The Light Heavyweight division is one which is very top heavy right now, but any of the top fighters would make for an excellent match up if put against each other, and it's incredibly hard to to define who is the #1 in the division, with 4 very strong claimants.
Oleksandr Gvozdyk (16-0, 13) - WBC Champion (0 defenses)
Unbeaten Ukrainian Oleksandr Gvozdyk is one of a number of talented fighters to have emerged from the excellent Ukrainian amateur system in recent years, such as Vasiliy Lomachenko and Oleksandr Usyk. "The Nail" won the WBC title back in December, when he ended the long reign of Adonis Stevenson, and is set for his first defense in March. Gvodzdyk is talented, heavy handed and is a technical boxer-puncher who can keep a relatively high pace, especially for the division. At 31, and turning 32 in April, his reign might not be an incredibly long one, but he is certainly someone worth watching.
Sergey Kovalev (33-3-1, 28) - WBO Champion (0 defenses)
Heavy handed Russian Sergey Kovalev recently regained the WBO title, avenging a prior loss to Eleider Alvarez. The 35 year old "Krusher" is coming to the end of his career, but is still a very dangerous fighter and someone who has very solid power and criminally under-rated boxing ability. He's slipped form his best, and has shown mental cracks in recent years, but is still a very good boxer-puncher who looked better than he has last time out. At his best he put fear into opponents with his power, though now it seems likely that he will be looking to use that power as a weapon in his arsenal rather than as his key way to victory. If he can stay on the right track he could beat anyone in the division, but out of the ring issues may end up derailing his renaissance.
Dmitry Bivol (15-0, 11) - WBA Champion (4 defenses)
Unbeaten champion Dmitry Bivol, born in Kyrgyzstan though regarded as a Russian fighter, is the youngest of the champions and is arguably the most rounded. He's a busy, active boxer puncher, with stiff power on his shots. He's not heady handed as Kovalev, Gvozdyk or Artur Beterbiev, but he's more technically sounded, a better ring general and a smarter boxer with more wrinkles to his game. He does have areas to work on, and certainly needs to work on things still, but the 28 year is proving to be a very talented, rounded and fantastic fighter who could be the best in the division. With wins over Sullivan Barrera, Isaac Chilemba and Jean Pascal in 2018 he has a very impressive resume that seems to be getting better with every fight.
Artur Beterbiev (13-0, 13) - IBF Champion (1 defense)
Another hard hitter in the division is IBF champion Artur Beterbiev, another Russian who punches like a mule. Beterbiev won the title in late 2017 but has struggled through his career with activity, management, and competition. He's been a professional for close to 6 years but has only managed 13 contests in that time. He has changed his team a few times and has been avoided, making his career one of the most disappointing. At the age of 34 he doesn't have long left in his career, and yet has only had 47 rounds as a professional. As an amateur Beterbiev was a star but as a professional his career appears likely to end up being an underwhelming one. A shame, but a very dangerous shame.
Marcus Browne (23-0, 16) - WBA "interim" Champion (0 defenses)
American fighter Marcus Browne had been bubbling under the surface for a few years whilst compiling a solid, yet unspectacular record. This past January however he put himself firmly in the mix when he defeated Badou Jack to become the WBA "interim" champion. The 28 year old former amateur stand out struggled past Radivoje Kalajdzic in April 2016 but sincee then has looked very good, beating not only Jack but also Sean Monaghan, Francy Ntetu and Thomas Williams Jr. He's the least accomplished amnd impressive of the top guys, but certainly appears to be developing well in recent bouts and could be the long term American hope of the division.
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.
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.
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.
One of the most highly regarded and celebrated divisions in the sport right now is the Welterweight division, which has some of the biggest names in it, and some of the most recognisable fighters in it. It also has major issues with actual match making, and almost all the champions have got less than amazing match ups lined up for the first half of 2019.
Shawn Porter (29-2-1, 17) - WBC (0 defenses)
Rough and tumble American fighter Shawn Porter won the WBC title last September, winning an ultra competitive bout with Danny Garcia to become a 2-time world champion. Sadly the win over Garcia was his only bout in 2018, and he has only fought 4 times since the start of 2016, losing one of those bouts to Keith Thurman. With 2 losses to his name we know he's not unbeatable, but he's exciting, heavy handed and enjoys a fight. During his career he has faced a relative who's who including Devon Alexander, Paulie Malignaggi, Kell Brook, Adrien Broner, Keith Thurman, Andre Berto and Danny Garcia. He'll be back in the ring on March 9th to defend his title against the unbeaten Yordenis Ugas.
