The Welterweight scene is an interesting one, though it's not got the most established or notable contenders out there. It has some well-known names, some emerging names, but little in terms of bankable contenders for the champions. On the other hand the division does look set for a shake up, and that is exciting.
Shawn Porter (30-3-1, 17)
The 32 year old Shawn Porter is one of the few really established contenders in the division. The former world champion is a nightmare to fighter with a high work rate, solid power, an impressive gas tanks and a real willingness to just take the fight to anyone. His chin isn't cast iron, and he has been down a couple of times, but it's rare to actually see him hurt and he's always gotten back up to continue giving opponents hell. Technically not the best, but with bull like strength Porter is not an easy out for anyone.
Danny Garcia (36-2, 21)
Another former world champion is Danny Garcia, who is another notable contender in the division. Garcia is a talented but someone who has really frustrated fans, as we saw recently in his win over Ivan Redkach. At his best he's genuinely world class, tough, and has a very heavy left hook. At his worst however he's predictable, and faces some pretty poor competition between his big bouts. With wins against the likes of Amir Khan, Lucas Matthysse, Erik Morales and Lamont Peterson he's certainly got a good resume, but at Welterweight he does lack an A tier win and has lost to 2 of the more notable fighters at the weight.
Keith Thurman (29-1-0-1, 22)
The final of the real big name contenders is 31 year old boxer-puncher Keith Thurman. Sadly Thurman's career has been rather a wasted one with the charismatic "One Time" being plagued by inactivity and injury. Last time out he was beaten by Manny Pacquiao. At his best Thurman was regarded as a top level talent, with the potential to be a genuine star. Sadly with just 4 fights since the start of 2016 his career really has failed to become what many had hoped. Although he has scored wins against Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia, two huge wins, his inactivity has really been a massive problem, and it's unclear when he'll be back in the ring.
Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (17-0, 9)
Unbeaten Uzbek Kudratillo Abdukakhorov is one of a number of contenders who is on the verge of a potential break out. The Top Rank promoted 26 year old is the IBF mandatory challenger and is expected to get his first world title fight later this year, with an IBF "interim" title bout being ordered for him. Although not the most exciting fighter out there Abdukakhorov is a talented boxer, with sharp punches, decent hand speed and a good boxing brain. Sadly however he does have a lack of power, which is likely to be an issue against the divisional elite. He's now gone the distance in 5 of his last 6 and we do wonder whether or not the top fighters will simply walk him down over 12 rounds.
Sergey Lipinets (16-1, 12)
Once beaten Kazakh born Russian Sergey Lipinets is the man that Abdukakhorov will likely be facing for the IBF interim title, with the IBF ordering the two men to face off. Lipinets is a former world champion at 140lbs who has moved up to Welterweight following a loss to Mikey Garcia back in 2018. He didn't look good on his debut at the weight, but a stoppage win over Lamont Peterson last year put him instantly in the mix and it's going to be very interesting to see what the 30 year old Russian can do this year. He's rugged, strong, powerful and heavy handed. Maybe not the biggest or most skilled, but still a genuine handful.
Vergil Ortiz Jr (15-0, 15)
Fast rising American youngster Virgil Ortiz Jr is a real one to watch, and at just 21 years old his future is really bright. So far the power punching youngster has only had 38 rounds as a professional but has already blasted through the likes of Mauricio Herrera, Antonio Orozco and Brad Solomon. Expect 2020 to be the year where Ortiz announces himself as a top contender, though may just miss out on a world title fight this year. If he's not managed a world title fight in 2020 he'll almost certainly be getting one in 2021. A real star in the making and the man who is likely to be a major part of the US boxing scene over the next decade or so.
Yordenis Ugas (24-4, 11)
It's rare to have exciting Cuban in the sport right now but Yordenis Ugas certainly does fit the role of exciting Cuban. The 33 year old is exciting, talented, aggressive and willing to test himself against the best without airs or graces. His record isn't the best but he has given everyone he's faced fits, whilst notching wins against the likes of Jamal James, Levan Ghvamichava, Thomas Dulorme, Ray Robinson and Omar Figueroa Jr. Last year he came up just short against Shawn Porter and has done enough to remain in the mix with another potential title fight later this year. First up for him will be a bout in February with Mike Dallas Jr, in what is a clear stay busy fight.
