Two undefeated pro boxers in Britain’s Josh Kelly and Uzbekistani fighter Bektemir Melikuziev return to the ring in January 2021 with both out to enhance their reputations and extend their records.
Sunderland-born pugilist Kelly, 26, is the WBA international champion at welterweight, although that strap is not on the line in his bout with European titleholder David Avanesyan. He brings 10 wins and a draw – the latter against Ray Robinson via the judges’ majority decision in Madison Square Garden in his penultimate fight on the undercard of Anthony Joshua’s shock defeat by Andy Ruiz Jr – into the contest.
Kelly’s opponent Avanesyan provides a good examination of his credentials. A relative veteran aged 32, the Russian is a former interim WBA welterweight champion who lost to Lamont Peterson back in 2017. Avanesyan became European champion in that category in March 2019 and this is his third defense of the belt.
He remains well-regarded with four major boxing organizations placing him between tenth and sixth in their world rankings. Although Avanesyan is an even-money chance in the latest boxing betting on his fight with narrow odds-on favorite Kelly, he brings a chequered 26-3-1 record in the paid ranks and has lost two of his last six bouts.
Former multiple light heavyweight boxing champion Sergey Kovalev is a major underdog, meanwhile, on native Russian soil against Melikuziev. Now in his twelfth year as a professional, the veteran has shared a ring with Nathan Cleverly, Bernard Hopkins, Jean Pascal, Andre Ward and latterly Saul Canelo Alvarez.
After being beaten in four of his last eight fights, Kovalev who traded losses and the WBO light heavyweight title with Colombian boxer Eleider Alvarez in 2018 and 2019 doesn’t boast the best recent record. He now tries to bounce back against the 2016 Rio Olympics silver medallist at middleweight Melikuziev.
An amateur Asian champion in both that class and at light heavyweight, the Uzbekistan fighter only turned professional 18 months ago. Melikuziev has quickly racked up a 6-0 undefeated streak in the paid ranks, including a victory that brought the vacant WBO intercontinental super-middleweight title with it when last in action.
He has been mixing it up between that category and light heavyweight throughout his amateur and professional career to date. At 24, Melikuziev still has many more fights in front of him and that is why he is a hot favorite to hand Kovalev another loss in Moscow’s grand Luzhniki Palace of Sports
This is Kovalev’s 40th pro bout but only the fourth time in a decade that he has stepped into the ring on home soil. Much of the Russian’s career has played out on pay-per-view across the Atlantic in North America, and the betting suggests he is up against here.
Melikuziev is long odds-on to make it a magnificent seven out of seven as a pro, so Kovalev is up against it despite the experience edge he brings to the table. His opponent could be one that goes all the way to the top at light heavyweight in time if fulfilling his potential.