Whilst the Super Middleweight division has a talented, yet incredibly frustrating, array of champions the division is sadly lacking in quality in and around the ranks of contenders. Many of the top fighters in and around the world mix have been exposed, are on the way out and are old, rather than vibrant new up and comers. It gives the division a real lack of appeal and excitement. There are some solid contenders, but generally it's a division that is lacking depth and youth. Whilst we could run through the list of fringe contenders who are past it, we'd rather look at the up coming contenders here.
John Ryder (28-5, 16)
Englishman John Ryder should, if we're being honest, be the WBA "super" champion right now. He seemed to do more than enough last November to take the title from Callum Smith and was hugely unfortunate. Sadly Ryder has had a career of misfortune and was also very unlucky against Rocky Fielding in 2017. Although he has 5 losses the reality is that he is much, much better than his record suggests, and "The Gorilla" is one of the few legitimate, proven, contenders in the division, who isn't several years beyond their best.
Vladimir Shishkin (10-0, 6)
Fast rising US based Russian Vladimir Shishkin failed to impressed last time out, when he looked rather uninspiring against Ulises Sierra, but with stoppages against Siarhei Khamitski and Najid Mohammadi there's little doubting his ability. Shishkin is likely to be one of those contenders that fighters don't want to face, but yet doesn't look too impressive on camera and is potentially too much of a high risk low reward fighter, at least at the moment.
Vincent Feigenbutz (31-2, 28)
It's hard to believe that German fighter Vincent Feigenbutz is still only 24, but in many ways we may well have seen the best of the young German, who gets an IBF mandatory shot later this month. Once touted as the future of German boxing it feels like Feigenbutz has come around almost a decade too late and missed out on what the German scene once was. He's not a bad fighter, by any stretch, but he's also not as good as his record suggests and a loss to Caleb Plant on February 15th will push him way down the queue for another shot. He's powerful, but crude amd open and there to be out boxed by a smart fight like Plant.
Kevin Lele Sadjo (14-0, 14)
French puncher Kevin Lele Sadjo is dubbed the "The Phenomen" and with good reason, he can bang. Although not well known outside of France, as we begin 2020, we expect to see him getting some big fighters later in the year. The 29 year old has WSB experience and is a brute in the ring, with an aggressive style, very heavy hands, and a high intensity work rate. He looks like he could be out boxed by someone with very sharp counter punching, but in fairness to Sadjo, his shots are short, and crisp and he looks like a real emerging dangerman in the division
Evgeny Shvedenko (13-0, 6)
Another unbeaten Russian is Evgeny Shvedenko, who has slowly been making a name for himself in Europe, with recent wins against the likes of Nuhu Lawal and Nadjib Mohammedi. Although certainly not a name we expect many to be familiar with he is making his mark slowly and we would expect him to be moving towards an eliminator through the coming year. He's yet to really make a big statement, but we expect to see that sooner rather than later given he's not 29 years old.
Roamer Alexis Angulo (26-1, 22)
We said we wanted to focus on upcoming fighters but the 35 year old Roamer Alexis Angulo is certainly no spring chicken. He's also someone who has come up short in the past, losing in 2018 to Gilberto Ramirez Sanchez. However he has earned a second show on the back of big wins over the previously unbeaten pairing of Reinaldo Gonzalez and Anthony Sims Jr. The Colombian is big, tough, hits hard and appears to be on a good, so don't be too surprised if the US based Colombian gets a second title fight before this year is over.
Nurzat Sabirov (10-0, 9)
Canadian based Kazakh hopeful Nurzat Sabirov is a real hidden gem among the ranks at 168lbs, but is clearly some way away from a world title fight. The 26 year old has looked skilled, heavy handed and is getting good rounds under his belt, but clearly needs to be stepped up this year if he's to heading up into the fringes of the title mix. As with many of the Kazakhs based in Canada he's being matched well and getting experience, though do wonder when, or if, the promoters will pull the trigger and get any of them big fights in 2020. Sabirov probably won't be ready by the end of the year, but it'll be interesting to see whether Batyrzhan Jukembayev or Sadriddin Akhmedov get a big fight and lead the way for Sabirov.
Christian Mbilli (16-0, 15)
Cameroonian born Frenchman Christian Mbilli is one of the most promising fighters in the division, and one of the most exciting. He turned professional after a very successful amateur career, that included an appearance at the 2016 Olympics and time competing in the WSB, and since 2017 he has been building his reputation as a future world champion. He's talented, explosive and very exciting, and he's also proven he can go longer in fighters, with each of his last 3 bouts going 8 or more rounds. Don't be surprised at all if Mbilli gate crashes the title scene before the end of 2020.
Bektemir Melikuziev (4-0, 3)
Unbeaten Uzbek Bektemir Melikuziev looks like not just a future world champion but a future star of the sport. The "Bek Bully" has an exciting in ring style, but has proven he can box as well as bang, he's a devastating body puncher, a former amateur standout and someone who is being fast tracked like no one else in the division. Melikuziev is pencilled in to fight again later this month, against former world title challenger Marco Antonio Periban, and a win there will almost certainly put him on the verge of a world title fight. He might not be a big name, yet, but Melikuziev ticks all the boxes of a future star, and is someone to get very, very excited about.
Aidos Yerbossynuly (13-0, 9)
Another Central Asian making waves in the division is 28 year old Kazakh Aidos Yerbossynuly, who has cracked the top 10 with the WBO and the top 3 with the WBA, showing just how worthless their rankings are at times. The Kazakh has picked up wins in various countries, with his most notable win coming last August in Australia, where he beat Rocky Jerkic, and we expect to see him getting higher profile wins this year. The unbeaten fighter, who is managed by Sulieman Promotions, is certainly someone who deserves to be on the periphery even if his rankings are currently way too high.
Azizbek Abdugofurov (13-0, 5)
Ranked #2 by the WBC unbeaten Uzbek Azizbek Abdugofurov once looked like he was on the fast track to the top, but his rise has certainly in recent times, with "AAA" unable to land a bout of note in 2019. That was a shame as he had momentum coming into the year on the back of good wins over Dmitrii Chudinov and Wuzhati Nuerlang. Fingers crossed he can land a big fight this year and make up for lost time. At 27 years old he has time to get back to where he was, but feels a lot like he's wasted a year of his career, when he should have been getting bouts to prepare him for an eventual world title bout.
Whilst the Middleweight division doesn't appear to have much depth in terms of contenders it does have some really interesting fighters rising through the ranks right now, and they are a very varied bunch of fighters from all over the globe.
For those who missed our looks at the champions and contenders at Middleweight those were covered here:
The state of the Division - Middleweight - The Champions
The state of the Division - Middleweight - The Contenders
Christian Mbilli (13-0, 13)
One of the best prospects in world boxing, regardless of weight, is Cameroonian born French fighter Christina Mbilli, who is looking like one of the most outstanding Middleweight hopefuls out there. He was a stellar amateur, winning gold medals at the European Youth, European Union and European Olympic qualifiers, and competed on the WSB. Since turning professional less than 2 years ago he has ripped through his competition, stopping his 13 foes in just 38 rounds. His competition hasn't been the strongest, but he has taken the unbeaten record of Ramon Aguinaga and smashed through Mexican Luis Fernando Pina. At 23 years old he should be regarded as one of the hottest fighters in professional boxing and someone to seriously keep an eye on.
Serhii Bohachuk (12-0, 12)
We know how there's a Ukrainian take over of boxing with the likes of Vasyl Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk and Oleksandr Gvozdyk all holding world titles and all set out to prove they are. There is also a second wave of Ukrainians below those top tier fighters, and including in that is 23 year old Serhii Bohachuk. The youngster made his debut in early 2017 and has gradually stepped up his competition, whilst running through fighters. Dubbed "El Flaco" he is certainly explosive and appears to have no issues making Light Middleweight, at the moment, but clearly has the frame to fill into a very strong Middleweight. A long term prospect, but one well worthy of attention.
