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.
On February 2nd we'll see Japanese-Korean Gonte Lee make his professional debut, following an excellent amateur career. Although he isn't a medal winner at a major international event, such as the World Amateur Championships or Olympics his debut is one worth getting very excited about.
Lee had been a standout amateur, winning numerous tournaments on the Japanese scene, including 6 high school crowns, whilst running up a spectacular (102-10) record, including a Japanese record setting 62 straight wins. Those performances had lead him to fighting in a number of international competitions, competing for North Korea.
It was hoped that Lee would compete at the 2020 Olympics in Japan under the North Korean banner. His decision to instead turn professional was a clear sign of fear that the 2020 Olympics may not have boxing, and his decision to turn professional was certainly effected by the issues going on in amateur boxing. The fact he was one of North Korea's biggest hopes in boxing, and was deciding to give up his Olympic dream 2 years out due to the uncertainty of AIBA was a statement, and he made it alongside Japanese hopeful Mikito Nakano, with both turning professional under Teiken.
Although, at the time of writing, the only footage of Lee is as an amateur it's hard not to be impressed by him. He is a razor sharp Southpaw, who has excellent speed, anticipation and reflexes, as well as a lovely variety of punches. Unlike some fighters who rely on speed he manages to combine those traits with excellent boxing skills, solid fundamentals, an accurate jab and a powerful straight left hand. He also looks like he has impressive body punching, something we don't typically see amateurs having, and a style that should suit the professional game well.
We know that his first bout is a gimme, as he takes on Thai novice Aphisit Namkhot (1-1, 1) but the expectation is that he will be moved quickly through the ranks in 2019 and 2020. His style pedigree and style should see him competing for titles in the near future, and we're incredibly excited to see his rise through the ranks.
With Teiken having had a few bad years, with the likes of Shinsuke Yamanaka, Akifumi Shimoda, Toshiyuki Igarashi and Takashi Miura all retiring, and high profile losses for Ryota Murata, Roman Gonzalez, Carlos Cuadras and Jorge Linares, the gym is need of some success stories. Whilst some of those successes have come in the form Masaru Sueyoshi and Hayate Kaji they will want significantly more and the signing of Lee is a clear statement of intent, and we suspect after Lee shines on debut we'll be seeing Teiken approach a number of other amateur standouts later in the year as they look to bolster their future hopes. Although Teiken is still the most well known gym in Japan others have started to sign up talent for their future, with Watanabe, Kadoebi and Ohashi all signing top prospects, and we think Lee, and Nakano, will be the start of Teiken's upcoming talent raid of the amateur scene.
Is Lee's debut going to shake up the Japanese scene in a seismic way? No. But it will be something to look forward to, and the start of a journey that we expect will see success at domestic, regional and world level.
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.
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.
One of the most highly regarded and celebrated divisions in the sport right now is the Welterweight division, which has some of the biggest names in it, and some of the most recognisable fighters in it. It also has major issues with actual match making, and almost all the champions have got less than amazing match ups lined up for the first half of 2019.
Shawn Porter (29-2-1, 17) - WBC (0 defenses)
Rough and tumble American fighter Shawn Porter won the WBC title last September, winning an ultra competitive bout with Danny Garcia to become a 2-time world champion. Sadly the win over Garcia was his only bout in 2018, and he has only fought 4 times since the start of 2016, losing one of those bouts to Keith Thurman. With 2 losses to his name we know he's not unbeatable, but he's exciting, heavy handed and enjoys a fight. During his career he has faced a relative who's who including Devon Alexander, Paulie Malignaggi, Kell Brook, Adrien Broner, Keith Thurman, Andre Berto and Danny Garcia. He'll be back in the ring on March 9th to defend his title against the unbeaten Yordenis Ugas.
Errol Spence (24-0, 21) - IBF (2 defenses)
The unbeaten Errol Spence is one of the real rising stars of American boxing and was regarded as one of the top Welterweights before he took the IBF crown from Kell Brook in May 2017. He was a standout amateur who has became a major offensive force in the professional ranks. He's aggressive, exciting, has a personality that will keep fans onside and a real desire to show what he can do in the ring. Sadly he's not been mega active, with just 3 fights in 2017 and 2018 combined, but he has been fighting at a high level with wins against the likes of Chris Algieri, Leonardo Bundo, Kell Brook, Lamont Peterson. He's stopped his last 11 opponents and is a real threat to anyone in the division. His next defense comes on March 9th, when he takes on Lightweight champion Mikey Garcia.
