The Light Middleweight division is one of the most interesting as none of the fighters in it can seem to separate themselves from the chasing pack of contenders. It seems that on an any given day one of the contenders could defeat a champion. What makes that even more incredible is the sheer depth of contenders in the division, with more contenders of note than pretty much any other division. These including former champions, solid established contenders, and rising hopefuls on their way to the top.
Brian Carlos Castano (16-0-1, 12)
Unbeaten Argentinian Brian Carlos Castano is a 30 year who won the WBA title in 2017, made 2 defenses before losing the belt, with reports stating that he was either stripped or vacated. Castano's reign ended when he refused to travel to France to face Michel Soro with out his purse being put in escrow and without having confirmation of drug testing in place. It's worth noting that Castano won the title by beating Soro, and then was forced to wait months for his purse. Essentially he lost the title on principle, and should be seen as the belt-less champion. Thankfully he's expected to get a shot at WBO champion Patrick Teixeira later this year.
Jarrett Hurd (24-1, 16)
Exciting American Jarrett Hurd is looking to prove he wasn't just a flash in the pan. The strong and powerful Hurt won the IBF title in 2017, stopping Tony Harrison, then beat Austin Trout before unifying the IBF and WBA titles with a win over Erislandy Lara. His reign was a disappointing one, defeating Jason Welborn before losing the belts to Julian Williams last year. On Hurt has fought once since losing the titles, taking a decision over the much smaller Francisco Santana last time out. Hurt, as his best, is an exciting inside fighter, but he's tried a few times to show a more traditional boxing style, something that works for him against a lower level opponent, but we suspect will not be the most effective for him when he returns to fighting top level fighters later in the year.
Julian Williams (27-2-1-1, 16)
American 29 year old Julian "J-Rock" Williams like so many others here has had a short reign and is looking to recapture a title. He got his first world title shot back in 2016 and was stopped by Jermall Charlo, he would then bounce back and defeat Jarrett Hurd for the IBF and WBA "super" titles in May 2019 before losing the belt in January to Jeison Rosario. A talented boxer puncher Williams is a man who's hard to really get a read one. Sady he's had issues with activity, with just 1 fight in 2019 and only 6 fights since the start of 2017. We suspect he'll be getting a rematch with Rosario later this year, and with the right game plan he could reclaim the titles, though will certainly not risk over looking the Dominican again if they do rematch.
Erickson Lubin (22-1, 16)
Once seen as the face of the division hard hitting American hopeful Erick Lubin saw his unbeaten record come to an end in October 2017 when he was stopped, inside a round, when he faced Jermell Charlo. Since then he has racked up 4 wins, including notable victories over Ishe Smith and Nathaniel Gallimore, to get himself back in the mix. Exciting, with a big punch Lubin is one to keep an eye on, and at just 24 years old there really is no need to rush him. Although talented and a very good contender, it does feel like Lubin needs another fight or two before he should be given a big shot.
Tony Harrison (28-3, 21)
Former WBC champion Tony Harrison shocked the division in late 20018, when he took a close decision win over Jermell Charlo, but lost a rematch a year later and failed to notch a single successful defense. The 29 year old is a very talented boxer-moved, and although he's got close to a 70% KO rate he's not much of an actual puncher with his last stoppage wins of note coming against Siarhei Rabchanka back in 2016. Harrison is someone who will remain a main player in the division, and will likely get another world title fight, but there are question marks about his durability and he has been stopped in all 3 of his defeats. A solid contender, but given the depth in the division he almost merges in the division's many other talented fighters.
Michel Soro (35-2-1, 24)
Talented French fighter Michel Soro is a fantastic contender level fighter with under rated skills and solid pop. He's the sort of fighter who deserves to be in the mix and has remained there due to decent wins over the likes of Glen Tapia, Emanuele Blandamura, Javier Francisco Maciel, Greg Vendetti and John Vera. He's lost in his two bouts at world level, losing a competitive decision to Zaurbek Baysangurov in 2012 and a close decision to Brian Carlos Castano in 2017, but has the wins to solidify his place as a contender. He's expected to get another world title fight in the near future, and at 32 years old that will likely be his last shot.
Israil Madrimov (4-0, 4)
Uzbek 24 year old Israil Madrimov is one of those rare, rare fighters who looked like he was ready for big things immediately after turning professional. On his debut he impressed, in dominated Vladimir Hernandez, showed an ability to switch hit, box, move, and punch. Since then he has gone on to stop Frank Rojas, Norberto Gonzalez and Alejandro Barerra in 3 very impressive performances. It's clear Madrimov is facing good competition, but needs excellent competition to get the best from him. Although he only has 4 fights as a professional he was a stellar amateur and it's clear that they could push him to a world title before the end of 2020. A rare, sensational athlete, with a strong boxing background and excellent ring IQ. The only problem for Madrimov is keeping him interested, and at times he's looked like he's been entertaining himself against his solid, but over-matched, opposition.
