This coming weekend is a packed one with action, as boxing continues to build it's momentum and slowly returns to something resembling normal. With that in mind we had a few options for this week's "One to Watch", however we did go with the obvious on from the US on Saturday night! It's the obvious choice but it's a good choice as the one to make sure you watch this week!
The One to Watch?
Israil Madrimov (5-0, 5) vs Eric Walker (20-2, 9)
August 15th (Saturday)
There are a few reasons to be really excited about this contest. Not only does the bout feature one of the sports most exciting rising hopefuls but it's also a world title eliminator and a chance to see questions asked of a man many are tipping for the top. The bout will also, potentially, see the fast tracked hopeful needing to show what he can do against a durable and world ranked foe.
Unbeaten Uzbek fighter Israil Madrimov is widely regarded as a nailed on future world champion. The talented Uzbek was a stand out amateur who turned professional in 2018, fighting in a 10 rounder straight away, and since then has marched up the rankings towards a world title shot. So far he has stopped all 5 of his opponents and barely lost a round so far. His total professional career has lasted just 25 rounds and he already been linked to world title fights.
Blessed with freakish power, speed and athleticism Madrimov is one of the most young fighters in the sport, and the 25 year old looks ready for big things. There are however questions for Madrimov to answer still, such as questions regarding his chin, his stamina and his ability to move to plan B when he can't hurt an opponent. Given what he did as an amateur however we think he'll answer those questions with ease, when he's finally asked them.
Eric Walker on the other hand is a 37 year old American veteran who has been a professional since late 2013. Despite turn professional late, at the age of 30, he has managed to carve out a solid career. He won his first 15 bouts, including an upset over Christopher Pearson, before losing a competitive decision to Patrick Day. Walker bounced back from that loss and competed in "The Contender" where he beat John Jackson and John Thompson before losing a razor thin decision to Brandon Adams in the semi-final of "The Contender". Since then he has reeled off 3 straight wins and moved himself in to the WBA rankings.
Coming in to this Madrimov is ranked #2 by the WBA whilst Walker is ranked #6.
What to expect?
We genuinely expect to see Madrimov make a statement here and look to not just win but to look amazing on route to his victory. Walker will however look to play his part and come in to the bout seeking an upset.
Although not the most naturally gifted fighter on there Walker is a deceptive quick and sharp fighter. He's clumsy, and awkward at times, but strong, tough and has under-rated power, with shots coming from some unorthodox angles. He could ask questions of Madrimov early on with those odd shots, but we suspect that by round 4 or 5 he'll be getting used as target practice and be broken down.
Walker is tough, he's never been stopped and went to war later on in his win over Christopher Pearson. Sadly for him however that toughness will see him prolonging his punishment from Madrimov, and getting badly beaten up the longer the bout goes.
We expect Madrimov to show some patience, take a round or two to see what Walker has to offer, then begin to go to town.
The bad news?
Whilst this will be a world title eliminator it's unclear when the winner will get a shot at a world title. The WBA Light Middleweight champion is over on PBC and if Madrimov wins, as expected we could end up waiting a while to see him getting a shot. Alternatively we could end up with the WBA playing silly buggers and creating a "new title" to keep things ticking over. Sadly until the WBA sort out the mess they keep creating any WBA "eliminator" will be seen as a bit of a joke.
This week's one to watch features a novice professional taking his next step up in class, as he takes on a veteran in a world title eliminator. It's not necessarily the bout any of us wanted, but it will be a decent chance to see the improvements made by one of Uzbekistan's brightest hopefuls, albeit against a much older opponent.
The One to Watch?
Israil Madrimov (4-0, 4) vs Charlie Navarro (29-9, 22)
February 29th (Saturday)
We get the chance to see one of boxing's fastest rising hopefuls take his next step towards a world title fight as he clashes with a veteran who has world title experience. On the other a veteran gets the chance to try and derail someone seen a massively exciting bright young star in the making. We love seeing prospects develop and their journey's through the rankings, and this is a great chance to see just that!
Unbeaten Uzbek Israil Madrimov is a 24 year old Light Middleweight super prospect. He debuted in a 10 round bout, in November 2018, and instantly looked sensational. He was a former amateur before turning professional and that amateur pedigree, mixed with sensational athletic ability and a flair for entertainment was on show immediately. He switching stances, he was mixing things up and at times it looked like he was trying to not just impress but also make sure he was burned into the brain of every fight fan who saw him. Since then he has continued impressing, scoring wins over solid opposition and racing up the WBA world rankings. Within just 4 bouts it's become less a case of "whether" Madrimov will be a world champion and more a case of "when".
