The Lightweight division is one of the weird division's in the sport right now, thanks to some odd decisions, and political game playing, by the WBC and the WBA. On paper it should be a division with 2 champions set to unify their titles in Spring, but instead it has two legitimate champions, two pretenders to the throne and another pretender on the way.
WBO, WBC "Franchise" and WBA "Super" - Vasyl Lomachenko (14-1, 10)
In the good old days unification bouts were the ideal and the type of bouts that were supposed to clear up the mess made by having 4 world titles. Instead Vasyl Lomachenko has found out that unifying titles has created a mess with the WBA and WBC both inventing new titles just to collect additional fees whilst someone ties up the main belts. Lomachenko moved to the Lightweight division in 2018, seeking challenges after the pointless match up with Guillermo Rigondeaux in 2017. He won the WBA belt in his divisional debut, he unified that with the WBO title in his next fight, had a mandatory and then added the WBC to his collection. In the space of 15 months he had won 3 titles and was lining up a bout at the IBF belt, before the WBC decided to call him the "Franchise" champion, creating a new belt for Devin Haney, and the WBA created a regular title, now held by Gervonta Davis.
WBO - Teofimo Lopez (15-0, 12)
The only legitimate title that Lomachenko doesn't hold is the IBF belt held by explosive American puncher Teofimo Lopez, who claimed the belt in December when he stopped Richard Commey. The touted American is an exciting, heavy handed fighter, but did have some flaws exposed last year when he faced Masayoshi Nakatani and struggled with Nakatani's size, reach, jab and toughness. His win over Commey covered over the Nakatani fight and set him up for the divisional super fight with Lomachenko. He's the division's banger, with dynamite fists, but out of the ring issues, and a lack of experience, combined with over-confidence, could be a problem when he takes faces someone like Lomachenko. At the age of just 22 he's being groomed as a future superstar of American boxing, and win or lose to Lomachenko he has the time to rebuild and become a big player on the US scene.
WBC "In Recess" - Devin Haney (24-0, 15)
Another unbeaten American youngster is Devin Haney, who got a WBC title in weird fashion, when the WBC made Lomachenko the Franchise champion and upgraded Haney's interim title. After defending the belt against the unknown Alfredo Santiago he suffered an injury and the WBC then made him Champion in Recess, making the whole giving him a title, in the way they did, look even more of a joke. At 21 years old and with sensational natural ability, a good boxing mind and a confident, yet level headed, approach in the ring Haney has the hall marks of being something very special. Sadly the WBC have cheapened his first title reign and it feels very much like he's been given an "email world title". His time will come, and he will be a star, but his WBC reign, so far, feels like little more than a cash grab by the WBC.
WBA "Regular" - Gervonta Davis (23-0, 22)
Another unbeaten American making their mark in the division, now, is Gervonta Davis, who made the move up in weight in December. He claimed the "vacant" WBA "regular" title when he stopped Yuriorkis Gamboa last time out, but he really failed to shine against an injured Gamboa. The fact Gamboa lasted into the 12 round, whilst fighting much of the bout on 1 foot, is a worry for Davis, who had been blowing out most opponents early on. Although a very talented and explosive fighter we do wonder about Davis' commitment and professionalism, and he looked in poor condition last time out. He is, also, naturally very small at the weight and this could be a major issue when he begins to face natural Lightweights.
The Lightweight division is one with a strange between the top fighters and the top contenders. The champions really look several levels above their most dangerous contenders, in what is a pretty strange division. Despite being strange at the top it's really at prospect level, with a lot of hungry fighters looking to race through the ranks, a number of which are getting serious attention already.
If you've missed our previous looks into the Lightweight division they can be read here:
The state of the Division - Lightweight - The Champions
The state of the Division - Lightweight - The Contenders
Devin Haney (20-0, 13)
One of the biggest and most highly touted prospects in world boxing right now is 20 year old Devin Haney, who has been viewed as one of the can't miss prospects. Making his debut at the age of 17 Haney has developed a reputation as a skilled boxer-mover and has already been compared to the likes of Floyd Maywather Jr. He has shown touched of real class, beating veterans like Mason Menard and Juan Carlos Burgos in 2018, though there are question marks about his power and his killer instinct, but things that can be worked on over the coming years. Given his age he is likely to out grow the Lightweight limit sooner rather than later, but it's hard not to see him having success at Light Welterweight when that happens.
Teofimo Lopez (11-0, 9)
Regarded as being another of the future faces of American boxing Teofimo Lopez is a 21 year old boxer-puncher, with a lot of spite, and nasty intentions. He debuted in late 2016 and has raced away to 11-0 in just 34 rounds. In 2018 he scored 4 wins, including opening round KO's of Vitor Jones and Mason Menard. Lopez is still a boxing baby though looks like a total monster in the making, and could well be one of the next US superstars, if Top Rank guide him well and if he has the hunger for the sport. At the moment he's ticking every box a prospect can tick, and we dare say he's proven more in less time than the aforementioned Haney.
