The Light Heavyweight division is a really interesting one at the moment, with a really strong set of champions and a lot of depth in the contender region. Sadly whilst we have depth at Contender level, a lot of that is fighters who have proven to be under the level of champions, or are yet to prove themselves against fellow contenders.
If you missed our review of the champion's that's available to read here The state of the Division - Light Heavyweight - The Champions
Badou Jack (22-2-3, 13)
Former WBC Super Middleweight champion and WBA Light Heavyweight champion Badou Jack is a throw back to when fighters took on stiff competition fight after fight. Going back over the last 4 years Jack has faced 7 straight world class opponents. Sadly though he is now 35 and the wear and tear are certainly taking a toll on him. He's been a breath of fresh air in the sport, though it does seem like his career is close to ending. Last time out he was beaten, widely, by Marcus Browne and needed a lot of stitches afterwards for a cut, so he may only fit in 1 m ore fight, if that, before his 36th birthday.
Joe Smith Jr (24-2, 20)
Crude but hard hitting American Joe Smith Jr is a feel good story for boxing, who scored back to back wins over Andrzej Fonfara and Bernard Hopkins. A loss to Sullivan Barrera in 2017 was a set back, but he is set to get a shot at Dmitry Bivol in March, in what will be his first world title bout. Smith can be out boxed, he can be out brawled, but he will always be a danger man, and has the sort of power which can drop anyone. A very crude but dangerous fighter
Eleider Alvarez (24-1, 12)
Colombian boxer-puncher Eleider Alvarez is a 34, soon to be 35, year old who is best known for upsetting Sergey Kovalev in 2018 to become the WBO champion. Sadly for him his reign was short lived and he actually lost the belt to Kovalev in an immediate rematch. Given his age and the danger he brings, he may well find himself becoming a card carrying member of the who needs him club. He is talented and heavy handed, but has been too patient at times, and has failed to find another gear when he's needed to really impress. A frustrating fighter.
Sullivan Barrera (22-2, 14)
Talented Cuban Sullivan Barrera is 36, and soon to be 37, and is looking for another big fight, having called out almost every notable Light Heavyweight in recent weeks. He's dangerous, talented and holds good wins over Karo Murat, Joe Smith Jr, Vyacheslav Shabranskyy and Sean Monaghan, among others. Sadly though he has come up short against his most notable opponents, Andre Ward and Dmitry Bivol. His time in the sport is limited, but he is actively chasing a big fight and fingers crossed he does get one more as he has shown an attitude that few others have. A Barrera Vs Jack fight would perhaps be the perfect crossroads fight.
Anthony Yarde (17-0, 16)
Frustrating, yet hard hitting, Englishman Anthony Yarde has a big punch, a lot of confidence and a team that seems to want to protect him. He's the current WBO #1 ranked fighter but his opposition so far has been disappointing and his team appear unwilling to match him in a truly risky fight until they have secured him a shot at a world title. If, or when, he gets a shot at a belt we'll learn a lot about the 27 year old from Hackney, but we may end up waiting a while given how his career has really not progressed as many would have hoped. He's now 27, so still pretty young, but needs to get a move on before if he wants to really make the most of his career.
Umar Salamov (23-1, 17)
Once beaten Russian Umar Salamov has reeled off 4 straight wins since a very close 2017 loss to Damien Hooper, in Australia and put himself in the mix. He lacks a real A level win, but the 24 year old has scored good wins over the likes of Doudou Ngumbu, Bob Ajisafe, Denis Liebay and Emmanuel Anim. He's probably a couple of fights from facing a fellow top contender but we wouldn't be surprised by it happening by early 2020. In a way it's a shame he hasn't built on the win over Ngumbu from back in 2015.
