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.
The Light Heavyweight division is one which is very top heavy right now, but any of the top fighters would make for an excellent match up if put against each other, and it's incredibly hard to to define who is the #1 in the division, with 4 very strong claimants.
Oleksandr Gvozdyk (16-0, 13) - WBC Champion (0 defenses)
Unbeaten Ukrainian Oleksandr Gvozdyk is one of a number of talented fighters to have emerged from the excellent Ukrainian amateur system in recent years, such as Vasiliy Lomachenko and Oleksandr Usyk. "The Nail" won the WBC title back in December, when he ended the long reign of Adonis Stevenson, and is set for his first defense in March. Gvodzdyk is talented, heavy handed and is a technical boxer-puncher who can keep a relatively high pace, especially for the division. At 31, and turning 32 in April, his reign might not be an incredibly long one, but he is certainly someone worth watching.
Sergey Kovalev (33-3-1, 28) - WBO Champion (0 defenses)
Heavy handed Russian Sergey Kovalev recently regained the WBO title, avenging a prior loss to Eleider Alvarez. The 35 year old "Krusher" is coming to the end of his career, but is still a very dangerous fighter and someone who has very solid power and criminally under-rated boxing ability. He's slipped form his best, and has shown mental cracks in recent years, but is still a very good boxer-puncher who looked better than he has last time out. At his best he put fear into opponents with his power, though now it seems likely that he will be looking to use that power as a weapon in his arsenal rather than as his key way to victory. If he can stay on the right track he could beat anyone in the division, but out of the ring issues may end up derailing his renaissance.
Dmitry Bivol (15-0, 11) - WBA Champion (4 defenses)
Unbeaten champion Dmitry Bivol, born in Kyrgyzstan though regarded as a Russian fighter, is the youngest of the champions and is arguably the most rounded. He's a busy, active boxer puncher, with stiff power on his shots. He's not heady handed as Kovalev, Gvozdyk or Artur Beterbiev, but he's more technically sounded, a better ring general and a smarter boxer with more wrinkles to his game. He does have areas to work on, and certainly needs to work on things still, but the 28 year is proving to be a very talented, rounded and fantastic fighter who could be the best in the division. With wins over Sullivan Barrera, Isaac Chilemba and Jean Pascal in 2018 he has a very impressive resume that seems to be getting better with every fight.
Artur Beterbiev (13-0, 13) - IBF Champion (1 defense)
Another hard hitter in the division is IBF champion Artur Beterbiev, another Russian who punches like a mule. Beterbiev won the title in late 2017 but has struggled through his career with activity, management, and competition. He's been a professional for close to 6 years but has only managed 13 contests in that time. He has changed his team a few times and has been avoided, making his career one of the most disappointing. At the age of 34 he doesn't have long left in his career, and yet has only had 47 rounds as a professional. As an amateur Beterbiev was a star but as a professional his career appears likely to end up being an underwhelming one. A shame, but a very dangerous shame.
Marcus Browne (23-0, 16) - WBA "interim" Champion (0 defenses)
American fighter Marcus Browne had been bubbling under the surface for a few years whilst compiling a solid, yet unspectacular record. This past January however he put himself firmly in the mix when he defeated Badou Jack to become the WBA "interim" champion. The 28 year old former amateur stand out struggled past Radivoje Kalajdzic in April 2016 but sincee then has looked very good, beating not only Jack but also Sean Monaghan, Francy Ntetu and Thomas Williams Jr. He's the least accomplished amnd impressive of the top guys, but certainly appears to be developing well in recent bouts and could be the long term American hope of the division.
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.