Gabriel Maestre (2-0, 2)
It might seem incredibly premature to be talking about Gabriel Maestre as a contender but the 33 year old Venezuelan is here on merit. The former amateur stand out made his professional debut in July and knew he had to move quickly. As an amateur he's a 2-time Olympian and as a professional he has already beaten the then 20-0 Jeovanis Barraza and the 27-5-1 Deigo Gabriel Chaves. Those wins have seen Maestre jump into the WBA top 15 and he's very much in the mix for a title fight in the near future. At 33 he really doesn't have time, and watching him more towards a title fight will be a lot of fun.
Jaron Ennis (25-0, 23)
The US really does have some great fighters making their mark at 147lbs. Already is Vergil Ortiz Jr and here we have Jaron Ennis. The 22 year old "Boots" has struggled with getting serious backing, but that looks likely to change this year and he was really impressive earlier this year when he beat Kazakh Bakhtiyar Eyubov. Ennis looks like a star in the making, and he can box or fight. He looks like a real star for the future and with 25 bouts already under his belt he's now ready for a big break out. We wouldn't be surprised if he, like Ortiz, had to wait until 2021 for a world title fight, but by then boxing fans will be talking about him, and will be very excited to see him get a shot at the big time.
The Welterweight division has a really interesting, exciting, and varied collection of fighters from across the planet. In fact we don't think any other division has the national variance in prospects that the Welterweight division currently has.
If you missed our previous looks into the Welterweight division they are available here:
The state of the Division - Welterweight - The Champions
The state of the Division - Welterweight - The Contender
Thulani Mbenge (15-0, 12)
Unbeaten South African Thulani Mbenge put himself on the map in 2018. Last he went from a 12-0 (10) prospect that was best known winning the South African national title and holding a win over Jayar Inson to a 15-0 (12) fringe contender/prospect with stoppage wins over Diego Gabriel Chaves and Miguel Vazquez. Not only were his bouts shown in South Africa but he also got exposure in the UK, via Boxnation, and looks set to have another big year ahead. He's a tall, wiry, big punching fighter, who has some raw edges, but a lot of promise.
Josh Kelly (8-0, 6)
"Pretty Boy" Josh Kelly is arguably the most promising fighter in England, and is one of the most pleasing to watch fighters coming through the Welterweight division. He was a stellar amateur, who competed in numerous international competitions and won medals in things like the World Youth Championships in 2012, and the European Championships in 2015. The 24 year old is being fast tracked, and has already scored notable wins over Carlos Molina and Kris George, and was looking to fight David Avanesyan prior to an illness forcing that bout to be cancelled at late notice.
Custio Clayton (15-0, 10)
At the age of 31 Canadian fighter Custio Clayton hasn't got time to waste, and we suspect that in 2019 he will be ramping up the level of competition he's facing. He's yet to score a big win, bug has got solid victories over Cristian Rafael Coria, Johnny Navarrete and Stanislas Salmon. Clayton is aggressive, exciting, heavy-handed and very talented, with a strong amateur background. His age is the big worry when it comes to Clayton, but he has got the ability to go a long way, if his team pushes him aggressively this year.
Jaron Ennis (22-0, 20)
At the age of 21 American hopeful Jaron "Boots" Ennis is one of the most promising American fighters out there, He turned professional back in 2016 and has been incredibly busy since then, fighting 22 pro bouts in less than 3 years. Not only is he active but he's heavy-handed, and has stopped his last 12 opponents, with no one lasting more than 4 rounds with Ennis. Despite his high level of activity his competition hasn't been great, but he does have notable names on his record like Ayi Bruce, Mike Arnaoutis and Raymond Serrano. He has time on his side, a lot of ability and great power. There is so much to like about Ennis, and we expect he will become a major player over the next few years.