Terence Crawford (34-0, 25) - WBO (1 defense)
The sensational switch hitting Terence Crawford is a 3-weight champion and arguably the #1 pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. At Lightweight he dominated the likes of Ricky Burns and Raymundo Beltran before moving up in weight and unifying all 4 titles at Light Welterweight, defeating the likes of Thomas Dulorme, Henry Lundy, Viktor Postol and Julius Indongo. He moved up in weight last year and popped the cherry's of both Jeff Horn and Jose Benevidez Jr, and showed that he may finally be at his best weight. He's a slippery skilled fighter, who has under-rated power, exceptional skills and speed and is one of the most naturally talented fighters in the sport. His next defense if set for April against Amir Khan, in a bout that has the fell of a stay busy defense, rather than a reputation enhancing one.
Keith Thurman (28-0-0-1, 22) WBA "Super" (0 defenses)
Highly regarded American Keith Thurman has become one of the most frustrating fighters in the sport today. He's a brilliantly talented boxer-puncher with fantastic charisma but the activity that makes fans question whether or not he is an active fighter. He was last in the ring in March 2017 and has once fought 4 times since the start of 2015. He is a former WBA "interim", WBA "regular" and WBC champion, though was stripped of the WBC title due to lack of activity. We're not currently aware of any fighter, in the sport, who still holds a world title after 22 months of inactivity but the WBA do seem to have been very nice in not stripping Thurman. Thankfully he is set to make his ring return on January 26th, it's just unfortunately going to be against Josesito Lopez. Lopez was a great fighter back in the day but he has fought just 3 times since being stopped by Andre Berto in 2015! The situation with Thurman very much feels like the WBA have played politics due to his popularity. We like him, but he shouldn't have been able to hold up the top WBA title for so long without fighting.
Manny Pacquiao (60-7-2, 39) WBA "regular" (0 defenses)
Filipino icon Manny Pacquiao is still going strong at the age of 40. The former multi-weight world champion the WBA "regular" Welterweight title in July 2017, when he beat Lucas Matthysse in 7 rounds in Malaysia. That was Pacquiao's first bout in over a year, following his loss to Jeff Horn in 2017. He's not the fighter he was in his pomp, destroying the likes of Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto, but is still one of the biggest names in the sport. It's hard to know what he has left, but he did look sharp stopping Matthysse and will be looking to show that there is a lot more life in the old dog later this month, when he takes on the controversial Adrien Broner, on January 19th. At his best he was destrutive little fireball with incredible power, speed and unpredictable movement, as he's gotten older he's had to depend more on his boxing ability, and whilst that's solid he's certainly not closer to the fighter he once was.
Having looked at the Champions and the Contenders at 140lbs we now move onto the interesting prospects rising through the ranks at 140lbs, and we really get a lovely look across the boxing world in a weight class that has a really metropolitan feel to it.
If you missed our looks at the champions that can be found here The state of the Division - Light Welterweight - The Champions whilst the review of the challengers can be found here The state of the Division - Light Welterweight - The Contenders
Batyr Akhmedov (5-0, 4)
If we were asked to mention just 1 prospect in the division it would have been Uzbek born Russian based Batyr Akhmedov, who confuses things even more having fought at the 2016 Olympics for Turkey under the name Batuhan Gozgec. Akhmedov debuted in early 2017 and hasn't been particularly active, yet has already notched big wins over Ricky Sismundo and Ismael Barroso. He's highly skilled, heavy hand, exciting and wanting to prove himself quickly. We're expecting 2019 to be a massive year for Akhmedov, who will almost certainly be ending the year in the world rankings, even if he does only squeeze 2 or 3 fights into the year.
Fabian Andres Maidana (16-0, 12)
The younger brother of Marcos Rene Maidana is Fabian Andres Maidana, a rising prospect, former amateur standout and one of the future stars of Argentinian boxing. Like his older brother he is a brutal puncher, and his 16 bouts have averaged less than 4 rounds. Notably he has been getting tested, with bouts against the tricky Johan Perez in 2017 and Andrey Klimov in 2018, with wins against those two men helping building his image and profile. There is a lot work for him to do, but with a good team behind him, his brother's advice and a willingness to travel, the expectation is that Maidana will go far. He's Scheduled to fight in January, against Jaider Parra, and could end up having a huge year ahead.
