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.
Most of our "Ones to Watch" are lesser known names, often fighters who on their way but aren't really well known to an international audience. This week is a little bit different as we look at a fight between a former world champion and a man that many suspect will be in the world rankings before the end of 2019. This is more of a bout between two top 50 fighters rather than a fight featuring an upcoming youngster, though one of the two fighters is seen as a prospect.
The One to Watch?
Batyrzhan Jukembayev (16-0-0-2, 14) vs Miguel Vazquez (41-8, 15)
September 26th (Thursday)
It's good to see a prospect step up and move from prospect to contender, and this is clearly what the plan is for Jukembayev. For Vazquez the bout sees him continue to face notable opponents, and in the last 2 years alone he has been in the ring with Josh Taylor, Thulani Mbenge, Ghislain Maduma and Ohara Davies. The unbeaten Kazakh is a hard hitter with a lot of promise, but this is an obvious and clear step up in class, against someone who has the potential to make him look awful. For Vazquez it's a chance to prove that, even at the age of 32 and with 49 bouts behind, he's not done as a notable fighter.
Batyrzhan Jukembayev is an unbeaten 28 year old Canadian based Kazakh boxer-puncher. He's clumsy at times, heavy handed, and very exciting. Sadly after showing some potential to be moved quickly his competition recently has felt like he's been going backwards and he has had issues with with his promotional team, who weren't happy with matching him against another of their fighters. It seems those issues have cleared up, a bit, but Jukembayev is still reportedly wanting to get away and fight in the US.
Miguel Vazquez on the other hand is a former IBF Lightweight champion who has really faced a who's who. We mentioned some of his opponents earlier but other opponents include Saul Alvarez, Timothy Bradley, Breidis Prescott, Ji Hoon Kim, Leonardo Zappavigna, Ameth Diaz and Mickey Bey, among others. He's a proper veteran of the sport, and someone who has long been a nightmare to fight. He's a smart boxer, who lacks power, but has a very good boxing brain, sharp punching and intelligent movement. He's slipped from the fighter he once was, but is still a very capable boxer-mover.
What to expect?
We like seeing aggressive fighters take on back foot fighters, especially when the aggressive fighters have a crude ruggedness to their style and the back foot fighters have the more complete skill set, and that's exactly what we have here. Jukembayev will press, and although he's not an out and out wild fighter he does have rough edges to him, edges that Vazquez can counter and use to his advantages. In a similar fashion Vazquez lacks the 1-punch power to get Jukembayev's respect and the Kazakh will press forward, walking through on to land one.
We'd expecting Jukembayev to, eventually, break down Vazquez in the final rounds of the bout, similar to what Mbenge did to the Mexico. There is however a good chance Jukembayev will be made to look silly at times before getting to his man.
This is a huge test, and a great chance to see just legit Jukembayev really is.
The bad news?
The bout will be a hard one to watch, as most Canadian cards are. They are often behidn paywalls, hiding the bout away from a huge amount of potential fans.
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.