Mario Barrios and Batyr Akhmedov are coming into Saturday night as undefeated 140-pound prospects. One of them is going to leave with a secondary WBA “world” title and status as a serious contender in one of boxing’s best weight classes.
Barrios, 24, and Akhmedov, 28, will fight for the vacant WBA strap on the Spence-Porter pay-per-view undercard. Josh Taylor is the most recent WBA 140-pound titleholder, and he’ll be elevated to “super world” status for his Oct. 26 showdown with IBF titleholder Regis Prograis in London, meaning that the ridiculous sanctioning body had a non-vacancy to fill.
But however you slice the absurdity of the WBA’s world title situations, this is a big fight for Barrios (24-0, 16 KO) and Akhmedov (7-0, 6 KO), and a chance for both men to prove they’re for real at 140.
Both talked about a “long road” to get here.
“Winning this fight would mean everything to me,” Barrios said. “This has been a long road and I’ve been very patient. My opportunity is finally here and I’m not letting it slip by.”
“This was a long road for me,” Akhmedov echoed. “Since my first day in boxing, I wanted to fight for the title. Now I’m one step away. I believe in myself and I believe that on Saturday I’m going to bring the belt home.”
San Antonio’s Barrios has been a carefully managed PBC prospect for a while now, gaining experience in fights he was meant to win — not avoiding risk completely, but always the favored man, always matched with some amount of caution. But the time is now for him, and he plans to announce his arrival as a real player.
“I see myself right there with the champions at 140 pounds,” he said. “I’m going to put them all on notice and the whole boxing world will have to take notice as well.”
Akhmedov admits he hasn’t personally put much time into studying Barrios, but that his team has, and he trusts they’ll have the right plan for him to execute.
“I don’t know much about Barrios and I haven’t watched his fights. My team has studied him and will come up with a great game plan,” he said. “My opponent will only fight the style that I allow him to fight.”
Barrios is looking to put San Antonio back on the map in boxing, too.
“It’s been a long time since San Antonio had a world champion and having this chance to be the first in a while, makes it that much better,” he said. “I promised my city a title when I turned pro, and it’s here now. No way I’m going home without that title.”
Akhmedov, who fought at the 2016 Olympics, says he’ll defy his skeptics — real or motivational — once again.
“I have been doubted my whole career,” he said. “People have always said that I was moving too fast in the pros. Now we’re on the eighth fight and I’ll prove everyone wrong again.”