Murodjon Akhmadaliev punched his way back into contention for the division’s top prize.

The dethroned unified WBA/IBF junior featherweight titlist battered previously unbeaten Kevin Gonzalez en route to an eighth-round stoppage. Akhmadaliev scored two knockdowns each in rounds six and eight. The fourth and final knockdown produced an immediate stoppage at 2:48 of the eighth round in their WBA title eliminator Saturday evening at Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale, Arizona.

Akhmadaliev vowed to jump out to a quicker start, a lesson he claimed to have learned in a stunning defeat to Marlon Tapales earlier this year. The setback not only ended his three-year WBA/IBF junior featherweight title reign but cost him a shot at fully unifying the division versus WBC/WBO champ Naoya Inoue (25-0, 22KOs), whom Tapales will face later this month in Tokyo.

That promise was well-intended, but Gonzalez also had a say in not allowing the Uzbek southpaw to enjoy an early lead. The fighting pride of Culiacan landed straight left hands in the opening round, while Akhmadaliev connected with counter right hooks but seemed to be a step behind.

Akhmadaliev picked up the pace in round two and was quicker to the draw. Gonzalez still found a home for his left hand out of the southpaw stance. It still wasn’t enough to the liking of head trainer Jacob ‘Panda’ Majal, who delivered a tongue-lashing prior to the start of round three for his charge to take the lead.

The advice was absorbed but not entirely carried out. Akhmadaliev settled into a groove and consistently beat the undefeated challenger to the punch. Akhmadaliev landed a double right hook at the start of round four. Gonzalez too the shots well but found himself trapped in the ropes where he ate a left hand before referee Mark Calo-Oy separated the two.

Akhmadaliev continued to surge ahead in round five before he broke the fight wide open in the sixth. Gonzalez’s face was bloodied and defense leaky as he was caught with a straight left and an uppercut. The Mexican contender fell to a knee where Akhmadaliev landed another left before the referee intervened to send him to a neutral corner. Gonzalez beat the count but was ruled down later in the round in a sequence that appeared to be a slip.

The threat of a stoppage was raised but Gonzalez begged for at least one more round to turn the tide. He made it through the seventh relatively unscathed, after which ‘Panda’ insisted that Akhmadaliev already offered his best. However, he also disclaimed that he needed to see marked improvement from Gonzalez or else he would pull the plug.

Akhmadaliev made the call that the corner failed to do.

The heart was there for Gonzalez but the fight was beaten out of him by that point. Akhmadaliev methodically picked apart his battered foe and scored the third knockdown of the night with a vicious left uppercut. Gonzalez once again beat the count and was permitted to continue but a follow-up power-ounching barrage by Akhmadaliev forced the stoppage.

Gonzalez fell to 26-1-1 (13KOs) with his first career defeat.

Akhmadaliev advanced to 12-1 (9KOs) with the win. He is now the WBA mandatory contender but will have to wait for his shot at his old title. The Inoue-Tapales winner is required to next face former two-division titlist Luis Nery as the overdue WBC mandatory challenger.

Headlining the DAZN show, IBF flyweight titlist Sunny Edwards (20-0, 4KOs) and WBO claimant Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez (18-0, 11KOs) collide in a scheduled twelve-round unification bout between unbeaten title holders.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox