The Welterweight scene is an interesting one, though it's not got the most established or notable contenders out there. It has some well-known names, some emerging names, but little in terms of bankable contenders for the champions. On the other hand the division does look set for a shake up, and that is exciting.
Shawn Porter (30-3-1, 17)
The 32 year old Shawn Porter is one of the few really established contenders in the division. The former world champion is a nightmare to fighter with a high work rate, solid power, an impressive gas tanks and a real willingness to just take the fight to anyone. His chin isn't cast iron, and he has been down a couple of times, but it's rare to actually see him hurt and he's always gotten back up to continue giving opponents hell. Technically not the best, but with bull like strength Porter is not an easy out for anyone.
Danny Garcia (36-2, 21)
Another former world champion is Danny Garcia, who is another notable contender in the division. Garcia is a talented but someone who has really frustrated fans, as we saw recently in his win over Ivan Redkach. At his best he's genuinely world class, tough, and has a very heavy left hook. At his worst however he's predictable, and faces some pretty poor competition between his big bouts. With wins against the likes of Amir Khan, Lucas Matthysse, Erik Morales and Lamont Peterson he's certainly got a good resume, but at Welterweight he does lack an A tier win and has lost to 2 of the more notable fighters at the weight.
Keith Thurman (29-1-0-1, 22)
The final of the real big name contenders is 31 year old boxer-puncher Keith Thurman. Sadly Thurman's career has been rather a wasted one with the charismatic "One Time" being plagued by inactivity and injury. Last time out he was beaten by Manny Pacquiao. At his best Thurman was regarded as a top level talent, with the potential to be a genuine star. Sadly with just 4 fights since the start of 2016 his career really has failed to become what many had hoped. Although he has scored wins against Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia, two huge wins, his inactivity has really been a massive problem, and it's unclear when he'll be back in the ring.
Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (17-0, 9)
Unbeaten Uzbek Kudratillo Abdukakhorov is one of a number of contenders who is on the verge of a potential break out. The Top Rank promoted 26 year old is the IBF mandatory challenger and is expected to get his first world title fight later this year, with an IBF "interim" title bout being ordered for him. Although not the most exciting fighter out there Abdukakhorov is a talented boxer, with sharp punches, decent hand speed and a good boxing brain. Sadly however he does have a lack of power, which is likely to be an issue against the divisional elite. He's now gone the distance in 5 of his last 6 and we do wonder whether or not the top fighters will simply walk him down over 12 rounds.
Sergey Lipinets (16-1, 12)
Once beaten Kazakh born Russian Sergey Lipinets is the man that Abdukakhorov will likely be facing for the IBF interim title, with the IBF ordering the two men to face off. Lipinets is a former world champion at 140lbs who has moved up to Welterweight following a loss to Mikey Garcia back in 2018. He didn't look good on his debut at the weight, but a stoppage win over Lamont Peterson last year put him instantly in the mix and it's going to be very interesting to see what the 30 year old Russian can do this year. He's rugged, strong, powerful and heavy handed. Maybe not the biggest or most skilled, but still a genuine handful.
Vergil Ortiz Jr (15-0, 15)
Fast rising American youngster Virgil Ortiz Jr is a real one to watch, and at just 21 years old his future is really bright. So far the power punching youngster has only had 38 rounds as a professional but has already blasted through the likes of Mauricio Herrera, Antonio Orozco and Brad Solomon. Expect 2020 to be the year where Ortiz announces himself as a top contender, though may just miss out on a world title fight this year. If he's not managed a world title fight in 2020 he'll almost certainly be getting one in 2021. A real star in the making and the man who is likely to be a major part of the US boxing scene over the next decade or so.
Yordenis Ugas (24-4, 11)
It's rare to have exciting Cuban in the sport right now but Yordenis Ugas certainly does fit the role of exciting Cuban. The 33 year old is exciting, talented, aggressive and willing to test himself against the best without airs or graces. His record isn't the best but he has given everyone he's faced fits, whilst notching wins against the likes of Jamal James, Levan Ghvamichava, Thomas Dulorme, Ray Robinson and Omar Figueroa Jr. Last year he came up just short against Shawn Porter and has done enough to remain in the mix with another potential title fight later this year. First up for him will be a bout in February with Mike Dallas Jr, in what is a clear stay busy fight.
Gabriel Maestre (2-0, 2)
It might seem incredibly premature to be talking about Gabriel Maestre as a contender but the 33 year old Venezuelan is here on merit. The former amateur stand out made his professional debut in July and knew he had to move quickly. As an amateur he's a 2-time Olympian and as a professional he has already beaten the then 20-0 Jeovanis Barraza and the 27-5-1 Deigo Gabriel Chaves. Those wins have seen Maestre jump into the WBA top 15 and he's very much in the mix for a title fight in the near future. At 33 he really doesn't have time, and watching him more towards a title fight will be a lot of fun.
