Although the Light Middleweight division has long been seen as the ugly step sibling of the Welterweight and Middleweight division it may be the most interesting division for prospects right now, with so many top young fighters looking to be fast tracked through the ranks. It's one of the few divisions, outside of the lightest divisions, where fighters look like they want to make a mark, and make their mark quickly.
If you missed our look at the champions and contenders in division, you can catch up here
The state of the Division - Light Middleweight - The Champions
and here The state of the Division - Light Middleweight - The Contenders
Israil Madrimov (1-0, 1)
Uzbek 23 year old Israil Madrimov made the headlines last November when he not only debuted in a 10 round bout, a real rarity, but looked sensational as he schooled, and stopped, Vladimir Hernandez, to claim the WBA Inter-Continental Light Middleweigth title. On his debut he showed everything a fighter could want to show. He was smart, accurate, quick, exciting, moved well, active and appeared to be able to switch hit with ease. He was a top amateur before turning professional, but unlike many he instantly looked pro-ready and like the sort of man who wants to make an impact, and do so quickly.
Abass Baraou (4-0, 2)
Another fight who looks like they are on the super-fast track is German 24 year old Abass Baraou. He made his debut in April 2018 and claimed the German title in his second professional bout. By the end of 2018 he had beaten Robert Maess and Sasha Yengoyan to really put himself on the map. Through his first 4 fights his opponents have had a combined record of 88-11-3. The German boxing scene needs a star and Baraou looks like he might be the one, with Sauerland clearly pushing him hard and fast. His next bout will be on February 16th, when he takes on former world champion Carlos Molina, and a win there would likely see him being put into bouts with world ranked opponents later in the year.
Nursultan Zhangabayev (6-0, 4)
Madrimov isn't the only Central Asian fighter on this list to have debuted in a 10 round bout. He is joined by unbeaten Kazakh Nursultan Zhangabayev, who debuted in China in 2016 beating Xingxin Yang over 10 rounds. Whilst technically a split decision the Kazakh appeared to dominate large stretches of the bout. Since then his competition hasn't been the most testing, but he did get a good win in December 2018 when he over-came Arnel Tinampay, who is much better than his record suggests. Sadly Zhangabayev's career has been a bit stop-start at times, but he is a natural talent and ending 2018 with 3 fights in 3 months shows there is eagerness to fight. At 26 he's young enough to put the past behind him, but needs to remain active in 2019.
Souleymane Cissokho (7-0, 5)
An Olympic medal doesn't assure a fighter of professional success, but it's hard to imagine 2016 Olympic bronze medal winner Souleymane Cissokho not going far. The unbeaten Senagalese born Frenchman was unlucky in major international competitions, facing Daniyar Yeleussinov in the 2016 Olympics and the 2013 World Amateur Champions, but still managed to impress in the unpaid ranks. Cissokho turned professional in 2017and has looked fantastic with his last win coming against Carlos Molina in June. Sadly his career has stalled a bit since that win, but he's expected back in the ring in February in a bout for the French national title against Romain Garofalo. At 27 years old it's clear he will be coming into his prime years and won't be wanting to tread water for long.
Mohammed Rabii (8-0, 5)
We don't tend to think of Morocco as a country that produces world class boxers, but in Mohammed Rabii they certainly have someone special. The 25 year old was a stellar amateur fighter, taking a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics, losing in the semi-final to Shakhram Giyasov, and winning the 2015 World Amatuer championships, beating Josh Kelly and Daniyar Yeleussinov along the way. Since turning professional he hasn't really blown fans away, but has shown a lot of promise and holds notable victories over veterans Giuseppe Lauri and Anderson Clayton. He's young enough to have another year of experience building, but it seems more likely that he'll pursue better opponents rather than staying busy and just padding his record.
Josh Kelly (8-0, 6)
"Pretty Boy" Josh Kelly is another of the fighters who shone as an amateur, winning a bronze medal at the AIBA Youth Championships in 2012, and competing at the very highest level in the amateur ranks. Although highly regarded amateur Kelly's style as a professional is less of a skilled technical fighter and much more of a slick fighter, with his hands down, drawing a lead to counter. He's an exciting fighter, and already holds wins over the likes of Carlos Molina and Kris George. Despite his style being a fun one to watch it does seem like a risky one, and it's going to be very interesting to see how it holds up against better competition. He's 24 years old, and turns 25 in March, so there is time to work on his style, but with Adam Booth working with him we suspect it's a style he'll be sticking with for the foreseeable future.