Errol Spence (24-0, 21) - IBF (2 defenses)
The unbeaten Errol Spence is one of the real rising stars of American boxing and was regarded as one of the top Welterweights before he took the IBF crown from Kell Brook in May 2017. He was a standout amateur who has became a major offensive force in the professional ranks. He's aggressive, exciting, has a personality that will keep fans onside and a real desire to show what he can do in the ring. Sadly he's not been mega active, with just 3 fights in 2017 and 2018 combined, but he has been fighting at a high level with wins against the likes of Chris Algieri, Leonardo Bundo, Kell Brook, Lamont Peterson. He's stopped his last 11 opponents and is a real threat to anyone in the division. His next defense comes on March 9th, when he takes on Lightweight champion Mikey Garcia.
Terence Crawford (34-0, 25) - WBO (1 defense)
The sensational switch hitting Terence Crawford is a 3-weight champion and arguably the #1 pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. At Lightweight he dominated the likes of Ricky Burns and Raymundo Beltran before moving up in weight and unifying all 4 titles at Light Welterweight, defeating the likes of Thomas Dulorme, Henry Lundy, Viktor Postol and Julius Indongo. He moved up in weight last year and popped the cherry's of both Jeff Horn and Jose Benevidez Jr, and showed that he may finally be at his best weight. He's a slippery skilled fighter, who has under-rated power, exceptional skills and speed and is one of the most naturally talented fighters in the sport. His next defense if set for April against Amir Khan, in a bout that has the fell of a stay busy defense, rather than a reputation enhancing one.
Keith Thurman (28-0-0-1, 22) WBA "Super" (0 defenses)
Highly regarded American Keith Thurman has become one of the most frustrating fighters in the sport today. He's a brilliantly talented boxer-puncher with fantastic charisma but the activity that makes fans question whether or not he is an active fighter. He was last in the ring in March 2017 and has once fought 4 times since the start of 2015. He is a former WBA "interim", WBA "regular" and WBC champion, though was stripped of the WBC title due to lack of activity. We're not currently aware of any fighter, in the sport, who still holds a world title after 22 months of inactivity but the WBA do seem to have been very nice in not stripping Thurman. Thankfully he is set to make his ring return on January 26th, it's just unfortunately going to be against Josesito Lopez. Lopez was a great fighter back in the day but he has fought just 3 times since being stopped by Andre Berto in 2015! The situation with Thurman very much feels like the WBA have played politics due to his popularity. We like him, but he shouldn't have been able to hold up the top WBA title for so long without fighting.
Manny Pacquiao (60-7-2, 39) WBA "regular" (0 defenses)
Filipino icon Manny Pacquiao is still going strong at the age of 40. The former multi-weight world champion the WBA "regular" Welterweight title in July 2017, when he beat Lucas Matthysse in 7 rounds in Malaysia. That was Pacquiao's first bout in over a year, following his loss to Jeff Horn in 2017. He's not the fighter he was in his pomp, destroying the likes of Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto, but is still one of the biggest names in the sport. It's hard to know what he has left, but he did look sharp stopping Matthysse and will be looking to show that there is a lot more life in the old dog later this month, when he takes on the controversial Adrien Broner, on January 19th. At his best he was destrutive little fireball with incredible power, speed and unpredictable movement, as he's gotten older he's had to depend more on his boxing ability, and whilst that's solid he's certainly not closer to the fighter he once was.
The Light Welterweight division has suddenly become one of the most interesting divisions, following what was really a weak era due to the sheer dominance by Terrence Crawford who was several levels above everyone else. With Crawford having unified all 4 titles in 2017 and leaving the division in 2018 it's left the 140lb weight class wide open, and that has been brilliant, giving us compelling match ups as everyone scrambles to reach the top.
Kiryl Relikh (23-2, 19) - WBA (1 defense)
Belorussian puncher Kiryl Relikh was a relative unknown until 2016, despite having a record of 21-0 (19) at the time and being associated with the very popular Ricky Hatton. Since then he has gone 2-2, though should have been 4-0 with 2 very debatable losses. His break out bout, in many ways, was a controversial decision loss to Ricky Burns in the summer of 2016. Despite losing many felt Relikh had deserved the decision. Relikh's bout following that was another controversial loss, this time to Rances Barthelmy, which was avenged in 2018 as Relikh won the WBA title, a title he has defended once, beating Eduard Troyanovsky, whilst also qualifying for the semi-final of the WBSS. Relikh is an aggressive, heavy-handed fighter with a solid work rate and a generally exciting style. At 29 years old he is still relatively young, but he did debut in 2011 and has taken punishment in his last few bouts, going 48 rounds in his last 4 bouts.