Takeshi Inoue (16-1-1, 10)
Once beaten Japanese fighter Takeshi Inoue is best known for his 2019 loss to Jaime Munguia in a WBO world title fight. Since then he has scored 3 stoppages, in a combined 5 rounds, to win and defend the WBO Asia Pacific title. Aged 30 the rugged, and physically strong Inoue is thought to be aiming to secure another world title fight this year, and we wouldn't be surprised to see him getting a shot given his fan friendly style, toughness and his performance against Munguia. He would be the under-dog against any of the champions but would certainly be a tough 12 round test, for any of the top fighters in the division.
Bakhram Murtazaliev (17-0, 13)
US based Russian contender Bakhram Murtazaliev has been quietly making a name for himself with a string of C tier wins over the likes of Norberto Gonzalez and Elvin Ayala. It would seem likely he'll make the move up to B level guys in 2020 and then begin heading towards a title fight before the year is over. Aged 27 time is there for him to develop and improve, but the feeling is that his team aren't willing to put up the money to get him the best competition and it could be another frustrating year for a man who needs better tests than he's getting. With Egis Klimas behind him there's always the potential for him to get a break sooner, rather than later, but it feels like his career has been a case of making steps the last couple of years, and rarely losing rounds in the process.
Serhii Bohachuk (17-0, 17)
An US based foreign born fighter is Ukrainian destroyed Serhii Bohachuk who has racked up 17 wins, all by stoppage, in just 50 professional rounds. He made his around 3 years ago and did so without much song and dance and has developed an impressive reputation as a destructive, heavy-handed, aggressive and exciting fighter. He's not the most technically sound of the Uzbek fighters out there but he's a very big, powerful fighter who applies pressure and beats people up. So far he's looked really exciting and promising, but his competition has been rather limited and we still have a lot of questions for Bohachuk to answer, regarding his chin and stamina. Certainly one to get excited about, and one we expect to see a lot of in 2020.
Whilst the world champions at Light Middle are a pretty interesting and exciting bunch it should be noted the contenders are also a really interesting mix, with some well known names, potentially at the end of their career's, and some emerging talent breaking through the ranks.
If you missed our look at the champions that's available here - The state of the Division - Light Middleweight - The Champions
Takeshi Inoue (13-0-1, 7)
On January 26th unbeaten Japanese fighter Takeshi Inoue will be getting his shot at the big time, as he takes on WBO Champion Jamie Munguia. The 29 year old Japanese fighter is totally unknown outside of Japan, and is no relation at all to Naoya Inoue, but he's already unified the Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles, during his short career. He was a top domestic amateur, who has been fast tracked through the regional scene and already has notable wins over the likes of Akinori Watanabe, Koshinmaru Saito, Yuki Nonaka and Ratchasi Sithsaithong. Sadly he's small at the weight and although aggressive and exciting will be the huge under-dog against Munguia.
Erislandy Lara (25-3-2, 14)
Cuban veteran Erislandy Lara is a fantastically talented fighter, and in his pomp he was one of the best in the division. He was able to box circles around good fighters and blast others out. Sadly his ability didn't match his performances and despite being able to do great things he often had a negative mentality in the ring, a mentality that saw his reputation become that of a dull fighter. It was often a case of winning first and foremost, rather than entertaining the fans. Sadly at the age of 36, and with tough, damaging, fights taking their toll on his body it's hard to know what he still has left. He did run Jarrett Hurd razor close last year, but took significant punishment in the later stages.
Kell Brook (38-2, 26)
Another fighter who has taken a lot of punishment recently is former Welterweight champion Kell Brook. Once regarded as one of the brightest talents in the UK Brook's career is really best known for 3 fights that took, and one that hasn't. He announced on the wider boxing world in 2014, when he beat Shawn Porter for the IBF Welterweight title, but a string of weak challengers killed his moment. He then suffered back to back stoppage losses to Gennady Golovkin and Errol Spence Jr and hasn't really shown that he's a world class fighter since then. Instead of showing what he has left he has faced less than stellar opponents and repeatedly called for a show down with Amir Khan, in a bout that is looking less likely by the day. Although a talented fighter Brook has had a hard career and despite "only" being 32 he is likely close to the end of his career.
Jermell Charlo (31-1, 15)
Former WBC champion Jermell Charlo may feel he doesn't belong here, in fact he likely feels like he was robbed against Tony Harrison back in December. The reality however is that Charlo has had a frustrating few years, calling for big fights but doing little to earn them, doing little to shine and regularly looking like a rather lazy fighter, who perhaps began to rely on his power a bit too much. Although very talented he, like Lara, often seems to have the wrong mentality in the ring. He was lucky that his power bailed him out when he was being out boxed against John Jackson and managed to over-come Austin Trout thanks to 2 knockdowns. Don't get this wrong, he is very talented, but will need to change his attitude if he's going to be the star his ego thinks he should be.