Akeem Ennis Brown (12-0, 1)
One of the lighter hitting prospects in the division is Englishman Akeem Ennis Brown, a tricky, smart, boxer who shone in 2018 with notable wins over Chris Jenkins and Darragh Foley. Those wins saw him build on good victories over Freddy Kiwitt in 2016 and Glenn Foot in 2017. At the age of 23 "Riiddy" looks like being a nightmare to face off, and is perhaps only going to be held back by his lack of power. Despite not having much sting in his shots he is an awfully good fighter, a nightmare to come against and a truly frustrating proposition for anyone in the division.
Fazliddin Gaibnazarov (6-0, 3)
A third notable Uzbek at 140lbs is 27 year old Fazliddin Gaibnazarov, who despite being a gold medal winner looks a lot less of a threat to the champions than compatriots Shakhram Giyasov and Shohjahon Ergashev. Whilst Giyasov and Ergashev turned professional with pro-ready styles the same can't be said of Gaibnazarov, who has had to adapt his style since making his debut in 2017. He has began to show touches of brilliance but unfortunately the jury is still out on him as we enter 2019. Despite not standing out it is worth noting that Gaibnazarov is promoted by Top Rank and will be expecting a huge 2019, beginning with his January 18th bout against Ricardo Garcia.
Yazid Amghar (21-0, 9)
Over the last few years the French boxing scene has come alive, with a number of interesting and talented fighters breaking through the ranks. One of those is 29 year French Light Welterweight champion Yazid Amghar. Having debuted in 2012 it took a while for Amghar to gain much traction with his career, but that has started to happen recently thanks to good wins over Douda Sow, Jarkko Putkonen and Berman Sanchez, as well as a total gutcheck against Renald Garrido, a favourite of everyone here! Amghar is perhaps not a world class prospect, but will certainly be mixing in the European title scene in the years to come and will be a good addition to those ranks.
Alexander Duran (17-0, 4)
Duran is the most iconic of names in Panamanian boxing, and 26 year old southpaw Alexander Duran has been unfortunate enough to share the same surname as the legendary Roberto Duran. Despite the same surname the two won't every be fairly compared, however the unbeaten hopeful is worth talking about following some good recent results. These have included wins over Patrick Lopez, Luis Ronaldo Castillo and once touted Mexican Adrian Estrella. There is still a long way for Duran to go, but he's had a good 24 months and should be breaking on to the radar of more fight fans in 2019.
Genaro Gamez (8-0, 5)
American 23 year old Genaro Gamez came to our attention last year when he beat Shoki Sakai, in what was a really good step up for the youngster. Gamez looks to build on that win in February when he takes on Ivan Delgado and despite being a big of a hidden gem we would be very surprised if more fans weren't talking about him towards the end of the year. He has been featured on Golden Boy on ESPN cards, the Golden Boy team and has looked like a sharp puncher with nice movement and quick hands. There is clearly a lot of work to do with Gamez, but after just 8 fights he looks really promising and just needs his team to put him in the right tests in 2019.
Juan Pablo Romero (9-0, 6)
We don't see too many Mexican fighters making a mark on the international amateur scene before beginning their career but Juan Pablo Romero, or "Pivi", did just that, making his way to the 2016 Olympics. Sadly Romero's Olympic dream was ended by Italian Vincenzo Mangiacapre but he's now on a professional journey and is rising quickly. He debuted in April 2017 and was 5-0 (3) by the end of the year, before stepping up his competition in 2018, going 4-0 (3) including a very nice win over Jose Luis Prieto. Mexican TV are behind him, he looks a very clean puncher, very sharp and defensively smart with some lovely body shots in his arsenal. At 28 he's going to be moved quickly this year and we'd suspect his US debut is just around the corner.
Mykquan Williams (13-0, 7)
American youngster Mykquan Williams has been a pro for close to 3 years, but is still only 20 years old. He's not had the spotlight shined on him in the way some American prospects have, but has impressed, especially in 2018 when he went 4-0 and hardly lost a round. He's a boxing baby but took his first professional title last year and will look to continue building momentum. He has a pretty aggressive style, a likable personality and a recognisable promoter in DiBella. He comes across as someone who has his head on his shoulders and a strong team guiding his career at this early stage. It could be a few years before we see what he's able to do, but we do like what we've seen of him.
