One of the best things about the Super Middleweight division is the depth in the contender range, which has a mixture of former champions, rising hopefuls, and fighters from various parts of the globe. Not only is there good variety, but there is also good solid talent through out, and interesting styles.
If you missed our look at the champions that can be read here - The state of the Division - Super Middleweight - The Champions
Anthony Dirrell (32-1-1, 24)
Although not as gifted as brother Andre, Anthony Dirrell does appear to be the more true fighter, and has the grit and determination that would have made Andre a very special fighter. At the age of 34 Dirrell is getting what looks likely to be his final shot at the top, and although he's getting on, and has had a hard career, he is very much a solid fighter. He is a former WBC champion, having beaten Sakio Bike for the belt in 2014, but lost it in his first defense, so Badou Jack back in 2015. Since losing the title he has gone on a 5 fight winning run to land himself a shot at the vacant WBC title on February 23rd against Avni Yildrim.
Avni Yildrim (21-1, 12)
Having mentioned his name it makes perfect sense to go in depth about Turkish fighter Avni Yildrim, who will be looking to claim his first world title when he faces Dirrell. The Turk is a bit of a basic fighter, but at 27 he is in his physical prime and has reeled off 5 wins since losing to Chris Eubank in the WBSS in 2017. Although he is best known for the loss to Eubank ,Yildrim isn't actually a bad fighter, and holds wins over Glen Johnson, Marco Antonio Periban, Ryan Ford and Lolenga Mock. He does seem to be relatively inconsistent though and doesn't do anything special, meaning that he should be there for the taking against Dirrell.
Chris Eubank Jr (27-2, 21)
Second generation fighter Chris Eubank Jr is a very good natural athlete who has chose to follow his father into boxing. He's quick, powerful, strong and tough. Sadly however he lacks the boxing brain, and hasn't really shown what he truly can do, instead of showing how good of a boxer he can be he tends to spend more time moving around, posing and trying to play up to the crowd. If he can make the most of his natural gifts with a new trainer there's no doubting he can go all the way to the top. Sadly though he has suffered losses to two fellow British fighters, Billy Joe Saunders and George Groves, who made the most of Eubank's low boxing IQ to defeat him. He'll be back in the ring on February 23rd when he takes on another Brit, James DeGale.
James DeGale (25-2-1, 15)
Olympic gold medal winner James DeGale was once tipped as a star, but appeared to turn professional with the wrong attitude and fans quickly turned on him early in his career. In fairness however DeGale has turned fans to his side in the later stages of his career, with notable performances against the likes of Andre Dirrell, Lucian Bute, Badou Jack and Caleb Truax. Sadly the tough bouts against Jack and Truax have taken their toll and it's unclear what the 32 year old still has left in the tank. Although a natural talent DeGale did at times show a real sense of laziness in the ring, and that has long been a problem. At 32 it's hard to imagine him showing the energy that was often lacking earlier in his career.
Jose Uzcategui (28-3, 23)
Hard hitting Mexican based Venezuelan Jose Uzcategui recently lost the IBF title to Caleb Plant, in what was a really compelling match up. The exciting Uzcategui is technically a little on the limited side, but is very heavy handed, aggressive and determined. He's unlucky to have 3 losses on his record, with a DQ loss against Andre Dirrell really being harsh, though he has scored notable wins over Julius Jackson, Andre Dirrell, in a rematch, and Ezequiel Osvaldo Maderna. He's not looked his best since winning the IBF title in early 2018 and we do wonder if a move up to Light Heavyweight will do him the world of good, as he looked slow and sluggish early on against Plant. we don't expect to see Uzcateguin in the ring any time soon, but we do look forward to his return.
David Benevidez (20-0, 17)
Hard hitting David Benevidez is one of the top youngsters in the sport, and actually won the WBC title back in 2017, when he defeated Ronald Gavril. Sadly his reign was interrupted after issues with recreational drugs, and he's now been out of the ring since February 2018. Blessed with brutal power, and solid boxing skills the 22 year old does seem like he could be a major player for the next 10 years or so, but will obviously need to sort out his out of the ring issues to do that. He'll be back in action in March, and should he win that he will likely look to recapture the WBC title, from the winner of the Dirrell Vs Yildrim fight.
David Lemieux (40-4, 34)
Canadian puncher David Leemieux has long been a fixture on the Middleweight scene, but has had repeated issues with making the 160lb limit. With that in mind it's expected that he will make the move up to Super Middleweight. In terms of power he should have more than enough on his shots to hurt fighters at 168lbs, though his lack of reach and size is likely to be a problem for him, and he had short arms even at Middleweight. At the age of 30 it does seem like Lemieux should roll the dice, move up and see how he can do, as he has had so many issues making the Middleweight limit, that it's simply not worth boiling down for again. He's popular, exciting and well backed, so shouldn't struggle to get notable bouts at 168lbs going forward.
Azizbek Abdugofurov (12-0, 4)
Uzbek 26 year old Azizbek Abdugofurov looks to be the best hope for Central Asia and at one point it was hard to imagine not going to the top. He started his career in 2016 and immediately looked like a star in the making, taking his first title, a regional WBC belt, just 2 months after his debut. Sadly he hasn't really shined since then, despite scoring wins over notable names like Sirimongkol Singwancha, Martin Fidel Rios and Dmitrii Chudinov. He is still young and could improve but there is a feeling that he doesn't have the power he will need to make an impact at the top, and he's gone the distance in his last 8 bouts. He's a talent, but certainly needs to have a big 2019 to stay in the mix with some of the other top contenders.
Jesse Hart (25-2, 21)
American Jesse Hart is a 2-time world title challenger, having lost two competitive decisions to Gilberto Ramirez in bouts for the WBO title. Hart, a second generation fighter following in the footsteps of Eugene "Cyclone" Hart, has proven to be a talented boxer-puncher. He was a standout amateur, racking up an 85-11 record in the unpaid ranks, and has been a solid professional who will almost certainly get another shot sooner rather than later. Although talented Hart has some clear technical flaws to tidy up, and we dare say if he can sort those out he could end up going all the way. He is a "nearly man" at the moment, though with his likable personality and relatively exciting style he will get more chances.
Rocky Fielding (27-2, 15)
It's hard to know what to make of 31 year old British fighter Rocky Fielding. At times he looks solid, and like he belongs to be in the list of contenders, and other times he doesn't. He did notable take the WBA "regular" title from Tyron Zeuge last year, but had it ripped form his hands in 3 rounds by Saul Alvarez. His other loss was a opening round defeat to Callum Smith. So it's clear he's well below the level of those at the top of the division, but he has wins over Zeuge, John Ryder and Christopher Rebrasse, show that, at worst, he's a solid European level fighter. We suspect we'll see what he has left in his next serious outing, and we may also find out what desire he still has left as a fighter.
