One of the sad things about boxing is when we see a fighter get their big chance, a bit too late. It's something that leaves us wondering what could have been, and wondering whether or not the fighter could have gone all the way with a big more luck and good fortune. One of the hidden treasures of 2019 was a great performance, in a loss, by a 34 year old Light Flyweight against one of the rising of the division.
Hiroto Kyoguchi (13-0, 9) vs Tetsuya Hisada (34-9-2, 20)
We suspect anyone who follows us has heard of, and seen, Hiroto Kyoguchi's rise through the ranks. The Watanabe Gym promoted fighter raced through the early part of his career and took the IBF Minimumweight title just 15 months after making his professional debut. He then moved to Light Flyweight and became a 2 weight world champion at the end of 2018, stopping Hekkie Budler.
We suspect many won't have been too aware of Tetsuya Hisada however, at least not until October 2019, when he challenged Kyoguchi for the Light Flyweight title. He was, until then, a fighter who had mostly been fighting on the Japanese domestic scene. He was in great form, but with 45 bouts under his belt the 34 year old was expected to put up a brave effort before being stopped by the much younger Kyoguchi. Even with the Osakan fans well and truly behind him, he was still being given next to no chance to even see the final, never mind make the bout interesting.
What we ended up getting was a real thriller, that wasn't a purely competitive bout, but was certainly fought on a much more even keel than many had anticipated, and at times it seemed like the old man was coming out on top. Overall it did seem like Kyoguchi, the younger yet more proven fighter, was stronger, but after being wobbled and left with some serious swelling there was a sense of drama. Especially with Hisada digging deeper and deeper. It was, potentially, Hisada's only chance to become a world champion, and unlike many he wasn't willing to give up that dream without giving everything he had.
What we ended up with here, was something special, something thrilling, yet had technically skills on show through out. It was overshadowed just a few days later by Gennady Golovkin going to war with Sergiy Derevyanchenko, a bout with bigger names, but in reality little separated them in terms of quality, action, heart, desire and drama. This was a real hidden gem, despite being a world title bout.
For this weeks "One to Watch" I had originally covered the scheduled bout between Carl Jammes Martin and Renoel Pael. Unfortunately that bout was cancelled at the start of the week due to worries about the Coronavirus. With a lack of fights this coming week I've decided that instead of covering a different fight, with almost all of them being less than great on paper, I thought I'd have a look back on the fights covered in this series.
The first fight I covered was Aidos Yerbossynuly Vs Rocky Jerkic, and this was actually a good start to the series with Yerbossynuly taking a career best win over Jerkic in a good solid bout. Not a spectacular bout, but a solid one. Yerbossynuly notched another win 4 months later.
After a solid start I did pick a bit of a one sided stinker in the second bout in the series, with the debuting Katsuya Fukui stopping Sang Hoon Kim in the second round. Exactly 2 months later Fukui scored another quick win, that time over a Thai foe.
The third one of these looked at ZongLi He's bout with Hamson Lamandau, which He won by clear decision in September. Sadly He has yet to fight following this win, however Lamandau lost in December to go 0-3 in 2019.
Our fourth bout looked at Kudura Kaneko Vs Moon Hyon Yun, which I expected to be a competitive bout. Instead it was a huge win for Kaneko, and helped put him in place for his upcoming OPBF title fight, which takes place at the end of February. As for Yun I wouldn't be surprised by him hanging them up.
A week later I looked at Batyrzhan Jukembayev's fight with Mexican Miguel Vazquez, which was a step up for the Canadian based Kazakh, and a career best win. Since this win, a decision victory, Jukembayev has scored a win over Ricardo Lara and continued edging towards a world title fight.
As with Katsuya's Fukui debut I also covered Shigetoshi Kotari's debut in the series, and that also ended up being a mismatch, as he stopped Indonesian foe Lasben Sinaba in 2 rounds. Kotari will return to the ring in early March for his second pro bout.
Rather strangely our next bout never actually took place. I had looked at Yelieqiati Nihemaituola Vs Ryan Rey Ponteras, but Ponteras was replaced late on by Ardin Diale. The "Kazakh Warrior" Nihemaituola took a clear decision over Diale, who was fighting well above his best weight.
In mid-October I got a bout that really delivered, with Xiang Li Vs Ryu Horikawa being an absolute thriller. I felt Horikawa was very unlucky to not get the win, with the bout being scored a draw, but this was a real standout bout from October and well worth a watch back if you missed it. Sadly neither of these two talented and exciting youngsters have fought since their October clash.
We remained in China for the following week's "One To Watch" and it turned out to be less exciting than I expected, as Wenfeng Ge easily beat Kompayak Porpramook over 12 rounds to retain the WBO Oriental title. Since this bout neither man has fought, though Porpramook is expected back in the ring shortly. Sadly for Ge any plans are currently on hold due to the outbreak of Coronavirus in China.
The following week we returned to Japan for the East Japan Rookie of the Year final between Katsuki Mori and Shu Nawai, who were meeting for the second time. This was expected to be good and competitive, but in reality it was just a showcase of Mori's tremendous ability and only weeks later he claimed the All Japan Rookie of the Year crown.
Sadly the bout I had covered on November, a mouth watering clash between Seiya Tsutsumi and Kenya Yamashita never took place, with Yamashita failing to make weight for the God's Left Bantamweight tournament semi-final. As a result Tsutsumi got a bye, and then fought to a draw in the final with Kazuki Nakajima. Just a draw later I did an extra one to watch on the other tournament semi-final, which saw Kazuki Nakajima blast out Jin Minamide to book his place in the final.
We remained in Japan for the international bout between Keita Kurihara and Sukkasem Kietyongyuth. This was, on paper, a great test for Kurihara, but his power proved too much and he crushed his Thai foe with no issues, to take a step closer to getting a world title bout.
I then got one really wrong as Koshin Takeshima and Daisuke Watanabe gave us one of the worst bouts in the series. On paper this had the ingredients to be something great, but sloppy action, head clashes, and styles that didn't quite gel forced the bout to be halted in round 4, resulting in a technical draw. Strangely this was the worst of the three "Hajime No Ippo 30th Anniversary" quarter final bouts on the same show. Watanabe will return at the end of the month for his semi-final bout with Filipino Richard Pumicpic.
A week later we expected to go over to China for a bout between ZongLi He and Alphoe Dagayloan. Sadly this bout failed to materalise.
The following week I picked another stinker as Zhilei Zhang took an easy decision over rugged Ukrainian Andriy Rudenko, himself a late replacement for Sergey Kuzmin. Zhang really just controlled this bout with ease, and we got very, very little drama at any point. It was a chance for Zhang to make a statement in the division, but instead he just cruised his way to a decision win.
We stayed with Heavyweights for Mahammadrasul Majidov's bout against Tom Little, in what proved to be an horrific mismatch. This was Majidov doing what he needed to do, and he didn't play with his food. Instead the Azeri battered the out-of-shape British fighter in 2 rounds. Sadly, given Majidov is already 33, he's not fought since and like many fighters under the Matchroom banner he seems to be getting left out in the cold, when he should be kept busy.
Dropping back down the scales we saw exciting young Light Flyweight Tsuyoshi Sato take a hard earned win over veteran Masashi Tada, in what turned out to be a solid bout, and a real test, for Sato. Up to this point Sato had been blowing opponents out, with 4 quick wins in his previous 5, and this was the type of test he really needed heading towards 2020.
I went back up to Heavyweight action the following week as Kyotaro Fujimoto faced Daniel Dubois. This was a mismatch, we all knew it would be, but it was interesting to see Kyotaro fighting outside of his homeland. He seemed to enjoy the UK before the fight, but stood no chance with the fast rising British puncher and was stopped in 2 rounds.
The same week I did another extra "One to Watch" as I covered Katsuki Mori for the second time. This time it was Mori's All Japan Rookie of the Year final against Takumi Chono. This was a showcase for Mori,who looked sensational at times and stamped his name as one to watch in 2020. The youngster from the Ohashi gym will return in March and I expect massive things from the youngster. Despite the loss Chono will actually return a day before Mori, fighting on March 16th whilst Mori fights on March 17th.
Rather oddly the bout I covered next was delayed. It was originally scheduled for late December, then pushed back to early January and saw Da Won Gang take on Jin Su Kim. I was looking forward to see Gang in action, but I didn't expect to see him in just a cameo, as he quickly blew out Kim to secure a Korean title fight in 2020.
On the same show as the re-arranged Gang Vs Kim bout was Sung Min Yuh's win over Se Yul Yang. This was a frustrating watch with Yuh being far too good for Yang, but he refused to put his foot on the gas and got for the kill. He looked genuinely class and we're going to look forward to him getting a KBM title fight on May 3rd against Do Ha Kim, in an excellent rematch of the Battle Royal bout form 2019.
In mid-January I looked at the Knockout Dynamite tournament final between Ribo Takahata and Marvin Esquierdo. This turned out to be a pretty solid bout, nothing too amazing, but a solid fight and a great day for Esquierdo who scored a good bonus for his stoppage win. I'd love to see more of Esquierdo, who comes to fight and looks like he was made for the 5 round Prize Fight format of the tournament.
Staying with mid January I had another solid pick as the KBM Super Bantamweight title bout between Han Bin Suh delivered Shin Dong Myung. We saw Suh bringing the pressure but what was more impressive was Myung keeping his form and out boxing Suh for 10 rounds. It's a shame Myung turned pro so old as he has the skills to make a mark at a much higher level, but with his 32nd birthday in March he really needs to be fast tracked. Interesting Suh is set to fight in Japan in April against Tatsuya Takahashi.
At the end of January I featured the God's Left Bantamweight tournament final and saw Kazuki Nakajima fight to a very controversial draw with Seiya Tsutsumi. We felt, as did many fans, that Tsutsumi did more than enough to earn the win, but was denied the prize as some how the judges failed to recognise his performance. Worse of all, Nakajima "won" the tournament on the majority point rule, giving him the financial prize of the competition.
We had a second consecutive controversial draw as Alphoe Dagayloan was held by Carlo Caesar Penalosa. I felt Dagayloan, who is a hard luck fighter in general, deserved the win here due to a late charge, but Penalosa managed to just scrap a draw, likely on the basis of his name. A rematch for this, and the Nakajima Vs Tsutsumi bout, would make sense, but we suspect that Penalosa will feel no need to face the nightmare that is Dagayloan again.
In a genuine thriller for the WBC Youth Flyweight title, we saw Kento Hatanaka being given a real test by Roland Jay Biendima. This was a war, a thrilling, action packed 10 round war. At times Hatanaka looked class, but he was dragged into a fire fight and fought fire with fire. A really great fight.
A week I picked another great fight when Yuki Nakajima and Shisui Kawabata gave us a thriller. This was pure brilliance from two men who knew how to box and how to fight. Nakajima had to over-come a tough start, force his fight on to Kawabata and then stopped Kawabata with one of the best punches of the year. Real class stuff.
Since starting this series I have picked some duds, of course I have. The Takeshima Vs Watanabe bout and Zhang Vs Rudenko were both terrible, and I've seen bouts I've picked fall through. On the whole though I feel this has been a good series and is something I've enjoyed doing, and something I'll continue to do going forward. The entire idea of it has been to shine a light on a bout that will be watchable, be it streaming, television or PPV, and I think I've done that well. I hope you guys agree!