Jaron Ennis (25-0, 23)
The US really does have some great fighters making their mark at 147lbs. Already is Vergil Ortiz Jr and here we have Jaron Ennis. The 22 year old "Boots" has struggled with getting serious backing, but that looks likely to change this year and he was really impressive earlier this year when he beat Kazakh Bakhtiyar Eyubov. Ennis looks like a star in the making, and he can box or fight. He looks like a real star for the future and with 25 bouts already under his belt he's now ready for a big break out. We wouldn't be surprised if he, like Ortiz, had to wait until 2021 for a world title fight, but by then boxing fans will be talking about him, and will be very excited to see him get a shot at the big time.
In recent memory the only division which has attracted attention similar to the Heavyweight division has been the Welterweight division, which has created a lot of buzz in recent times with several of the top names in the sport fighting there. Today the division is certainly an interesting one, but one where the obvious massive fights aren't being made.
WBA "super" - Manny Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39)
The biggest name in the division is WBA "Super" champion Manny Pacquiao, who rolled back the clock last year when he defeated both Adrien Broner and Keith Thurman. The now 41 year old Filipino certainly has the clock ticking down on his career, but we suspect that until he loses again he's pretty the man that everyone in the division wants. He's not the mega star he once was, but he's still the biggest name in the division, and the one true PPV fighter at Welterweight. Essentially he's the one guy who can pick who fights, when he fights.
WBC and IBF - Errol Spence (26-0, 21)
Unified champion Errol Spence is widely regarded by fans and media in America despite having a relatively thin resume. His best wins have been over Kel Brook, Shawn Porter and a very under-sized Mikey Garcia. Whilst not bad, it does lack depth. In 2019 Spence was involved in a series traffic accident which is currently putting his career on ice, until medical and legal issues are sorted out. At the age of 30 time is on his side for a full return to the ring, and given he's a very fighter to watch, with a likeable personality the future is still bright for Spence. Fingers crossed he concentrates on his career for the next few years, then can party to his hearts content, with his finances and legacy assured.
WBO - Terence Crawford (36-0, 27)
With most of the top Welterweights over on the PBC side of the boxing street WBO champion Terence Crawford has found himself struggling to secure career defining bouts at 147lbs. Regardless his legacy is already a strong one, having won a Lightweight title, become the undisputed Light Welterweight champion and claimed a Welterweight title. As a 3 weight champion, the 32 year old "Bud" has a solid resume, and is one of the most adaptable and smart men in the ring. Able to box, brawl and punch Crawford is a fantastic fighter, but sadly his reign at Welterweight desperately needs a big fight after a string of solid but uninspired opponents.
WBA "Regular" - Alexander Besputin (14-0, 9)
At the moment the future is unclear on Russian 28 year old Alexander Besputin, who has had a drug testing anomaly in his A sample. At the moment we're awaiting the results of the B sample, and whatever investigation takes place. He impressively won the WBA "regular" title last year when he defeated Radzhab Butaev in Monaco. In the ring Besputin looks to be a lot of fun, and a bit like a discount store version of Vasyl Lomachenko, which is certainly not a complain. His drug situation is going to be a very interesting story to follow over the coming weeks.
Yesterday we looked at the champions in the Light Welterweight divisions, and whilst the division has two unified champions, leading to an obvious bout down the line between the two, the division also has an amazing line up of contenders, which is varied, exciting and very, very interesting.
Downua Ruawaiking (16-0, 13)
Unbeaten Thai Downua Ruawaiking, also known as Apinun Khongsong, is set to get a world title fight with Josh Taylor later in the year. The 23 year old won his first 14 bouts in Thailand, against mostly regional level competition such as Sonny Katiandagho and Adam Diu Abdulhamid before going over to Japan and stopping the teak tough Akihiro Kondo in a world title eliminator, which has seen him secure his fight with Taylor. Talented, big, powerful and with under-rated speed Downua is a credible, if relatively unknown, challenger for Taylor who is expected to get his shot this coming coming spring.
Viktor Postol (31-2, 12)
Ukrainain fighter Viktor Postol is a veteran at 36 and a former WBC champion, having beaten Lucas Matthysse for the belt back in 2015. Sadly Postol's reign was a short one, and he lost the belt in his first defense, to Terence Crawford. Since then he has gone 3-1, with a controversial win over Jamshidbek Najmitdinov, a clear loss to Josh Taylor and then decision wins over Siar Ozgul and Mohamed Mimoune. Despite being 3-2 in his last 5 he's now in a mandatory position to face Jose Carlos Ramirez. He was meant to face Ramirez in February but the bout has been cancelled due to the illness sweeping through China.