John Ryder (27-4, 15)
Englishman John Ryder may have lost to Rocky Fielding but there is no reason that the 30 year old Southpaw isn't to be regarded as a prospect himself. In fact since that loss to Fielding, in 2017, Ryder has reeled off 3 of his best wins, stopping Patrick Nielsen, Jamie Cox and Andrey Sirotkin, to keep himself in the world title mix. Although he's on a good run of stoppages Ryder isn't a big puncher, he's more a talented boxer, who has started to sit on his punches more. He began his career at Middleweight, losing a razor thin decision to Billy Joe Saunders, lost by stoppage to Nick Blackwell and then found a real lease of life at Super Middleweight. Sadly though he is small for the weight, and there is a feeling that a top guy would out power him. Still he's hard to ignore and is certainly on the verge of a wold title shot.
Erik Bazinyan (22-0, 17)
One of the lesser known contenders is Canadian based Armenian Erik Bazinyan, who looks to be the a contender worthy of attention. The hard hitting 22 year old made his debut in 2013, when he was just 18, and has been busy since then. As with most fighters his early record isn't worth getting too excited about, but he has stopped 14 of his last 16, including Adrian Luna Flores, Francy Ntetu, David Zegarra. Managed by the well respected Eye of the Tiger Management he has a strong team behind him and could be the gem of the division. We suspect he might be a year or two away from a title fight, but with the wins he's been getting it's going to be very hard to hold him back. A really exciting contender, and someone every one should be following.
Shefat Isufi (27-3-2, 20)
The world rankings throw some weird things at us, and one of the weirdest could be the fact the WBO's #1 ranked contender at Super Middleweight, at the time of writing, is Shefat Isufi. We at Asian Boxing tend to think that we're pretty knowledgeable about global boxing, but we hadn't heard of Serbian born German Isufi prior to starting this article. The 29 year old has been a professional since 2010 and was 12-2-2 (8) after 16 fights. Since then he has gone 15-1 (12) but only really beaten David Zegarra, taking far longer than Bazinyan, and Uruguayan veteran Radael Sosa Pintos. There is almost nothing else of note on his record, and it's almost impossible to work out what he's done for his world ranking. A really odd ranking from the WBO.
Vincent Feigenbutz (30-2, 27)
Whilst Isufi has a weird ranking his fellow German Vincent Feigenbutz is well deserving of a world rankings. The 23 year old, who debuted at the age of 16, is already a young veteran with 32 fights on his ledge. He would lose in his second bout but bounce back and reel off 20 wins, picking up a WBA title along the way. A loss to Giovanni De Carolis in 2016 derailed his rise to stardom but he has bounced back with 9 wins since then and has scored stoppages in his last 4 wins. He is strong, powerful, heavy handed and technically decent, but has areas to improve on before moving to the top for another world title shot. A proper contender, who is perhaps just a win or two away from a world title fight.
Historically the Super Middleweight division has been dominated by European fighters, with British boxers in particular having a great history there with the likes of Joe Calzaghe, Carl Froch and the recently retired George Groves being huge stars there. Today though the division has sort of shifted with a new found Mexican influence at the top.
So lets begin by looking at the top guys at 168lbs.
Callum Smith (25-0, 18) - WBA "super" (0 defenses)
English boxer-puncher Callum Smith claimed the WBA "super" title in 2018, when he won the Super Middleweight WBSS and stopped George Groves. Despite that being his first world title bout he had long been considered as one of the truly elite fighters in the division, having held English, British, European and WBC "Diamond" titles. At 28 Smith is in his physical prime and is a huge and imposing fighter at 168lbs. Sadly his size is likely going to be an issue and force him to move up sooner rather than later. However, as long as he's at 168lbs he will be one of the top guys there, and one of the best body punchers in the sport today. There are some technical flaws to work on, but the reality is that he's a big, strong, powerful talented guy who will typically be able to overpower more skilled foes.
Gilberto Ramirez (39-0, 25) - WBO (5 defenses)
Another huge fighter at the weight is unbeaten Mexican Gilberto Ramirez Sanchez, who has held the WBO title since April 2016. The 27 year old Mexican is seen as a fighter who may be moving up in weight sooner rather than later, as he's huge and stands over 6'2". Fighting out of the southpaw stance Ramirez has the hall marks of a big Mexican star. He's talented, looks good, can be exciting, if matched properly, hits hards and has good boxing fundamentals. Sadly his recent performances haven't been great, and his competition hasn't allowed to really show what he can do. He also seemed to suffer an injury last time out, so it could be a bit of wait until he faces another top name.
Caleb Plant (18-0, 18) - IBF (0 defenses)
Unbeaten American Caleb Plant, dubbed "Sweethands", showed how good he was in January when he dethroned Jose Uzcategui in LA, to claim the IBF title. The talented Planet proved he his harder than his record suggests, dropping Uzcategui twice, as managed to show great hand speed, movement and activity, at least early on. He struggled late in the bout, in what was only his second 12 round bout. Despite holding a world title Plant looks like a fighter who is still a work in progress, but the 26 year old American is certainly a solid boxer, with a likable personality and a back story that will have fans on his side for a long time to come. It's hard to imagine him beating any of the other champions at the weight, but in reality there's not many contenders that would be clearly favoured over him, and if he improve as we expect than he could end up having a very good reign.
Saul Alvarez (51-1-2, 35) - WBA "regular" (0 defenses)
A bit of an oddity here is that Saul "Canelo" Alvarez is the WBA interim champion, having won the belt in late 2018 from Rocky Fielding. That win showed that Canelo, at 168lbs, still holds a punch but appears to have been little more than a 1-off, for now. The 28 year old Mexican icon has since announced that he will be dropping back down to Middleweight to face Daniel Jacobs in a WBA "super", IBFand WBC Middleweight title unification. Alvarez will certainly end up at 168lbs down the line, but for now he's a Middleweight who dipped his toes at Super Middleweight and picked up a secondary title.
Whilst the Middleweight division doesn't appear to have much depth in terms of contenders it does have some really interesting fighters rising through the ranks right now, and they are a very varied bunch of fighters from all over the globe.
For those who missed our looks at the champions and contenders at Middleweight those were covered here:
The state of the Division - Middleweight - The Champions
The state of the Division - Middleweight - The Contenders
Christian Mbilli (13-0, 13)
One of the best prospects in world boxing, regardless of weight, is Cameroonian born French fighter Christina Mbilli, who is looking like one of the most outstanding Middleweight hopefuls out there. He was a stellar amateur, winning gold medals at the European Youth, European Union and European Olympic qualifiers, and competed on the WSB. Since turning professional less than 2 years ago he has ripped through his competition, stopping his 13 foes in just 38 rounds. His competition hasn't been the strongest, but he has taken the unbeaten record of Ramon Aguinaga and smashed through Mexican Luis Fernando Pina. At 23 years old he should be regarded as one of the hottest fighters in professional boxing and someone to seriously keep an eye on.
Serhii Bohachuk (12-0, 12)
We know how there's a Ukrainian take over of boxing with the likes of Vasyl Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk and Oleksandr Gvozdyk all holding world titles and all set out to prove they are. There is also a second wave of Ukrainians below those top tier fighters, and including in that is 23 year old Serhii Bohachuk. The youngster made his debut in early 2017 and has gradually stepped up his competition, whilst running through fighters. Dubbed "El Flaco" he is certainly explosive and appears to have no issues making Light Middleweight, at the moment, but clearly has the frame to fill into a very strong Middleweight. A long term prospect, but one well worthy of attention.