Kudura Kaneko (9-0, 6)
Afghan born Japanese based 20 year old Kudura Kaneko has had a remarkable rise though the Japanese domestic system since debuting in 2015. He won the Japanese Youth title in 2018 before going on to beat former national champion Toshio Arikawa in an excellent performance late in the year. Although clearly a boxing baby Arikawa is a hungry talented fighter, who hits hard and looks to be improving with every fight. We suspect he'll get a senior title bout in 2019 and then look to face decent international tests in 2020, before potentially climbing into the rankings. As with anyone who has seen war in Afghanistan it's hard to doubt the mental toughness of Kaneko and his desire to build a school in Afghanistan is something that will drive him and his career.
Jordy Weiss (21-0, 3)
Unbeaten Frenchman Jordy Weiss, "El Gitano", is a 25 year old who has already claimed the European Union Welterweight title and scored solid wins at that type of level against the likes of Steven Bloyer and Aitor Nieto. There's a long way for him to go, but he has shown plenty of promise and skills. One of the big question marks about Weiss is how he reacts to fighters walking through his shots, which will happen sooner rather than later. It seems like he won't have the power to get opponents respect at a higher level, but we have been surprised in the past and he certainly has the potential to mix on a very competitive basis on the European title scene.
Sergey Lubkovich (10-0, 7)
Fats rising Russian 23 year old Sergey Lubkovich made his debut in 2016 and already has notable wins over Jose Ocampo, Viktor Plotnikov, Karim Mayfield and Juan Ruiz. He's talented, hits hard, and looks like he has the belief of his team, who haven't tried to protect at all during his short career. He still needs a bit more maturing before taking on a true world-class fighter, but it seems inevitable that he will fight at world level sooner rather than later, and there's a good chance, given his age, that he does pick up a title down the line.
Gor Yeritsyan (9-0, 8)
Scary hard hitting Armenian fighter Gor Yeritsyan is one of the division's "hidden gem" fighters. He made his debut in May 2017 and has fought all but 1 of his fights in Russia, hiding away on cards that Western fans may not have seen. Despite being hidden from most fans Yeritsyan has scored notable wins over Ali Funeka, Jose Luis Prieto and Alvin Lagumbay. With 5 bouts in 2018 his team have kept him busy and if he continues that level of activity in 2019 there's a real chance he will crash into the world rankings by the end of the year.
Eimantas Stanionis (7-0, 5)
Baby faced Lithuainian fighter Eimantas Stanionis debuted in 2017 and has climbed up the rankings gradually, with a huge win last August over Levan Ghvamichava being the pick of his victories. Aged 24 Stanionis has time on his side and has a strong amateur background, that saw him reaching the second round of the 2016 Olympics. Based in Oxnard it's clear Stanionis has got top sparring and training on offer and there is real potential for 2019 to be a big break out year for him.
Daniyar Yeleussinov (5-0, 3)
Unbeaten Kazakh fighter Daniyar Yeleussinov is a 27 year Matchroom promoted southpaw who won Olympic gold in 2016 and has over-come some early career problems. Originally Yeleussinov didn't look suited to the professional side of boxing, but impressive performances against Matt Doherty and Marcos Mojica have seen Yeleussinov show amazing improvements and the plan for 2019 is for him to fight in his first title bouts. An announcement on his next bout is expected shortly and there is real expectations on his shoulders to continue to shine following his last two wins.
Jon Miguez (9-0, 5)
Spanish hope Jon Miguez, the "Goodboy", is a 22 year old who has shown promise but is still finding his feet in terms of competition. He took a good step up in class last time out, against Abdessamad Nechchad and looks to be stepping up again in early 2019, taking on Vasyl Kurasov in February. A win there should help Miguez find his feet at a new level and hopefully he'll continue moving forward through the rest of the year. He's still not developed his man strength, but has scored a stoppage over durable Spanish based Nicaraguan Miguel Aguilar and clearly has sting on his punches, even if he's not a KO artist.
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.