Callum Johnson (17-1, 12)
When we talk about frustrating careers few will match that of Callum Johnson, an incredibly talented and hard hitting Englishman who's career has stumbled due to injury time and time again. He's a former world title challenger, best known for losing an up and down bout with Artur Beterbeiv late last year. Despite the set back against Beterbiev he showed he was talented and dangerous enough to remain in the mix and will look to earn another title fight, sadly though he is now 33 and debuted over 8 years ago. Had he not suffered injuries he could well have been a major player in the division.
Fanlong Meng (14-0, 9)
China's Fanlong Meng is one of the more interesting fighters in the division. He's one of the few Chinese fighters in the bigger weights, he's a talented boxer puncher, and he's also shown some chin issues, having been down a couple of times. He made a great impression last year, stopping Frank Buglioni in Monaco, but has suffered with inactivity recently. He could be just a fight or two from a world title fight, and certainly has the skills to hold his own against fellow contenders, but there is a lack of notable names on his record, which is a shame. An accomplished amateur his ability isn't to be questioned, but his team and their desire certainly is questionable.
Sven Fornling (15-1, 7)
Little known 30 year old Swede has won his last 5 in a row, including a December win over Karo Murat for the IBO title. He's talented but has shown frailty, being stopped by Yevgenii Makhteienko and lacks a second stand out win. Given how boxing is in Sweden he's unlikely to ever be a major star, but he is certainly someone who is ranked and could find himself in a world title fight in the coming future.
Jean Pascal (33-6-1-1, 20)
Former world champion Jean Pascal is, like Badou Jack, a throw back who has been in with almost everyone of note for over a decade. His competition really does put some of top names in the sport to shame. He has fought Carl Froch, Adrian Diaconu, Chad Dawson, Bernard Hopkins, Lucian Bute, Sergey Kovalev, Eleider Alvarez and Dmitry Bivol, among others. Sadly those wars have taken a toll on a fighter who was always more of a talented athlete than a truly skilled boxer. At 36 years old he is still a "serviceable" contender but is less of a threat to the top guys than he once was.
Doudou Ngumbu (38-8, 14)
French veteran Doudou Ngumbu is a 37 old who has been a professional for around 12 years and has 46 fights to his name. His long career has seen him mix with plenty of notable names, especially on the European scene, but suffer mixed results, including a 2017 loss to Igor Mikhalkin, a 2015 loss to Umar Salamov and 2014 loss to Andrzej Fonfara. Despite set backs in recent years he is now lined up for a March world title fight with Oleksandr Gvozdyk.
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.
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.
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.
The Welterweight division has a real depth to it in terms of names, and has got a few lesser known fighters breaking into contender status.
If you want to look at the champion we covered them recently in this article - The state of the Division - Welterweight - The Champions
Yordenis Ugas (23-3, 11)
On paper 32 year old Cuban Yordenis Ugas might not look like a top contender, having 3 losses in 26 bouts, but his competition has been incredibly tough and he's had a fair bit of bad luck, losing close bouts to unbeaten fights. In fact from 26 bouts we've seen Ugas face 6 unbeaten men, as well as fellow contenders like Levan Ghvamichava, Thomas Dulorme, Ray Robinson and Cesar Miguel Barrionuevo. His current 8 fight winning run is solid and has earned him a shot at WBC champion Shawn Porter, with the two set to clash on March 9th. He's talent and should be able to give Porter real trouble when they meet in a couple of months.
Danny Garcia (34-2, 20)
Twice beaten 30 year old American Danny Garcia has had an interesting career which has seen him massively over achieve. Dubbed "Swift" Garcia isn't quick, he's not a massive puncher, but he is a skilled, confident, tough kid who has become a 2-weight world champion, unified titles at 140lbs. His career has been a really notable one with Garcia notching wins against Kendall Holt, Erik Morales, Amir Khan, Zab Judah, Lucas Matthysse, Lamont Peterson, Robert Guerrero and Brandon Rios. He has suffered 2 recent losses, coming up short against Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter, but he is still a top contender and should be seen as a legitimate threat to anyone in the division, despite the recent losses.
Jessie Vargas (28-2-2, 10)
American fighter Jessie Vargas is a 29 year old professional who debuted more than a decade ago and had a rather interesting rise through the ranks. Early in his career he fought Trenton Titsworth, in a bout that was memorable for Titsworth being deducted a point for kissing, later one he would beat the likes of Josesito Lopez and Wale Omotose before winning the WBA title from Khabib Allakhverdiev. After reaching world level Vargas has had mixed results, losing to Timothy Bradley, albeit in a fight that had a bizarre ending, and Manny Pacquiao, in what appeared to be a clear loss, beating Antonio DeMarco and Sadam Ali and earning draws with Adrien Broner and Thomas Dulorme. He's not an elite level fighter, by any stretch, but he does seem to be competitive against fellow contenders, and is a 2-weight world champion who is likely to get another world title fight in the near future.
Amir Khan (33-4, 20)
English speedster Amir Khan may get some love and some serious hate but it's hard not to be entertained by the incredibly quick, yet flawed, fighter. Khan made his name in the Olympics before making his debut at a young age, and despite some set backs he would go on to unify titles at Light Welterweight claim various minor titles at Welterweight then challenger for the WBC Middleweight title. Whether you love him or hate him it's hard not to respect Khan who has beaten the likes of Andriy Kotelnik, Marcos Maidana, Zab Judah, Luis Collazo and Devon Alexander. At his best he looks amazing, but it only takes one good shot to derail Khan, as we've seen several times during his rollercoaster career.
Jeff Horn (19-1-1, 13)
At the moment it's unclear which division Australian fighter Jeff Horn will fight at next, but we dare say his best weight at 147lbs, the division that he has held the WBO Welterweight title at. He's a decent boxer-puncher who has scored wins over the likes of Randall Bailey, Funeka, Anthony Mundine, and of course Manny Pacquiao. Although his win over Pacquiao was deemed controversial by some, to others it seemed to show how far Pacquiao had slipped. Horn's reign as the world champion was a short lived one, coming to end in his second defense, against Terence Crawford, but he certainly is still a contender and we suspect he will get another world title fight, though he has spoken about fighting anywhere from Welterweight to Middleweight.
Adrien Broner (33-3-1-1, 24)
Once touted as the future star of American boxing Adrien Broner has become more well known for out of the ring issues than in the ring performances. Dubbed "The Problem", Broner's problem has been attitude and the perception that he is a special talent. On paper his accomplishments stack up well, as he's a 4-weight world champion, winning titles at 130, 135, 140 and 147, but the reality is that he's never made any division his division and has lost to his best opponents, such as Marcos Maidana, Shawn Porter and Mikey Garcia. If he had the mentality of a true fighter Broner would be star, with his divisive personality, but his inability to performance and reluctance to actually fight, as well as numerous out of the ring issues, have destroyed his once promising career. At the age of 29 he is set for a must win bout on January 19th when he faces Manny Pacquiao for the WBA "regular" title. Another loss there and it's really hard to see where goes.
Lamont Peterson (35-4-1, 17)
Another of the multi-weight world champions in the chasing pack at Welterweight is Lamont Peterson, who looks like he will be in his own must win bout next time out. Peterson is 34, soon to be 35, and had a relatively interesting rise through the Light Welterweight ranks until losing to Timoth Bradley back in 2009. Since then he has been a fixture in, and around, the world title scene. He fought to a draw with Victory Ortiz, scored wins over Amir Khan, Kendall Holt, Dierry Jean, Felix Diaz and David Avensyan, was stopped by both Lucas Matthysse and Errol Spence and narrowly decisioned by Danny Garcia. On March 24th he will battle Sergey Lipinets in what looks like a must win bout if he's to prolong his career and earn one more world title shot.
Sergey Lipinets (14-1, 10)
Heavy handed Russian-Kazakh Sergey Lipinets is best known for winning the IBF title at 140lbs, where he over-came Akihiro Kondo in a brilliant contest, and he is now looking to further build his name whilst fighting at 147lbs, following a loss to Mikey Garcia. Lipinets is a tough, steady fighter, with heavy hands, a good work rate and under-rated skills. Sadly though he is a bit basic and one-paced at times and despite being a very talented, fighter there is a feeling that the Welterweight division won't suit him, given the natural size advantages the division's top guys have over him. His upcoming, March 24th, should tell us a lot about what he has to offer us at Welterweight.
Alexander Besputin (12-0, 9)
Former Russian amateur stand out Alexander Besputin has raced into becoming a contender following his debut in December 2015. The 27 year old has taken steady steps up in class and has already defeats the likes of Breidis Prescott, a then 20-0 Juan Ruiz, Alan Sanchez and Juan Carlos Abreu. If he continues on his current trajectory he'll face a fellow contender this year and either be on the verge of a world title fight by the end of this year, even maybe even have had one. There is talk of him being in the running for a bout with Terence Crawford, and we really wouldn't be surprised by that bout coming off, sooner or later.
Kerman Lejarraga (27-0, 22)
Spanish destroyer Kerman Lejarraga was a bit of a Spanish secret until recently. His first 21 bouts all took place in Spain, and saw him battle against a mixture of journeymen and lesser known fighters, such as Laszlo Toth and Kim Poulsen. That changed in 2017, when he made his US debut and stopped Jose Antonio Abreu, and since then he has claimed the European title, stopping Bradley Skeete, and defended it against Frankie Gavin. There is crudeness to the "Pistol" but his power, work rate, physical strength and self belief will make him very hard to handle at this level. There is a feeling that the world champions are always going to be more skilled, but he is certainly a threat to anyone at 147lbs, if he can land cleanly.
Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (15-0, 9)
Unbeaten Uzbek Kudratillo Abdukakhorov is a 25 year old who has shown a lot of promise, but has seen his career stall recently. He debuted in late 2015 and seemed to be on the fast track after big wins in 2016 and 2017, defeating the likes of Adones Cabalquinto, Charles Manyuchi and Dmitry Mikhaylenko. Sadly in 2018 he failed to build on those wins with just a couple of low key bouts. He was supposedly pencilled in to face Keita Obara this month, but that bout appears to have fallen through and his immediate future is now unclear. He's still young, talented, a good boxer-mover but he'll need to get things back up and running soon if he's to make the most of his potential.
Keita Obara (20-3-1, 18)
Japan's heavy handed Keita Obara is a fighter who has a very suspect chin, as we've seen several times before, but is a very hard hitting boxer-puncher. His belief in his power outweighs his doubt in his chin and it's clear he will back himself in a shoot out, which is one reason why he has been so much fun to follow. Sadly he's best known for being part of a bizarre double knockdown in a loss to Alvin Lagumbay and for being knocked out of the ring by Eduard Troyanovsky. He was supposedly meant to face Kudratillo Abdukakhorov earlier in January, but the show fell through. Despite the original date with Abdukakhorov falling through the bout isn't dead in the water and we'd certainly love to see the two face off, especially given that the bout was supposed to be an IBF eliminator.
Egidijus Kavaliauskas (21-0, 17)
It's rare to see real talent emerge from Lithuania but in "Mean Machine" Egidijus Kavaliauskas the country has someone work talking about. The unbeaten 30 year old, who has been a professional since 2013, has slowly developed through the ranks and is now on the verge of a world title fight. During his career he has scored a number of solid wins, stopping David Avanesyan, taking a decision over Juan Carlos Abreu and beating a number of previously unbeaten fighters. Sadly he does appear to have reached his ceiling and it looks like he is just short of being a real top tier fighter, though hopefully we do see him fighting for a world title this year, as it's unlikely he will improve any further.
The contenders at 140lbs are numerous, we know we're going to miss some off this list, and it's certainly not an exhaustive one, but it proves how deep the division is right now,and how brilliant the weight class is, even if it does lack, overall, in proven, world-class elite level talent.
If you missed our preview look at the division's champions that can be read here The state of the Division - Light Welterweight - The Champions
Josh Taylor (14-0, 12)
Arguably the best fighter in the division right now doesn't have a title, but could end up with one early in 2019. Josh Taylor is a former amateur standout from Scotland who made an impressive impression early in his career, on national TV in the UK, before massively improving his reputation in 2017 and 2018. In his short career he has already scored notable wins over Ohara Davies, Miguel Vazquez, Viktor Postol and Ryan Martin. More is expected to come when he faces Kiryl Relikh in a WBSS semi-final later this year.
Jorge Linares (45-4, 28)
Venezuelan veteran Jorge Linares, who has won world titles at Featherweight, Super Featherweight and Lightweight, is now competing at Light Welterweight, though has the option of moving backdown in the future. At the age of 33 Linares doesn't have forever to make an impression at 140lbs, but with his name, his reputation, his following and style we suspect there will be a big fight for him later in the year. He's in action on January 18th, against Pablo Cesar Cano, and a win there will almost certainly move him up the ladder towards a world title shot.
Mohamed Mimoune (21-2, 2)
Feather fisted Frenchman Mohamed Mimoune is one of the dark horses in the division, and has been unbeaten in over 5 years, suffering both of his losses back in 2013. During his current unbeaten run, of 10 fights, he has got his passport out and beaten Ceferino Rodriguez and Sam Eggingtton on the round, taken the unbeaten records of Ceferino Rodriguez, Emiliano Dominguez Rodriguez and Nabil Krissi, and, proven that even without power he's a nightmare to fight. A real dark horse on the fringes of world class.
Jack Caterall (23-0, 12)
The highly regarded Jack Caterall is one of the many British fighters looking to make a big statement in 2019. Sadly though it feels like he has been on the verge of making a statement for a few years now and hasn't ever felt like he's managed it. He scored a huge win over former amateur star Thomas Stalker in 2014, and hasn't really managed to make the strides since then. Good wins over Joe Hughes, Martin Gethin, Tyrone Nurse, Tyrone McKenne and Ohara Davies have followed in the years since, but it still feels like he's only operating on a domestic level. At 25 he's young enough to wait, but there is a real risk of him going stale.
Terry Flanagan (33-2, 13)
On the subject of going stale that certainly seems to be the downfall of Terry Flanagan. "Turbo" was once 33-0, the WBO Lightweight champion and a man going places,though has now suffered back to back losses and is only just making it on to this list. His biggest issue was that his record papered over the fact he had been a thoroughly disappointing Lightweight champion. He had won the title in sensational fashion in July 2015 but his challengers were, without trying to sound too harsh, poor and uninspiring. Those poor challengers likely contributed to Flanagan going off the boil and looking very poor in his last two bouts. He needs something to light the fire under his backside in 2019 or his career with crash and burn, but he does have the talent to right the ship. He needs desire to go with that talent if he's to get his career back in track.
Jose Zepeda (30-1-0-1, 25)
Interestingly one of the few notable fighters that Flanagan has beaten was heavy handed American southpaw Jose Zepeda, who unfortunately suffered a nasty injury in his bout with Flanagan. Since the loss to the Englishman we've seen Zepeda going 7-0-0-1 (5) with notable wins overAmeth Diaz, Carlos Diaz Ramirez and Abner Lopez. This wins, and Zepeda's connections, have secured Zepeda a world title shot against Jose Carlos Ramirez in February. That will be make or break for Zepeda, and should, in all honesty, be a gut check for Ramirez at the very least.
Rances Barthelemy (27-1-0-1, 14)
Cuban fighter Rances Barthelemy is a 32 year old former Super Featherweight and Lightweight champion, who has shown world class ability, but not the mentality to go with it. His resume is an impressive one littered with wins over good competition, like Hylon Williams Jr, Arash Usmanee, Argenis Mendez, Fernando David Saucedo, Antonio DeMarco, Denis Shafikov and Kiryl Relikh, but he's had a fair bit of good luck, and some thoroughly uninspired performances. A great talent, but a fighter who tends to underwhelm.
Yves Ulysse Jr (17-1, 9)
Sensational Canadian fighter Yves Ulysse Jr is a 30 year old who looks to be wanting to prove himself before getting a world title opportunity. In 2017 he began to make a charge through the rankings, dominating Zachary Ochoa and Ricky Sismundo, but suffered a real set back of a decision loss to Steve Claggett inn October 2017. Since then he has bounced back brilliantly with wins over Cletus Seldin, Ernesto Espana and Maximilliano Becerra. He may have a loss on his record but he also has a host of good wins and is quickly moving towards a world title fight.
Maxim Dadashev (12-0, 10)
Unbeaten Russian fighter Maxim Dadshev, aka "Mad Max", is a hard hitting 28 year old who is based in the US and is rising contender to get excited about. His first 4 or 5 bouts were nothing special but since then every fight has been a step forwards. In 2018 he scored notable wins over Abdiel Ramirez, Darleys Perez and Antonio DeMarco. He's not looked unbeatable, and was forced to dig deep against Perez and DeMarco, but after just 12 fights that's not really a surprise. In 2019 we expect his team to continue matching hard and prepare him for a world title shot in 2020. A flawed but exciting fringe contender.
Anthony Yigit (21-1-1, 7)
Swedish fighter Anthony Yigit is best known internationally for his gutsy loss to Ivan Baranchyk in October 2018, when his face was badly swollen and the referee stopped the fight. Prior to that loss he had been unbeaten and pretty impressive picking up the European title and scoring good wins over the likes of DeMarcus Corley, Lenny Daws,Sandor Martin and Joe Hughes. Despite the loss to Baranchyk the personable Yigit certainly deserves to remain in the title mix, and hopefully he does get another shot in the future.
Hiroki Okada (19-0, 13)
Japan's Hiroki Okada is another fringe contender, looking to come into his own in 2019. He's a former Japanese and WBO Asia Pacific champion, but really failed to deliver on his US debut, struggling past Cristian Rafael Coria. His next bout is set for February 10th against Raymundo Beltran, and that is going to be make or break for both men. Beltran is seen as being on the slide, but Okada is seen as untested. A loss to Beltran will likely send Okada back to Japan with his tail between his legs, whilst a loss for Beltran will end his career. Interestingly the Okada Vs Beltran bout is expected to decide a future WBC title challenger, for Jose Carlos Ramirez
Akihiro Kondo (31-7-1, 18)
Another Japanese fighter in and around the world rankings at 140lbs is 33 year old tough guy Akihiro Kondo, who will be fighting in an IBF eliminator in February against Downua Ruawaiking. The tough Kondo is best known for losing in an IBF title fight to Sergey Lipinets in 2017. Kondo is a technically solid but unspectacular fighter who is insanely tough, has a good engine and is very steady in the ring. Sadly though he is pretty 1-paced and even a win in his world title eliminator won't really prepare him for any of the champions.
Downua Ruawaiking (14-0, 11)
The man Kondo is fighting in his IBF title eliminator is unbeaten Thai youngster Downua Ruawaiking, aka Apinun Khongsong, who debuted at the age of 19 is now only 22. Despite his youth he has been on a tear on the regional scene and really impressed back in December he did a number on Sonny Katiandagho to record a 4th straight stoppage win, and didn't look like he had even got out of 1st gear. It's hard to really know how good Downua is, but we're expecting to find out when he faces Kondo, he could be the next hidden gem from Thailand, or a fighter who fails when he takes the next step up. A really interesting match up.
Shohjahon Ergashev (15-0, 14)
One of a number of Uzbek fighters rising through the ranks, at an alarming pace, is Shohjahon Ergashev. The hard hitting 27 year old southpaw announced himself on the international scene in 2018, with notable wins against Sonny Fredrickson and Zhimin Wang. Ergashev is incredibly exciting, hard hitting, dangerous and aggressive. His last couple of wins in 2018 took less than 90 seconds combined and he's coming into 2019 with a lot of momentum and a much higher profile. Whether he's the #1 Uzbek in the division is yet to be seen, but he's certainly in the conversation.
Shakhram Giyasov (6-0, 5)
The other Uzbek looking to prove he is the #1 is 2016 Olympic silver medal winner Shakhram Giyasov, who only turned in 2018, making his debut in March, but has quickly become one of the most exciting rising stars out there. Despite his short career he has looked sensational, heavy handed, exciting and like a sure fire world champion. Technically there are things for him to work on but his competition so far has been stellar, with a combined record of 139-35-2. We're expecting to see Giyasov take a huge step up this year, and he's expected to fight in the Uzbek national stadium in Tashkent in early 2019.
The Lightweight division is one of the most peculiar at the moment, having a unified champion, a vacant title and a champion heading up to Welterweight. This is leaving the division a bit of a mess, but sadly it's a mess that doesn't have a great deal of focus. Thankfully it does have a good number of contenders coming through the ranks, and looking to fill the holes at the top.
If you missed out at the champions in the division that's available to read here- The state of the Division - Lightweight - The Champions
Richard Commey (27-2, 24)
Hard hitting Ghanian fighter Richard Commey has had a hard knock career, winning his first 24 bouts before losing a razor close decision to Robert Easter Jr, in an IBF title fight, then losing another close decision to Denis Shafikov. Since then he has bounced back and will be getting a second world title fight on February 2nd when he faces Isa Chaniev in Texas, for the IBF title. At the age of 31 Commey won't get many more chances and will know that he needs to beat Chaniev if he's going to get the big pay days his career deserves. He's heavy-handed, tough, has a great work rate and is a real nightmare to fight. A real physical force.
Isa Chaniev (13-1, 6)
Having mentioned Commey's February 2nd bout it makes sense to talk about his upcoming opponent, 26 year old Russian fighter Isa Chaniev. Chaniev's career, which began in 2015, saw him take 9 low key wins before stepping up and beating Rimar Metuda. That win was followed by a loss to Fedor Papazov in May 2017 and since then he has really come of age, with 3 impressive against Jean Pierrer Bauwens, Juan Martin Elorde and Ismael Barroso. He's earned a shot at the title, but will likely be the under-dog against the hard hitting Commey. He's a good fighter, who has been impressive recently, but maybe getting his shot just a touch too early.
Luke Campbell (19-2, 15)
Baby faced Englishman Luke Campbell is a 31 year old southpaw who looked shaky early in his career, following an excellent amateur career, but has developed into a fantastic boxer-puncher. As an amateur he won European and Olympic gold medals, and came runner up in the World Championships. As a professional he showed some problems adapting to the professional style losing in 2015 to Yvan Mendy and being dropped in 2016 by Argenis Mendez. Since then he has matured, adjusted his style, avenged the loss to Mendy and given Jorge Linares a really tough contest. He's expected to get a second title shot in 2019 and would likely be favoured against anyone in the division, other than Vasyl Lomachenko and Mikey Garcia.
Robert Easter Jr (21-1, 14)
Rangy American boxer Robert Easter Jr is a former IBF champion, having won the belt in 2016 when he narrowly beat Richard Commey. He held the title for close to 2 years before losing it in July 2018 to Mikey Garcia. His seems impressive on paper, with wins against Luis Cruz, Denis Shafikov and Javier Fortuna, but the reality is that he was very fortunate against Shafikov, a bout that had some of the worst scorecards in recent memory, and Fortuna, and his title win was also very questionable. Despite some fortunate results Easter is still a top contender, his resume is a strong one and given his dimensions he could be a nightmare for anyone. We just wonder whether he would be better off moving up in weight and letting his frame fill out a bit rather than drain his body so much to make a weight that doesn't seem to suit him particularly well.