Kazuto Takesakao (10-0, 10)
Japanese Middleweight champion Kazuto Takesako isn't the next Ryota Murata, but the 27 year old is a legit prospect, and a really heavy handed, aggressive and exciting fighter, who usually comes forward, and always throws with bad intent. His KO win over Shoma Fukumoto was a big coming out win, and since the he has won the Japanese title and defended it once, with his next defense set for March. There are technical issues he needs to sort before progressing beyond regional level, but he has suggested that he wants to unify the Japanese title with the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles, so it's clear that he's looking to make gradual steps upwards, towards a world title fight. One to watch, but not one who will be in the world mix in the next 12 months.
Meiirim Nursultanov (10-0, 8)
The 25 year old Meiirim Nursultanov is one of two notable Kazakh prospects at Middleweight, and is probably the better of the two, if we're being honest. The Oxnard based, Klimas managed fighter turned pro in late 2016 and has been moved gradually through the rankings, with his best wins coming in his last 2 bouts. In late 2018 he stopped Jamar Freeman and began his 2019 with a win over Ramon Aguinaga. He's young, very powerful, and has been sparring with top competition, helping develop his skills, though he is still some way from a big fight of his own.
Misael Rodriguez (8-0, 4)
Talented Mexican Misael Rodriguez won a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics and is tipped to turn that medal into professional titles under the guidance of Abner Mares and Richard Schaefer. The talented 24 year old debuted in 2017 and although easy so far he is a fantastic talent who is getting experience and being developed by a fantastic team. Although talented it's unclear how talented he is given the level he's been fighting at, but given his amateur credentials and the team involved with him it's hard to not be excited about him. Sadly he appears to be a long term project, and it could be 3 or 4 years before we see him in really meaningful fights, though he is scheduled to fight just hours after this article goes live.
Artem Chebotarev (6-0, 4)
At the age of 30 Russian fighter Artem Chebotarev will need to make a big step up this year, but he did show signs of doing that last year, so we will give him the benefit of the doubt. He was a stellar amateur, winning a gold at the European Championships in 2010 and a bronze at the 2013 World Amateur Championships. He won the APB title in 2016, and scored notable wins in both the APB and the Amateurs. Sadly those side ventures meant he didn't make his "proper" professional debut until January 2017. In his debut year he went 4-0 (3) and scored a notable win over Nuhu Lawal. He built on that start in 2018 and ended the year with a big win over Javier Francisco Maciel, though did lose 12 months out of the ring. If he can score 1 or 2 big wins this year he will certainly be in the title mix by the end of the year.
Ulugbek Khakberdiev (5-0, 3)
Unbeaten Uzbek hopeful Ulugbek Khakberdiev has had a frustrating career so far. He turned professional in 2017 and beat Karen Avetisyan, a very under-rated journeyman. He really came to our attention in September 2017, when he stopped Dmitry Sukhotsky, in what should have been a huge break out win, but he would then have a break from the ring losing momentum and not fight for over 7 months, before picking up a low key win in Uzbekistan. Sadly he's again been inactive, and hasn't fought since May 2018. Given how talented, promising, heavy handed he is there is so much to be excited about, and at 26 he does have time on his side, but needs to get active after essentially wasting the last year and a bit. He's too good to not fight, but it appears there is something keeping him inactive, and that is a huge shame during what should be the start of his prime years.
Janibek Alimkhanuly (4-0, 1)
Whilst top Uzbek amateur fighters have taken immediately to the pros, some of the top Kazakh amateurs have taken a few fights to adapt. It appears another Kazakh who hasn't quite settled to the professional style yet is the unbeaten Janibek Alimkhanuly, who looks to have the tools to go a long way, but just needs a little bit of time. As an amateur he won the World Amateur Championships, the Asian Championships, twice, and competed at the Olympics. As a professional his career has been stop start, but he's now based in the US with Top Rank and has fully committed to being a professional boxer. He's notched recent wins over tough competition, in the form of Carlos Galvan and Vaughn Alexander and we're expecting to see him really spread his wings in 2019, with some top performances as he continues to adapt to professional boxing.
Whilst the champions at Middleweight are exciting the Contenders unfortunately don't have great quality running through them, with a few standouts, a few unproven fighters and a few that seem to be making up the numbers.
We covered the champions here, The state of the Division - Middleweight - The Champions, if you missed it
Gennady Golovkin (38-1-1, 34)
The standout contender at Middleweight is Kazakh puncher Gennady Golovkin, a former unified champion and the man who was long considered the best in the division. He lost his belts in controversial fashion last year, losing a razor thin decision to Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, after having previously fought to a draw with Alvarez. Although still an elite level fighter we do wonder what his body has left in it, and he turns 37 in April. There is no set future plan for Golovkin and he is yet to announce which TV network he will be working with after the demise of HBO's boxing content. It's assumed he will head over to DAZN but no announcement has yet been made, and he may find himself frozen out of big fights until early next year.
Billy Joe Saunders (27-0, 13)
Another former champion in the division is England's Billy Joe Saunders, a controversial figure who has really harmed his career with out of the ring activity. The out of the ring issues saw Saunders turn many against him last year, before he failed a drug's test and forced the cancellation of a bout against Demetrius Andrade in late 2018. He's now been ordered to fight Adrade, in a mandatory title shot, but will receive a very low share of the purse and may well look else where. Saunders is a talented southpaw, and seemed set to become a star following his impressive win over David Lemieux, but the out of the ring issues has certain killed his moment.
Ryota Murata (14-2, 11)
Former WBA "regular" champion Ryoto Murata has blown hot and cold through his career, and at 33 it's not clear how much the 2012 Olympic champion can actually improve. Murata is a heavy handed and physically strong pressure fighter, but he's very basic, rather slow and can be out worked, out manoeuvered and outsped. At his best he's a tank but his title loss to Rob Brant last year showed just how limited he can be when fighters with good lateral movement and combinations face him. That loss was his only clear loss, with the other being a very controversial decision that was later avenged. He's hugely popular in Japan, but we do wonder if he will get another chance at the top given how poor he was against Brant.
Jason Quigley (15-0, 11)
Unbeaten US based Irishman Jason Quigley had long been linked to a fight with Murata, prior to Murata's loss to Brant, and as with many Irish fighters he does have a notable and loyal following. Despite that, following he is lacking in terms of notable victories and doesn't seem to have progressed in the way many had expected. As an amateur he won a Silver medal at the 2013 World Amateur Championships and a Gold medal at the European championships. He's been a professional since 2014, and whilst he is just 27 his best wins are against the like of James De La Rosa and Glen Tapia, rather than true top contenders.
Sergiy Derevyanchenko (12-1, 10)
Talented Ukrainian 33 year old Sergiy Derevyanchenko proved he belonged at world level with a good showing against Daniel Jacobs last year. He's a technically solid fighter, who is strong and has decent power, but at the age of 33 and given his lack of size he may well find himself unable to get the big win in the division. He was a standout in the WSB but turning professional in 2014 may well have cost him his peak years and it's hard to know how long he really has at the top. He's a fantastic fighter, it just feels like his career will be coming to an end before it ever really got the chance to take off. He was avoided at times but seems to be a high risk-little reward opponent for anyone in the sport, and may well be avoided again until he's slipped to the point where another contenders fancies their chances against him.
