The contenders at the Middleweight division make for an odd bunch, with very few fighters in the mix who have previously world titles, and many who are really more prospects than contenders. In fact really the division is really lacking in terms of top tier contenders, with only a handful who have proven they belong in and around world level. It's a bad division as such but it's one that is clearly in transition
Rob Brant (25-2, 17)
American fighter Rob Brant shocked the boxing world in 2018 when he out pointed Ryota Murata to claim the WBA "regular" title. Sadly for him however his reign was a short one and it ended in 2019 when he travelled to Japan to face Murata in a rematch. Brant is a talented volume fighter who belongs in the title mix, but he'll need to rebuild in 2020 if he's to get a shot at the big time. Sadly it feels like his short reign at the top is going to be as good as it gets for Brant.
Chris Eubank Jr (29-2, 22)
Second generation fighter Chris Eubank Jr received a lot of attention in his homeland early in his career, under the guidance of his enigmatic father. In recent years however he has seemingly vanished off the face of the planet. Wins over James DeGale and Matt Korobov in 2019 are impressive, but the profile of the two fights was miniscule compared to the quality of fighters in them. Since losing in 2018 to George Groves Eubank has really struggled to get attention, no matter how solid his competition has been. Fingers crossed 2020 is a better year for the 30 year old, who is talented, charismatic and exciting.
Jaime Munguia (35-0, 28)
Former WBO Light Middleweight champion Jaime Munguia moved up to Middleweight for his last fight, and 11th round TKO win over Gary O'Sullivan. The 23 year old Mexican is an exciting, high volume fighter, but a pretty limited one and someone who we expect will struggle to make a mark on the division if he doesn't tighten up his defense, significantly. If we look at Munguia as a fan friendly fringe contender, and are willing to give him time to improve, he could become a solid contender. In reality however he's too well known to be given time and the division is too weak to stall a title fight for him. His biggest issue at Middleweight was his biggest strength at Light Middleweight. His size. At Light Middleweight he was huge, but being huge has forced him to move up and face bigger fighters. We suspect this is going to be a really tough year for Munguia and his management team.
Sergiy Derevyanchenko (13-2, 10)
Talented Ukrainian Sergiy Derevyanchenko is an unlucky man. The technically excellent, solid punching 34 year old could, well have had wins over Daniel Jacobs and Gennady Golovkin had judges just seen things a little bit different. Both of his losses, to legitimate world class fighters, have essentially been decided by 2 rounds, and he has given both men one of their toughest bouts. Sadly at 34 years old Derevyanchenko is likely on the slide, and may get 1 more shot at the top, if he's lucky. On the other hand he may well find himself as part of the "who needs him?" cub following his impressive performances in defeat.
Liam Smith (29-2-1, 16)
Englishman Liam Smith is a former WBO Light Middleweight champion who has moved up in weight but is yet to really show what he can do at Middleweight, having scored a couple of rather low level wins since moving up. At Light Middleweight he was a strong, powerful and tough, yet relatively basic, fighter. At 31 years old Smith does have time to mount a real charge at 160lbs, but he can't keep wasting time against B tier competition. This year has to be one where he steps back up to the fringes and gets the chance to prepare for a top Middleweight.
Liam Williams (22-2-1, 17)
Another British fighter looking to make their mark at Middleweight is Liam Williams, a 27 year old from Wales. Both of his losses came to Liam Smith at Light Middleweight but since changing trainer Williams has looked a more powerful and devastating fighter. He's not the most polished or rounded fighter out there, but he's strong, powerful and is still very much an improving fighter with a very fun style. It's going to be fun to see him mixing at world level, and given his Decemeber 2019 win over Alantez Fox a world title fight isn't going to be far away.
