Whilst the Light Heavyweight division only really has 2 champions, in Artur Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol, the division is packed with contenders and they make up a wonderful mix of rising youngsters, established contenders and former world champions, giving us one of the deepest and most interesting divisions in the sport.
Sergey Kovalev (34-4-1, 29)
Former multi-time world champion Sergey Kovalev is still one of the biggest names in the division, despite being past his prime and very much a fighter who's future doesn't look bright, at all. He had a strange 2019 in the ring, in which he avenged his loss to Eleider Alvarez, defended the WBO title in Russia against Anthony Yarde then lost to Saul Alvarez, and a controversial one of the ring, with legal issues. The future doesn't look bright for "Krusher" but as far as contenders go he is still there and a win over him still means a lot.
Eleider Alvarez (25-1, 13)
The now 35 year old Eleider Alvarez, like Kovalev, doesn't appear to have much time left in the sport. The Canadian based Colombian, dubbed "Storm", is a real talent, but a real frustration and all too often he has cruised in the ring instead of shining. He has notched big wins, over the likes of Isaac Chilemba, Lucian Bute, Jean Pascal and Sergey Kovalev, but has regularly done "just enough". At 35 he may get a chance to become a 2-time champion, but in reality we wouldn't be surprised to see him being avoided by the top guys as he heads into retirement.
Gilberto Ramirez (40-0, 26)
It's not often we see big Mexican fighters but Gilberto Ramirez has proven that Mexicans can indeed fight at the heavier weights. Ramirez is a former WBO Super Middleweight champion who moved up in weight last year, after struggling to make 168lbs. Sadly since moving up he has only fought once, beating Tommy Karpency last April, though he is now expected to get a place in a 4 man WBO world title tournament later this year and could potentially become a 2-weight champion. Although he can be an exciting fighter he has looked like a man who has maybe peaked already at 28 is perhaps not developing as many had previously hoped, when he began to break through make waves.
Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-1, 14)
Former WBC champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk won his first 17 bouts before running into Artur Beterbiev last October. The talented Ukrainian held his own with the Russian brute through the first 9 rounds but was broken down in round 10, of a genuinely sensational fight. Despite the loss to Beterbiev we certainly wouldn't write off "The Nail" who we expect to see bouncing back from the Beterbiev loss and get himself straight back into the title mix. Do not sleep on this former champion who dethroned Adonis Stevenson in 2018.
Marcus Browne (23-1, 16)
American fighter Marcus Browne is a former WBA "interim" and WBC "silver" champion and someone who has got a lot of questions hanging over him, both inside the ring and outside. He's certainly a talented fighter, and his win over Badou Jack is one of the few times Jack has been beaten without a debate, though fair enough Jack did fight a lot of that bout with half of his head missing. Sadly though Browne was made to look very vulnerable by Jean Pascal last August and we can't see him being competitive with the two Russian world champions. In fact it would take a career best performance for him to over-come Oleksandr Gvozdyk.
Fanlong Meng (16-0, 10)
Upcoming IBF title challenger Fanlong Meng isn't a name that many will be too familiar with but the unbeaten 32 year old Chinese southpaw will be a man fans will hear a lot about in March ahead of his bout with Artur Beterbiev. Meng is a talented boxer who looks relaxed in the ring, and controls the range and tempo well, as we saw against Frank Buglioni. Sadly he's not the type of fighter who should be matched with someone like Beterbiev, who can really whack. At 32 years old it's now or never for Meng, but having been dropped by Adam Deines, last June, and Zura Mekereshvili, back in 2016, he has question marks over his chin. Meng is certainly a talent, but we can't help thinking that his chin will be a major issue against a rock fisted monster like Beterbiev.
Joe Smith Jr (25-3, 20)
One of boxing's feel good stories of the last few years has been the rise of Joe Smith Jr, who was a relative unknown before stopping Andrzej Fonfara inside a round in 2016. Smith Jr is a win some-lose some type of fighter, but with a solid chin, big power and decent work rate he's someone we can't help but enjoy watching. With wins over Fonfara, Bernard Hopkins and Jesse Hart Smith is certainly remains in the title mix, despite losses to Sullivan Barrera and Dmitry Bivol in his last 4 bouts. Aged 30
Umar Salamov (25-1, 19)
Once beaten Russian Umar Salamov will be getting a world title eliminator later this year and yet is relatively unknown outside of Ukraine and Russia. He began his career in Ukraine, back in 2020, and fought 13 of his first 14 bouts there, before fighting 9 of his following 12 in Russia, with two bouts in Australia and one in America. His only loss was a very close one in Australia to the once touted Damien Hooper, and since then he has reeled off 12 wins against decent, but unspectacular competition. In the ring he's heavy handed and aggressive, with a tall and long frame, but really lacks polish and looks like someone who perhaps finds himself getting his place in a title tournament a little bit too early in his career.