Anthony Fowler (9-0, 8)
Former Birtish amateur star Anthony Fowler is a controversial figure in some circles, but few can doubt his credentials with a Commonwealth games gold medal, as well as a bronze medal at the 2013 World Amateur Championships. Since turning professional, after the 2016 Olympics, Fowler has looked destructive against his competition so far. There is, clearly some question to be had over the level he's been fighting at, but the performances have been impressive and he's certainly showing the tools and spitefulness to go a long way. It's yet to be seen how he comes with a genuine threat at the weight, but we expect to see him answer some real questions in March when he takes on the unbeaten Scott Fitzgerald, in what looks like a good test. With his 28th birthday coming just weeks before the Fitzgerald fight it seems clear that he doesn't have much time to waste.
Bakhram Murtazaliev (14-0, 11)
Oxnard based Russian boxer-puncher Bakhram Murtazaliev had a relatively slow start to his career, being matched very softly in Russia for over 2 years. Since fighting in the US he has gone from strength to strength and has started to leave a glowing impression with early knockouts and dominant performances. He'll be back in the ring in February, against former world title challenger Elvin Ayala, and will be expected to have a break out performance at some point in 2019. At the age 26 he is coming into his physical prime and he has been a professional for close to 5 years, so there is no excuse to keep him on a leash any longer.
Ted Cheeseman (15-0, 9)
Another British prospect in the division is Ted Cheeseman, a 23 year old form London who is set for a big step up in class on February 2nd when he faces off against unbeaten European champion Sergio Garcia. That bout is a major step up for "The Big Cheese" and a genuinely good test. Given the talent coming through the ranks in the UK Cheeseman looks like he could end up being "the forgotten man" but he is a talented fighter and scored notable wins in 2018 over Carson Jones, for a WBA International title, and Asinia Byfield, to claim the British title. Given his age there is no need to rush him, but he has been linked, repeatedly, to a bout with the aforementioned Anthony Fowler, and that's a possible match up for later this year.
Carlos Adames (15-0, 12)
US based Dominican fighter Carlos Adames is a under-the-radar 24 year old who has been quietly building a reputation for himself with wins against the likes of Patrick Lopez, Ivan Alvarez, Carlos Molina and Joshua Conley. He will look to further enhance that record shortly, when he faces Juan Ruiz in what could be a bit of a coming out party for Adames. Prior to turning professional Adames had been a good amateur, and competed in numerous international tournaments. Hopefully a win against Ruiz will open the door for big fights later in the year as he looks to cross over from prospect to contender in the near future.
The Welterweight division has a really interesting, exciting, and varied collection of fighters from across the planet. In fact we don't think any other division has the national variance in prospects that the Welterweight division currently has.
If you missed our previous looks into the Welterweight division they are available here:
The state of the Division - Welterweight - The Champions
The state of the Division - Welterweight - The Contender
Thulani Mbenge (15-0, 12)
Unbeaten South African Thulani Mbenge put himself on the map in 2018. Last he went from a 12-0 (10) prospect that was best known winning the South African national title and holding a win over Jayar Inson to a 15-0 (12) fringe contender/prospect with stoppage wins over Diego Gabriel Chaves and Miguel Vazquez. Not only were his bouts shown in South Africa but he also got exposure in the UK, via Boxnation, and looks set to have another big year ahead. He's a tall, wiry, big punching fighter, who has some raw edges, but a lot of promise.
Josh Kelly (8-0, 6)
"Pretty Boy" Josh Kelly is arguably the most promising fighter in England, and is one of the most pleasing to watch fighters coming through the Welterweight division. He was a stellar amateur, who competed in numerous international competitions and won medals in things like the World Youth Championships in 2012, and the European Championships in 2015. The 24 year old is being fast tracked, and has already scored notable wins over Carlos Molina and Kris George, and was looking to fight David Avanesyan prior to an illness forcing that bout to be cancelled at late notice.
Custio Clayton (15-0, 10)
At the age of 31 Canadian fighter Custio Clayton hasn't got time to waste, and we suspect that in 2019 he will be ramping up the level of competition he's facing. He's yet to score a big win, bug has got solid victories over Cristian Rafael Coria, Johnny Navarrete and Stanislas Salmon. Clayton is aggressive, exciting, heavy-handed and very talented, with a strong amateur background. His age is the big worry when it comes to Clayton, but he has got the ability to go a long way, if his team pushes him aggressively this year.