Regis Prograis (24-1, 20)
Once beaten American fighter Regis Prograis was the losing finalist in the WBSS and despite the lost has proven himself as one of the top fighters in the division. "Rougarou" is aggressive, exciting, hard hitting, talented and so much fun to watch. He's a former WBA and WBC "Diamond" champion and is expected to have a big 2020 as he looks to bounce back from the loss to Taylor. Aged 31 he's still got time on his side, but will clearly want to have a big year and his style, unfortunately his style is one which will not hold up as he gets older, as it's a very high energy style.
Subriel Matias (15-0, 15)
Big punching Puerto Rican fighter Subriel Matias is an exciting, aggressive, heavy handed and tragic fighter. Whilst he only really came to fans attention in s019 he had been racking up an impressive streak of wins from around 2017, when he stopped Patrick Lopez, then followed that up with wins against Daulis Prescott, Adrian Estrella, Breidis Prescott and Fernando David Saucedo. Sadly Matias made headlines last July with his win over Maxim Dadashev, who passed away following their bout. Although Matias is a real talent it's going to take a while to know what effect the Dadashev tragedy will have on Matias.
Jose Zepeda (31-2-0-2, 25)
Jose Zepeda is a talented southpaw who's career has been plagued by misfortune, had he had some luck there's a real chance he would have won a world title at some point. He suffered a freak injury in 2015, when he lost to Terry Flanagan, and lost a very close decision last year to Jose Carlos Ramirez. Although he's yet to get the win at the top level he did beat Jose Pedraza back in September and is certainly still in the mix for another title fight this year. Aged 30 he has more than enough time to earn another big shot at the top.
Jack Caterall (25-0, 13)
Unbeaten Englishman Jack Caterall has been on the verge of a world title fight for a few years but has yet to land the big fight, and it has felt like his career has stagnated in recent bouts. Solid domestic level wins in 2018 over Tyrone McKenna and Ohara Davies looked like they were going to open the door for the 26 year old from Chorley, England, but 2019 was an effective write off. Although talented Caterall has yet to show anything that would worry any of the divisions top fighters, but there is a feeling that he has got more in the locker than he's had to show. We could see 2020 be a big year for "El Gato", who is expected to get his first world title fight by the end of the year.
Shohjahon Ergashev (18-0, 16)
Big punching Uzbek contender Shohjahon Ergashev looks like he has dynamite in his hands, and has been destructive when he's been in the ring, as we saw earlier this month against Adrian Etrella. The 28 year old is very much a raw puncher who has some great tools to work with but needs to work on some areas. Fighting out of the southpaw stance his left hand is brutal but he really does under-utilise his right hand, which will be an issue when he steps up and it's worth noting he struggled massively against lanky boxer mover Mykal Fox, in what was his most testing bout to date.
Batyrzhan Jukembayev (18-0-0-2, 14)
Unbeaten Kazakh fighter Batyrzhan Jukembayev isn't a big yet in the US or Europe, but has been carving out his career in Canada and has picked up a couple of minor titles and began to make a genuine name for himself. The 28 year old, who made his pro debut in 2015, has already picked up a number of solid wins including a very solid one against Miguel Vazquez last September. It's unclear when, or if, his team are going to begin pushing him for a world title fight, but at the moment he is ranked by 2 of the world title bodies and is certainly heading towards a shot, albeit a touch slower than he needs to be.
Batyr Akhmedov (7-1, 6)
Uzbek born Russian based boxed-puncher Batyr Akhmedov may look inexperienced compared to some of the other contenders but the former amateur standout has already fought for the WBA "regular" title, and was unlucky in his bout with Mario Barrios. Akhmedov, also known as Batuhan Gozgec, was a 2016 Olympian, competing for Turkey, and has been matched hard since he began his career. He has been fast tracked, but has beaten solid competition already, with wins against Ricky Sismundo, Ismael Barroso and Viktor Plotnikov already. He's been ordered by the WBA to have a rematch with Barrios and that's expected to take place this year.
Koki Inoue (15-0, 12)
The 27 year old Koki Inoue is the cousin of Bantamweight sensation Naoya Inoue, and although not as destructive or impressed as the "Monster" Koki is already making waves and has unified the Japanese and WBO Asia Pacific titles, whilst also breaking into the fringes of the world rankings. The southpaw can box or punch, and although some of his bouts haven't been fireworks he has been able to shut down and neutralise talented aggressive fighters. We expect 2020 to be a big year for Inoue and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him fight outside of Japan later this year, in what would be his second international bout. Next up for him is a mandatory defense of the Japanese title against Daishi Nagata on March 16th.
One of the best things about these Treasure Trove articles is that we get to relive some fights that caught our attention due to the in ring action, even if we didn't have huge expectations of them going into the bout. Today we look at one such bout that legitimately went under the radar, until the bout took place and we fell in love with it mid fight. And we did so as it unfolded in front of us, and really took on a personality of it's own. That was despite being hidden away on an obscure stream from Vietnam. This bout legitimately has a claim to be the best ever bout, in Vietnam. It was sensational.
Jong Seon Kang (9-0-2, 6) vs Tomjune Mangubat (11-1-1, 9)
Unbeaten Korean teenager Jong Seon Kang had impressed in his international debut, stopping Qixiu Zhang in June 2019, but with 2 draws in his previous 3 bouts there was a feeling that he's wasn't going to far. He had shown some promise, and his win over Ravshanbek Shermatov in March was genuinely notable, but we couldn't stop thinking that his draws showed his limitations and that his unbeaten record was some what fortunate....and not likely to survive much longer. He was fun to watch, but appeared too crude to really go far.
Mangubat on the other hand had been an impressive fighter on the Filipino scene, showing impressive power and promising skills. Sure he'd lost in April to Arnel Baconaje, but Baconaje wasn't an easy opponent for anyone and held a notable win over Brian Lobetania and have given a really good effort against Yasutaka Ishimoto. Mangubat had bounced back from his sole loss with a win over Joffrey Garcia, and seemed to be coming in to this bout with belief, power and a lot of potential. At the age of 22 he seemed to be maturing well and was likely the favourite coming in to this bout.
The bout was for the WBO Oriental Youth Featherweight title and we weren't expecting anything too special. We were, however, very, very wrong with our expectations, and we got something sensational.
From the opening round the Korean was on the front foot, pressing the fight, but having limited success as Mangubat boxed well on the move, soaked up the pressure and landed the better shots. The Filipino really looked comfortable using his jab and his more polished boxing skills seemed to be the key in the early going. Those skills helped Magubat drop Kang in the second round with a sweeping left hook. The Korean got back to his feet but was in horrible trouble when Mangubat tried to finish him off. Kang needed time to recover and backed off through much of the round before regaining his composure.
Mangubat continued to be the better boxer through the middle rounds but the pressure of Kang built and built and built. That pressure began to take it's toll on the Filipino, who began to slow, tired and feel the effects desire and by the later rounds Mangubat had began to fade, and fade fast, as Kang came on strong. That meant the final few rounds were in effect the direct opposite of the early rounds. The skills of Mangubat weren't enough to keep Kang away and rounds 8, 9 and 10 were pretty much all Kang.
The bout had it all, massive momentum shifts, a lot of action, a lot of leather being traded, heart on short from both and two totally different game plans each having their success. This might have been hidden away in Vietnam, but it so deserved a bigger audience!
On Tuesday we reported that OPBF Minimumweight champion Lito Dante (16-11-4, 8), from the Philippines, would be facing Masataka Taniguchi (12-3, 7) [谷口将隆] in what was not only an OPBF title fight but also a Japanese title fight. With that bout set to take place at Korakuen Hall on March 17th.
That bout is set, despite Dante having no direct connection to Japan, such as a Japanese gym affiliation.
Of course this is a rather odd situation, though not unique and it's not actually the first time it's happened. But it is the most high profile and is something that needs explaining.
So, how can a Filipino fighter fight for a Japanese title?
Last year the OPBF changed their rules, to help deepen the challenger pool for national titles, where needed. The rule, as applied by the JBC, is essentially "OPBF member country boxer's Japanese title challenge" and there are a lot of caveats to it, which have all come into play here.
So lets start at the beginning. Taniguchi became the mandatory for the Japanese title last September when he beat Kai Ishizawa (6-1, 6) [石澤開 in an absolute thriller. This gave Taniguchi a Japanese title fight at the 2020 Champion Carnival, where he was expected to face Norihito Tanaka (19-7, 10) [田中教仁], who has choosen to pursue a world title fight instead.
So that left Taniguchi as the mandatory with no champion to face, and a struggle to actually secure a bout with a suitable domestic contender.
Now we get the rule in question
The rule's main caveat is that there has to be no domestic ranked fighter available to fight for the title.
The current JBC rankings only has 7 Minimumweights ranked. One of which is Taniguchi, one is stable mate Shin Ono (24-10-3, 6) [小野心] and another is Ryoki Hirai (13-6-1, 4) [平井亮輝], who fought in December. Essentially that rules out the top 3. The others are unavailable for various reasons, or have other plans, such as Ishizawa who will be looking to return to the ring in March himself for his first bout since losing to Taniguchi.
As a result of no suitable contenders, a bout can't be made with a domestic fighter.
As a result the JBC have allowed a fighter from the OPBF member countries, in this case the Philippines, to fight for the Japanese title.
Another relatively recent example of this came in April 2019 when Tamao Ozawa and Hye Soo Park fought for not only the Japanese title, due to a lack of Japanese female Flyweight challengers, but also the Korean female Flyweight title, essentially unifying the two titles momentarily.
There was also supposed to be a Japanese Heavyweight title fight last year where a Japanese and Korean fighter were meant to clash, before the Korean in question was injured. Sadly details of that bout are less clear on the plans behind it.
So, to summarise:
Due to a lack of available contenders for Taniguchi, the JBC have allowed the bout to be for their title, under an OPBF rule that allows fighters from OPBF affiliated countries to challenge for national titles in special circumstances.
The Light Welterweight division is one that really benefited from the WBSS tournament, leaving us with a Muhammad Ali Trophy winner who managed to unify two major titles, and now has fighters wanting to face him. It also benefited by the fact one of the fighters who didn't compete in the WBSS went on to unify titles outside of the tournament, giving us a 2 unified champions, who now look to be on a collision course to become the division's undisputed champion. It's one of the few division's where there is a clear #1 and #2 and where we all want those two men to face off. It's also a division with a fantastic array of contenders, ranging from former champions to unknown fighters rising through the ranks.
Whilst Light Welterweight may not be a star studded division right now it's certainly a solid looking one.
WBA and IBF - Josh Taylor (16-0, 12)
Scottish southpaw Josh Taylor had a fantastic 12 months, starting in November 2018, which saw him take the unbeaten records of Ryan Martin, Ivan Baranchyk and Regis Prograis. Those 3 wins saw him build on previous victories against the likes of Miguel Vazquez and Viktor Postol, and unify the WBA and IBF titles. With an aggressive and fan friendly style Taylor is a man who is great watch and at 29 years old really has time on his side to build his reputation further. Notably he has split from long term promotional outfit Cyclone Promotions, and trainer Shane McGuigan, earlier this year, so his next fight will be the first with a new time. Talking about his first bout of 2020 that's expected to be an IBF mandatory title defense against Downua Ruawaiking in Spring.
WBC and WBO - Jose Carlos Ramirez (25-0, 17)
Whilst Taylor was busy building his reputation in the WBSS Jose Carlos Ramirez was busy building his own outside of the tournament. He won the WBC title in early 2018 and has now defended it 3 times and unified it with the WBO title. Like Taylor he has been taking unbeaten records, giving Antonio Orozco and Maurice Hooker their first losses, and also beating solid contenders like Amir Imam and Jose Zepeda. An all action pressure fighter Ramirez is great to watch, though he can be out boxed, as he was at times by Jose Zepeda. His entire gameplan is based on pressure and aggression and it's a style that has worked, whilst also making him a star in Fresno. A scheduled bout in February with mandatory challenger Viktor Postol was planned, though had to be cancelled due to coronovirus in China. We've got our fingers crossed in the hope that that bout will be rescheduled for later in the year.
WBA "regular" - Mario Barrios (25-0, 16)
Whilst the WBA "regular" title might be a damn joke it's champion at 140lbs is a noteworthy fighter in Mario Barrios, an unbeaten and exciting American boxer-puncher who makes for fun fights. He won the belt last September, winning a genuine FOTY contender with Batyr Akhmedov. Notably he's only 24 and is very tall for the weight, stood at 5'10", so his time at 140lbs is likely limited though he'll almost certainly fill into a very well sized Welterweight down the line. It's unclear what is next for Barrios, but he has been ordered to face Akhmedov again, and that is a rematch we're really looking forward to.
This week I had planned, and written, a "One to Watch" regarding the new cancelled Masayuki Ito bout with Yongqiang Yang. That bout is now off, due to Ito suffering a nasty injury, as as a result we have looked elsewhere and managed to come up with an excellent replacement bout for this week's hidden fight, as we head from China to the Philippines.
The One to Watch?
Alphoe Dagayloan (14-3-5-1, 5) vs Carlo Caesar Penalosa (14-2, 7)
February 1st (Saturday)
The Filipino domestic scene rarely gives us a bout that genuinely excites us, and it's a shame that the scene in Manila has been flooded by mismatches, often involving over-matched foreign talent. Here however we have a brilliant Filipino Flyweight title bout between two men who will both be in the ring looking to win, looking to claim the Filipino title and take a huge step towards securing another bout on the international stage, where they both suffered a loss in 2019. This is a bout with actual meaning and purpose on a Filipino domestic card!
