The contenders at the Middleweight division make for an odd bunch, with very few fighters in the mix who have previously world titles, and many who are really more prospects than contenders. In fact really the division is really lacking in terms of top tier contenders, with only a handful who have proven they belong in and around world level. It's a bad division as such but it's one that is clearly in transition
Rob Brant (25-2, 17)
American fighter Rob Brant shocked the boxing world in 2018 when he out pointed Ryota Murata to claim the WBA "regular" title. Sadly for him however his reign was a short one and it ended in 2019 when he travelled to Japan to face Murata in a rematch. Brant is a talented volume fighter who belongs in the title mix, but he'll need to rebuild in 2020 if he's to get a shot at the big time. Sadly it feels like his short reign at the top is going to be as good as it gets for Brant.
Chris Eubank Jr (29-2, 22)
Second generation fighter Chris Eubank Jr received a lot of attention in his homeland early in his career, under the guidance of his enigmatic father. In recent years however he has seemingly vanished off the face of the planet. Wins over James DeGale and Matt Korobov in 2019 are impressive, but the profile of the two fights was miniscule compared to the quality of fighters in them. Since losing in 2018 to George Groves Eubank has really struggled to get attention, no matter how solid his competition has been. Fingers crossed 2020 is a better year for the 30 year old, who is talented, charismatic and exciting.
Jaime Munguia (35-0, 28)
Former WBO Light Middleweight champion Jaime Munguia moved up to Middleweight for his last fight, and 11th round TKO win over Gary O'Sullivan. The 23 year old Mexican is an exciting, high volume fighter, but a pretty limited one and someone who we expect will struggle to make a mark on the division if he doesn't tighten up his defense, significantly. If we look at Munguia as a fan friendly fringe contender, and are willing to give him time to improve, he could become a solid contender. In reality however he's too well known to be given time and the division is too weak to stall a title fight for him. His biggest issue at Middleweight was his biggest strength at Light Middleweight. His size. At Light Middleweight he was huge, but being huge has forced him to move up and face bigger fighters. We suspect this is going to be a really tough year for Munguia and his management team.
Sergiy Derevyanchenko (13-2, 10)
Talented Ukrainian Sergiy Derevyanchenko is an unlucky man. The technically excellent, solid punching 34 year old could, well have had wins over Daniel Jacobs and Gennady Golovkin had judges just seen things a little bit different. Both of his losses, to legitimate world class fighters, have essentially been decided by 2 rounds, and he has given both men one of their toughest bouts. Sadly at 34 years old Derevyanchenko is likely on the slide, and may get 1 more shot at the top, if he's lucky. On the other hand he may well find himself as part of the "who needs him?" cub following his impressive performances in defeat.
Liam Smith (29-2-1, 16)
Englishman Liam Smith is a former WBO Light Middleweight champion who has moved up in weight but is yet to really show what he can do at Middleweight, having scored a couple of rather low level wins since moving up. At Light Middleweight he was a strong, powerful and tough, yet relatively basic, fighter. At 31 years old Smith does have time to mount a real charge at 160lbs, but he can't keep wasting time against B tier competition. This year has to be one where he steps back up to the fringes and gets the chance to prepare for a top Middleweight.
Liam Williams (22-2-1, 17)
Another British fighter looking to make their mark at Middleweight is Liam Williams, a 27 year old from Wales. Both of his losses came to Liam Smith at Light Middleweight but since changing trainer Williams has looked a more powerful and devastating fighter. He's not the most polished or rounded fighter out there, but he's strong, powerful and is still very much an improving fighter with a very fun style. It's going to be fun to see him mixing at world level, and given his Decemeber 2019 win over Alantez Fox a world title fight isn't going to be far away.
Kamil Szeremeta (21-0, 5)
Poland's relatively unknown Kamil Szeremeta is next in line for Gennady Golovkin and is the IBF mandatory challenger. The 30 year old has become the mandatory more on the volume of his wins than the quality of them but the former European champion is certainly not a bad fighter. He's been unbeaten since his pro debut in 2012 and has a couple of past it fringe contenders on his record, in the form hand Rafal Jackiewicz and Kassim Ouma. He's strong, despite not being much of a puncher, but shouldn't really be much of a test for Golovkin, even a much faded 2020 Golovkin.
Kazuto Takesako (12-0-1, 11)
It's unlikely we'll ever see Kazuto Takesako making a mark at world level, but the hard hitting Japanese fighter is knocking on the door of the top 15 and has unified the Japanese and OPBF titles, whilst being fun to watch, powerful and exciting. There is, obviously a gap between him and the top guys in the world, but given the relative lack of depth at 160lbs the 28 year old could end up finding himself as fringe contender sooner rather than later. He's here more because the division is weak, rather than being anything great, but we would advise fans do at least make a note of his name, as he is very fun to watch.
Janibek Alimkhanuly (8-0, 4)
Top Rank promoted Kazakh Middleweight hopeful Janibek Alimkhanuly is a former amateur standout who took some time to adapt to the professional ranks, but now appears to have settled at the weight. In 2019 he racked up 4 wins, 3 by stoppage, and took on progressively better competition. We would be a little bit surprised to see the 26 year old southpaw get a world title fight in 2020, but we wouldn't be surprised to see him knocking on the door as we go into 2021.
Edgar Berlanga (13-0, 13)
The divisional wild card is American puncher Edgar Berlanga, who may end up being a genuine star, if his power carries up through the levels. In 13 fights he has blown away 13 opponents, all in the first round. His competition has, admittedly, been limited, but not terrible and his December win over Cesar Nunez was particularly notable as Nunez had gone 8 rounds with Vincent Feigenbutz in his only previous loss. He's still very much a work in progress but if he keeps blowing opponents up and taking steps forward it's going to be very, very hard to hold him back from world level contenders for long.