The Heavyweight contenders are an interesting bunch which probably could be split into "veterans and established world level contenders" and "emerging novices". It's a relatively deep division on paper, but a number of the fighters are probably only a loss away from retirement, whilst a lot of the emerging talent still have some way to go to get a world title fight.
Tyson Fury (29-0-1, 20)
Lineal champion Tyson Fury is the most awkward boxer in the division but the 31 year old Englishman hasn't scored a win of note, officially, in over 4 years. His huge 2015 win over Wladimit Klitschko was the changing of the guard that the division needed in some ways, but his inactivity following that win, then his competition since it really have killed his momentum. An excellent performance in 2018 saw him controversially held to a draw by Deontay Wilder, and the two are set for a rematch later this month.
Oleksandr Usyk (17-0, 13)
Former undisputed Cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk is the WBO mandatory challenger for the and at 33 years old we don't expect him to wait long for his shot. We do wonder what Usyk will be like at Heavyweight, but stylistically he's the best pure boxer in the division, with a high out put, sharp punching, a lot of skill and high ring IQ. We do wonder if he will be under-sized, and whether he has the skills to over-come the size difference, but he is definitely a top contender, just based on what he did at Cruiserweight.
Kubrat Pulev (28-1, 14)
Bulgarian veteran Kubrat Pulev is lined up for a second world title fight, with a bout against Anthony Joshhua expected to take place in May. The 38 year old Pulev had one of the best jabs in the sport, but we do wonder what he has left given his age. In his only world title fight to date he was dismantled by Wladimir Klitschko way back in 2014, but has rebuilt with 8 straight wins to earn his second shot.
Luis Ortiz (31-2-0-2, 26)
We suspect we've probably seen the end of Cuban veteran Luis Ortiz, who has twice for world titles, as a world title challenger. The 40 year old "King Kong" has shown enough in both of his losses, both to Deontay Wilder, to suggest he belonged at world level, but with a brutal KO loss last year, and one in 2018, we suspect he'll be too much "risk" and not enough "reward" to get another big fight before he hangs them up.
Joseph Parker (26-2, 20)
Former WBO world champion Joseph Parker seems to have been around for years, but the 28 year old is more than young enough to mount another series run, if not a couple of runs, towards the top. Parker has proven to be skilled, tough, talented and deserves to be in the mix despite a 2018 loss to Dillian Whyte. Sadly his competition since losing to Whyte, in July 2018, have been poor and his February 2020 bout with Shawndell Terrell Winters has done little to get people excited in the former champion. Lets hope he begins to demand better from his team going forward.
Andy Ruiz Jr (33-2, 22)
Mexican-American Andy Ruiz Jr had a weird 2019. He reached the top of the world in June, stopping Anthony Jsohua to claim the WBA "super", WBO and IBF titles, with one one the biggest upsets in recent memory. Then put on 25lbs, and came in looking like a tub of large in December's rematch. He admitted there was issues with his commitment to training, then split with the trainer that had helped him beat Joshua. It's fair to say that 2020 is going to be a massive year for the 30 year old "Destroyer" who needs to find his hunger back in the ring, not the kitchen.
Dillian Whyte (27-1, 18)
Outspoken and controversial Jamaican born British fighter Dillian Whyte has one of the best records of anyone in the division, and on paper he certainly deserves a world title fight. The issue however is that he's offered opportunities and pulled out or turned them down, including fights with Joshua, and a world title eliminator with Kubrat Pulev. His fans will scream that Deontay Wilder has avoided him and Wilder's fans will scream that Whyte is all talk. At the end of the day Whyte is very much a controversial figure, despite his talent. He'll likely get a shot, but questions need to be asked in why he has turned down previous opportunities whilst suggesting he is being ducked.
Alexander Povetkin (35-2-1, 24)
Russian veteran Alexander Povetkin looked like he was pretty much spent last time out, when he fought to a draw with Michael Hunter in Saudi Arabia. Although still a very talented and heavy handed fighter Povetkin looked slow, old, and like a man who can no longer do 12 rounds at a comfortably pace. Expect him to retire in 2020 if he can't win a big fight. He's very talented, but father time has almost caught up with the 40 year old.
Michael Hunter (18-1-1, 12)
Former Cruiserweight world title challenger turned Heavyweight contender Michael Hunter has seen his career have a breathe of new life since moving up in weight and scoring wins over the likes of Iago Kiladze, Alexander Ustinov, Martin Bakole and Sergey Kuzmin. Technically Hunter is sound, sharp, quick and smart. Sadly a lack of real fire power at Cruiserweight and a relative lack of physicality is likely to be an issue going forward. In 2019 he fought to a draw with Alexander Povetkin and a rematch between the two would be great to see later this year.
Filip Hrgovic (10-0, 8)
Croation fighter Filip Hrgovic is a hard fighter to get a read on. He sometimes shows flashes of real potential, and was a very good amateur, but at other times it seems like he's going through the motions. We'd like to see him get a meaningful fight in 2020, though we suspect his slow burn rise to the top will continue. Sadly it seems like a lack of tests could prove to be a very series problem for Hrgovic who put on a significant amount of weight last year, adding over 16lbs between his first and third bout. If he doesn't get a serious test we expect his weight will continue to increase, taking away some of the fluidity that makes him a compelling prospect.
Efe Ajagba (12-0, 10)
US based Nigerian puncher Efe Ajagba is an interesting hopeful who had a rather curious 2019. He had entered the year 8-0 (7), with his only none T/KO win being an opening DQ win over Curtis Harper and looked like an invincible puncher. In 2019 however he was taken the distance by Ali Eren Demirezen and then dropped by Iago Kiladze, in a sensation December bout. Those two fights showed that Ajagba needs to be given time, and developmental fights, but they could be hard to land for such a perceived danger man.
