SAN ANTONIO – Israil Madrimov could have taken a far safer route for a stay-busy fight while awaiting his first career title shot.

The undefeated mandatory WBA junior middleweight contender was impressive in turning away a grueling test from Houston’s Raphael Igbokwe to earn a ten-round points win. Judges Jesse Reyes (99-91), Javier Alvarez (100-90) and Sergio Caiz (99-91) all scored the bout wide for Madrimov in their DAZN-aired bout Saturday evening from Boeing Center at Tech Port in San Antonio, Texas.

The bout took place above the junior middleweight limit, where Madrimov is one of four mandatory challengers in queue for a shot at undisputed 154-pound king Jermell Charlo. Madrimov weighed a career-heaviest 158.8 pounds and appeared to carry the extra weight well.

More importantly, he was able to handle the physical presence of a naturally bigger opponent. Igbokwe insisted that the gym space he shares with reigning major titlists Regis Prograis (WBC junior welterweight) and O’Shaquie Foster (WBC junior lightweight) had him in a championship state of mind in the biggest fight of his eight-year pro career.

There were concerns of the Houston native entering on the heels of a 17-month layoff and the lone stoppage defeat of his career. Igbokwe came ready for the late-arranged bout, as he offered a healthy mix of ring smarts and physicality to never allow Madrimov to develop a sustained offensive attack.

Madrimov attempted to put in work when on the inside but found his greatest success when able to create separation and box from the outside. Igbokwe offered effective lateral movement early in the fight but employed a punch and clinch style later in the fight whenever at close quarters.

Both boxers fought through fatigue in a spirited ninth-round that produced raucous cheers from their respective fan bases. Madrimov was getting the better of the exchanges but Igbokwe remained his face as he flicked left hands from the outside.

Madrimov landed a left hand from the southpaw stance early in the tenth and final round. Igbokwe took the shot well, as was the case when Madrimov landed a right hook over the top inside the final minute of the contest. Madrimov continued to swing for the knockout but Igbokwe managed to force the Uzbek to hear the final bell for the first time in two years.

Igbokwe’s valiant effort came at the expense of his second straight defeat as he fell to 16-4 (7KOs).

Madrimov advanced to 9-0-1 (6KOs), though his next move isn’t immediately clear.  

Saturday’s bout came about late, for the sake of getting the undefeated Uzbek back in the ring. He hadn’t fought, since a truncated third-round technical draw with Michel Soro in their July 9 rematch at The O2 in London.

The sequel came seven months after Madrimov became the top contender for the WBA title under dubious circumstances when he was awarded a controversial ninth-round stoppage in their December 2021 bout in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Soro was competitive for much of the night but badly hurt towards the end of round nine. He attempted to clinch his way out of trouble but referee Salvador Salva did not hear the bell and let the action continue, at which point Madrimov pummeled Soro into submission.

An official protest was filed, though all that came out of it was an immediate rematch which ended in a technical draw. Soro suffered a cut and was unable to continue in their DAZN-aired bout.

Eddie Hearn, Madrimov’s co-promoter along with Vadim Kornilov, told that he intends to push the WBA to enforce his mandatory status later this year. They will have to wait out a non-title clash between Soro and Russia's Magomed Kurbanov, which will take place May 6 in Ekaterinburg, Russia. 

The bout headlined DAZN’s ‘Before the Bell’ preliminary show preceding the four-fight main card. The evening’s headliner pits local hero Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez (17-0, 11KOs) and Mexico’s Cristian Gonzalez (15-1, 6KOs) in a scheduled 12-round bout with the vacant WBO flyweight title at stake.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox