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.
Kazakhstan's destructive Gennady Golovkin (29-0, 26) successfully retained his WBA Middleweight world title again last weekend though left some fans, including myself, wondering what was next.
We all want Golovkin to fight a real rival, some one that could really allow us to gauge how good he is. Instead it seems the Middleweight division is full of fighters waiting for someone else to "expose" Golovkin before being willing to step in the ring with him. They'd rather wait for Golovkin to lose and pick up the title from whoever beats him rather than show the bravery of actually getting in their to beat him.
Sadly the lack of willing on part of the other Middleweights has left us in a bit of a frustrating situation.
Firstly the "de facto" Middleweight champion Sergio Martinez has shown no interest in fighting Golovkin. He'd rather look for big pay days and retire with a bank full of money. No problem there with him fighting Miguel Cotto next though lets not forget that Martinez himself was given his chance when Paul Williams agree to fight him in what turned out to be one of the best fights of 2009. If any fighter should know about being ignored it should be Martinez who, if he's not willing to fight Golovkin, should at least give him props.
Instead of giving Golovkin props for taking out a swathe of the Middleweight contenders Martinez has actually been very disrespectful to to Kazakh. Less than a year ago he was quoted, by his advisor, as saying "he would toy with him for 12 rounds". Now however their seems to be a clear unwillingness to actually back up those words. Strange what a difference a few months make.
If Martinez is the first choice then American Peter Quillin, the WBO champion, would clearly be the second choice. Unfortunately Quillin would be unavailable to fight Golovkin due to contractual obligations the fighters have to various television channels. Golovkin is a HBO fighter whilst Quillin is a Showtime fighter.
For Quillin though the TV deal is a wonderful get out clause of fighter a man he showed no intention of fighting anyway. He has talked the talk whilst hiding behind his advisor Al Haymon and the politics of the situation whilst fighting much lesser fighters than Golovkin, including Gabriel Rosado who Golovkin defeated before Quillin fought him. If Quillin was showing an intention of fighting other elite Middleweights then one may believe that the politics was the only wall in the way of the fight. Instead it's clear that he has little to no intention of fighting any other champion.
Whilst Martinez is chasing his big pay days and Quillin is hiding behind Al Haymon and Showtime it seems the only available champion would be IBF champion Felix Sturm. Sturm unfortunately showed his true colours when Golovkin was his mandatory and he did all he could to avoid the hard hitting Kazakh.
The German, who looked rejuvenated when he stopped Darren Barker last year, would clearly have apprehensions of traveling to the US for a Golovkin bout whilst Golovkin would be equally unlikely to travel to Germany for the bout. Unfortunately this is a bout that seems to have been more plausible when Golovkin was an unknown to the US market.
With none of the fellow champions willing to fight Golovkin we then need to look at the top selection of contenders.
Unfortunately WBA #1 ranked challenger Martin Murray has shown his true colours already. Offered the Monaco fight early in February Murray declined it. Sadly, due to Murray's criminal record, the British fighter won't be allowed to fight in the US and with the Monaco date passing him by it's obvious that he never fancied his chances.
Rather than try and draw Golovkin outside of the US Murray has instead agreed to fight Sturm in Germany for the IBF title. The money might be better than he'd have gotten on the Monaco show but he certainly wouldn't have been receiving peanuts either way.
Another top contender, and the man I wanted to see fight Golovkin, Daniel Geale has turned down the Golovkin fight stating that HBO were unwilling to change the date of the fight. Golovkin and his team had booked a specific venue for his return to the US in April. They booked it months in advance and Geale, who could have taken the fight, has instead complain about Australian audiences not being able to see it live because it clashes with UFC.
The fact Golovkin is willing to go head-to-head with UFC in America shows his confidence in drawing an audience. Unfortunately Geale, who apparently wants to let his Australian compatriots see him getting flattened, isn't confident enough in taking the fight and making the Australian TV companies feel ashamed of not supporting their man.
One possibility that could make sense would be Geale's compatriot Sam Soliman. Although he would be an unpopular choice with HBO and US fans he would be allowed by the WBA, who rank him at #15. To his credit Soliman is an old school fighter who will get in the ring for a fight with anyone. Aged 40 however he would likely be slated by Golovkin critics as little more than an old and second rate challenger.
Another man who is unavailable, and has actually turned Golovkin down in the past, is Marco Antonio Rubio who will be fighting for the WBC interim title in the coming months. On paper Rubio would have been a decent opponent but his unwillingness to meet Golovkin in the past, and his guaranteed WBC interim title fight rule him out as a possible foe.
If we go through the WBA rankings there is only really 3 plausible opponents left.
Jarrod Fletcher, Sergio Mora and Andy Lee, pictured. Unfortunately Fletcher would be destroyed and everyone knows it, Mora is about as TV friendly as a colonoscopy and this effectively leaves us with Andy Lee.
Lee, who has a sizable following from Irish-Americans, isn't very good. He's no better than Adama, who Golovkin just stopped, or Matthew Macklin, who Golovkin has also stopped. Thankfully he is known to the US audience, though he's probably best known for being stopped by Julio Cesar Chavez Jr and Brian Vera. Doesn't bode well for him if he gets in to the ring with Golovkin.
Gennady might be the most exciting Middleweight on the planet but it's obvious that he's a real nightmare to match. The only men who fans want to see him fight won't touch him and instead he's reserved to wiping out every B and C grade fighter in the division.
Unfortunately it can hurt to be as good as Golovkin is.
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.