Maurice Hooker (25-0-3, 17) - WBO (1 defense)
Unbeaten American fighter Maurice Hooker had a huge 2018, travelling to England to defeat Terry Flanagan, to claim the WBO title, and then made his first defense by defeating Alex Saucedo. In both of those bouts he snapped long unbeaten runs, and built well on a great 2017 as well, with 2017 seeing him defeat veteran Cristobal Cruz and defeated the then 18-0 Courtney Jackson, meaning Hooker is now on a run of taking 3 unbeaten records in a row. Although under-rated Hooker is a tough man to look good against, and could end up being the hidden gem of the division in this post Crawford era. He's tall, rangy and has strong management behind him with Matchroom sport, who will likely look to market him hard as they attempt to make their mark on the US scene.
Ivan Baranchyk (19-0, 12) - IBF (0 defenses)
Another Belorussian champion in the division is Ivan Baranchyk,who won the IBF title in October when he stopped Anthony Yigit in a WBSS quarter-final. Baranchyk was a former amateur standout, especially at Junior level, who turned professional in 2014, fighting at home, before relocating to the US and building his name with a string of very impressive and destructive performances. Those destructive performance have just kept coming and in 2018 he became the second man to stop Petr Petrov before stopping the previously unbeaten Anthony Yigit, giving Yigit a badly swollen left eye that forced the bout to be stopped. He's aggressive, exciting, hard hitting and despite some technical flaws he's going to be a very hard man to beat. He's relentless and a complete nightmare to fight.
Jose Carlos Ramirez (23-0, 13) - WBC (1 defense)
Someone else who's relentless is American Jose Carlos Ramirez, who is creating a real buzz in California and becoming a real must watch fighter with intense aggression, underrated defense and insane work rate. On paper he doesn't look like he has power, but the 26 old former Olympian is likely to score a lot of stoppages through accumulation as time goes on. He's marketable, exciting, has a great personality and exciting style. Sadly however he's missing out on the WBSS, and Top Rank do appear to want to match him in house going forward, which does limit his options, and obviously his appeal, which is a shame given how much fun we get watching Ramirez
Regis Prograis (23-0, 19) - WBC "Diamond" (1 defense)
American Southpaw Regis Prograis is in a bizarre position where by the WBC had him win the interim title, then immediately allowed him to fight for the "Diamond" title, not the regular title. So despite not holding the world title we have included him in the champions, and in fairness to him he's potentially the best fighter in the division. Like Ramirez and Baranchyk he's pretty relentless, throwing a lot of shots, he's heavy-handed and shows much more to his boxing than the other champions. He not only keeps a high work rate through out but switches levels, throws from unusual angles, using a lot of movement and mixes everything up with an awkward southpaw stance. He's not the natural talent of Crawford, but is an aggressive and fun to watch fighter, and we'll be looking forward to every bout he has going forward.
The Lightweight division is currently one of the strangest and most top heavy divisions in the sport. It has two truly elite level fighters holding world titles, but one of those is heading all the way up to Welterweight, whilst the other has just recently unified titles. It's a division that had an obvious super fight, but a super fight that we won't be able to see any time soon, if ever.
Vasyl Lomachenko (12-1, 9) - WBA "super" & WBO (1 defense of WBA "super", 0 defenses of WBO)
Ukrainian sensation Vasyl Lomachenko is one of the sports very few unified world champions, having recently unified his WBA "super" title with the WBO title thanks to a decision win over Jose Pedraza. The former amateur sensation won the WBA title in May 2017, becoming a 3 weight world champion in just his 12th bout, and appears to have hit the point where his frame is about as maxed out for his style as it can. His rise through the sport has seen him score notable wins over the likes of Gary Russell Jr, Roman Martinez, Nicholas Walters, Guillermo Rigondeaux and Jorge Linares. In the space of just 13 fighter as a professional he has already booked himself a hall of fame place. He's one of the most highly skilled and educated fighters on the planet and even a supposedly bad night saw him take a wide decision win over Jose Pedraza. It should be noted that given his style his age and size may become a factor in the near future, and he does look less effective at 135lbs than he did at 130lbs.
Mikey Garcia (39-0, 30) - WBC (1 defense)
Unbeaten 31 year old American fighter Mikey Garcia is preparing to challenge himself against IBF Welterweight king Errol Spence Jr in March, potentially vacating this title as a result. He was last seen in the ring unifying the WBC and IBF titles, with a clear win over Robert Easter Jr and has amassed himself a very impressive record whilst winning world titles from Featherweight up to Light Welterweight. During his 39 fight career he has beaten the likes of Jonathan Victor Barros, Orlando Salido, Juan Manuel Lopez, Roman Martinez, Dejan Zlaticanin, Adrien Broner, Sergey Lipinets and the aforementioned Easter. He's been a fighter who has grown into the Lightweight division, but may well find himself unable to come back down in weight after his next bout. Garcia is a solid punching, technically strong fighter with an excellent jab and dynamite right hand, but we really do question the thought process behind moving up to Welterweight to take on Spence at this moment in time.
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.