Daniel Dubois (14-0, 13)
Englishman Daniel Dubois is one of the most interesting prospects in the division. Although he comes across as a genuinely boring person outside of the ring, he is as exciting as they come inside of it. Blessed with power in both hands, under-rated speed and skills that are developing well he is one of the true stars of the future in the division. At 22 years old he ticks every box inside the ring. Give the likes of Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder, who love to talk, Dubois is kinda refreshing in that he wants his work in the ring to speak for him. He'll be back in the ring on April 11th, when he faces Joe Joyce, in a mouth watering British showdown in London.
Joe Joyce (10-0, 9)
Olympic silver medal winner Joy Joyce is a very weird guy to get a read on. Watching him he looks slow, stationary, sluggish, and easy to beat. At 34 years old he's not going to get any quicker or more fluid in the ring. Despite that he's physically strong, power, rugged, tough and seems to just grind down fighters, taking wins over decent, though not great opponents. Last time out took a decision over Bryant Jennings, showing he could do 12 rounds, but looked like he was struggling at times with the faded American veteran. He'll be in action, as mentioned, in April against Daniel Dubois in a mouth watering clash. A loss there could well spell the end for the "Juggernaut"
In 2019 we saw a lot of great fights, many of which went completely under the radar of your typical western fan. Some of these included some pretty well known names, others didn't but whatever the status of the bout we've been lucky to share so many of them already in this Treasure Trove series. Thankfully we have even more to share, and today we take you back to a short but exciting war from mid-November that saw one of the rising hopefuls of Japanese boxing take on a former Japanese title challenger in a very exciting contest.
Aso Ishiwaki (7-2-1, 5) vs Ryuji Ikeda (14-6-3, 9)
After losing a split decision in the 2018 Lightweight Rookie of the Year final, as a 19 year old, Aso Ishiwaki had continually impressed through 2019. He had began the year with a hotly contested draw against Yoji Saito, a former amateur standout, and had then scored two relatively low key stoppages, including a knockout win over glass cannon Takuya Matsusaka. Although not a big name he had been impressing in his performances and creating some real buzz due to his physical strength, toughness and power. He was very much a basic but physically imposing fighter who, despite his youth, was very much a man with very impressive strength. Despite being strong he wasn't particularly experienced at 140lbs.
Ryuji Ikeda on the other hand was a 24 year old veteran of the ring. He had been a professional for more than 7 years, had won the Rookie of the Year was back in 2013 and had fought for the Japanese Light Welterweigth title earlier in the year, lasting 5 rounds with Koki Inoue. Although not an amazing fighter he was a solid domestic contender with wins over Yuichi Ideta, Kentaro Endo, Ryosuke Takami and Cristiano Aoqui. He had the edge in experience and went into the bout as a Japanese ranked fighter looking to bounce back from the loss to Inoue in July. He also had a very aggressive and fan friendly style, that involved throwing a lot of leather, and although not a massive puncher he was the natural Light Welterweight and had fought at the weight for the previous 4 years or so.
From the opening moments it was Ikeda who looked to set the pace, starting fast behind his jab and looking to unleash a combination after around 30 seconds. He seemed to believe that his power and experience were going to be the key and even when he wasn't letting big shots go he was applying intelligent pressure behind his footwork. This caused Ishiwaki to back up and several times during the round Ishiwaki would find himself on the ropes as Ikeda came in with combinations of power shots. To his credit the youngster never looked flustered and seemed to end the round coming forward, building his confidence as we went to the bell.
In round 2 we saw the pace pick up, with Ishiwaki pressing more often and within a minute of the round we looked like we were on to something a little bit special as both began to unleash big shots. The more eye catching work seemed to come from Ikeda early in the round, but Ishiwaki's consistent and heavy shots were taking a toll on Ikeda who was dropped almost 2 minutes into the round. Ikeda seemed to know that time was limited if he was going to win so began to take more risks, and was punished for them.
This short, but action packed bout might not have been in the conversation for a FOTY award, but was a great little back and forth war and a real fun fight and well worth 7 minutes of your time!
The Heavyweight division might be seen as the division that sums up boxing's health, at least in some quarters, but in reality it's the division which has been the most frustrating over the last 20 years or so. We've had a lack of real stand out fights at the top level, with only a handful really being great, and although the division does bring excitement and attention to the sport, it also has a knack of not giving us the big bouts we, as fans, want to see. Despite the issues it does have some interesting fighters in it right now, and there are some good bouts on the docket.
WBC - Deontay Wilder (42-0-1, 41)
Heavy handed American Deontay Wilder is one of the sports longest reigning champions and the "Bronze Bomber" is also one of the sports most potent punchers. Although technically not the most polished man in the sport few will doubt the fire power in Wilder's right hand, and does have genuine fight changing power. It's also worth noting that he has got under-rated skills, without being a technical genius, lighting speed, freakish size and a lot of charisma, though he can rub people up the wrong way. Later this month he will be facing Tyson Fury in a rematch of their 2018 draw in what is one of the most anticipated bouts of 2020.
WBA "Super", WBO and IBF - Anthony Joshua (23-1, 21)
It could seem odd listing a unified champion below a single title holder but 2019 left us with more questions than answers for Englishman Anthony Joshua. The popular "AJ" went into 2019 looking like the best in the division, a power punching, offensive boxer-puncher. There was a robot look to him, but he was incredibly effective and seemed to be the second best boxer at the top, behind Tyson Fury, and the second best puncher, behind Wilder. A nightmare US debut saw him being stopped by big under-dog Andy Ruiz Jr in June and having his aura shattered. Although he bounced back to beat Ruiz in December, in Saudi Arabia, there was very much a feeling that his aura had gone...despite a much more polished performance in that December bout. His next bout is expected to be against Kubrat Pulev, in or around May, and it's going to be interesting to see what version of "AJ" turns up against the Bulgarian Cobra.
WBA "regular" - Manuel Charr (31-4, 17)
And we're back to crazy WBA territory here with the WBA still recognising German based Syrian Manuel Charr as their regular champion....more than 2 years after he last fought. In fact he won the title in November 2017 and has yet to defend it. Absolutely bizarre and time the WBA had a look at the 35 year old, and their recognition of him.
This week's one to watch is an interesting clash in Japan that pits professional novices against each other on a Kadoebi show, so we'll likely get it on tape delay on youtube. The men involved really afford a loss, but that just adds to sense of both men going out there wanting to not only win, but to win impressively. This is perhaps not one that will get much attention from the Western fans, but is certainly a very interesting, and potentially very explosive, match up.
The One to Watch?
Yuki Nakajima (3-1, 3) Vs Shisui Kawabata (2-1, 2)
February 14th (Friday)
Two former Japanese amateur standouts facing off, both of whom have shown a lot of ability already in their short careers. Despite both having a loss against their names both should still be regarded as talented prospects, with a lot of potential, and both men will know a win here will help them take a huge step towards a Japanese ranking, even this early in their career.
Yuki Nakajima, 24, is the younger brother of Ohashi Gym hopeful Kazuki Nakajima, and is a talented youngster himself. Fighting out of the well established Kadoebi gym Nakajima went 52-21 in the unpaid ranks and impressed early as a professional with his heavy handed style and aggression. He suffered his first loss last August, being out pointed by the excellent Ryu Horikawa. Since that loss Nakajima has bounced back with a win over domestic veteran Yasuhiro Tanaka.
Aged 23, though he turns 24 in March, Shisui Kawabata is a very highly regarded young who had impressed as an amateur, where he ran up a misleading 29-18 (11) record and was selected as a sparring partner for Naoya Inoue before he'd even debuted. Despite being dropped on his professional debut, by Natchaphon Wichaita he has impressed since. Sadly he was beaten last time out, losing a competitive decision to Rikito Shiba in September in a Japanese Youth title fight and since then has been developing at the Watanabe Gym.
What to expect?
Both of these kids can fan, but are skilled but aggressive, both hit hard for smaller weight fighters and both are well schooled from their days as amateurs. We expect there to be a lot of early respect. Both will want to see what the other has to offer before putting their foot on the gas. For Nakajima the key will be figuring out Kawabata's southpaw stance and this will be his first bout against a southpaw. As for Kawabata the key will be neutralising Nakajima's power.
After a couple of rounds of seeing what each other have we see the pace of this stepping up, and both men letting heavier bombs go as they try to not only beat each other, but stop the other. The respect will be there, and it won't become a wild brawl, but it will be high speed chess, with dynamite being thrown by both.
The bad news?
Sadly the loser here will have a big hole to climb out of, and they will seriously need to be given some confidence building bouts later in the year. Sure 2 losses this early in their career won't be the end. The likes of Ryoichi Tamura, Keita Kurihara and Kyosuke Sawada have all proven that losses can be used as learning experiences. But the loser here will need to be given easier buots to rebuild before they get another serious test.
Whilst the Cruiserweight division was once the domain for European fighters we have began to see the division open up. It's given a nice look to the division in some ways, but it does feel a bit like the division is lacking some real stars, despite a second series of the WBSS, which comes to an end in March. Having recently looked at the champions, lets now take a look at some of the contenders in what is a very, very disjointed division.
Mairis Briedis (26-1, 19)
Regarded by many as the best in the division the 35 year old Mairis Briedis is Latvian boxing's one big star. The awkward, ugly, tough, talented, and frustrating fighter gave Oleksandr Usyk his toughest bout to date, and holds wins over the likes of Manuel Charr, Marco Huck, Mike Perez and Krzysztof Glowacki. Sadly for all his talent Briedis seems just as happy to spoil, wrestle and frustrate his way to victory. On March 21st he will take on Yuniel Dorticos in the WBSS final, and a loss there could be the end of Briedis, who few will be rushing to face afterwards.
Ryad Merhy (29-1, 24)
Ryad Merhy is a 27 year old Belgian who brings excitement to the ring when he steps between the ropes. A the moment Merhy is the WBA "interim" champion and has rebuild well since a 2018 loss to Arsen Goulamirian, in what was a great fight. At the moment he's riding a 5 fight winning run over some decent competition, but in reality we would like to see him getting another major bout sooner rather than later. The WBA "interim" title he holds is rather worthless, given the way WBA love handing out belts, but Merhy is a damn good fighter and a very fun one to watch.
Thabiso Mchunu (22-5, 13)
South African southpaw Thabiuso Mchunu has a record that would maybe suggest he's not a top contender, but in reality he's one of the best in the division, and deserves a big fight this year after essentially sending Debis Lebedev into retirement last year. Since his first loss, back in September 2011, he has only been beaten by genuinely world class fighters in the form of Ilunga Makabu, Oleksandr Usyk, Constantin Bejenaru and Thomas Oosthuizen. It's worth adding that the Oosthuizen bout was controversial enough to have a rematch that Mchunu dominated. Talented, slippery, skilled, calm in the ring, but sadly inconsistent at times. On his day a nightmare for anyone with his excellent skill-set.