Kazuto Takesakao (10-0, 10)
Japanese Middleweight champion Kazuto Takesako isn't the next Ryota Murata, but the 27 year old is a legit prospect, and a really heavy handed, aggressive and exciting fighter, who usually comes forward, and always throws with bad intent. His KO win over Shoma Fukumoto was a big coming out win, and since the he has won the Japanese title and defended it once, with his next defense set for March. There are technical issues he needs to sort before progressing beyond regional level, but he has suggested that he wants to unify the Japanese title with the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles, so it's clear that he's looking to make gradual steps upwards, towards a world title fight. One to watch, but not one who will be in the world mix in the next 12 months.
Meiirim Nursultanov (10-0, 8)
The 25 year old Meiirim Nursultanov is one of two notable Kazakh prospects at Middleweight, and is probably the better of the two, if we're being honest. The Oxnard based, Klimas managed fighter turned pro in late 2016 and has been moved gradually through the rankings, with his best wins coming in his last 2 bouts. In late 2018 he stopped Jamar Freeman and began his 2019 with a win over Ramon Aguinaga. He's young, very powerful, and has been sparring with top competition, helping develop his skills, though he is still some way from a big fight of his own.
Misael Rodriguez (8-0, 4)
Talented Mexican Misael Rodriguez won a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics and is tipped to turn that medal into professional titles under the guidance of Abner Mares and Richard Schaefer. The talented 24 year old debuted in 2017 and although easy so far he is a fantastic talent who is getting experience and being developed by a fantastic team. Although talented it's unclear how talented he is given the level he's been fighting at, but given his amateur credentials and the team involved with him it's hard to not be excited about him. Sadly he appears to be a long term project, and it could be 3 or 4 years before we see him in really meaningful fights, though he is scheduled to fight just hours after this article goes live.
Artem Chebotarev (6-0, 4)
At the age of 30 Russian fighter Artem Chebotarev will need to make a big step up this year, but he did show signs of doing that last year, so we will give him the benefit of the doubt. He was a stellar amateur, winning a gold at the European Championships in 2010 and a bronze at the 2013 World Amateur Championships. He won the APB title in 2016, and scored notable wins in both the APB and the Amateurs. Sadly those side ventures meant he didn't make his "proper" professional debut until January 2017. In his debut year he went 4-0 (3) and scored a notable win over Nuhu Lawal. He built on that start in 2018 and ended the year with a big win over Javier Francisco Maciel, though did lose 12 months out of the ring. If he can score 1 or 2 big wins this year he will certainly be in the title mix by the end of the year.
Ulugbek Khakberdiev (5-0, 3)
Unbeaten Uzbek hopeful Ulugbek Khakberdiev has had a frustrating career so far. He turned professional in 2017 and beat Karen Avetisyan, a very under-rated journeyman. He really came to our attention in September 2017, when he stopped Dmitry Sukhotsky, in what should have been a huge break out win, but he would then have a break from the ring losing momentum and not fight for over 7 months, before picking up a low key win in Uzbekistan. Sadly he's again been inactive, and hasn't fought since May 2018. Given how talented, promising, heavy handed he is there is so much to be excited about, and at 26 he does have time on his side, but needs to get active after essentially wasting the last year and a bit. He's too good to not fight, but it appears there is something keeping him inactive, and that is a huge shame during what should be the start of his prime years.
Janibek Alimkhanuly (4-0, 1)
Whilst top Uzbek amateur fighters have taken immediately to the pros, some of the top Kazakh amateurs have taken a few fights to adapt. It appears another Kazakh who hasn't quite settled to the professional style yet is the unbeaten Janibek Alimkhanuly, who looks to have the tools to go a long way, but just needs a little bit of time. As an amateur he won the World Amateur Championships, the Asian Championships, twice, and competed at the Olympics. As a professional his career has been stop start, but he's now based in the US with Top Rank and has fully committed to being a professional boxer. He's notched recent wins over tough competition, in the form of Carlos Galvan and Vaughn Alexander and we're expecting to see him really spread his wings in 2019, with some top performances as he continues to adapt to professional boxing.
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.