Lei Wang (2-0, 1)
Whilst Batyr Akhmedov might be the 1st name we'd put on a prospect list at 140lbs China's Lei Wang isn't far behind. The former Chinese amateur star made his professional debut in September 2018, stopping Anthony Sabalde, and went on to beat Ricky Sismundo in December. Although he's only done 11 rounds as a professional Wang has shown a lot to be excited about. Although he was given a really tough time by Sismundo that shouldn't be a negative for Wang, who would have learned more in that bout than 10 at a lower level. There's a lot to like about Wang, but also a lot that he and his team need to work on now he's in the professional ranks.
Koki Inoue (12-0, 10)
The third member of the Kanagawa Inoue clan is Koki Inoue, the cousin of Naoya Inoue and Takuma Inoue. The Shingo Inoue trained southpaw boxer-puncher will be getting a Japanese title fight later this year and looks to add to his impressive start to professional boxing. There's a lot to like about Inoue, even if he isn't comparable to his cousins, and he's an aggressive, exciting, hard hitting fighter who is expected to move well beyond domestic level. He didn't look close to his best last time out, against Marcus Smith, though it was later revealed he was carrying several injuries into that bout. If he can defeat Valentine Hosokawa in their title showdown he will instantly be getting a lot more attention.
Masahiro Suzuki (1-0, 1)
Another fighter who made their debut in 2018 is Masahiro Suzuki, who debuted in November against the hard hitting Antonio Siesmundo. We were incredibly impressed by Suzuki who showed a real calmness in the face of a hard hitting pressure fighter, and we were instantly looking forward to what he's going to do in the future. He looked talented, sharp, intelligent, exciting and incredibly promising on debut, and was clearly looking to use his amateur background as a starting point for what he's doing in the professional scene. He's expected to be back in the ring in Spring and it's going to be a very exciting journey to follow him on.
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 Light Welterweight division has suddenly become one of the most interesting divisions, following what was really a weak era due to the sheer dominance by Terrence Crawford who was several levels above everyone else. With Crawford having unified all 4 titles in 2017 and leaving the division in 2018 it's left the 140lb weight class wide open, and that has been brilliant, giving us compelling match ups as everyone scrambles to reach the top.
Kiryl Relikh (23-2, 19) - WBA (1 defense)
Belorussian puncher Kiryl Relikh was a relative unknown until 2016, despite having a record of 21-0 (19) at the time and being associated with the very popular Ricky Hatton. Since then he has gone 2-2, though should have been 4-0 with 2 very debatable losses. His break out bout, in many ways, was a controversial decision loss to Ricky Burns in the summer of 2016. Despite losing many felt Relikh had deserved the decision. Relikh's bout following that was another controversial loss, this time to Rances Barthelmy, which was avenged in 2018 as Relikh won the WBA title, a title he has defended once, beating Eduard Troyanovsky, whilst also qualifying for the semi-final of the WBSS. Relikh is an aggressive, heavy-handed fighter with a solid work rate and a generally exciting style. At 29 years old he is still relatively young, but he did debut in 2011 and has taken punishment in his last few bouts, going 48 rounds in his last 4 bouts.
Maurice Hooker (25-0-3, 17) - WBO (1 defense)
Unbeaten American fighter Maurice Hooker had a huge 2018, travelling to England to defeat Terry Flanagan, to claim the WBO title, and then made his first defense by defeating Alex Saucedo. In both of those bouts he snapped long unbeaten runs, and built well on a great 2017 as well, with 2017 seeing him defeat veteran Cristobal Cruz and defeated the then 18-0 Courtney Jackson, meaning Hooker is now on a run of taking 3 unbeaten records in a row. Although under-rated Hooker is a tough man to look good against, and could end up being the hidden gem of the division in this post Crawford era. He's tall, rangy and has strong management behind him with Matchroom sport, who will likely look to market him hard as they attempt to make their mark on the US scene.
Ivan Baranchyk (19-0, 12) - IBF (0 defenses)
Another Belorussian champion in the division is Ivan Baranchyk,who won the IBF title in October when he stopped Anthony Yigit in a WBSS quarter-final. Baranchyk was a former amateur standout, especially at Junior level, who turned professional in 2014, fighting at home, before relocating to the US and building his name with a string of very impressive and destructive performances. Those destructive performance have just kept coming and in 2018 he became the second man to stop Petr Petrov before stopping the previously unbeaten Anthony Yigit, giving Yigit a badly swollen left eye that forced the bout to be stopped. He's aggressive, exciting, hard hitting and despite some technical flaws he's going to be a very hard man to beat. He's relentless and a complete nightmare to fight.