Lawrence Okolie (14-0, 11)
Englishman Lawrence Okolie is a talented fight, yet probably the most frustrating man in the sport to watch. Blessed with a freakish frame Okolie should be a brilliant outside fighter, keeping things long and dominating behind his straight shots. Instead he's one of, if not the, ugliest fighter to watch, and does a fantastic boxing impression of a hug addicted octopus. He's had so many bouts that could be described as "unwatchable" that he's going to be a hard sell for fans. Although we typically want to see the best fighting the best, we would genuinely hate for a bout between Okolie and Briedis, and it would almost certainly go down as one of the worst bouts of the year, if it happens.
Krzysztof Glowacki (31-2, 19)
Polish hard man Krzysztof Glowacki is in a weird position right now. He's owed a shot with the WBO, and will likely fight for their vacant next, but really should only have 1 loss on his record after horrific officiating saw him being knocked out after a showcase of fouls from Mairis Briedis last June. It's hard to know what the 33 year old has left in the tank, given he has had more than his share of wars, and has taken a lot of punishment during his career, but at his best he is a fantastic contender, and could well reclaim a title down the line. It will be really interesting to see what the Briedis bout took from him, both mentally and physically.
Kevin Lerena (25-1, 12)
One of the fresher faces of the division is South African "KO Kid" Kevin Lerena. The 27 year old southpaw has been a pro since 2011 and has reeled off 14 straight wins since a loss in 2014 to Johnny Muller. Whilst he's not made too much noise in the grand scheme of things he has been racking up a solid record with wins against the likes of Mikki Nielsen, Youri Kayembre Kalenga, Dmytro Kucher, Roman Golovashchenko and Firat Arslan. A big fight cannot be far away for the the in form Lerena.
Aleksei Egorov (10-0, 7)
For years Russia have been pumping out some amazing Cruiserweights, though at the moment it does feel like they are a dying breed. The best of the Russian right now looks to be heavy handed, but technically quite limited, Aleksei Egorov. Whilst he's strong and likely to be a force on the world stage we don't see him as the obvious successor for the likes of Denis Lebedev and Grigory Drozd. A solid professional, but someone who just appears to be lacking that something special. It is however early days for the 28 year old, and there's a chance he will have more in his locker than we've seen so far.
Michal Cieslak (19-1, 13)
Another tough Pole competing at Cruiserweight is Michal Cieslak, who suffered his first loss recently to Ilunga Makabu in Kinshasa. That bout was a set back, as any loss is, but the who situation around the contest was shady and won't have helped Cieslak preparing to face someone as good as Makabu. Prior to his loss he had strung together good wins over the likes of Jarno Rosberg, Francisco Palacios, Youri Kayembre Kalenga and Olanrewaju Durodola. Despite the loss he's certainly in the mix still and we wouldn't be surprised to see him getting a second world title fight later this year.
Very few divisions changed in the way the Cruisierweight division has over the last year or so. As we entered 2019 there was only one man anyone saw as the world champion and that was Ukrainian star Oleksandr Usyk, with a good solid base of contenders fighting for second place. Since the Usyk has left the division, with Murat Gassiev also leaving the division, as both men pursue gold at Heavyweight. We've also seen the, long over-due, retirement of Russian veteran Denis Lebedev, who hung them up following a loss to Thabiso Mchunu in December. Despite the changes the division is still a really good one, and we are really looking forward to the upcoming WBSS final in March.
IBF - Yunier Dorticos (24-1, 22)
Having mentioned the upcoming WBSS final it's worth starting this with IBF champion Yunier Dorticos, who will be defending his IBF title in that final on March 28th against Mairis Briedis. The big punching Cuban is a genuine talent, with big power. Typically his bouts seem to be very good, or god awful, though whatever they end up being there is always a chance that the "KO Doctor" will land a bomb and leave his opponent out cold. On paper his resume is really solid, with wins over Youri Kayembre Kalenga, Dmitry Kudryashov, Mateusz Masternak and Andrew Tabiti, in 4 of his last 5, however a 2018 loss to Murat Gassiev and only 5 bouts in the last 4 years have hurt Dorticos' overall standing in the sport. Also with his 34th birthday coming in March he cannot afford another loss, or that could be the end for him
WBC - Ilunga Makabu (27-2, 24)
Earlier this year Ilunga Makabu became the WBC champion with a decision over the previously unbeaten Michal Cieslak in the Democratic Republic Of The Congo. That was Makabu crowning win and his 8th win since a 2016 loss in the UK to Tony Bellew. Amazingly since the loss to Bellew Makabu has fought in 6 countries, and scored notable wins not just over Cieslak but also the the 11-0 Aleksei Papin and the always dangerous Dmitry Kudryashov. Talented, heavy handed, tough and with top level experience Makabu is a genuine top fighter. He has the tools to beat anyone but just enough vulnerability to make fighters think they can take him out. With the WBC title around his waist he will be a target for fighters to chase, but is not an easy fighter to beat and on his day he could beat anyone at the weight.
WBA "Super" - Arsen Goulamirian (26-0, 18)
Armenian born Frenchman Arsen Goulamirian is possibly the division's hidden gem, and he current WBA "super champion. Goulamirian won the "interim" title in 2018 and the some how seems to have become the "super" champion by the time he first defended it, when he stopped Kane Watts. He then netted his second defense in just weeks after stopping Watts, as he broke down Constantin Bejenaru. The exciting, aggressive, tough and talented Goulamirian isn't just unbeaten in 26 but has stopped his last 6, taking the unbeaten records of Bejenaru and Ryan Merhy along the way. Although he's only fought in France and Belgium he has proven to be a nightmare to go up against and we wouldn't be surprised to see him heading out to pastures new by the end of 2020 in search of big pay days and serious tests.