Joe Cordina (8-0, 6)
Welshman Joe Cordina was an accomplished amateur before turning professional in 2017, following a gold medal at the 2015 European Championships and an appearance at the 2016 Olympics. Aged 27 Cordina is a fully grown man, who will be looking to make a big impression in 2019, and has entered the year with both the WBA International and Commonwealth titles, as well as a notable win over fellow Brit Sean Dodd. There are a lot of questions for Cordina to answer, but with Matchroom Sports behind him along with his amateur pedigree it seems inevitable that he will go far, and will almost certainly end up fighting at world level, somewhere down the line.
Shuichiro Yoshino (9-0, 7)
Another 27 year old prospect with a strong amateur background is Japan's Shuichiro Yoshino, who took the Japanese title in his 6th fight and has already made 3 defenses of the belt. The talented Yoshino went 104-20 (55) in the unpaid ranks and was a multi-time high school champion before turning professional at the age of 24. With the established Misako gym behind him there's a good chance he will progress from Japanese level to regional level in 2019 before moving on to a potential world ranking in 2020. From there it's really a case of proving what he can do. Sadly his activity level hasn't been the best and he won't actually be back in the ring until mid-April, which won't help his rise, sadly.
Alfredo Santiago (11-0, 3)
Puerto Rico based Dominican 24 year old Alfredo Santiago is of the division's hidden gems. The tall fighter debuted in 2015 and hasn't had much publicity despite already having wins over Jayson Velez, Cristian Ruben Mino and Jonathan Victor Barros. Although showing a lot of promise questions will be asked of Santiago's power, having stopped just 1 of his last 8 bouts early, though few can doubt his skills and the experience he's getting, with 4 bouts going 10 rounds already. Also it's worth noting that Santiago is listed 5'11", which is tall for a Lightweight, but he looks even tall with genuinely freakish size and reach.
Ravshanbek Umurzakov (6-0, 5)
Uzbek puncher Ravshanbek Umurzakov made his debut at the end of 2017 and has impressed already in his short career, thanks in part to his brutal power. He impressed almost immediately, with opening round wins against Evgeny Smelov and Dohdan Zemlianya and continued to build on that through 2018. Sadly his biggest win to dat was a 58 second win against Eden Sonsona, with Sonsona really looking like he just didn't want to be in the ring and used any excuse to get away. Despite Sonsona's disappointing performance we shouldn't over-look Umurzakov, who looks like he will be fast tracked through 2019, and could end up in the world rankings by the end of the year.
William Zepeda (16-0, 14)
In 2018 we saw Jamie Munguia turn his long unbeaten record on the domestic Mexican scene into a world title, and it's fair to suggest that William Zepeda will be looking to follow suit somewhere down the site. The 22 year southpaw from México City turned professional at the age of 19 and has slowly built himself a pretty good looking record, without setting the world on fire. Despite not really getting too much attention he has started to take some minor steps up in class, with wins against Jesus Acosta and Ulises Perez. We expect him to toil away on the Mexican scene a little bit longer, but continue to move up in class, and in 2020 we would 't be surprised to see Zepeda make his US debut. There's plenty for him to develop, but he's young, powerful and gaining valuable experience at a young age.
Xiangxiang Sun (15-0, 10)
Chinese prospect Xiangxiang Sun, dubbed the "Pretty boy", has had a frustrating career. He debuted way back in December 2012 but failed to be active during those early years, fighting just once in each of 2013 and 2014. Thankfully the last couple of years we have seen him being active and scoring notable wins over Roy Mukhlis and Nelson Tinampay. On paper he is a step behind countryman Yongqiang Yang, however we've been more impressed by Sun than Yang, who had a bit of luck to over-come Takuya Watanabe. Between them however they do give China a good 2-pronged attack force at Lightweight, and hopefully one of them will manage to make a serious mark on the world stage.
Shawn Oda (10-0, 8)
Current Japanese Youth champion Shawn Oda is a really interesting prospect, who, at the age of 20, has so much potential. Oda is one of the few fighters who speaks fluent English, opening up the Western markets, and also has a more athletic style to his boxing than many Japanese fighters. He first came to our attention in 2016, the year he debuted, when he won the Japanese Rookie of the Year, at the age of 18. His 2017 was a bit of a write off but with 4 wins in 2018, including his Japanese title win against Seiryu Toshikawa, he has rebounded wonderfully. We suspect 2019 will be a year of development for the youngster, before he looks to progress onto a national title but he is certainly one to watch, and arguably the best hope Japanese has in the division longer term.
Go Hosaka (2-0, 1)
Japanese-Filipino Go Hosaka debuted in the summer of 2016 and has impressed, showing not only speed, power and skills but also excellent composure. He blew his debut opponent away before taking on Jason Tinampay in November. Hosaka began by trying to take Tinampay out but quickly realised the Filipino was luring him in to counter, and began to just control things behind his reach and use his range. Prior to turning professional he was an outstanding amateur and looks likely to be the Asian wild card in the division. At 22 he is slightly older than Oda, but has got the strong amateur pedigree that Oda lacks, which will make it fun to watch the two men as they develop from prospect status. It's worth noting that Filipino promotional powerhouse ALA are guiding Hosaka's career and they do have a decent track record of getting fighters towards world title fights. Sadly though they have often seen their fighters lack something at the very top level, and Hosaka will hopefully avoid being another nearly man of the ALA Gym.
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.