Venezuelan veteran Charlie Navarro is certainly not the best opponent out there, but given that Madrimov's team have struggled to get opponents he's the best that's willing to face the Uzbek. Even in saying that however the 40 year old is no push over, in fact it seems he's coming into this bout with a lot of confidence after taking the unbeaten records of Damian Rodriguez and Johan Gonzalez in his last 2 bouts, and has gone unbeaten in his last 4. At his best Navarro was world class, giving the then WBA Welterweight champion Vyacheslav Senchenko a close bout in Ukraine. Sadly though that was almost 10 years ago and since then he has gone 11-5 and suffered 2 of his 3 stoppage losses. With a WBA top 15 ranking he also serves as the type of opponent that will boost Madrimov's ranking and move him towards a world title shot.
What to expect?
We could sit here and pretend that Navarro could be competitive, but the reality is that he shouldn't be, not even close. However what we do expect is for Madrimov to make a statement. The Uzbek knows he needs to do something special, every time he fights, to live up to the hype he's getting, and especially so soon after countryman Murodjon Akhmadaliev won the IBF and WBA "super" titles at Bantamweight. He will be out there to shine.
Navarro might be old, but he's rugged, tough and has enough on his shots to potentially check Madrimov's chin. If he can land clean and he knows his way around the ring. He's not a world beater, but he's a crafty veteran who can look after himself, and be a banana skin for an over-confident hopeful.
We expect Navarro to take a bit of a beating if we're being honest. We don't see him having the speed or slickness to really test Madrimov, but instead allow him to showcase what he has. We suspect we'll see him show off the switch hitting, the movement, the finding of unusual angles, the hand speed, power and in ring charisma that he has. And then to break down a resilient, but over matched, Navarro.
The bad news?
It's annoying that Madrimov can't get a bigger name in the ring with him. Hopefully that changes next time out, and we see him in with a genuine top 10 type opponent, or a former champion. Someone who can genuine be viewed as a test, rather than just a step up in class, like Navarro is.
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.
Although the Light Middleweight division has long been seen as the ugly step sibling of the Welterweight and Middleweight division it may be the most interesting division for prospects right now, with so many top young fighters looking to be fast tracked through the ranks. It's one of the few divisions, outside of the lightest divisions, where fighters look like they want to make a mark, and make their mark quickly.
If you missed our look at the champions and contenders in division, you can catch up here
The state of the Division - Light Middleweight - The Champions
and here The state of the Division - Light Middleweight - The Contenders
Israil Madrimov (1-0, 1)
Uzbek 23 year old Israil Madrimov made the headlines last November when he not only debuted in a 10 round bout, a real rarity, but looked sensational as he schooled, and stopped, Vladimir Hernandez, to claim the WBA Inter-Continental Light Middleweigth title. On his debut he showed everything a fighter could want to show. He was smart, accurate, quick, exciting, moved well, active and appeared to be able to switch hit with ease. He was a top amateur before turning professional, but unlike many he instantly looked pro-ready and like the sort of man who wants to make an impact, and do so quickly.
Abass Baraou (4-0, 2)
Another fight who looks like they are on the super-fast track is German 24 year old Abass Baraou. He made his debut in April 2018 and claimed the German title in his second professional bout. By the end of 2018 he had beaten Robert Maess and Sasha Yengoyan to really put himself on the map. Through his first 4 fights his opponents have had a combined record of 88-11-3. The German boxing scene needs a star and Baraou looks like he might be the one, with Sauerland clearly pushing him hard and fast. His next bout will be on February 16th, when he takes on former world champion Carlos Molina, and a win there would likely see him being put into bouts with world ranked opponents later in the year.
Nursultan Zhangabayev (6-0, 4)
Madrimov isn't the only Central Asian fighter on this list to have debuted in a 10 round bout. He is joined by unbeaten Kazakh Nursultan Zhangabayev, who debuted in China in 2016 beating Xingxin Yang over 10 rounds. Whilst technically a split decision the Kazakh appeared to dominate large stretches of the bout. Since then his competition hasn't been the most testing, but he did get a good win in December 2018 when he over-came Arnel Tinampay, who is much better than his record suggests. Sadly Zhangabayev's career has been a bit stop-start at times, but he is a natural talent and ending 2018 with 3 fights in 3 months shows there is eagerness to fight. At 26 he's young enough to put the past behind him, but needs to remain active in 2019.