In one corner is the criminally under-rated Alphoe Dagayloan, a 28 year old southpaw who began his career with an ugly looking 4-2-4-1 (1) record before reeling off a run that saw him go 11-1-1 (4). That 13 fight run saw him scoring notable wins over Mateo Handig, Madiyar Zhanuzak, Ronggup Wu, Danrick Sumabong and Esneth Domingo. The only loss in those 13 bouts was an ultra close one to Japanese fighter Ryota Yamauchi last year. We rate Yamauchi very, very highly and the fact that Dagayloan gave him genuine fits was impressive, showing how good the Filipino is. He's not the biggest puncher, or the fastest, but like countryman Richard Pumicpic he's nightmare to fight, with under-rated skills, a gritty toughness and an impressive work rate. A real horror to fight and physically strong to boot.
The 26 year old Carlo Caesar Penalosa is also a southpaw and is part of the huge Penalosa fighting family. He's the grandson of Carl Penalosa and the nephew of Dodie Boy Penalosa, the inaugural IBF Light Flyweight champion. From such a deep fighting family the expectation was on Carlo to achieve things in the ring, but sadly he's not yet managed to make a major mark on the global boxing scene. He would win his first 7 bouts before suffering a slip up to Reymark Taday and another 7 fight winning run ended last year when he came up short to Maximo Flores. Despite those losses Penalosa is a talent, he hits harder than his record suggest and he can box. He's just coming into his physical prime. In fact right now he's probably the most determined he has ever been following last year's loss Flores.
What to expect?
We don't expect this to be pretty, rarely are all southpaw bouts pretty. Instead what we expect to see is a messy yet exciting battle between two well matched fighters who will stand their ground and fight. Penalosa is the better boxer, and the better puncher, but that's not always the decider and with Dagayloan being a rugged fighter who will press up close and look to turn it into a fight. We don't think Penalosa wants a fight with Dagayloan.
If the bout is fought at mid range, and Penalosa is allowed to box and dictate the tempo he should be able to win. We however to see Dagayloan work on the gameplan that Maximo Flores used against Penalosa. Roughing up the third generation fighter and forcing him to fight fire with fire.
The bad news?
Obviously we have mentioned this could be ugly and it really could. It'll be potentially very exciting as a bout, and again we love seeing Filipino bouts with meaning, but it could be a real eye sore at times.
Whilst there is a clear mess at the top of the Lightweight division, with at least two fighters proclaiming to be champions the contenders also make up a messy bunch with former challengers, emerging hopefuls and those who made their name in lower weight classes. It's not a bad list of contenders, but it's a messy list, and that can actually be really interesting as the scene develops around them.
Luke Campbell (20-3, 16)
Englishman Luke Campbell is now 32 years old and has already come up short in world title bouts twice, however he is expected to get a third shot later this year, with the WBC ordering him to face Javier Fortuna for their title. Stood at 5'9" and fighting out of the southpaw stance Campbell is a nightmare to face, with fantastic technical skills, freakish size, solid power, impressive speed and a real gritty toughness. He's now in "now or never" territory and we suspect he'll know he cannot afford a loss to Fortuna when they finally clash.
Javier Fortuna (35-2-1-2, 26)
Explosive Dominican fighter Javier Fortuna will, as mentioned, face Luke Campbell for the vacant WBC title. He's only 30 but he's a bit of a young veteran and has been a professional for over a decade already. He was once seen as a sensational talent, but hasn't reached the heady heights many expected of him, with his biggest honours being the WBA "interim" Featherweight title. Despite that he does have a bit of time on his hands and proved their was still lie left in his career in recent bouts, including solid wins over Sharif Bogere and Jesus Marcelo Andres Cuellar. The big issue with Fortuna is that he can be unpredictable. On his best day he's a real nightmare, and the hope is that he can string together a couple of good performances to make his before it's too late.
Richard Commey (29-3, 26)
Big punching Richard Commey is a former IBF champion from Ghana who is looking to bounce back from a 2019 loss to Teofimo Lopez. Although not the most technically polished Commey is a big, rangy, strong, powerful an tough guy at the weight. Althouygh he was stopped by Lopez last time out there should be no question marks about his chin, the shot he got dropped with was an absolute bomb and he some how got back up and tried to fight on before being stopped. At 32, and turning 33 in March, he's perhaps got 1 more run to a title in him, though he has had a hard career and the loss to Lopez will leave will leave him with rebuilding to do.
Ryan Garcia (19-0, 16)
It turns out that pretty boy fighter Ryan Garcia is much more than a social media sensation. The 21 year old still has question marks over his head, but he genuinely impressed in 2018, as he blitzed both Jose Lopez and Romero Duno, and proved that he genuinely could punch and was quick against good fringe contenders. We would be surprised if Garcia got a world title fight in 2020, unless the title bodies decide to create even more paper belts, however he certainly has time on his side and will be in the mix for a long time. His success at Lightweight will only be limited how long he remains at the weigh and we wouldn't be that surprised to see him fighting at 140lbs sooner rather than later.
