The bell is supposed to end the round. 

Everyone has to hear it first.

Last December, Uzbeki Jr. middleweight hopeful Israil Madrimov (8-0, 6 KO) stepped up for the toughest test of his career. France’s Michel Soro (35-3-1, 24 KO) had never been stopped and since 2012 had lost only a competitive split decision to future titlist Brian Castano. The cards in their WBA eliminator indicated a fight still up for grabs after eight rounds with one even and another favoring Madrimov by two points.

Late in the ninth, Madrimov rocked Soro with a right hand and pursued his wounded prey into the ropes, opening up with both hands. Referee Salvador Sala was taking a close look, so close that he missed the sound of the bell to end the round. So did Madrimov. The leather kept flying until Sala waved it off several punches after the bell should have saved Soro from that fate.

While the result remains, the unfortunate result merited a do-over. Madrimov and Soro will resume hostilities Saturday on the undercard of Kubrat Pulev-Dereck Chisora II (DAZN, 2 PM). It should be another good fight but nothing at Jr. middleweight can be viewed in a vacuum.

Madrimov, 27, is fighting for a chance to be a WBA mandatory. So is Soro, 34. That means a chance at 32-year old undisputed champion Jermell Charlo (35-1-1, 19 KO) for both combatants this weekend and any other hopefuls at 154 lbs.

It will remain that way for as long as Charlo holds all the hardware in the division.

Against that backdrop, a Madrimov win would add to an intriguing picture in a weight class that has seen outstanding work over the last six years from a range of global and US talent. We’ve seen classics like Jarret Hurd’s battles with Erislandy Lara and Julian Williams, big upsets like Jeison Rosario-Julian Williams, and generally enough parity for the sort of consistent drama that marks an era as truly memorable. 

Lara is gone to middleweight. Williams, Rosario, and Hurd have all faded from the top of the class. What is emerging behind them is a new wave of challengers to the throne with the promise to stretch this era forward another year or three before it’s really done.

Along with the winner this weekend, the best positioned contenders to Charlo according to each sanctioning body are:

    WBC Interim - Sebastian Fundora (19-0-1, 13 KO)

    IBF #1 - Bakhram Murtazaliev (20-0, 15 KO)

    WBO #1 - Tim Tszyu (21-0, 15 KO)

One intangible that stands out about each of these threats is their age. None are 30 yet and all are ranked in the top ten by TBRB and/or The Ring. Russia’s Murtazaliev is the least tested so far as a professional and is the oldest at 29. Tszyu, the son of great former Jr. welterweight champion Kostya Tszyu, is the same age as Madrimov. Fundora, a 6’5 freak of nature fresh off a Fight of the Year contending win over Erickson Lubin, is just 24. 

If Madrimov wins again to join them this weekend, it sets up a group of fresh challengers for Charlo that are all younger than the champion and all without any knowledge yet about what defeat tastes like. 

That’s a hell of a reload.

They might not all get a shot. Charlo could always move to middleweight or give up a belt or three along the way because it’s simply more cost efficient to do so. A rubber match with Tony Harrison, technically the WBC’s #1 contender, wouldn’t draw reasonable complaints.  The lure, and payday attached, in a showdown in 2023 with the winner of a possible welterweight unification between Errol Spence and Terence Crawford would trump meeting mandatories.

Then again, Charlo might try to line them up and keep his trophy case intact. There is drama and danger in that scenario worth getting excited about. Most of these fresh faces are still developing. They’ll keep getting better while Charlo gets a little older with each passing fight. Speculation is Tszyu could be the first to get a shot. Both he and Fundora would appear to have inside track given relationships with the PBC. The PBC has cultivated most but not all of the division’s top talent. 

Other challengers provide the added threat of shifting the balance of power outside the ring. There’s intrigue there as well.

For now, Madrimov has to do again what he did last winter and this time within the official time constraints. We’ll have to wait to see if he, or anyone else, is ready to make their time now if and when they challenge Charlo for the throne.      

Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.  He can be reached at