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".
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.