LIKE many so-called “unification” fights, the meeting of “middleweight champions” Zhanibek Alimkhanuly and Vincenzo Gualtieri tonight (October 14) at the Fort Bend Community Center in Rosenberg, Texas sounded a lot more important and meaningful on paper than it was in reality. Similarly, the fact Alimkhanuly then stopped Gualtieri inside six rounds, and with relative ease, also sounds a lot more impressive on paper than it was in reality.

That’s not to say Alimkhanuly, 15-0 (10), wasn’t impressive in defeating Gualtieri tonight. He was. But it is important to point out that it quickly became clear we were not, despite the belts on the line, witnessing a competitive fight, never mind the two best middleweights in the world.

One day Alimkhanuly could become the best, of that there is no doubt. He has the amateur pedigree, the poise, the awkwardness, and hands heavy enough to hurt as many opponents as he bamboozles. Yet for now, although the middleweight division is desperate to herald the arrival of a new force in a post-Gennadiy Golovkin world, we must try to maintain some perspective and both view and rate Alimkhanuly on the basis of the opponents he is beating rather than the belts he is accumulating. (Two now, by the way: the WBO and IBF.)

That Gualtieri offered little in the way of threat tonight is not Alimkhanuly’s fault, of course, but it remains true nonetheless. At 30, the same age as Alimkhanuly, Gualtieri was a man seemingly good enough to grab a vacant IBF belt when outpointing Esquiva Falcao in his hometown of Wuppertal, but, alas, an elite-level fighter that does not make.

And so it proved. Outclassed from the outset, Gualtieri, 21-1-1 (7), struggled to make an impression on Alimkhanuly and was able to do very little to counteract the impact of the Kazakh’s jab and one-twos. He was sound defensively, and at times exploited his own awkwardness to decent effect, but rarely did he ever look like winning exchanges, much less rounds.

After four of them, all-one-sided, Alimkhanuly finally made a significant dent in Gualtieri in the fifth, when staggering him with an excellent left uppercut, and then, in the following round, a flurry of one-twos forced Gualtieri to the ropes in pursuit of either refuge or a mercy stoppage. It was there against the ropes he would stay, too, overwhelmed and suffocating, until referee David Fields, having seen enough, waved the bout off at the 1:25 mark.

All in all, if, by beating Gualtieri in convincing fashion, Alimkhanuly had wanted to send a message to the middleweight division, tonight this was probably achieved. However, the louder message, and the one boxing as a sport should try to heed, has less to do with Alimkhanuly’s brilliance and his overall danger at 160 pounds and far more to do with how so-called unification fights like Alimkhanuly-Gualtieri undermine and dilute what it really means to be a “world champion” in 2023.