Jose Carlos Ramirez (23-0, 13) - WBC (1 defense)
Someone else who's relentless is American Jose Carlos Ramirez, who is creating a real buzz in California and becoming a real must watch fighter with intense aggression, underrated defense and insane work rate. On paper he doesn't look like he has power, but the 26 old former Olympian is likely to score a lot of stoppages through accumulation as time goes on. He's marketable, exciting, has a great personality and exciting style. Sadly however he's missing out on the WBSS, and Top Rank do appear to want to match him in house going forward, which does limit his options, and obviously his appeal, which is a shame given how much fun we get watching Ramirez
Regis Prograis (23-0, 19) - WBC "Diamond" (1 defense)
American Southpaw Regis Prograis is in a bizarre position where by the WBC had him win the interim title, then immediately allowed him to fight for the "Diamond" title, not the regular title. So despite not holding the world title we have included him in the champions, and in fairness to him he's potentially the best fighter in the division. Like Ramirez and Baranchyk he's pretty relentless, throwing a lot of shots, he's heavy-handed and shows much more to his boxing than the other champions. He not only keeps a high work rate through out but switches levels, throws from unusual angles, using a lot of movement and mixes everything up with an awkward southpaw stance. He's not the natural talent of Crawford, but is an aggressive and fun to watch fighter, and we'll be looking forward to every bout he has going forward.
The Lightweight division is one with a strange between the top fighters and the top contenders. The champions really look several levels above their most dangerous contenders, in what is a pretty strange division. Despite being strange at the top it's really at prospect level, with a lot of hungry fighters looking to race through the ranks, a number of which are getting serious attention already.
If you've missed our previous looks into the Lightweight division they can be read here:
The state of the Division - Lightweight - The Champions
The state of the Division - Lightweight - The Contenders
Devin Haney (20-0, 13)
One of the biggest and most highly touted prospects in world boxing right now is 20 year old Devin Haney, who has been viewed as one of the can't miss prospects. Making his debut at the age of 17 Haney has developed a reputation as a skilled boxer-mover and has already been compared to the likes of Floyd Maywather Jr. He has shown touched of real class, beating veterans like Mason Menard and Juan Carlos Burgos in 2018, though there are question marks about his power and his killer instinct, but things that can be worked on over the coming years. Given his age he is likely to out grow the Lightweight limit sooner rather than later, but it's hard not to see him having success at Light Welterweight when that happens.
Teofimo Lopez (11-0, 9)
Regarded as being another of the future faces of American boxing Teofimo Lopez is a 21 year old boxer-puncher, with a lot of spite, and nasty intentions. He debuted in late 2016 and has raced away to 11-0 in just 34 rounds. In 2018 he scored 4 wins, including opening round KO's of Vitor Jones and Mason Menard. Lopez is still a boxing baby though looks like a total monster in the making, and could well be one of the next US superstars, if Top Rank guide him well and if he has the hunger for the sport. At the moment he's ticking every box a prospect can tick, and we dare say he's proven more in less time than the aforementioned Haney.
Joe Cordina (8-0, 6)
Welshman Joe Cordina was an accomplished amateur before turning professional in 2017, following a gold medal at the 2015 European Championships and an appearance at the 2016 Olympics. Aged 27 Cordina is a fully grown man, who will be looking to make a big impression in 2019, and has entered the year with both the WBA International and Commonwealth titles, as well as a notable win over fellow Brit Sean Dodd. There are a lot of questions for Cordina to answer, but with Matchroom Sports behind him along with his amateur pedigree it seems inevitable that he will go far, and will almost certainly end up fighting at world level, somewhere down the line.
Shuichiro Yoshino (9-0, 7)
Another 27 year old prospect with a strong amateur background is Japan's Shuichiro Yoshino, who took the Japanese title in his 6th fight and has already made 3 defenses of the belt. The talented Yoshino went 104-20 (55) in the unpaid ranks and was a multi-time high school champion before turning professional at the age of 24. With the established Misako gym behind him there's a good chance he will progress from Japanese level to regional level in 2019 before moving on to a potential world ranking in 2020. From there it's really a case of proving what he can do. Sadly his activity level hasn't been the best and he won't actually be back in the ring until mid-April, which won't help his rise, sadly.
