MARLON Tapales scored a huge upset after dethroning previously undefeated Murodjon Akhmadaliev by a razor-thin split decision to win the International Boxing Federation (IBF) and World Boxing Association (WBA) super bantamweight belts on Sunday, April 9, 2023 (PH time) at the Boeing Center of the Tech Point in San Antonio, Texas.

Tapales, who came into the fight as a 1:5 underdog, got the nod of two of the three judges. Judges Sergio Caiz and Jose Roberto Torres had identical scores of 115-113 for Tapales, while judge Javier Alvarez saw it way differently and had it 118-110 for Akhmadaliev.

Tapales had a strong start and landed the cleaner punches in the first few rounds. Tapales landed power shots in the second round that caught the attention of the defending champion.

Akhmadaliev came alive in the later part of the fight and started to connect with his left.

The 31-year-old Tapales, however, outboxed Akhmadaliev in the 11th round. The Uzbek star, who had a three-year reign in the super bantamweight division, felt the sense of urgency but his effort wasn’t enough in two of the three judges’ eyes.

“It’s a really big win for me because this was for my career and for my family. All of my team, thank you so much for helping me guys. We did it,” Tapales said after the fight. “He’s a very talented guy. He’s had a lot of amateur fights. He’s a good fighter so I doubled and tripled my effort for this training camp.”

Tapales had a long wait for this fight to happen, almost two years, but his patience paid off. Tapales was ordered by the IBF to be Akhmadaliev’s mandatory challenger at the end of 2021 after an impressive second-round knockout of Hiroaki Teshigawara in an IBF super bantamweight title eliminator in Carson, California. However, the IBF and WBA decided that WBA No. 1 contender Ronny Rios should get the title shot first. Tapales had to sit it out for a few months and fought an activity fight against Mexican journeyman Jose Estrella, whom he knocked out in two rounds last May 14, 2022 in Carson.

Tapales and his team will be closely watching the upcoming fight between World Boxing Council and World Boxing Organization (WBO) super bantamweight titleholder Stephen Fulton and Japanese superstar Naoya Inoue on July 25, for a possible world title unification bout.

“We will be ringside for that fight,” MP Promotions president Sean Gibbons said of the fight between Inoue and Fulton.

Tapales improved to 37-3 with 19 knockouts, while Akhmadaliev, a former Olympic bronze medalist, suffered his first career defeat and dropped to 11-1 with eight knockouts.

With the win, Tapales became a two-division world champion and joined WBO minimumweight king Melvin Jerusalem as the Philippines’ two current world champions.