Maksim Vlasov (45-3 26)
Another Russian we expect to be involved in the title tournament is 33 year old veteran Maksim Vlasov, who seems to have been around for blooming years! Vlasov made his debut way back in 2005 and won his first 19 bouts before coming up short in a very competitive bout against Isaac Chilemba. Another solid winning run came to an end when he lost a relatively competitive bout against Gilberto Ramirez, A move up to Cruiserweight lead to another winning run before he lost to Krzysztof Glowacki, and then headed back down to Light Heavyweight, and avenged his loss to Chilemba. A solid, consistent professional
Joshua Buatsi (12-0, 10)
When we look at the best rising prospects in the UK, across all the divisions, few fill us with the hope that Light Heavyweight Joshua Buatsi does. The explosive 26 year old is ticking a lot of boxers and with stoppages over Marco Antonio Periban and Ryan Ford in 2019 he took big strides towards some huge fights this year. He's heavy handed, fast, exciting and although he's still a bit rough around the edges there is the natural talent there for his team to work with. At the moment the feeling, at least for us, is that he needs to face a few solid tests to prepare for a world title bout. Taking on someone in one of the top 15 next time out would serve his career well, though we suspect Eddie Hearn will move him slowly and wait for an opening, rather than risking Buatsi against someone like Beterbiev and Bivol. Very exciting, but still rather untested.
Rustam Tulaganov (3-0, 1)
Unbeaten Uzbek fighter Rustam Tulaganov turned pro in 2017 and debuted that year, then spent more than 2 years away from a professional ring before returning in late 2019. He now looks like the man in the division who is set to be fast tracked, and we wouldn't be surprised, at all, if he faces a world ranked fighter before the end of 2019. Earlier this month he took a clear decision over Polish veteran Norbert Dabrowski, in an 8 rounder, and the assumption now is that he will be moved in to 10 and 12 rounders whilst his team, Patriot Boxing in Russia, look to secure him a big fight. Aged 28 he does have time on his side, but we certainly expect him to be moved quickly regardless. Don't be surprised to see him gate crashing the rankings sooner, rather than later.
Ali Izmailov (2-0, 1)
Although Russian fighter Ali Izmailov isn't likely to be on the radar of many fans he's one that we suspect will be moved very aggressively over the next few years. The 26 year old debuted in August 2019, and in just his second bout he shut out Dmitry Sukhotskiy over 6 rounds. Next up for Izmailov is Gasan Gasanov, later this month, and we would expect that to be Izmailov's final bout over 6 rounds, with 8 and 10 rounders likely to come before the end of this year. Whilst he's super early in his career he's potentially the wird card at 175lbs, and someone to make a note of now as he rises through the ranks.
The Light Heavyweight division is a really interesting one at the moment, with a really strong set of champions and a lot of depth in the contender region. Sadly whilst we have depth at Contender level, a lot of that is fighters who have proven to be under the level of champions, or are yet to prove themselves against fellow contenders.
If you missed our review of the champion's that's available to read here The state of the Division - Light Heavyweight - The Champions
Badou Jack (22-2-3, 13)
Former WBC Super Middleweight champion and WBA Light Heavyweight champion Badou Jack is a throw back to when fighters took on stiff competition fight after fight. Going back over the last 4 years Jack has faced 7 straight world class opponents. Sadly though he is now 35 and the wear and tear are certainly taking a toll on him. He's been a breath of fresh air in the sport, though it does seem like his career is close to ending. Last time out he was beaten, widely, by Marcus Browne and needed a lot of stitches afterwards for a cut, so he may only fit in 1 m ore fight, if that, before his 36th birthday.
Joe Smith Jr (24-2, 20)
Crude but hard hitting American Joe Smith Jr is a feel good story for boxing, who scored back to back wins over Andrzej Fonfara and Bernard Hopkins. A loss to Sullivan Barrera in 2017 was a set back, but he is set to get a shot at Dmitry Bivol in March, in what will be his first world title bout. Smith can be out boxed, he can be out brawled, but he will always be a danger man, and has the sort of power which can drop anyone. A very crude but dangerous fighter
Eleider Alvarez (24-1, 12)
Colombian boxer-puncher Eleider Alvarez is a 34, soon to be 35, year old who is best known for upsetting Sergey Kovalev in 2018 to become the WBO champion. Sadly for him his reign was short lived and he actually lost the belt to Kovalev in an immediate rematch. Given his age and the danger he brings, he may well find himself becoming a card carrying member of the who needs him club. He is talented and heavy handed, but has been too patient at times, and has failed to find another gear when he's needed to really impress. A frustrating fighter.