WBA "Regular" - Beibut Shumenov (18-2, 12)
Sometimes things completely surprise us, and finding out that Beibut Shumenov stills holds a world title is one such thing. The 36 year old Kazakhhas fought only once since June 2016, and that was back in summer 2018, yet the WBA still have him listed as their champion. Bizarre. Once a pretty talented Light Heavyweight we do need to wonder what his connection is to the WBA for them to have still have him listed, it's frankly bizarre. We genuine assumed Shumenov had retired when we started this. As a Cruiserweight his crowning glory was beating BJ Flores, and yet he is some how a 2-time WBA champion. If anyone can explain please do! Also we expect the WBA to strip him sooner rather than later, especially now they know that someone is aware of Shumenov's current "reign".
Whilst the Light Heavyweight division only really has 2 champions, in Artur Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol, the division is packed with contenders and they make up a wonderful mix of rising youngsters, established contenders and former world champions, giving us one of the deepest and most interesting divisions in the sport.
Sergey Kovalev (34-4-1, 29)
Former multi-time world champion Sergey Kovalev is still one of the biggest names in the division, despite being past his prime and very much a fighter who's future doesn't look bright, at all. He had a strange 2019 in the ring, in which he avenged his loss to Eleider Alvarez, defended the WBO title in Russia against Anthony Yarde then lost to Saul Alvarez, and a controversial one of the ring, with legal issues. The future doesn't look bright for "Krusher" but as far as contenders go he is still there and a win over him still means a lot.
Eleider Alvarez (25-1, 13)
The now 35 year old Eleider Alvarez, like Kovalev, doesn't appear to have much time left in the sport. The Canadian based Colombian, dubbed "Storm", is a real talent, but a real frustration and all too often he has cruised in the ring instead of shining. He has notched big wins, over the likes of Isaac Chilemba, Lucian Bute, Jean Pascal and Sergey Kovalev, but has regularly done "just enough". At 35 he may get a chance to become a 2-time champion, but in reality we wouldn't be surprised to see him being avoided by the top guys as he heads into retirement.
Gilberto Ramirez (40-0, 26)
It's not often we see big Mexican fighters but Gilberto Ramirez has proven that Mexicans can indeed fight at the heavier weights. Ramirez is a former WBO Super Middleweight champion who moved up in weight last year, after struggling to make 168lbs. Sadly since moving up he has only fought once, beating Tommy Karpency last April, though he is now expected to get a place in a 4 man WBO world title tournament later this year and could potentially become a 2-weight champion. Although he can be an exciting fighter he has looked like a man who has maybe peaked already at 28 is perhaps not developing as many had previously hoped, when he began to break through make waves.
Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-1, 14)
Former WBC champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk won his first 17 bouts before running into Artur Beterbiev last October. The talented Ukrainian held his own with the Russian brute through the first 9 rounds but was broken down in round 10, of a genuinely sensational fight. Despite the loss to Beterbiev we certainly wouldn't write off "The Nail" who we expect to see bouncing back from the Beterbiev loss and get himself straight back into the title mix. Do not sleep on this former champion who dethroned Adonis Stevenson in 2018.
Marcus Browne (23-1, 16)
American fighter Marcus Browne is a former WBA "interim" and WBC "silver" champion and someone who has got a lot of questions hanging over him, both inside the ring and outside. He's certainly a talented fighter, and his win over Badou Jack is one of the few times Jack has been beaten without a debate, though fair enough Jack did fight a lot of that bout with half of his head missing. Sadly though Browne was made to look very vulnerable by Jean Pascal last August and we can't see him being competitive with the two Russian world champions. In fact it would take a career best performance for him to over-come Oleksandr Gvozdyk.
Fanlong Meng (16-0, 10)
Upcoming IBF title challenger Fanlong Meng isn't a name that many will be too familiar with but the unbeaten 32 year old Chinese southpaw will be a man fans will hear a lot about in March ahead of his bout with Artur Beterbiev. Meng is a talented boxer who looks relaxed in the ring, and controls the range and tempo well, as we saw against Frank Buglioni. Sadly he's not the type of fighter who should be matched with someone like Beterbiev, who can really whack. At 32 years old it's now or never for Meng, but having been dropped by Adam Deines, last June, and Zura Mekereshvili, back in 2016, he has question marks over his chin. Meng is certainly a talent, but we can't help thinking that his chin will be a major issue against a rock fisted monster like Beterbiev.
Joe Smith Jr (25-3, 20)
One of boxing's feel good stories of the last few years has been the rise of Joe Smith Jr, who was a relative unknown before stopping Andrzej Fonfara inside a round in 2016. Smith Jr is a win some-lose some type of fighter, but with a solid chin, big power and decent work rate he's someone we can't help but enjoy watching. With wins over Fonfara, Bernard Hopkins and Jesse Hart Smith is certainly remains in the title mix, despite losses to Sullivan Barrera and Dmitry Bivol in his last 4 bouts. Aged 30
Umar Salamov (25-1, 19)
Once beaten Russian Umar Salamov will be getting a world title eliminator later this year and yet is relatively unknown outside of Ukraine and Russia. He began his career in Ukraine, back in 2020, and fought 13 of his first 14 bouts there, before fighting 9 of his following 12 in Russia, with two bouts in Australia and one in America. His only loss was a very close one in Australia to the once touted Damien Hooper, and since then he has reeled off 12 wins against decent, but unspectacular competition. In the ring he's heavy handed and aggressive, with a tall and long frame, but really lacks polish and looks like someone who perhaps finds himself getting his place in a title tournament a little bit too early in his career.