Alfredo Santiago (11-0, 3)
Puerto Rico based Dominican 24 year old Alfredo Santiago is of the division's hidden gems. The tall fighter debuted in 2015 and hasn't had much publicity despite already having wins over Jayson Velez, Cristian Ruben Mino and Jonathan Victor Barros. Although showing a lot of promise questions will be asked of Santiago's power, having stopped just 1 of his last 8 bouts early, though few can doubt his skills and the experience he's getting, with 4 bouts going 10 rounds already. Also it's worth noting that Santiago is listed 5'11", which is tall for a Lightweight, but he looks even tall with genuinely freakish size and reach.
Ravshanbek Umurzakov (6-0, 5)
Uzbek puncher Ravshanbek Umurzakov made his debut at the end of 2017 and has impressed already in his short career, thanks in part to his brutal power. He impressed almost immediately, with opening round wins against Evgeny Smelov and Dohdan Zemlianya and continued to build on that through 2018. Sadly his biggest win to dat was a 58 second win against Eden Sonsona, with Sonsona really looking like he just didn't want to be in the ring and used any excuse to get away. Despite Sonsona's disappointing performance we shouldn't over-look Umurzakov, who looks like he will be fast tracked through 2019, and could end up in the world rankings by the end of the year.
William Zepeda (16-0, 14)
In 2018 we saw Jamie Munguia turn his long unbeaten record on the domestic Mexican scene into a world title, and it's fair to suggest that William Zepeda will be looking to follow suit somewhere down the site. The 22 year southpaw from México City turned professional at the age of 19 and has slowly built himself a pretty good looking record, without setting the world on fire. Despite not really getting too much attention he has started to take some minor steps up in class, with wins against Jesus Acosta and Ulises Perez. We expect him to toil away on the Mexican scene a little bit longer, but continue to move up in class, and in 2020 we would 't be surprised to see Zepeda make his US debut. There's plenty for him to develop, but he's young, powerful and gaining valuable experience at a young age.
Xiangxiang Sun (15-0, 10)
Chinese prospect Xiangxiang Sun, dubbed the "Pretty boy", has had a frustrating career. He debuted way back in December 2012 but failed to be active during those early years, fighting just once in each of 2013 and 2014. Thankfully the last couple of years we have seen him being active and scoring notable wins over Roy Mukhlis and Nelson Tinampay. On paper he is a step behind countryman Yongqiang Yang, however we've been more impressed by Sun than Yang, who had a bit of luck to over-come Takuya Watanabe. Between them however they do give China a good 2-pronged attack force at Lightweight, and hopefully one of them will manage to make a serious mark on the world stage.
Shawn Oda (10-0, 8)
Current Japanese Youth champion Shawn Oda is a really interesting prospect, who, at the age of 20, has so much potential. Oda is one of the few fighters who speaks fluent English, opening up the Western markets, and also has a more athletic style to his boxing than many Japanese fighters. He first came to our attention in 2016, the year he debuted, when he won the Japanese Rookie of the Year, at the age of 18. His 2017 was a bit of a write off but with 4 wins in 2018, including his Japanese title win against Seiryu Toshikawa, he has rebounded wonderfully. We suspect 2019 will be a year of development for the youngster, before he looks to progress onto a national title but he is certainly one to watch, and arguably the best hope Japanese has in the division longer term.
Go Hosaka (2-0, 1)
Japanese-Filipino Go Hosaka debuted in the summer of 2016 and has impressed, showing not only speed, power and skills but also excellent composure. He blew his debut opponent away before taking on Jason Tinampay in November. Hosaka began by trying to take Tinampay out but quickly realised the Filipino was luring him in to counter, and began to just control things behind his reach and use his range. Prior to turning professional he was an outstanding amateur and looks likely to be the Asian wild card in the division. At 22 he is slightly older than Oda, but has got the strong amateur pedigree that Oda lacks, which will make it fun to watch the two men as they develop from prospect status. It's worth noting that Filipino promotional powerhouse ALA are guiding Hosaka's career and they do have a decent track record of getting fighters towards world title fights. Sadly though they have often seen their fighters lack something at the very top level, and Hosaka will hopefully avoid being another nearly man of the ALA Gym.
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.