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.
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.
At the moment the Light Middleweight division is one that has several really exciting potential match ups, and a potential unification bout that if made would almost certainly be a front running for the FOTY. With that said, lets have a look at those current world champions.
Jarrett Hurd (26-0, 16) - IBF, WBA "super" (3 defenses of IBF title, 1 defense of WBA "super")
Unbeaten American fighter Jarrett "Swift" Hurd is one of the few unified champions in the sport, having unified the IBF and WBA titles at 154lbs. In the ring the 28 year old is an all aggressive monster. He's flawed defensively but has an incredible work rate, a fantastic toughness and refuses to take a backwards step. Although he doesn't look technically great, or quick, he's incessant, and brings intense pressure from the opening seconds to the final bell. So far he has scored notable wins over the likes of Tony Harrison, Austin Trout, Erislandy Lara, Frank Galarza and Oscar Molina. One of the worries about Hurd is his size and he won't be able to make 154lbs forever.
Jaime Munguia (31-0, 26) - WBO (2 defenses)
Another fighter who seems to have a limited time at Light Middleweight is Mexican sensation Jaime Munguia, who claimed the WBO title last year and ran up two defenses, all in the space of 5 months. The Mexican ripped the WBO title away from Sadam Ali in May, when he was a late replacement, and went on defeat Liam Smith and Brandon Cook in the months that followed. Munguia, like Hurd, is technically limited and defensively flawed, but throws so much leather that he generally beats opponents down, or handcuffs them to the point where they are unable to fight back. He's all aggression and incredibly exciting, and a bout him and Hurd looks like a bout that should be on every fan's wish list. Munguia is set to return on January 26th to defend his title against Takeshi Inoue.
Tony Harrison (28-2, 21) - WBC (0 defenses)
The newest champion in the division is WBC king Tony Harrison. "Super Bad" won the title in December 2018, upsetting the previously unbeaten Jermell Charlo in a close decision bout, a decision that many disagreed with. Harrison is smart, slippery fighter who can fight when he needs to, and can box when he needs to, as we saw against Charlo. Although a really talented fighter Harrison's tactics can be frustrating and he has shown real flaws already in his career, suffering two stoppages, both in round 9. His stamina, and chin, are both question marks, but he has got a good boxing brain and at 28 he is still maturing as a fighter.
Brian Carlos Castano (15-0, 11) - WBA "Regular" (1 defense)
Unbeaten Argentinian fighter Brian Carlos Castano fills out list of champions at 154lbs, thanks to his WBA "regular" title. The 29 year old was a former amateur standout, with notable amateur wins over the likes of Esquiva Falcao and Errol Spence, and was fantastic in the WSB, defeating Sergit Derevyanchenko in that. As a professional his best wins have been against the likes of Michel Soro and Cedric Vitu. He's a talented boxer, with good movement, very solid power and good work rate, though perhaps needs to showcase his ability against a top level opponent, something that's expected later this year with a bout against Erislandy Lara supposedly in the works. He's talented and it's going to be very fun to see how he copes with world class opponents later this year.
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.