Kamil Szeremeta (21-0, 5)
Poland's relatively unknown Kamil Szeremeta is next in line for Gennady Golovkin and is the IBF mandatory challenger. The 30 year old has become the mandatory more on the volume of his wins than the quality of them but the former European champion is certainly not a bad fighter. He's been unbeaten since his pro debut in 2012 and has a couple of past it fringe contenders on his record, in the form hand Rafal Jackiewicz and Kassim Ouma. He's strong, despite not being much of a puncher, but shouldn't really be much of a test for Golovkin, even a much faded 2020 Golovkin.
Kazuto Takesako (12-0-1, 11)
It's unlikely we'll ever see Kazuto Takesako making a mark at world level, but the hard hitting Japanese fighter is knocking on the door of the top 15 and has unified the Japanese and OPBF titles, whilst being fun to watch, powerful and exciting. There is, obviously a gap between him and the top guys in the world, but given the relative lack of depth at 160lbs the 28 year old could end up finding himself as fringe contender sooner rather than later. He's here more because the division is weak, rather than being anything great, but we would advise fans do at least make a note of his name, as he is very fun to watch.
Janibek Alimkhanuly (8-0, 4)
Top Rank promoted Kazakh Middleweight hopeful Janibek Alimkhanuly is a former amateur standout who took some time to adapt to the professional ranks, but now appears to have settled at the weight. In 2019 he racked up 4 wins, 3 by stoppage, and took on progressively better competition. We would be a little bit surprised to see the 26 year old southpaw get a world title fight in 2020, but we wouldn't be surprised to see him knocking on the door as we go into 2021.
Edgar Berlanga (13-0, 13)
The divisional wild card is American puncher Edgar Berlanga, who may end up being a genuine star, if his power carries up through the levels. In 13 fights he has blown away 13 opponents, all in the first round. His competition has, admittedly, been limited, but not terrible and his December win over Cesar Nunez was particularly notable as Nunez had gone 8 rounds with Vincent Feigenbutz in his only previous loss. He's still very much a work in progress but if he keeps blowing opponents up and taking steps forward it's going to be very, very hard to hold him back from world level contenders for long.
One of the best things about the Super Middleweight division is the depth in the contender range, which has a mixture of former champions, rising hopefuls, and fighters from various parts of the globe. Not only is there good variety, but there is also good solid talent through out, and interesting styles.
If you missed our look at the champions that can be read here - The state of the Division - Super Middleweight - The Champions
Anthony Dirrell (32-1-1, 24)
Although not as gifted as brother Andre, Anthony Dirrell does appear to be the more true fighter, and has the grit and determination that would have made Andre a very special fighter. At the age of 34 Dirrell is getting what looks likely to be his final shot at the top, and although he's getting on, and has had a hard career, he is very much a solid fighter. He is a former WBC champion, having beaten Sakio Bike for the belt in 2014, but lost it in his first defense, so Badou Jack back in 2015. Since losing the title he has gone on a 5 fight winning run to land himself a shot at the vacant WBC title on February 23rd against Avni Yildrim.
Avni Yildrim (21-1, 12)
Having mentioned his name it makes perfect sense to go in depth about Turkish fighter Avni Yildrim, who will be looking to claim his first world title when he faces Dirrell. The Turk is a bit of a basic fighter, but at 27 he is in his physical prime and has reeled off 5 wins since losing to Chris Eubank in the WBSS in 2017. Although he is best known for the loss to Eubank ,Yildrim isn't actually a bad fighter, and holds wins over Glen Johnson, Marco Antonio Periban, Ryan Ford and Lolenga Mock. He does seem to be relatively inconsistent though and doesn't do anything special, meaning that he should be there for the taking against Dirrell.
Chris Eubank Jr (27-2, 21)
Second generation fighter Chris Eubank Jr is a very good natural athlete who has chose to follow his father into boxing. He's quick, powerful, strong and tough. Sadly however he lacks the boxing brain, and hasn't really shown what he truly can do, instead of showing how good of a boxer he can be he tends to spend more time moving around, posing and trying to play up to the crowd. If he can make the most of his natural gifts with a new trainer there's no doubting he can go all the way to the top. Sadly though he has suffered losses to two fellow British fighters, Billy Joe Saunders and George Groves, who made the most of Eubank's low boxing IQ to defeat him. He'll be back in the ring on February 23rd when he takes on another Brit, James DeGale.