Anthony Crolla (34-6-3, 13)
Well liked Englishman Anthony Crolla, dubbed "Million Dollar", is one of the sports good guys and at 32 years old he is on the verge of one more big fight. The former WBA Lightweight champion secured himself another shot at the WBA title when he beat Daud Yordan in November, and is now being lined up to fight Vasyl Lomachenko. Although not a huge puncher he hits hard enough to get respect from his opponents, has underrated technical ability, is tough and has a great work rate. Sadly a couple of losses to Jorge Linares showed he was a touch under the level of the divisional elite, but that doesn't change the fact that he is a top contender, and a live fighter against anyone but the very, very best.
Edis Tatli (31-2, 10)
Finland's 31 year old Edis Tatli is edging towards a world title fight. The European champion has got a strong following at home, where he has fought 32 of his 33 professional bouts, and he is very highly ranked by both the IBF and WBC, with an IBF world title eliminator in 2019 against Japan's Masayoshi Nakatani. Although not a big puncher Tatli is a hard worker in the ring, and has scored notable wins over the likes of Yvan Mendy, Francesco Patera, Mzonke Fana and Antonio De Vitis. A very talented and over-looked fighter, but one who has had a hard career with 232 rounds already under his belt, and a lot of gruelling 12 round contests.
Masayoshi Nakatani (18-0, 12)
Having mentioned Talti's potential next opponent could be Masayoshi Nakatani it makes sense to talk about the rangy Japanese boxer-puncher. The Osakan is almost 6' tall and has a 71" reach, giving him size advantages over almost anyone else in the division. He's only 29 but already has 11 OPBF title defences and has beaten a number of good fighters, such as Shuhei Tsuchiya, Yoshitaka Kato and Ricky sismundo. Despite those good wins there has been growing frustration over the way his career has gone and it really feels like he needs to have a big bout now, or risk going stale. He's a talented boxer-puncher and a fight with Tatli would tell us a lot about both men
Nihito Arakawa (31-6-2, 18)
At 37 years old Japanese tough guy Nihito Arakawa is in the final stages of his career, but is still highly ranked by the WBO thanks to holding the WBO Asia Pacific title, which could help him secure one last big bout. The Tokyo man, now fighting out of the Watanabe gym, is best known for his 2013 bout with Omar Figueroa, a bout he lost by a long way. Over the 2 years that followed that loss Arakawa went 1-3, but has now rebounded with a run of 6-0-1, claiming the Japanese and WBO Asia Pacific titles along the way. He's still tough, but his hard and long career is likely to show when he steps up again. Still given how he fights we'd love to see him get one final big bout in 2019, before hanging them up.
Mercito Gesta (32-2-2, 17)
Once highly touted Filipino fighter Mercito Gesta has come up short in a couple of world title bouts, losing to Miguel Vazquez and Jorge Linares, but bounced back from the loss to Linares with a win over Robert Manzanarez to remain in the mix. He would be an under-dog against the bigger names in the division but is a proven fighter, who has a wealth of experience, good skills and relatively large following, as well as name value in the US. Sadly Gesta was one of the many fighters who was dubbed the next Pacquiao, a tag that never seems to do a fighter any good, and his early promise has never been fulfilled, and likely never will be.
Roman Andreev (22-0, 16)
Russian fighter Roman Andreev is a limited but dangerous fighter who has beaten the likes of Rey Labao and Craig Evans. At 32 years old he's an old fighter, but will feel like he still has time on his side, having only had 91 professional rounds under his belt. He can be out boxed, as we saw when he faced Evans in February, but has good power, toughness and a will to win, and could well pick up a title in a division that looks set to be blown open. Sadly if he does win a belt it's hard to imagine him holding it long, and we suspect he would be little more than a transitional champion. At the time of writing he is ranked #1 by the WBO, but would really need Vasyl Lomachenko to vacate the title to have any chance of winning the belt.
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.