Whilst the Middleweight division doesn't appear to have much depth in terms of contenders it does have some really interesting fighters rising through the ranks right now, and they are a very varied bunch of fighters from all over the globe.
For those who missed our looks at the champions and contenders at Middleweight those were covered here:
The state of the Division - Middleweight - The Champions
The state of the Division - Middleweight - The Contenders
Christian Mbilli (13-0, 13)
One of the best prospects in world boxing, regardless of weight, is Cameroonian born French fighter Christina Mbilli, who is looking like one of the most outstanding Middleweight hopefuls out there. He was a stellar amateur, winning gold medals at the European Youth, European Union and European Olympic qualifiers, and competed on the WSB. Since turning professional less than 2 years ago he has ripped through his competition, stopping his 13 foes in just 38 rounds. His competition hasn't been the strongest, but he has taken the unbeaten record of Ramon Aguinaga and smashed through Mexican Luis Fernando Pina. At 23 years old he should be regarded as one of the hottest fighters in professional boxing and someone to seriously keep an eye on.
Serhii Bohachuk (12-0, 12)
We know how there's a Ukrainian take over of boxing with the likes of Vasyl Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk and Oleksandr Gvozdyk all holding world titles and all set out to prove they are. There is also a second wave of Ukrainians below those top tier fighters, and including in that is 23 year old Serhii Bohachuk. The youngster made his debut in early 2017 and has gradually stepped up his competition, whilst running through fighters. Dubbed "El Flaco" he is certainly explosive and appears to have no issues making Light Middleweight, at the moment, but clearly has the frame to fill into a very strong Middleweight. A long term prospect, but one well worthy of attention.
Kazuto Takesakao (10-0, 10)
Japanese Middleweight champion Kazuto Takesako isn't the next Ryota Murata, but the 27 year old is a legit prospect, and a really heavy handed, aggressive and exciting fighter, who usually comes forward, and always throws with bad intent. His KO win over Shoma Fukumoto was a big coming out win, and since the he has won the Japanese title and defended it once, with his next defense set for March. There are technical issues he needs to sort before progressing beyond regional level, but he has suggested that he wants to unify the Japanese title with the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles, so it's clear that he's looking to make gradual steps upwards, towards a world title fight. One to watch, but not one who will be in the world mix in the next 12 months.
Meiirim Nursultanov (10-0, 8)
The 25 year old Meiirim Nursultanov is one of two notable Kazakh prospects at Middleweight, and is probably the better of the two, if we're being honest. The Oxnard based, Klimas managed fighter turned pro in late 2016 and has been moved gradually through the rankings, with his best wins coming in his last 2 bouts. In late 2018 he stopped Jamar Freeman and began his 2019 with a win over Ramon Aguinaga. He's young, very powerful, and has been sparring with top competition, helping develop his skills, though he is still some way from a big fight of his own.
Misael Rodriguez (8-0, 4)
Talented Mexican Misael Rodriguez won a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics and is tipped to turn that medal into professional titles under the guidance of Abner Mares and Richard Schaefer. The talented 24 year old debuted in 2017 and although easy so far he is a fantastic talent who is getting experience and being developed by a fantastic team. Although talented it's unclear how talented he is given the level he's been fighting at, but given his amateur credentials and the team involved with him it's hard to not be excited about him. Sadly he appears to be a long term project, and it could be 3 or 4 years before we see him in really meaningful fights, though he is scheduled to fight just hours after this article goes live.
Artem Chebotarev (6-0, 4)
At the age of 30 Russian fighter Artem Chebotarev will need to make a big step up this year, but he did show signs of doing that last year, so we will give him the benefit of the doubt. He was a stellar amateur, winning a gold at the European Championships in 2010 and a bronze at the 2013 World Amateur Championships. He won the APB title in 2016, and scored notable wins in both the APB and the Amateurs. Sadly those side ventures meant he didn't make his "proper" professional debut until January 2017. In his debut year he went 4-0 (3) and scored a notable win over Nuhu Lawal. He built on that start in 2018 and ended the year with a big win over Javier Francisco Maciel, though did lose 12 months out of the ring. If he can score 1 or 2 big wins this year he will certainly be in the title mix by the end of the year.
Ulugbek Khakberdiev (5-0, 3)
Unbeaten Uzbek hopeful Ulugbek Khakberdiev has had a frustrating career so far. He turned professional in 2017 and beat Karen Avetisyan, a very under-rated journeyman. He really came to our attention in September 2017, when he stopped Dmitry Sukhotsky, in what should have been a huge break out win, but he would then have a break from the ring losing momentum and not fight for over 7 months, before picking up a low key win in Uzbekistan. Sadly he's again been inactive, and hasn't fought since May 2018. Given how talented, promising, heavy handed he is there is so much to be excited about, and at 26 he does have time on his side, but needs to get active after essentially wasting the last year and a bit. He's too good to not fight, but it appears there is something keeping him inactive, and that is a huge shame during what should be the start of his prime years.
Janibek Alimkhanuly (4-0, 1)
Whilst top Uzbek amateur fighters have taken immediately to the pros, some of the top Kazakh amateurs have taken a few fights to adapt. It appears another Kazakh who hasn't quite settled to the professional style yet is the unbeaten Janibek Alimkhanuly, who looks to have the tools to go a long way, but just needs a little bit of time. As an amateur he won the World Amateur Championships, the Asian Championships, twice, and competed at the Olympics. As a professional his career has been stop start, but he's now based in the US with Top Rank and has fully committed to being a professional boxer. He's notched recent wins over tough competition, in the form of Carlos Galvan and Vaughn Alexander and we're expecting to see him really spread his wings in 2019, with some top performances as he continues to adapt to professional boxing.
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.