George Kambosos Jr (18-0, 10)
Unbeaten Australian contender George Kambosos Jr is one of the less well known contenders in the division, but one of those who has worked his way towards a world title fight over the last few years. The 26 year old scored his biggest win to date in December, when he beat Mickey Bey, and is now said to be heading to a world title eliminator later in 2020. Although he's unbeaten and has been stepping up his level of competition he is very much untested at world and his upcoming eliminator will be his first real test at the fringes of world class.
Denys Berinchyk (12-0, 7)
Exciting Ukrainian fighter Denys Berinchyk is pretty much the forgotten member of the 2012 Ukrainian Olympic team, despite winning a silver medal and beating both Anthony Yigit and Jeff Horn en route to that medal. Berinchyk is aggressive, very talented, powerful and can set a high pace, which he has proven he can keep up for 12 rounds. Sadly the Alexander Krassyuk promoted fighter has been unable to land the big fights that his career needs and has instead become better known for his unusual and innovative ring walks than his fights. At the age of 31 Berinchyk needs a big fight this year if he's to make an impact at the world level, following the likes of Vasyl Lomachenko and Oleksandr Usyk, and fingers crossed he does get the break out win his talent deserve.
Shuichiro Yoshino (11-0, 9)
Another of the lesser known contenders in the division is Japanese 28 year old Shuichiro Yoshino, the unified Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific champion. The talented Yoshino isn't well known in the West but has proven himself as the best in Asia and is likely to be looking for a big bout in 2020. He'll be kicking off the year on February 13th, when he faces Izuki Tomioka in a mandatory defense of the Japanese title, but after than his year is unclear. Whilst he's not a big name he's a fighter with a lot of talent, deep amateur experience and a brutal left hook, as Harmonito Dela Torre found out in October. Certainly one to keep an eye on for this year.
3 Fights we want:
Vasyl Lomachenko Vs Teofimo Lopez
Devin Haney Vs Luke Campbell
Gervonta Davis Vs Denys Berinchyk
The Lightweight division is one of the weird division's in the sport right now, thanks to some odd decisions, and political game playing, by the WBC and the WBA. On paper it should be a division with 2 champions set to unify their titles in Spring, but instead it has two legitimate champions, two pretenders to the throne and another pretender on the way.
WBO, WBC "Franchise" and WBA "Super" - Vasyl Lomachenko (14-1, 10)
In the good old days unification bouts were the ideal and the type of bouts that were supposed to clear up the mess made by having 4 world titles. Instead Vasyl Lomachenko has found out that unifying titles has created a mess with the WBA and WBC both inventing new titles just to collect additional fees whilst someone ties up the main belts. Lomachenko moved to the Lightweight division in 2018, seeking challenges after the pointless match up with Guillermo Rigondeaux in 2017. He won the WBA belt in his divisional debut, he unified that with the WBO title in his next fight, had a mandatory and then added the WBC to his collection. In the space of 15 months he had won 3 titles and was lining up a bout at the IBF belt, before the WBC decided to call him the "Franchise" champion, creating a new belt for Devin Haney, and the WBA created a regular title, now held by Gervonta Davis.
WBO - Teofimo Lopez (15-0, 12)
The only legitimate title that Lomachenko doesn't hold is the IBF belt held by explosive American puncher Teofimo Lopez, who claimed the belt in December when he stopped Richard Commey. The touted American is an exciting, heavy handed fighter, but did have some flaws exposed last year when he faced Masayoshi Nakatani and struggled with Nakatani's size, reach, jab and toughness. His win over Commey covered over the Nakatani fight and set him up for the divisional super fight with Lomachenko. He's the division's banger, with dynamite fists, but out of the ring issues, and a lack of experience, combined with over-confidence, could be a problem when he takes faces someone like Lomachenko. At the age of just 22 he's being groomed as a future superstar of American boxing, and win or lose to Lomachenko he has the time to rebuild and become a big player on the US scene.
WBC "In Recess" - Devin Haney (24-0, 15)
Another unbeaten American youngster is Devin Haney, who got a WBC title in weird fashion, when the WBC made Lomachenko the Franchise champion and upgraded Haney's interim title. After defending the belt against the unknown Alfredo Santiago he suffered an injury and the WBC then made him Champion in Recess, making the whole giving him a title, in the way they did, look even more of a joke. At 21 years old and with sensational natural ability, a good boxing mind and a confident, yet level headed, approach in the ring Haney has the hall marks of being something very special. Sadly the WBC have cheapened his first title reign and it feels very much like he's been given an "email world title". His time will come, and he will be a star, but his WBC reign, so far, feels like little more than a cash grab by the WBC.