James DeGale (25-2-1, 15)
Olympic gold medal winner James DeGale was once tipped as a star, but appeared to turn professional with the wrong attitude and fans quickly turned on him early in his career. In fairness however DeGale has turned fans to his side in the later stages of his career, with notable performances against the likes of Andre Dirrell, Lucian Bute, Badou Jack and Caleb Truax. Sadly the tough bouts against Jack and Truax have taken their toll and it's unclear what the 32 year old still has left in the tank. Although a natural talent DeGale did at times show a real sense of laziness in the ring, and that has long been a problem. At 32 it's hard to imagine him showing the energy that was often lacking earlier in his career.
Jose Uzcategui (28-3, 23)
Hard hitting Mexican based Venezuelan Jose Uzcategui recently lost the IBF title to Caleb Plant, in what was a really compelling match up. The exciting Uzcategui is technically a little on the limited side, but is very heavy handed, aggressive and determined. He's unlucky to have 3 losses on his record, with a DQ loss against Andre Dirrell really being harsh, though he has scored notable wins over Julius Jackson, Andre Dirrell, in a rematch, and Ezequiel Osvaldo Maderna. He's not looked his best since winning the IBF title in early 2018 and we do wonder if a move up to Light Heavyweight will do him the world of good, as he looked slow and sluggish early on against Plant. we don't expect to see Uzcateguin in the ring any time soon, but we do look forward to his return.
David Benevidez (20-0, 17)
Hard hitting David Benevidez is one of the top youngsters in the sport, and actually won the WBC title back in 2017, when he defeated Ronald Gavril. Sadly his reign was interrupted after issues with recreational drugs, and he's now been out of the ring since February 2018. Blessed with brutal power, and solid boxing skills the 22 year old does seem like he could be a major player for the next 10 years or so, but will obviously need to sort out his out of the ring issues to do that. He'll be back in action in March, and should he win that he will likely look to recapture the WBC title, from the winner of the Dirrell Vs Yildrim fight.
David Lemieux (40-4, 34)
Canadian puncher David Leemieux has long been a fixture on the Middleweight scene, but has had repeated issues with making the 160lb limit. With that in mind it's expected that he will make the move up to Super Middleweight. In terms of power he should have more than enough on his shots to hurt fighters at 168lbs, though his lack of reach and size is likely to be a problem for him, and he had short arms even at Middleweight. At the age of 30 it does seem like Lemieux should roll the dice, move up and see how he can do, as he has had so many issues making the Middleweight limit, that it's simply not worth boiling down for again. He's popular, exciting and well backed, so shouldn't struggle to get notable bouts at 168lbs going forward.
Azizbek Abdugofurov (12-0, 4)
Uzbek 26 year old Azizbek Abdugofurov looks to be the best hope for Central Asia and at one point it was hard to imagine not going to the top. He started his career in 2016 and immediately looked like a star in the making, taking his first title, a regional WBC belt, just 2 months after his debut. Sadly he hasn't really shined since then, despite scoring wins over notable names like Sirimongkol Singwancha, Martin Fidel Rios and Dmitrii Chudinov. He is still young and could improve but there is a feeling that he doesn't have the power he will need to make an impact at the top, and he's gone the distance in his last 8 bouts. He's a talent, but certainly needs to have a big 2019 to stay in the mix with some of the other top contenders.