Khasan Baysangurov (17-0, 7)
Russian born, Ukrainian based, 21 year old fighter Khasan Baysangurov is one of the youngest challengers in the division, and is lined up for a shot against Rob Brant in February. Despite being a relative unknown he has been picking up wins against the likes of Guido Nicolas Pitto and Paul Valenzuela Jr. Given the quality of those wins he certainly doesn't seem ready for a shot at Brant, and very much looking like a fighter being jumped up levels. He is a decent boxer, but lacks power, and is really a few years away from developing his man strength. In a few years time Baysangurov might be a very good fighter, but right now it's far too early for him to get a shot at the top level.
Matt Korobov (28-2, 14)
At 36 years old Korobov is one of the sports most frustrating talents. He was an elite amateur, twice claiming World Amateur Championship gold medals, and he turned professional in 2008 at the age of 25 with the potential to go all the way. His career showed early promise, but he could regularly put in the performance that he was capable of, often preferring to win safe rather than to shine. In 2014 he got his first shot at the big time, but was stopped in the 6th round by Andy Lee and since then his career has struggled to come alive, that was until last December when he challenged Jermall Charlo and give the unbeaten Charlo a real test. That loss raised Korobov's profile and could well lead to another shot in the near future.
Maciej Sulecki (27-1, 11)
Poland's Maciej Sulecki is a 29 year old who has been a professional since 2010, but only really began to make a name for himself in the last few years. Since 2014 he has scored notable wins over Grzegorz Proksa, Darryl Cunningham, Huge Centeno Jr and Jack Culcay, as well as giving Daniel Jacobs a much tougher than expected fight. He's tough, has a good engine and a fun to watch style, though his lack of power and technical flaws do seem likely to hold him back from being a champion. He's a fun fighter however and should be considered a main contender at the moment.
Jack Culcay (25-3, 13)
Former WBA Light Middleweight champion Jack Culcay was just mentioned as one of Sulecki's best wins and is a pretty decent fighter himself, though sadly he sort of sums up the gulf between the top contenders and the other contenders. Culcay was a notable amateur, winning the World Amateur Championships in 2009, and was regarded as a big German hope as part of the post Sturm and Abraham era. Sadly however he has failed to fill the void left by the great Germans that came before him. Culcay is a pretty standard level European fighter who won the European title last year, but vacated it before making his first defense. He will likely get a world title fight, but unless he improves drastically at 33 he will be little more than a contender, never doing enough to become a true champion.
Liam Williams (19-2-1, 14)
Talented Welshman Liam Williams is probably another fighter who should be regarded as a European level fighter looking to move up a level. The 26 year old is a fighter who does have plenty of skill, but often ends up in gruelling affairs, which is a shame as when he's on point he is a fantastic fighter. He made his mark mostly at Light Middleweight, but move up after a couple of losses to Liam Smith and look fantastic last time out when he stopped the touted Mark Heffron. He still has a long way to go to prove he's a world class Middleweight, but he's young enough to develop the experience and tools. Worries do remain about his stamina and toughness at the highest level, but he does deserve a mention here.
Esquiva Falcao (22-0, 15)
Brazilian fighter Esquiva Falcao is one of two Brazilian fighters who are looking to get title fights at 160lbs this year. The southpaw from Vitoria is a talented fighter who won a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics, a bronze at the 2011 World Amateur championships and competed in the WSB. As a professional his career hasn't really taken off, and at the age of 29 it's getting to the point where it really needs to move on to the next level. His best wins aren't anything special but his performances have, for the most part, been dominant and it's clear he can step up another level. Sadly his competition has been several levels below world class, and we really don't know how good he is.
Yamaguchi Falcao (16-0-0-1, 7)
The other Brazilian brother looking to win a world title is the other brother, Yamaguchi Falcao. At 31 he is now in the "now or never" territory in regards to stepping up in class. He's proven to be talented, though like his brother we really don't know how good he is, and he's yet to face anyone of any known quality. Like his younger brother Yamaguchi was a top amateur, taking a bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics and competing in the WSB. If he's able to get the push he needs this year he could certainly be managed into a world title fight, but it really does seem too late in his career for him to become the star that Brazilian boxing needs.
The Middleweight division, along with the Heavyweight, Light Heavyweight and Welterweight divisions, has typically been one of the key divisions in deciding the state of the sport. Right now however, it does feel rather lacking in terms of depth, despite having some of the sports biggest names. It's a division that is incredibly top heavy and very much lacking in depth. What also doesn't help is that between the champions there has been a lack of established reigns and defenses, making the division have big names but lack a long reigning center figure
Saul Alvarez (51-1-2, 35)- WBC, WBA Super (0 defenses)
Saul "Canelo" Alvarez is arguably the biggest name in boxing right, and commands an insane amount of attention, huge purses and mass fanfare when he gets in the ring. Whether you like him or not, and whether you feel he has had some favours from judges or not, it's undeniable that when Canelo fights the boxing world pays attention. His win over Gennady Golovkin last year, in what was a very controversial result, saw Alvarez claim the WBA "Super" and WBC titles, with the intention now being to unify them on May 4th against IBF champion Daniel Jacobs. Something that is worth noting about Canelo is that he is still looking to rebuild his reputation following a drug test failure in 2018, and it seems like he will look to make a point of proving he is a clean fighter at every opportunity.
Daniel Jacobs (35-2, 29) - IBF (0 defenses)
Canelo won his title in September and the following month Daniel Jacobs won the IBF title, taking the vacant title with a win over Sergiy Derevyanchenko. The IBF title had been stripped from Gennady Golovkin, prior to his rematch with Alvarez, opening up the opportunity for Jacobs to win the belt. The 31 year old, soon to be 32 year old, Jacobs is an exciting and flawed boxer-puncher. He's quick, explosive and a smart fighter than many give him credit for. He also has a heart warming backstory of surviving cancer to become a world champion. Sadly for Jacobs he has shown some fragility, having been stopped by Dmitry Pirog and been put down by Golovkin and Sergio Mora, but he seems to have shown the brains to counter-act his questionable chin. His bout with Canelo should be very interesting, and is one of the first true super fights of 2019.
Demetrius Andrade (27-0, 17) - WBO (1 defense)
Unbeaten American Demetrius Andrade is a talented yet incredibly frustrating fighter who seems to have been around for years, and actually debuted back in 2008. Despite his long unbeaten career he has failed to set the world on fire, or even really make the most of any opportunity he's had. He won the WBO title in October, when he defeated Walter Kautondokwa for the title which had been left behind by Billy Joe Saunders following a drugs test. Whilst Kautondokwa was an awkward fighter Andrade seemed to show no killer instinct. He made his first defense of the title this past Friday, and scored a bizarre stoppage over Artur Akavov, in what seemed to be an awful decision by Arthur Mercante. Andrade is a huge, awkward, fast, explosive southpaw, but lacks that something that could make a star. His reign is shrouded in controversy, due to the way Saunder's reign ended, and his performances have regularly failed to show just how good he is. If he can put everything together he could be a star, but it seems like he will never really show what he's capable of.