Souleymane Cissokho (7-0, 5)
An Olympic medal doesn't assure a fighter of professional success, but it's hard to imagine 2016 Olympic bronze medal winner Souleymane Cissokho not going far. The unbeaten Senagalese born Frenchman was unlucky in major international competitions, facing Daniyar Yeleussinov in the 2016 Olympics and the 2013 World Amateur Champions, but still managed to impress in the unpaid ranks. Cissokho turned professional in 2017and has looked fantastic with his last win coming against Carlos Molina in June. Sadly his career has stalled a bit since that win, but he's expected back in the ring in February in a bout for the French national title against Romain Garofalo. At 27 years old it's clear he will be coming into his prime years and won't be wanting to tread water for long.
Mohammed Rabii (8-0, 5)
We don't tend to think of Morocco as a country that produces world class boxers, but in Mohammed Rabii they certainly have someone special. The 25 year old was a stellar amateur fighter, taking a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics, losing in the semi-final to Shakhram Giyasov, and winning the 2015 World Amatuer championships, beating Josh Kelly and Daniyar Yeleussinov along the way. Since turning professional he hasn't really blown fans away, but has shown a lot of promise and holds notable victories over veterans Giuseppe Lauri and Anderson Clayton. He's young enough to have another year of experience building, but it seems more likely that he'll pursue better opponents rather than staying busy and just padding his record.
Josh Kelly (8-0, 6)
"Pretty Boy" Josh Kelly is another of the fighters who shone as an amateur, winning a bronze medal at the AIBA Youth Championships in 2012, and competing at the very highest level in the amateur ranks. Although highly regarded amateur Kelly's style as a professional is less of a skilled technical fighter and much more of a slick fighter, with his hands down, drawing a lead to counter. He's an exciting fighter, and already holds wins over the likes of Carlos Molina and Kris George. Despite his style being a fun one to watch it does seem like a risky one, and it's going to be very interesting to see how it holds up against better competition. He's 24 years old, and turns 25 in March, so there is time to work on his style, but with Adam Booth working with him we suspect it's a style he'll be sticking with for the foreseeable future.
Anthony Fowler (9-0, 8)
Former Birtish amateur star Anthony Fowler is a controversial figure in some circles, but few can doubt his credentials with a Commonwealth games gold medal, as well as a bronze medal at the 2013 World Amateur Championships. Since turning professional, after the 2016 Olympics, Fowler has looked destructive against his competition so far. There is, clearly some question to be had over the level he's been fighting at, but the performances have been impressive and he's certainly showing the tools and spitefulness to go a long way. It's yet to be seen how he comes with a genuine threat at the weight, but we expect to see him answer some real questions in March when he takes on the unbeaten Scott Fitzgerald, in what looks like a good test. With his 28th birthday coming just weeks before the Fitzgerald fight it seems clear that he doesn't have much time to waste.
Bakhram Murtazaliev (14-0, 11)
Oxnard based Russian boxer-puncher Bakhram Murtazaliev had a relatively slow start to his career, being matched very softly in Russia for over 2 years. Since fighting in the US he has gone from strength to strength and has started to leave a glowing impression with early knockouts and dominant performances. He'll be back in the ring in February, against former world title challenger Elvin Ayala, and will be expected to have a break out performance at some point in 2019. At the age 26 he is coming into his physical prime and he has been a professional for close to 5 years, so there is no excuse to keep him on a leash any longer.
Ted Cheeseman (15-0, 9)
Another British prospect in the division is Ted Cheeseman, a 23 year old form London who is set for a big step up in class on February 2nd when he faces off against unbeaten European champion Sergio Garcia. That bout is a major step up for "The Big Cheese" and a genuinely good test. Given the talent coming through the ranks in the UK Cheeseman looks like he could end up being "the forgotten man" but he is a talented fighter and scored notable wins in 2018 over Carson Jones, for a WBA International title, and Asinia Byfield, to claim the British title. Given his age there is no need to rush him, but he has been linked, repeatedly, to a bout with the aforementioned Anthony Fowler, and that's a possible match up for later this year.
Carlos Adames (15-0, 12)
US based Dominican fighter Carlos Adames is a under-the-radar 24 year old who has been quietly building a reputation for himself with wins against the likes of Patrick Lopez, Ivan Alvarez, Carlos Molina and Joshua Conley. He will look to further enhance that record shortly, when he faces Juan Ruiz in what could be a bit of a coming out party for Adames. Prior to turning professional Adames had been a good amateur, and competed in numerous international tournaments. Hopefully a win against Ruiz will open the door for big fights later in the year as he looks to cross over from prospect to contender in the near future.
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.