Jesse Hart (25-2, 21)
American Jesse Hart is a 2-time world title challenger, having lost two competitive decisions to Gilberto Ramirez in bouts for the WBO title. Hart, a second generation fighter following in the footsteps of Eugene "Cyclone" Hart, has proven to be a talented boxer-puncher. He was a standout amateur, racking up an 85-11 record in the unpaid ranks, and has been a solid professional who will almost certainly get another shot sooner rather than later. Although talented Hart has some clear technical flaws to tidy up, and we dare say if he can sort those out he could end up going all the way. He is a "nearly man" at the moment, though with his likable personality and relatively exciting style he will get more chances.
Rocky Fielding (27-2, 15)
It's hard to know what to make of 31 year old British fighter Rocky Fielding. At times he looks solid, and like he belongs to be in the list of contenders, and other times he doesn't. He did notable take the WBA "regular" title from Tyron Zeuge last year, but had it ripped form his hands in 3 rounds by Saul Alvarez. His other loss was a opening round defeat to Callum Smith. So it's clear he's well below the level of those at the top of the division, but he has wins over Zeuge, John Ryder and Christopher Rebrasse, show that, at worst, he's a solid European level fighter. We suspect we'll see what he has left in his next serious outing, and we may also find out what desire he still has left as a fighter.
John Ryder (27-4, 15)
Englishman John Ryder may have lost to Rocky Fielding but there is no reason that the 30 year old Southpaw isn't to be regarded as a prospect himself. In fact since that loss to Fielding, in 2017, Ryder has reeled off 3 of his best wins, stopping Patrick Nielsen, Jamie Cox and Andrey Sirotkin, to keep himself in the world title mix. Although he's on a good run of stoppages Ryder isn't a big puncher, he's more a talented boxer, who has started to sit on his punches more. He began his career at Middleweight, losing a razor thin decision to Billy Joe Saunders, lost by stoppage to Nick Blackwell and then found a real lease of life at Super Middleweight. Sadly though he is small for the weight, and there is a feeling that a top guy would out power him. Still he's hard to ignore and is certainly on the verge of a wold title shot.
Erik Bazinyan (22-0, 17)
One of the lesser known contenders is Canadian based Armenian Erik Bazinyan, who looks to be the a contender worthy of attention. The hard hitting 22 year old made his debut in 2013, when he was just 18, and has been busy since then. As with most fighters his early record isn't worth getting too excited about, but he has stopped 14 of his last 16, including Adrian Luna Flores, Francy Ntetu, David Zegarra. Managed by the well respected Eye of the Tiger Management he has a strong team behind him and could be the gem of the division. We suspect he might be a year or two away from a title fight, but with the wins he's been getting it's going to be very hard to hold him back. A really exciting contender, and someone every one should be following.
Shefat Isufi (27-3-2, 20)
The world rankings throw some weird things at us, and one of the weirdest could be the fact the WBO's #1 ranked contender at Super Middleweight, at the time of writing, is Shefat Isufi. We at Asian Boxing tend to think that we're pretty knowledgeable about global boxing, but we hadn't heard of Serbian born German Isufi prior to starting this article. The 29 year old has been a professional since 2010 and was 12-2-2 (8) after 16 fights. Since then he has gone 15-1 (12) but only really beaten David Zegarra, taking far longer than Bazinyan, and Uruguayan veteran Radael Sosa Pintos. There is almost nothing else of note on his record, and it's almost impossible to work out what he's done for his world ranking. A really odd ranking from the WBO.
Vincent Feigenbutz (30-2, 27)
Whilst Isufi has a weird ranking his fellow German Vincent Feigenbutz is well deserving of a world rankings. The 23 year old, who debuted at the age of 16, is already a young veteran with 32 fights on his ledge. He would lose in his second bout but bounce back and reel off 20 wins, picking up a WBA title along the way. A loss to Giovanni De Carolis in 2016 derailed his rise to stardom but he has bounced back with 9 wins since then and has scored stoppages in his last 4 wins. He is strong, powerful, heavy handed and technically decent, but has areas to improve on before moving to the top for another world title shot. A proper contender, who is perhaps just a win or two away from a world title fight.
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.