Julian Williams (26-1-1, 16)
Julian "J rock" Williams is one of the many fighters in the mix for a world title fight, which would be his second. He came up short against Jermall Charlo, back in 2016, when he was stopped in 5 rounds, and that seemed to be the bout where fans began to query about his chin. Whilst he doesn't seem the most durable, he is a very talented boxer-puncher, with more than respectable power. Through his career he has beaten the likes of Luciano Leonel Cuello, Joshua Conley, Ishe Smith and Nathaniel Gallimore. He's expected to get another world title fight this year, though was expected to face the aforementioned Takeshi Inoue in 2018, though negotiations for that bout never seemed to conclude before the fighters went in different directions.
Michel Soro (33-2-1, 22)
One of the top contenders, and most over-looked fighters in the division, is French fighter Michel Soro. Soro is a 31 year old who has been around for a long time. He made his debut in 2008, fought for the WBO title in 2012, losing a competitive decision to Zaurbek Baysangurov, and has struggled to get big fights since then, fighting decent contenders whilst trying to earn a shot. He's currently the WBA "interim" champion, and should really have been included in our "Champions" section, but the reality is that we don't think Soro is happy with an interim title, which he got from stopping Greg Vendetti in December, and instead he'll be wanting a shot at a real title this year.
Liam Smith (26-2-1, 14)
Former WBO world champion Liam Smith is one of the 4 fighting brothers from the Smith family in Liverpool, England. Despite losing the WBO title to Saul Alvarez in 2016 he has remained in the title mix, and fought Jamie Munguia for the belt back in July. At the age of 30 there is still life left in his legs, and having just signed with Matchroom Sport there are big openings for him, including a rumoured show down with Kell Brook in the UK. He's not an elite level talent, but is certainly on of the more notable names in the division and will remain in the title mix, especially with Matchroom behind him, for the foreseeable future.
Sergio Garcia (28-0, 13)
Unbeaten Spanish hopeful Sergio Garcia is set to have a major test on February 2nd when he travels to the UK to take on British prospect Ted Cheeseman, in what is very much a key bout for the division. At the moment Garcia is the European champion, having won that title last year, he is a fringe contender and someone who has not had much attention due to his entire career, so far, being fought entirely in Spain. There is skills, size and potential for Garcia, but he will be having a massive test when he takes on the unbeaten Cheeseman. By February we should know if he is a contender, or a pretender, and whether Cheeseman is a prospect, or a legitimate rising threat.
Magomed Kurbanov (16-0, 11)
At the moment there are a lot of Russian prospects, contenders and notable hopefuls. Some, like Evgeny Chuprakov, aren't all they are hyped to be, whilst others will exceed expectations. The jury is still out on 23 year old Magomed Kurbanov, who is edging his way up the rankings, but not blowing people away with his performances. In fact Kurbanov is sort of looking like he's picking up wins whilst doing little more than going through the motions. The "Black Lion" already has notable victories over Dennis Laurente, Akinori Watanabe and Charles Manyuchi, but looks very pedestrian at times. There is clear potential for him to click and the performances to come together, but it feels like we might be waiting a while for that to happen.
Dennis Hogan (28-1-1, 7)
Once beaten Irish Australian Dennis Hogan is lined for a show at the WBO title later this year, making him a very interested party in the upcoming bout between Jamie Munguia and Takeshi Inoue. Hogan, originally from Kildare in Ireland though now based down under, has fought almost his entire career in Australia, barring a few bouts in the US and one in Germany. Through his career he has often been over-looked but performed well when he went to Germany and fought Jack Culcay, giving the then WBA "interim" champion a tougher than expected bout. Since the loss to Culcay we've seen Hogan go 6-0 scoring notable wins over Samuel Colomban, Yuki Nonaka and Jimmy Kilrain Kelly. Whilst talented Hogan does lack power, and that is likely to be a major issue against world class opponents, who won't give him much respect if he can't hurt them.
Erickson Lubin (19-1, 14)
Once touted as the future of the division Erickson Lubin isn't where he would want to be. He turned professional at the age of 18 following a stellar amateur career and was the winner of various of the year awards early in his career whilst running up 18 straight wins. The southpaw would live up to his nickname of "The Hammer" whilst stopping the likes of Daniel Sandoval, Jorge Cota and Ayi Bruce. Sadly though he would come up short, inside a round, when he got a world title fight in 2017 against Jermell Charlo. That loss was in October 2017, in 101 seconds, and since then he fought just once, beating journeyman Silverio Ortiz. At the age of 23 he has time on his side, but there is a clear feeling of Lubin missing out a chunk of his development time, and having potential mental scares from the loss to Charlo. He will return in February, against Ishe Smith, and that really is a must win for Lubin.
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.