject to change.*

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