Rob Brant (24-1, 16) WBA "Regular" (0 defenses)
Once beaten American Rob Brant shocked the boxing world last year, when he upset Ryota Murata to claim the WB "regular" title. The 28 year old was another champion crowned in what was a division changing October, and he'll be making his first defense in February, when he takes on the unbeaten Khasan Baysangurov. From his 25 fights Brant is known for 2. One is the shock win over Murata in which he set an insane pace and out boxed the Japanese Olympic champion with ease. The other is his loss to Juergen Braehmer, which saw Brant looking rather clueless against the German veteran. He has clearly learned from that loss to the German and given his performance against Murata it's clear he is a very talented fighter, with under-rated power, and a great engine.
Jermall Charlo (28-0, 21) WBC interim (1 defense)
Jermall Charlo, the unbeaten twin of Jermell Charlo, won the WBC "interim" title last April when he stopped Hugeo Centono Jr in 2 rounds. Prior to winning the Interim title Charlo had a short reign at 154lbs, where he had held the IBF title and made 3 defenses. Charlo is a talented boxer-puncher, with very respectable power, but is technically not as good as he seems to think he is, as we saw recently when he was fortunate to over-come Matt Korobov. The win over Korobov looked comfortable on paper, against an old and inactive Russian challenger, and looked clear on the judges scorecards but the reality is that Charlo wasn't the clear winner in the eyes of the fans, and it seemed like he was really tested by the first skilled Middleweight he'd faced. Charlo will call for the big fights, but the reality is that he's not in the same league as the top 2 men in the division.
Although the Light Middleweight division has long been seen as the ugly step sibling of the Welterweight and Middleweight division it may be the most interesting division for prospects right now, with so many top young fighters looking to be fast tracked through the ranks. It's one of the few divisions, outside of the lightest divisions, where fighters look like they want to make a mark, and make their mark quickly.
If you missed our look at the champions and contenders in division, you can catch up here
The state of the Division - Light Middleweight - The Champions
and here The state of the Division - Light Middleweight - The Contenders
Israil Madrimov (1-0, 1)
Uzbek 23 year old Israil Madrimov made the headlines last November when he not only debuted in a 10 round bout, a real rarity, but looked sensational as he schooled, and stopped, Vladimir Hernandez, to claim the WBA Inter-Continental Light Middleweigth title. On his debut he showed everything a fighter could want to show. He was smart, accurate, quick, exciting, moved well, active and appeared to be able to switch hit with ease. He was a top amateur before turning professional, but unlike many he instantly looked pro-ready and like the sort of man who wants to make an impact, and do so quickly.
Abass Baraou (4-0, 2)
Another fight who looks like they are on the super-fast track is German 24 year old Abass Baraou. He made his debut in April 2018 and claimed the German title in his second professional bout. By the end of 2018 he had beaten Robert Maess and Sasha Yengoyan to really put himself on the map. Through his first 4 fights his opponents have had a combined record of 88-11-3. The German boxing scene needs a star and Baraou looks like he might be the one, with Sauerland clearly pushing him hard and fast. His next bout will be on February 16th, when he takes on former world champion Carlos Molina, and a win there would likely see him being put into bouts with world ranked opponents later in the year.
Nursultan Zhangabayev (6-0, 4)
Madrimov isn't the only Central Asian fighter on this list to have debuted in a 10 round bout. He is joined by unbeaten Kazakh Nursultan Zhangabayev, who debuted in China in 2016 beating Xingxin Yang over 10 rounds. Whilst technically a split decision the Kazakh appeared to dominate large stretches of the bout. Since then his competition hasn't been the most testing, but he did get a good win in December 2018 when he over-came Arnel Tinampay, who is much better than his record suggests. Sadly Zhangabayev's career has been a bit stop-start at times, but he is a natural talent and ending 2018 with 3 fights in 3 months shows there is eagerness to fight. At 26 he's young enough to put the past behind him, but needs to remain active in 2019.
Souleymane Cissokho (7-0, 5)
An Olympic medal doesn't assure a fighter of professional success, but it's hard to imagine 2016 Olympic bronze medal winner Souleymane Cissokho not going far. The unbeaten Senagalese born Frenchman was unlucky in major international competitions, facing Daniyar Yeleussinov in the 2016 Olympics and the 2013 World Amateur Champions, but still managed to impress in the unpaid ranks. Cissokho turned professional in 2017and has looked fantastic with his last win coming against Carlos Molina in June. Sadly his career has stalled a bit since that win, but he's expected back in the ring in February in a bout for the French national title against Romain Garofalo. At 27 years old it's clear he will be coming into his prime years and won't be wanting to tread water for long.
Mohammed Rabii (8-0, 5)
We don't tend to think of Morocco as a country that produces world class boxers, but in Mohammed Rabii they certainly have someone special. The 25 year old was a stellar amateur fighter, taking a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics, losing in the semi-final to Shakhram Giyasov, and winning the 2015 World Amatuer championships, beating Josh Kelly and Daniyar Yeleussinov along the way. Since turning professional he hasn't really blown fans away, but has shown a lot of promise and holds notable victories over veterans Giuseppe Lauri and Anderson Clayton. He's young enough to have another year of experience building, but it seems more likely that he'll pursue better opponents rather than staying busy and just padding his record.
Josh Kelly (8-0, 6)
"Pretty Boy" Josh Kelly is another of the fighters who shone as an amateur, winning a bronze medal at the AIBA Youth Championships in 2012, and competing at the very highest level in the amateur ranks. Although highly regarded amateur Kelly's style as a professional is less of a skilled technical fighter and much more of a slick fighter, with his hands down, drawing a lead to counter. He's an exciting fighter, and already holds wins over the likes of Carlos Molina and Kris George. Despite his style being a fun one to watch it does seem like a risky one, and it's going to be very interesting to see how it holds up against better competition. He's 24 years old, and turns 25 in March, so there is time to work on his style, but with Adam Booth working with him we suspect it's a style he'll be sticking with for the foreseeable future.
Anthony Fowler (9-0, 8)
Former Birtish amateur star Anthony Fowler is a controversial figure in some circles, but few can doubt his credentials with a Commonwealth games gold medal, as well as a bronze medal at the 2013 World Amateur Championships. Since turning professional, after the 2016 Olympics, Fowler has looked destructive against his competition so far. There is, clearly some question to be had over the level he's been fighting at, but the performances have been impressive and he's certainly showing the tools and spitefulness to go a long way. It's yet to be seen how he comes with a genuine threat at the weight, but we expect to see him answer some real questions in March when he takes on the unbeaten Scott Fitzgerald, in what looks like a good test. With his 28th birthday coming just weeks before the Fitzgerald fight it seems clear that he doesn't have much time to waste.
