It was the biggest fight of Bakhram Murtazaliev’s career, and considering that he was facing Germany’s Jack Culcay in Germany for the vacant IBF junior middleweight title, it was going to be his toughest.

So how was Murtazaliev, a 31-year-old Russian contender, going to respond?

He made it tougher.

“For me, it's no problem to fly somewhere to fight in somebody else's backyard,” said Murtazaliev through translator Daniel Bagdasarov. “What was the most difficult is, they offered me a fight during Ramadan and I had to keep fasting. So I was fasting throughout the day and I was only training at night, so I couldn’t be 100 percent myself because, again, I was fasting and my schedule was very hard.”

How hard? As Bagdasarov explains, during Ramadan the sacrifices made are tough enough for any Muslim. When that Muslim is a top-level professional boxer preparing for a major fight, raise that degree of difficulty tenfold.

“You can't have water and food from about 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.,” Murtazaliev said. “It switches every day for a little bit. So you can only eat in the evening. And what we used to do is, our training session will be around 9:30, 10 p.m. We’ll train until midnight and then [I] will go to sleep for two, three hours. Then [I’ll] wake up, go run, eat and then go back to sleep. So [I] had two workouts pretty much back-to-back. And after the road work, [I] went back to sleep, woke up in the middle of the day, no food, no water. And then, in the evening, [I eat and go] back to training.”

It sounds exhausting. To live it had to be worse. But for Murtazaliev, there was no other option. He had his long-awaited title fight and wasn’t about to let it slip away. And he was going to prepare for it without abandoning one of the pillars of his faith.

“It’s very simple,” Murtazaliev said. “For me, number one is my faith, then my family, then my friends and then work. Boxing is my job. I was made by God and I have to live by his rules.”

No matter what you believe in, you have to respect that kind of discipline in a day and age when it’s sorely lacking.

“Because it’s inside of me, I accomplished what I accomplished,” he said. “In today’s world, there are so many bad temptations. We live in a horrible time, and the rules that I follow and the faith that I have, it helps me to be where I’m at right now.”

If you haven’t guessed yet, Murtazaliev is now the IBF junior middleweight champion of the world. On April 6, he knocked Culcay out in the 11th round of one of the better fights of the first half of 2024. And that has opened up a whole new chapter for Murtazaliev, a 22-0 (16 KOs) Grozny native.

Although a Southern California resident these days, Murtazaliev is back in Russia to see his parents and get a little R&R before getting back to work.

“Everybody [at home] was very excited. I live and train in the U.S. and I already have good friends in the U.S., so the only thing I miss is my parents,” he said of his return to Russia. 

But can he find good Russian food in California?

“California has good food, but the way how my mom cooks, nobody can beat that,” Murtazaliev said with a laugh, and we understand. Now the only problem is making sure he doesn’t blow up to heavyweight with that home cooking, because he has plenty of great matchups to be made at 154 pounds. And he wants them all – just give him a date and location.

“I have my manager Egis Klimas, I have my coach Roma [Kalantaryan], I have my promoter [Main Events], and I think they need to decide who I need to fight,” he said. “They need to do their job. My job is to train, stay ready, avoid injuries. If you ask me, personally, of course I want to fight the big names. I want to fight the names that made their mark in boxing history, such as [Errol] Spence that just moved up to 154, such as [Sebastian] Fundora that has two world titles. So if you ask me, of course I want to fight big names that make history in boxing. But at the same time, I have my team, and my team needs to decide who I'm going to fight next.”

It's the right thing to say, so I remind him of an Instagram post he made that contained a clip from a film and a caption that read, “Dream big.”

What’s the big dream?

“My dreams are not connected with this world,” said Murtazaliev. “I have goals, and my goal was to become a world champion, which I did. And now my goal is to go after more titles, unified titles. I waited for four years for a fight for the title. That didn’t happen. So finally, I fought for the title. So my goal is to fight to unify the titles and to leave a good name in boxing history.”