WBA "Regular" - Gervonta Davis (23-0, 22)
Another unbeaten American making their mark in the division, now, is Gervonta Davis, who made the move up in weight in December. He claimed the "vacant" WBA "regular" title when he stopped Yuriorkis Gamboa last time out, but he really failed to shine against an injured Gamboa. The fact Gamboa lasted into the 12 round, whilst fighting much of the bout on 1 foot, is a worry for Davis, who had been blowing out most opponents early on. Although a very talented and explosive fighter we do wonder about Davis' commitment and professionalism, and he looked in poor condition last time out. He is, also, naturally very small at the weight and this could be a major issue when he begins to face natural Lightweights.
As well as the champions at 130lbs we also have some interesting contenders in the division, with a mix of established names and emerging hopefuls.
Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (15-0, 12)
IBF mandatory contender is Tajik born Russian Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov, an aggressive, raw fighter with heavy hands and brutal body shots. He's mostly fought in Russia where he has notched solid wins over Malcolm Klassen and Robinson Castellanos, though did travel outside of Russia for his last bout, an 8th round TKO win over Azinga Fuzile. Rakhimov can certainly be outboxed, but he's a hard man to beat with his power, toughness and physicality.
Oscar Valdez (27-0, 21)
Former WBO Featherweight champion Oscar Valdez has abandoned the 126lb division and began his pursuit of a second divisional world title as he's moved up to 130lbs. On paper this looks like a move that may not be the best for the Mexican. At 126lbs Valdez was a brutal, explosive boxer-puncher but he didn't look good at all in his Featherweight debut, where he was dropped by Adam Lopez and given a real test. At 29 years old we understand him outgrowing the Featherweight division, but we do wonder whether he can replicate his success at 130lbs.
Andrew Cancio (21-5-2, 16)
American puncher Andrew Cancio lost the WBA "regular" title last time out, when he was stopped by Rene Alvarado. That bout saw Cancio lose the WBA title and later leave Golden Boy Promotions under a cloud dissatisfaction, following a very public falling out between fighter and promoter. Cancio has since signed with Top Rank and is likely to get opportunities under Bob Arum who has several top names in the division under his promotional banner. Although not the most talented fighter out there the 31 year old can punch and a bout between him and some of the other contenders in the division would be fantastic to watch.
Joseph Diaz (30-1, 15)
Joseph "Jo Jo" Diaz is a former is a 2012 Olympian who has banged on the door a few times, albeit at Featherweight. He lost a competitive bout in 2018 to Gary Russell Jr, then beat Jesus M Rojas, but failed to make weight. Since the Rojas mishap Diaz has moved up to the Featherweight and looked a bit hot and cold. He looked solid against Freddy Fonseca but struggled with journeyman Jesus Cuadro. He'll be getting his first crack at a Super Featherweight world title at the end of the month, when he takes on IBF champion Tevin Farmer. For Farmer the bout is a chance to legitimise his much maligned reign whilst Diaz will be looking to prove he's world class.
Muhammadkhuja Yaqubov (15-0, 9)
Another Tajik born Russian in the division is 24 year old Muhammadkhuja Yaqubov. He's not on the same level of development as Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov, despite the two men having the same number of bouts, but he is another very talented, very aggressive and very fun to watch fighter. In recent years Yaqubov has beaten the likes of Ernie Sanchez, Emanuel Lopez, Jhon Gemino and Abraham Montoya. The unbeaten Yaqubov is really fun to watch but will need to alter his style if he's to make the most of his abilities, and is likely to take longer to get into the mix than some of the other contenders in the division.
Carl Frampton (27-2, 15)
Former Super Bantamweight champion Carl Frampton singled his intent to be a player at 130lbs last year, when he took on Tyler McCreary and took a clear win over the previously unbeaten American. At the age of 32, and turning 33 in February, time is ticking on Frampton's career and it really does seem like it'll have to be this year for him to make a mark on the 130lb weight class. There has been a lot of talk of the "Jackal" fighting against Jamel Herring, though the original plans for that bout have had to be pushed back.
Joe Cordina (11-0, 7)
Welshman Joe Cordina is a former Olympian who is inked to the powerful Eddie Hearn. Talented, well schooled and at 28 years old Cordina looks like he's ready to push on with his career and 2020 could be a really big year for him. He turned professional with a very strong amateur background, though didn't have much hype. He has since developed carefully and it would seem almost a given that Eddie Hearn will secure the Welsh Wizard a title fight sooner rather than later. Expect him to fight in at least 1 eliminator this year, and potentially make his US debut to try and drum up interesting in him facing the Tevin Farmer or JoJo Diaz winner.
3 bouts we want to see in 2020:
Leo Santa Cruz Vs Rene Alvarado
Oscar Valdez Vs Andrew Cancio
Miguel Berchelt Vs Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov
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.