Jaron Ennis (22-0, 20)
At the age of 21 American hopeful Jaron "Boots" Ennis is one of the most promising American fighters out there, He turned professional back in 2016 and has been incredibly busy since then, fighting 22 pro bouts in less than 3 years. Not only is he active but he's heavy-handed, and has stopped his last 12 opponents, with no one lasting more than 4 rounds with Ennis. Despite his high level of activity his competition hasn't been great, but he does have notable names on his record like Ayi Bruce, Mike Arnaoutis and Raymond Serrano. He has time on his side, a lot of ability and great power. There is so much to like about Ennis, and we expect he will become a major player over the next few years.
Kudura Kaneko (9-0, 6)
Afghan born Japanese based 20 year old Kudura Kaneko has had a remarkable rise though the Japanese domestic system since debuting in 2015. He won the Japanese Youth title in 2018 before going on to beat former national champion Toshio Arikawa in an excellent performance late in the year. Although clearly a boxing baby Arikawa is a hungry talented fighter, who hits hard and looks to be improving with every fight. We suspect he'll get a senior title bout in 2019 and then look to face decent international tests in 2020, before potentially climbing into the rankings. As with anyone who has seen war in Afghanistan it's hard to doubt the mental toughness of Kaneko and his desire to build a school in Afghanistan is something that will drive him and his career.
Jordy Weiss (21-0, 3)
Unbeaten Frenchman Jordy Weiss, "El Gitano", is a 25 year old who has already claimed the European Union Welterweight title and scored solid wins at that type of level against the likes of Steven Bloyer and Aitor Nieto. There's a long way for him to go, but he has shown plenty of promise and skills. One of the big question marks about Weiss is how he reacts to fighters walking through his shots, which will happen sooner rather than later. It seems like he won't have the power to get opponents respect at a higher level, but we have been surprised in the past and he certainly has the potential to mix on a very competitive basis on the European title scene.
Sergey Lubkovich (10-0, 7)
Fats rising Russian 23 year old Sergey Lubkovich made his debut in 2016 and already has notable wins over Jose Ocampo, Viktor Plotnikov, Karim Mayfield and Juan Ruiz. He's talented, hits hard, and looks like he has the belief of his team, who haven't tried to protect at all during his short career. He still needs a bit more maturing before taking on a true world-class fighter, but it seems inevitable that he will fight at world level sooner rather than later, and there's a good chance, given his age, that he does pick up a title down the line.
Gor Yeritsyan (9-0, 8)
Scary hard hitting Armenian fighter Gor Yeritsyan is one of the division's "hidden gem" fighters. He made his debut in May 2017 and has fought all but 1 of his fights in Russia, hiding away on cards that Western fans may not have seen. Despite being hidden from most fans Yeritsyan has scored notable wins over Ali Funeka, Jose Luis Prieto and Alvin Lagumbay. With 5 bouts in 2018 his team have kept him busy and if he continues that level of activity in 2019 there's a real chance he will crash into the world rankings by the end of the year.
Eimantas Stanionis (7-0, 5)
Baby faced Lithuainian fighter Eimantas Stanionis debuted in 2017 and has climbed up the rankings gradually, with a huge win last August over Levan Ghvamichava being the pick of his victories. Aged 24 Stanionis has time on his side and has a strong amateur background, that saw him reaching the second round of the 2016 Olympics. Based in Oxnard it's clear Stanionis has got top sparring and training on offer and there is real potential for 2019 to be a big break out year for him.
Daniyar Yeleussinov (5-0, 3)
Unbeaten Kazakh fighter Daniyar Yeleussinov is a 27 year Matchroom promoted southpaw who won Olympic gold in 2016 and has over-come some early career problems. Originally Yeleussinov didn't look suited to the professional side of boxing, but impressive performances against Matt Doherty and Marcos Mojica have seen Yeleussinov show amazing improvements and the plan for 2019 is for him to fight in his first title bouts. An announcement on his next bout is expected shortly and there is real expectations on his shoulders to continue to shine following his last two wins.
Jon Miguez (9-0, 5)
Spanish hope Jon Miguez, the "Goodboy", is a 22 year old who has shown promise but is still finding his feet in terms of competition. He took a good step up in class last time out, against Abdessamad Nechchad and looks to be stepping up again in early 2019, taking on Vasyl Kurasov in February. A win there should help Miguez find his feet at a new level and hopefully he'll continue moving forward through the rest of the year. He's still not developed his man strength, but has scored a stoppage over durable Spanish based Nicaraguan Miguel Aguilar and clearly has sting on his punches, even if he's not a KO artist.
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.