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.
In "A look at fighters from "non boxing countries part 1" I looked at Cambodia, North Korea, Mongolia, Hong Kong and Macau. So now I'll have a look at some more fighters from countries not traditionally known for boxing.
Tran Van Thao (11-0, 8) - Vietnam
Vietnamese fighter Tran Van Thao, dubbed "the trigger", is a 26 year old who debuted back in 2015 and has got himself a genuine name back home in Vietnam, despite only fighting professionally there once, on his debut. He's been compared in Vietnam to Floyd Mayweather Jr and has received a lot of coverage in his homeland for a 2017 win over George Lumoly for the "interim" WBC Asian Boxing Council Super Flyweight title. That win is one of a few notable ones for Thao who has also beaten Yo Han Bae, Wulan Tuolehazi and Richard Rosales, who are all great wins for a fighter with 11 bouts.
Sadly a lot of footage of Tran has vanished from the internet, including his first 2 bouts, and he's not fought as a professional since June this year, when he fought his 8th straight bout in Thailand. The hope, from us, is that he will be back in the ring sooner rather than later, as he seems like a genuine prospect for Vietnam, and he could be one of the big winners from the OPBF being involved in the country.
The footage of Thao that remains online makes him look like a sharp puncher, who's defensively patient and mixes his shots well. Sadly however there is so little footage that it's hard to know just how much potential he has, and how far he can really go. His competition has been decent, at times, but there are a lot of questions that will need answering, if and when he fights again.
Nadir Baloch (4-0, 4) - Pakistan
When we talk about boxing in Pakistan we really only think of Pakistani-British fighter Amir Khan. That however may change in the coming years with the rise of Nadir Baloch, who is a 29 year old Featherweight who is actually fighting in Pakistan and is slowly, but surely, making a mark of his own. He looks to be pretty well schooled, and was reportedly a good amateur, but there are a lot of question marks about him, his actual record, which is thought to differ from the reported 4-0, and his hunger.
There's lots to enjoy about watching Baloch, who can fight like a bit of an eccentric clown when he wants to, but there competition he has faced has often looked like it's there to lose. It also needs to be mentioned that he appears to be short for a Featherweight and despite some lovely touches to his boxing he can be rather overly aggressive and open.
With Pakistan boxing just getting off the ground Baloch looks like he will be a key figure for the countries scene. Sadly though it seems like if, or when, he faces stiffer competition hey may end up being found out. In theory a win over Juma Fundi looks good, but Fundi was beginning to roll over every time he left Tanzania and it hardly looked like he threw a punch of note at Baloch.
Sachin Dekwal (4-0, 2) - Indian
We suspect that Indian boxing will be big news in 2019. Bob Arum has recently signed two notable Indian fighters, India had a good 2018 in terms of amateur results, and we suspect that if the 2020 Olympics doesn't have boxing then a number of Indian fighters will turn professional. One of the few Indian fighters already making a mark on the Indian scene, and hasn't abandoned the country yet.
Aged 23 Dekwal is a Lightweight who debuted at the start of the year and is slowly making his mark. He began his career on the road, winning his debut in the Philippines before notching his second win in Thailand. Since then he has twice fought in India, and recently stopped veteran Francis Miyeyusho. Against Miyeyusho we were impressed by Dekwal who looked very competent for such a novice, with a good understanding of the ring and his movement. There is clearly a lot of work to be done but there is promise here.
With the Indian boxing scene set to boom Dekwal may well see a lot of attention put his way in 2019. Hopefully that will lead to better training and getting a real team behind him. We like what we've seen, given his novice status, but he certainly needs a professional team to develop his skills, his name and standing in the sport.
Muhamad Farkhan (7-0, 7) - Malaysia
Over the last few years Malaysia has become a notable, but small, player for fights with a number of Uzbeks fighting in then country and generating buzz there. When it comes to Malaysian fighters themselves however there's not been much said at all, with Muhammad Meeraj probably more attention than anyone else. For us however the man we'd like to raise attention to is Cruiserweight Muhamad Farkhan, who is hard hitting, exciting, flawed but fun.
Farkhan isn't going to win a world title, in fact if he even wins a notable international belt we'd be very surprised, however there is a real enjoyment in watching the rather our of shape, slow and clumsy Malaysian taking out limited opponents whilst raising attention of Malaysian boxing. He's the sort of fighter who is very basic, very straight forward but looks to take opponents out early on and that alone does generate some attention.
The likeliness of Malaysia creating a superstar any time soon is slim, and that's being polite, but having someone like Farkhan on the scene will not harm the boxing culture there. Instead having someone who appears to be looking to knock opponents out will genuinely help Malaysian boxing to build a fan base.
Kudura Kaneko (9-0, 6) - Afghanistan
I'm going to finish this list by cheating a little bit and mentioning a Japanese fighter, though it's someone who is originally from Afghanistan, and looks like he could be one of their more notable fighters. Kudura Kaneko, also known as Kudura Tura, is someone who left Afghanistan at a very young age with his family to leave the war torn country of his birth. Since living in Japan he has become a bit of a minor boxing star, having already claimed the Japanese Youth Welterweight title and, more recently, stopping former Japanese national champion Toshio Arikawa.
The 20 year old is expected to fight for a Japanese title in the next year or two, and whilst he will be the under-dog at the moment there is a real chance that he will develop quickly enough to be favoured over a champion by the end of 2019, especially given how much he's developed this year.
Afghanistan has had other fighters of note, most obviously the Canadian based Arash Usmanee, but it's quite possible that Kaneko could well go further than any other Afghan born fighter, and with growing popularity in his adopted country we're really enjoying his journey and development. He really is a unique fighter, and someone we've been constantly impressed by.
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.