Sullivan Barrera (22-2, 14)
Talented Cuban Sullivan Barrera is 36, and soon to be 37, and is looking for another big fight, having called out almost every notable Light Heavyweight in recent weeks. He's dangerous, talented and holds good wins over Karo Murat, Joe Smith Jr, Vyacheslav Shabranskyy and Sean Monaghan, among others. Sadly though he has come up short against his most notable opponents, Andre Ward and Dmitry Bivol. His time in the sport is limited, but he is actively chasing a big fight and fingers crossed he does get one more as he has shown an attitude that few others have. A Barrera Vs Jack fight would perhaps be the perfect crossroads fight.
Anthony Yarde (17-0, 16)
Frustrating, yet hard hitting, Englishman Anthony Yarde has a big punch, a lot of confidence and a team that seems to want to protect him. He's the current WBO #1 ranked fighter but his opposition so far has been disappointing and his team appear unwilling to match him in a truly risky fight until they have secured him a shot at a world title. If, or when, he gets a shot at a belt we'll learn a lot about the 27 year old from Hackney, but we may end up waiting a while given how his career has really not progressed as many would have hoped. He's now 27, so still pretty young, but needs to get a move on before if he wants to really make the most of his career.
Umar Salamov (23-1, 17)
Once beaten Russian Umar Salamov has reeled off 4 straight wins since a very close 2017 loss to Damien Hooper, in Australia and put himself in the mix. He lacks a real A level win, but the 24 year old has scored good wins over the likes of Doudou Ngumbu, Bob Ajisafe, Denis Liebay and Emmanuel Anim. He's probably a couple of fights from facing a fellow top contender but we wouldn't be surprised by it happening by early 2020. In a way it's a shame he hasn't built on the win over Ngumbu from back in 2015.
Callum Johnson (17-1, 12)
When we talk about frustrating careers few will match that of Callum Johnson, an incredibly talented and hard hitting Englishman who's career has stumbled due to injury time and time again. He's a former world title challenger, best known for losing an up and down bout with Artur Beterbeiv late last year. Despite the set back against Beterbiev he showed he was talented and dangerous enough to remain in the mix and will look to earn another title fight, sadly though he is now 33 and debuted over 8 years ago. Had he not suffered injuries he could well have been a major player in the division.
Fanlong Meng (14-0, 9)
China's Fanlong Meng is one of the more interesting fighters in the division. He's one of the few Chinese fighters in the bigger weights, he's a talented boxer puncher, and he's also shown some chin issues, having been down a couple of times. He made a great impression last year, stopping Frank Buglioni in Monaco, but has suffered with inactivity recently. He could be just a fight or two from a world title fight, and certainly has the skills to hold his own against fellow contenders, but there is a lack of notable names on his record, which is a shame. An accomplished amateur his ability isn't to be questioned, but his team and their desire certainly is questionable.
Sven Fornling (15-1, 7)
Little known 30 year old Swede has won his last 5 in a row, including a December win over Karo Murat for the IBO title. He's talented but has shown frailty, being stopped by Yevgenii Makhteienko and lacks a second stand out win. Given how boxing is in Sweden he's unlikely to ever be a major star, but he is certainly someone who is ranked and could find himself in a world title fight in the coming future.
Jean Pascal (33-6-1-1, 20)
Former world champion Jean Pascal is, like Badou Jack, a throw back who has been in with almost everyone of note for over a decade. His competition really does put some of top names in the sport to shame. He has fought Carl Froch, Adrian Diaconu, Chad Dawson, Bernard Hopkins, Lucian Bute, Sergey Kovalev, Eleider Alvarez and Dmitry Bivol, among others. Sadly those wars have taken a toll on a fighter who was always more of a talented athlete than a truly skilled boxer. At 36 years old he is still a "serviceable" contender but is less of a threat to the top guys than he once was.
Doudou Ngumbu (38-8, 14)
French veteran Doudou Ngumbu is a 37 old who has been a professional for around 12 years and has 46 fights to his name. His long career has seen him mix with plenty of notable names, especially on the European scene, but suffer mixed results, including a 2017 loss to Igor Mikhalkin, a 2015 loss to Umar Salamov and 2014 loss to Andrzej Fonfara. Despite set backs in recent years he is now lined up for a March world title fight with Oleksandr Gvozdyk.
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.