Maksim Vlasov (45-3 26)
Another Russian we expect to be involved in the title tournament is 33 year old veteran Maksim Vlasov, who seems to have been around for blooming years! Vlasov made his debut way back in 2005 and won his first 19 bouts before coming up short in a very competitive bout against Isaac Chilemba. Another solid winning run came to an end when he lost a relatively competitive bout against Gilberto Ramirez, A move up to Cruiserweight lead to another winning run before he lost to Krzysztof Glowacki, and then headed back down to Light Heavyweight, and avenged his loss to Chilemba. A solid, consistent professional
Joshua Buatsi (12-0, 10)
When we look at the best rising prospects in the UK, across all the divisions, few fill us with the hope that Light Heavyweight Joshua Buatsi does. The explosive 26 year old is ticking a lot of boxers and with stoppages over Marco Antonio Periban and Ryan Ford in 2019 he took big strides towards some huge fights this year. He's heavy handed, fast, exciting and although he's still a bit rough around the edges there is the natural talent there for his team to work with. At the moment the feeling, at least for us, is that he needs to face a few solid tests to prepare for a world title bout. Taking on someone in one of the top 15 next time out would serve his career well, though we suspect Eddie Hearn will move him slowly and wait for an opening, rather than risking Buatsi against someone like Beterbiev and Bivol. Very exciting, but still rather untested.
Rustam Tulaganov (3-0, 1)
Unbeaten Uzbek fighter Rustam Tulaganov turned pro in 2017 and debuted that year, then spent more than 2 years away from a professional ring before returning in late 2019. He now looks like the man in the division who is set to be fast tracked, and we wouldn't be surprised, at all, if he faces a world ranked fighter before the end of 2019. Earlier this month he took a clear decision over Polish veteran Norbert Dabrowski, in an 8 rounder, and the assumption now is that he will be moved in to 10 and 12 rounders whilst his team, Patriot Boxing in Russia, look to secure him a big fight. Aged 28 he does have time on his side, but we certainly expect him to be moved quickly regardless. Don't be surprised to see him gate crashing the rankings sooner, rather than later.
Ali Izmailov (2-0, 1)
Although Russian fighter Ali Izmailov isn't likely to be on the radar of many fans he's one that we suspect will be moved very aggressively over the next few years. The 26 year old debuted in August 2019, and in just his second bout he shut out Dmitry Sukhotskiy over 6 rounds. Next up for Izmailov is Gasan Gasanov, later this month, and we would expect that to be Izmailov's final bout over 6 rounds, with 8 and 10 rounders likely to come before the end of this year. Whilst he's super early in his career he's potentially the wird card at 175lbs, and someone to make a note of now as he rises through the ranks.
One of the sports most intriguing divisions right now in the Light Heavyweight division, which has fighters wanting to fight, want to unify, and wanting to prove themselves. Even though there are a lot of veterans hanging around they are all proving themselves as top fighters, time and time again, the division also has plenty of fresh blood and a nice mix of styles, experiences and excitement. It's one of the few divisions that really does thrive with must watch fights and it sometimes seems like it doesn't even matter who is facing who, we're going to be in for something memorable. It's also a division with a vacant WBO title up for grabs later this year.
WBC and IBF - Artur Beterbiev (15-0, 15)
Russian destroyer Artur Beterbiev was once one of the most avoided men in the sport, in the space of just 2 years he has gone 4-0 (4) in world title bouts and unified the WBC and IBF titles, making him essentially the man people have to look at, if they want to become a world champion. With bricks for fists, an aggressive mentality and bull like strength it would be easy to write Beterbiev off as just a puncher but he's not. He's actually more of a boxer-puncher, but one with absolutely dynamite punches. He's a well schooled former amateur standout with scary power, but also someone who had been dropped several times himself, leaving some question marks over his chin. His best win is is his 10th round TKO win over Oleksandr Gvozdyk, though stoppages over Tavoris Cloud, Gabriel Campillo and Enrico Koelling are solid wins, especially at the time he beat them. He'll be back in the ring in March when he defends his title against Fanlong Meng and then there is plans for a huge bout later in the year in Russia.
WBA "super" - Dmitry Bivol (17-0, 11)
Another Russian champion is Dmitry Bivol, who lacks the power and physicality of Beterbiev, but is instead is a more polished boxer. The 29 year old Bivol started his career looking like an aggressive, exciting fighter, but as he's stepped up in class he's become more of a boxer-puncher, using his feet to create space and keeping things long and at range. In many ways Bivol looks like he's keeping things simple in there, though his ring IQ is very allowing him to using the basics incredible well. His last 4 bouts have all gone the distance, but he's been clearly winning them behind his boxing skills and ring control. Whilst he's not as destructive as Beterbiev his recent resume is stronger, with wins against Sullivan Barrera, Isaac Chilemba, Jean Pascal and Joe Smith Jr.
WBA "regular" - Jean Pascal (35-6-1-1, 20)
Although the WBA have created a mess for themselves with a regular champion and a super champion, again, we must confess that Jean Pascal is someone we, as boxing fans in general, absolutely love. The Hatian born Canadian 37 year old has done what we, as fans, want to see. He has faced pretty much a who's who of who since 2008. Win or lose he's not looked to duck fighters and instead has gone in with the likes of Carl Froch, Chad Dawson, Bernard Hopkins, Lucien Bute, Sergey Kovalev, twice, Eleider Alvarez, Dmitry Bivol and Badou Jack. Him holding a title is the bull shit the WBA have created, but as a fighter, who been written off time and time and time again Pascal is a throw back to an era where ducking was less prevalent. We do, genuinely, worry about Pascal's health after his career comes to an end, and he has taken a lot of punishment, and hope that when he does hang them up he has a great life afterwards. After his last bout, a narrow win over Badou Jack, it seems likely that retirement will be sooner rather than later.
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.