After a tornado of action over the late summer period, Alex Dilmaghani will have the stage to himself on Saturday night as the season of boxing behind closed doors extends into autumn.
The super-featherweight, whose career has seen him go from the small halls of London to Mexico City to Canada and then back again, believes he stands on the verge of the big time as he aims to claim the European title from France’s Samir Ziani at a Yorkshire television studio.
It’s a substantial test for Dilmaghani, but the rewards are potentially huge. If a European title was no enough (the real European title, not the WBO or IBF regional belts) the winner could be one fight from a world title shot.
“It’s a world title eliminator basically,” Dilmaghani said. “It’s a good fight and excluding the two women’s fights (Taylor-Persoon and Harper-Jonas) and Dillian Whyte, it’s the biggest fight since lockdown.
“I’m looking at him like he is a steppingstone to a world title and he is doing the same to me. If he is approaching the fight with the same hunger and drive as me, it is going to be a very exciting fight.”
“We’re both southpaws, he’s very tough and will bring a lot of pressure,” Dilmaghani said. “I’ve got more skills, more technique, I’m quicker, have got better boxing ability and a bigger punch. I intend to display that.
“He is going to try and pressure me, going to try and force the pace, but I am well-conditioned, as you can tell from my last fight. I showed I can do 12 rounds at a high pace. He has been 12 rounds several times, but he hasn’t shown he can do it with someone throwing as many punches as me.”
Dilmaghani, 29, and Ziani, 30, are both at that now-or-never stage in their careers. It is Ziani’s second defence of the title, while Dilmaghani has his second shot at a breakthrough fight after drawing with Francisco Fonseca for the IBO title in November.
The fight with Fonseca is seen as one that slipped away. It was close, with a genuine split of opinion about who deserved to win. Dilmaghani believes the result turned over a cut he suffered from a clash of heads in the ninth round.
“There were people who thought he won, but some have looked back at the fight and seen that he wasn’t landing,” he said.
“I thought I was hard done by, a lot of people had me winning as well. Fonseca is a good fighter and it was a good experience going the 12 rounds, but if it wasn’t for the clash of heads causing a cut, I was going to win very, very comfortably.”
To some people, the idea of going a hard 12 rounds for the first time is a bit of a step into the unknown. For Dilmaghani, however, he never contemplated a problem with go flat out in his first title fight against Fonseca.
“I never had to prove to myself that I could go a hard 12,” he said. “I’m cut from a different cloth. I’m tough as nails, I’ve known that for a long time. All the time I’ve been boxing, I have been sparring killers. I’ve never been down, amateur, pro or sparring.
“I suppose it gives me confidence knowing that can do 12 rounds at a high pace.”
Victory over Ziani would push Dilmaghani to a different level.
“There would be lots of opportunities,” he said. “Say Carl Frampton;s fight with Jamel Herring doesn’t go ahead this year. I’d fight Frampton, definitely.
“But this is a great fight and it’s a proper fight. Victory is no given. The winner goes on top bigger and better things and as much as a European title means, a world title means more.
“I’m looking to make a real, real statement. It could go 12, I know this guy will bring a lot of pressure and has a lot of stamina, but, honestly, I think I will get to him mid-to-late rounds. I will hit him too clean, too often. We’ll see how tough he is when I hit him on a regular basis.”
Samir Ziani vs. Alex Dilmaghani plus Isaac Chamberlain is exclusively LIVE on free-to-air Channel 5 on Saturday night from 10pm.
Ron Lewis is a senior writer for Boxing Scene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 - covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.