Bakhram Murtazaliev (14-0, 11)
Oxnard based Russian boxer-puncher Bakhram Murtazaliev had a relatively slow start to his career, being matched very softly in Russia for over 2 years. Since fighting in the US he has gone from strength to strength and has started to leave a glowing impression with early knockouts and dominant performances. He'll be back in the ring in February, against former world title challenger Elvin Ayala, and will be expected to have a break out performance at some point in 2019. At the age 26 he is coming into his physical prime and he has been a professional for close to 5 years, so there is no excuse to keep him on a leash any longer.
Ted Cheeseman (15-0, 9)
Another British prospect in the division is Ted Cheeseman, a 23 year old form London who is set for a big step up in class on February 2nd when he faces off against unbeaten European champion Sergio Garcia. That bout is a major step up for "The Big Cheese" and a genuinely good test. Given the talent coming through the ranks in the UK Cheeseman looks like he could end up being "the forgotten man" but he is a talented fighter and scored notable wins in 2018 over Carson Jones, for a WBA International title, and Asinia Byfield, to claim the British title. Given his age there is no need to rush him, but he has been linked, repeatedly, to a bout with the aforementioned Anthony Fowler, and that's a possible match up for later this year.
Carlos Adames (15-0, 12)
US based Dominican fighter Carlos Adames is a under-the-radar 24 year old who has been quietly building a reputation for himself with wins against the likes of Patrick Lopez, Ivan Alvarez, Carlos Molina and Joshua Conley. He will look to further enhance that record shortly, when he faces Juan Ruiz in what could be a bit of a coming out party for Adames. Prior to turning professional Adames had been a good amateur, and competed in numerous international tournaments. Hopefully a win against Ruiz will open the door for big fights later in the year as he looks to cross over from prospect to contender in the near future.
Whilst the world champions at Light Middle are a pretty interesting and exciting bunch it should be noted the contenders are also a really interesting mix, with some well known names, potentially at the end of their career's, and some emerging talent breaking through the ranks.
If you missed our look at the champions that's available here - The state of the Division - Light Middleweight - The Champions
Takeshi Inoue (13-0-1, 7)
On January 26th unbeaten Japanese fighter Takeshi Inoue will be getting his shot at the big time, as he takes on WBO Champion Jamie Munguia. The 29 year old Japanese fighter is totally unknown outside of Japan, and is no relation at all to Naoya Inoue, but he's already unified the Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles, during his short career. He was a top domestic amateur, who has been fast tracked through the regional scene and already has notable wins over the likes of Akinori Watanabe, Koshinmaru Saito, Yuki Nonaka and Ratchasi Sithsaithong. Sadly he's small at the weight and although aggressive and exciting will be the huge under-dog against Munguia.
Erislandy Lara (25-3-2, 14)
Cuban veteran Erislandy Lara is a fantastically talented fighter, and in his pomp he was one of the best in the division. He was able to box circles around good fighters and blast others out. Sadly his ability didn't match his performances and despite being able to do great things he often had a negative mentality in the ring, a mentality that saw his reputation become that of a dull fighter. It was often a case of winning first and foremost, rather than entertaining the fans. Sadly at the age of 36, and with tough, damaging, fights taking their toll on his body it's hard to know what he still has left. He did run Jarrett Hurd razor close last year, but took significant punishment in the later stages.
Kell Brook (38-2, 26)
Another fighter who has taken a lot of punishment recently is former Welterweight champion Kell Brook. Once regarded as one of the brightest talents in the UK Brook's career is really best known for 3 fights that took, and one that hasn't. He announced on the wider boxing world in 2014, when he beat Shawn Porter for the IBF Welterweight title, but a string of weak challengers killed his moment. He then suffered back to back stoppage losses to Gennady Golovkin and Errol Spence Jr and hasn't really shown that he's a world class fighter since then. Instead of showing what he has left he has faced less than stellar opponents and repeatedly called for a show down with Amir Khan, in a bout that is looking less likely by the day. Although a talented fighter Brook has had a hard career and despite "only" being 32 he is likely close to the end of his career.
Jermell Charlo (31-1, 15)
Former WBC champion Jermell Charlo may feel he doesn't belong here, in fact he likely feels like he was robbed against Tony Harrison back in December. The reality however is that Charlo has had a frustrating few years, calling for big fights but doing little to earn them, doing little to shine and regularly looking like a rather lazy fighter, who perhaps began to rely on his power a bit too much. Although very talented he, like Lara, often seems to have the wrong mentality in the ring. He was lucky that his power bailed him out when he was being out boxed against John Jackson and managed to over-come Austin Trout thanks to 2 knockdowns. Don't get this wrong, he is very talented, but will need to change his attitude if he's going to be the star his ego thinks he should be.
Julian Williams (26-1-1, 16)
Julian "J rock" Williams is one of the many fighters in the mix for a world title fight, which would be his second. He came up short against Jermall Charlo, back in 2016, when he was stopped in 5 rounds, and that seemed to be the bout where fans began to query about his chin. Whilst he doesn't seem the most durable, he is a very talented boxer-puncher, with more than respectable power. Through his career he has beaten the likes of Luciano Leonel Cuello, Joshua Conley, Ishe Smith and Nathaniel Gallimore. He's expected to get another world title fight this year, though was expected to face the aforementioned Takeshi Inoue in 2018, though negotiations for that bout never seemed to conclude before the fighters went in different directions.
Michel Soro (33-2-1, 22)
One of the top contenders, and most over-looked fighters in the division, is French fighter Michel Soro. Soro is a 31 year old who has been around for a long time. He made his debut in 2008, fought for the WBO title in 2012, losing a competitive decision to Zaurbek Baysangurov, and has struggled to get big fights since then, fighting decent contenders whilst trying to earn a shot. He's currently the WBA "interim" champion, and should really have been included in our "Champions" section, but the reality is that we don't think Soro is happy with an interim title, which he got from stopping Greg Vendetti in December, and instead he'll be wanting a shot at a real title this year.
Liam Smith (26-2-1, 14)
Former WBO world champion Liam Smith is one of the 4 fighting brothers from the Smith family in Liverpool, England. Despite losing the WBO title to Saul Alvarez in 2016 he has remained in the title mix, and fought Jamie Munguia for the belt back in July. At the age of 30 there is still life left in his legs, and having just signed with Matchroom Sport there are big openings for him, including a rumoured show down with Kell Brook in the UK. He's not an elite level talent, but is certainly on of the more notable names in the division and will remain in the title mix, especially with Matchroom behind him, for the foreseeable future.
Sergio Garcia (28-0, 13)
Unbeaten Spanish hopeful Sergio Garcia is set to have a major test on February 2nd when he travels to the UK to take on British prospect Ted Cheeseman, in what is very much a key bout for the division. At the moment Garcia is the European champion, having won that title last year, he is a fringe contender and someone who has not had much attention due to his entire career, so far, being fought entirely in Spain. There is skills, size and potential for Garcia, but he will be having a massive test when he takes on the unbeaten Cheeseman. By February we should know if he is a contender, or a pretender, and whether Cheeseman is a prospect, or a legitimate rising threat.
Magomed Kurbanov (16-0, 11)
At the moment there are a lot of Russian prospects, contenders and notable hopefuls. Some, like Evgeny Chuprakov, aren't all they are hyped to be, whilst others will exceed expectations. The jury is still out on 23 year old Magomed Kurbanov, who is edging his way up the rankings, but not blowing people away with his performances. In fact Kurbanov is sort of looking like he's picking up wins whilst doing little more than going through the motions. The "Black Lion" already has notable victories over Dennis Laurente, Akinori Watanabe and Charles Manyuchi, but looks very pedestrian at times. There is clear potential for him to click and the performances to come together, but it feels like we might be waiting a while for that to happen.
Dennis Hogan (28-1-1, 7)
Once beaten Irish Australian Dennis Hogan is lined for a show at the WBO title later this year, making him a very interested party in the upcoming bout between Jamie Munguia and Takeshi Inoue. Hogan, originally from Kildare in Ireland though now based down under, has fought almost his entire career in Australia, barring a few bouts in the US and one in Germany. Through his career he has often been over-looked but performed well when he went to Germany and fought Jack Culcay, giving the then WBA "interim" champion a tougher than expected bout. Since the loss to Culcay we've seen Hogan go 6-0 scoring notable wins over Samuel Colomban, Yuki Nonaka and Jimmy Kilrain Kelly. Whilst talented Hogan does lack power, and that is likely to be a major issue against world class opponents, who won't give him much respect if he can't hurt them.
Erickson Lubin (19-1, 14)
Once touted as the future of the division Erickson Lubin isn't where he would want to be. He turned professional at the age of 18 following a stellar amateur career and was the winner of various of the year awards early in his career whilst running up 18 straight wins. The southpaw would live up to his nickname of "The Hammer" whilst stopping the likes of Daniel Sandoval, Jorge Cota and Ayi Bruce. Sadly though he would come up short, inside a round, when he got a world title fight in 2017 against Jermell Charlo. That loss was in October 2017, in 101 seconds, and since then he fought just once, beating journeyman Silverio Ortiz. At the age of 23 he has time on his side, but there is a clear feeling of Lubin missing out a chunk of his development time, and having potential mental scares from the loss to Charlo. He will return in February, against Ishe Smith, and that really is a must win for Lubin.
At the moment the Light Middleweight division is one that has several really exciting potential match ups, and a potential unification bout that if made would almost certainly be a front running for the FOTY. With that said, lets have a look at those current world champions.
Jarrett Hurd (26-0, 16) - IBF, WBA "super" (3 defenses of IBF title, 1 defense of WBA "super")
Unbeaten American fighter Jarrett "Swift" Hurd is one of the few unified champions in the sport, having unified the IBF and WBA titles at 154lbs. In the ring the 28 year old is an all aggressive monster. He's flawed defensively but has an incredible work rate, a fantastic toughness and refuses to take a backwards step. Although he doesn't look technically great, or quick, he's incessant, and brings intense pressure from the opening seconds to the final bell. So far he has scored notable wins over the likes of Tony Harrison, Austin Trout, Erislandy Lara, Frank Galarza and Oscar Molina. One of the worries about Hurd is his size and he won't be able to make 154lbs forever.
Jaime Munguia (31-0, 26) - WBO (2 defenses)
Another fighter who seems to have a limited time at Light Middleweight is Mexican sensation Jaime Munguia, who claimed the WBO title last year and ran up two defenses, all in the space of 5 months. The Mexican ripped the WBO title away from Sadam Ali in May, when he was a late replacement, and went on defeat Liam Smith and Brandon Cook in the months that followed. Munguia, like Hurd, is technically limited and defensively flawed, but throws so much leather that he generally beats opponents down, or handcuffs them to the point where they are unable to fight back. He's all aggression and incredibly exciting, and a bout him and Hurd looks like a bout that should be on every fan's wish list. Munguia is set to return on January 26th to defend his title against Takeshi Inoue.
Tony Harrison (28-2, 21) - WBC (0 defenses)
The newest champion in the division is WBC king Tony Harrison. "Super Bad" won the title in December 2018, upsetting the previously unbeaten Jermell Charlo in a close decision bout, a decision that many disagreed with. Harrison is smart, slippery fighter who can fight when he needs to, and can box when he needs to, as we saw against Charlo. Although a really talented fighter Harrison's tactics can be frustrating and he has shown real flaws already in his career, suffering two stoppages, both in round 9. His stamina, and chin, are both question marks, but he has got a good boxing brain and at 28 he is still maturing as a fighter.
Brian Carlos Castano (15-0, 11) - WBA "Regular" (1 defense)
Unbeaten Argentinian fighter Brian Carlos Castano fills out list of champions at 154lbs, thanks to his WBA "regular" title. The 29 year old was a former amateur standout, with notable amateur wins over the likes of Esquiva Falcao and Errol Spence, and was fantastic in the WSB, defeating Sergit Derevyanchenko in that. As a professional his best wins have been against the likes of Michel Soro and Cedric Vitu. He's a talented boxer, with good movement, very solid power and good work rate, though perhaps needs to showcase his ability against a top level opponent, something that's expected later this year with a bout against Erislandy Lara supposedly in the works. He's talented and it's going to be very fun to see how he copes with world class opponents later this year.
On February 2nd we'll see Japanese-Korean Gonte Lee make his professional debut, following an excellent amateur career. Although he isn't a medal winner at a major international event, such as the World Amateur Championships or Olympics his debut is one worth getting very excited about.
Lee had been a standout amateur, winning numerous tournaments on the Japanese scene, including 6 high school crowns, whilst running up a spectacular (102-10) record, including a Japanese record setting 62 straight wins. Those performances had lead him to fighting in a number of international competitions, competing for North Korea.
It was hoped that Lee would compete at the 2020 Olympics in Japan under the North Korean banner. His decision to instead turn professional was a clear sign of fear that the 2020 Olympics may not have boxing, and his decision to turn professional was certainly effected by the issues going on in amateur boxing. The fact he was one of North Korea's biggest hopes in boxing, and was deciding to give up his Olympic dream 2 years out due to the uncertainty of AIBA was a statement, and he made it alongside Japanese hopeful Mikito Nakano, with both turning professional under Teiken.
Although, at the time of writing, the only footage of Lee is as an amateur it's hard not to be impressed by him. He is a razor sharp Southpaw, who has excellent speed, anticipation and reflexes, as well as a lovely variety of punches. Unlike some fighters who rely on speed he manages to combine those traits with excellent boxing skills, solid fundamentals, an accurate jab and a powerful straight left hand. He also looks like he has impressive body punching, something we don't typically see amateurs having, and a style that should suit the professional game well.
We know that his first bout is a gimme, as he takes on Thai novice Aphisit Namkhot (1-1, 1) but the expectation is that he will be moved quickly through the ranks in 2019 and 2020. His style pedigree and style should see him competing for titles in the near future, and we're incredibly excited to see his rise through the ranks.
With Teiken having had a few bad years, with the likes of Shinsuke Yamanaka, Akifumi Shimoda, Toshiyuki Igarashi and Takashi Miura all retiring, and high profile losses for Ryota Murata, Roman Gonzalez, Carlos Cuadras and Jorge Linares, the gym is need of some success stories. Whilst some of those successes have come in the form Masaru Sueyoshi and Hayate Kaji they will want significantly more and the signing of Lee is a clear statement of intent, and we suspect after Lee shines on debut we'll be seeing Teiken approach a number of other amateur standouts later in the year as they look to bolster their future hopes. Although Teiken is still the most well known gym in Japan others have started to sign up talent for their future, with Watanabe, Kadoebi and Ohashi all signing top prospects, and we think Lee, and Nakano, will be the start of Teiken's upcoming talent raid of the amateur scene.
Is Lee's debut going to shake up the Japanese scene in a seismic way? No. But it will be something to look forward to, and the start of a journey that we expect will see success at domestic, regional and world level.
The Welterweight division has a really interesting, exciting, and varied collection of fighters from across the planet. In fact we don't think any other division has the national variance in prospects that the Welterweight division currently has.
If you missed our previous looks into the Welterweight division they are available here:
The state of the Division - Welterweight - The Champions
The state of the Division - Welterweight - The Contender
Thulani Mbenge (15-0, 12)
Unbeaten South African Thulani Mbenge put himself on the map in 2018. Last he went from a 12-0 (10) prospect that was best known winning the South African national title and holding a win over Jayar Inson to a 15-0 (12) fringe contender/prospect with stoppage wins over Diego Gabriel Chaves and Miguel Vazquez. Not only were his bouts shown in South Africa but he also got exposure in the UK, via Boxnation, and looks set to have another big year ahead. He's a tall, wiry, big punching fighter, who has some raw edges, but a lot of promise.
Josh Kelly (8-0, 6)
"Pretty Boy" Josh Kelly is arguably the most promising fighter in England, and is one of the most pleasing to watch fighters coming through the Welterweight division. He was a stellar amateur, who competed in numerous international competitions and won medals in things like the World Youth Championships in 2012, and the European Championships in 2015. The 24 year old is being fast tracked, and has already scored notable wins over Carlos Molina and Kris George, and was looking to fight David Avanesyan prior to an illness forcing that bout to be cancelled at late notice.
Custio Clayton (15-0, 10)
At the age of 31 Canadian fighter Custio Clayton hasn't got time to waste, and we suspect that in 2019 he will be ramping up the level of competition he's facing. He's yet to score a big win, bug has got solid victories over Cristian Rafael Coria, Johnny Navarrete and Stanislas Salmon. Clayton is aggressive, exciting, heavy-handed and very talented, with a strong amateur background. His age is the big worry when it comes to Clayton, but he has got the ability to go a long way, if his team pushes him aggressively this year.
Jaron Ennis (22-0, 20)
At the age of 21 American hopeful Jaron "Boots" Ennis is one of the most promising American fighters out there, He turned professional back in 2016 and has been incredibly busy since then, fighting 22 pro bouts in less than 3 years. Not only is he active but he's heavy-handed, and has stopped his last 12 opponents, with no one lasting more than 4 rounds with Ennis. Despite his high level of activity his competition hasn't been great, but he does have notable names on his record like Ayi Bruce, Mike Arnaoutis and Raymond Serrano. He has time on his side, a lot of ability and great power. There is so much to like about Ennis, and we expect he will become a major player over the next few years.
Kudura Kaneko (9-0, 6)
Afghan born Japanese based 20 year old Kudura Kaneko has had a remarkable rise though the Japanese domestic system since debuting in 2015. He won the Japanese Youth title in 2018 before going on to beat former national champion Toshio Arikawa in an excellent performance late in the year. Although clearly a boxing baby Arikawa is a hungry talented fighter, who hits hard and looks to be improving with every fight. We suspect he'll get a senior title bout in 2019 and then look to face decent international tests in 2020, before potentially climbing into the rankings. As with anyone who has seen war in Afghanistan it's hard to doubt the mental toughness of Kaneko and his desire to build a school in Afghanistan is something that will drive him and his career.
Jordy Weiss (21-0, 3)
Unbeaten Frenchman Jordy Weiss, "El Gitano", is a 25 year old who has already claimed the European Union Welterweight title and scored solid wins at that type of level against the likes of Steven Bloyer and Aitor Nieto. There's a long way for him to go, but he has shown plenty of promise and skills. One of the big question marks about Weiss is how he reacts to fighters walking through his shots, which will happen sooner rather than later. It seems like he won't have the power to get opponents respect at a higher level, but we have been surprised in the past and he certainly has the potential to mix on a very competitive basis on the European title scene.
Sergey Lubkovich (10-0, 7)
Fats rising Russian 23 year old Sergey Lubkovich made his debut in 2016 and already has notable wins over Jose Ocampo, Viktor Plotnikov, Karim Mayfield and Juan Ruiz. He's talented, hits hard, and looks like he has the belief of his team, who haven't tried to protect at all during his short career. He still needs a bit more maturing before taking on a true world-class fighter, but it seems inevitable that he will fight at world level sooner rather than later, and there's a good chance, given his age, that he does pick up a title down the line.
Gor Yeritsyan (9-0, 8)
Scary hard hitting Armenian fighter Gor Yeritsyan is one of the division's "hidden gem" fighters. He made his debut in May 2017 and has fought all but 1 of his fights in Russia, hiding away on cards that Western fans may not have seen. Despite being hidden from most fans Yeritsyan has scored notable wins over Ali Funeka, Jose Luis Prieto and Alvin Lagumbay. With 5 bouts in 2018 his team have kept him busy and if he continues that level of activity in 2019 there's a real chance he will crash into the world rankings by the end of the year.
Eimantas Stanionis (7-0, 5)
Baby faced Lithuainian fighter Eimantas Stanionis debuted in 2017 and has climbed up the rankings gradually, with a huge win last August over Levan Ghvamichava being the pick of his victories. Aged 24 Stanionis has time on his side and has a strong amateur background, that saw him reaching the second round of the 2016 Olympics. Based in Oxnard it's clear Stanionis has got top sparring and training on offer and there is real potential for 2019 to be a big break out year for him.
Daniyar Yeleussinov (5-0, 3)
Unbeaten Kazakh fighter Daniyar Yeleussinov is a 27 year Matchroom promoted southpaw who won Olympic gold in 2016 and has over-come some early career problems. Originally Yeleussinov didn't look suited to the professional side of boxing, but impressive performances against Matt Doherty and Marcos Mojica have seen Yeleussinov show amazing improvements and the plan for 2019 is for him to fight in his first title bouts. An announcement on his next bout is expected shortly and there is real expectations on his shoulders to continue to shine following his last two wins.
Jon Miguez (9-0, 5)
Spanish hope Jon Miguez, the "Goodboy", is a 22 year old who has shown promise but is still finding his feet in terms of competition. He took a good step up in class last time out, against Abdessamad Nechchad and looks to be stepping up again in early 2019, taking on Vasyl Kurasov in February. A win there should help Miguez find his feet at a new level and hopefully he'll continue moving forward through the rest of the year. He's still not developed his man strength, but has scored a stoppage over durable Spanish based Nicaraguan Miguel Aguilar and clearly has sting on his punches, even if he's not a KO artist.
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.