One of the sports most intriguing divisions right now in the Light Heavyweight division, which has fighters wanting to fight, want to unify, and wanting to prove themselves. Even though there are a lot of veterans hanging around they are all proving themselves as top fighters, time and time again, the division also has plenty of fresh blood and a nice mix of styles, experiences and excitement. It's one of the few divisions that really does thrive with must watch fights and it sometimes seems like it doesn't even matter who is facing who, we're going to be in for something memorable. It's also a division with a vacant WBO title up for grabs later this year.
WBC and IBF - Artur Beterbiev (15-0, 15)
Russian destroyer Artur Beterbiev was once one of the most avoided men in the sport, in the space of just 2 years he has gone 4-0 (4) in world title bouts and unified the WBC and IBF titles, making him essentially the man people have to look at, if they want to become a world champion. With bricks for fists, an aggressive mentality and bull like strength it would be easy to write Beterbiev off as just a puncher but he's not. He's actually more of a boxer-puncher, but one with absolutely dynamite punches. He's a well schooled former amateur standout with scary power, but also someone who had been dropped several times himself, leaving some question marks over his chin. His best win is is his 10th round TKO win over Oleksandr Gvozdyk, though stoppages over Tavoris Cloud, Gabriel Campillo and Enrico Koelling are solid wins, especially at the time he beat them. He'll be back in the ring in March when he defends his title against Fanlong Meng and then there is plans for a huge bout later in the year in Russia.
WBA "super" - Dmitry Bivol (17-0, 11)
Another Russian champion is Dmitry Bivol, who lacks the power and physicality of Beterbiev, but is instead is a more polished boxer. The 29 year old Bivol started his career looking like an aggressive, exciting fighter, but as he's stepped up in class he's become more of a boxer-puncher, using his feet to create space and keeping things long and at range. In many ways Bivol looks like he's keeping things simple in there, though his ring IQ is very allowing him to using the basics incredible well. His last 4 bouts have all gone the distance, but he's been clearly winning them behind his boxing skills and ring control. Whilst he's not as destructive as Beterbiev his recent resume is stronger, with wins against Sullivan Barrera, Isaac Chilemba, Jean Pascal and Joe Smith Jr.
WBA "regular" - Jean Pascal (35-6-1-1, 20)
Although the WBA have created a mess for themselves with a regular champion and a super champion, again, we must confess that Jean Pascal is someone we, as boxing fans in general, absolutely love. The Hatian born Canadian 37 year old has done what we, as fans, want to see. He has faced pretty much a who's who of who since 2008. Win or lose he's not looked to duck fighters and instead has gone in with the likes of Carl Froch, Chad Dawson, Bernard Hopkins, Lucien Bute, Sergey Kovalev, twice, Eleider Alvarez, Dmitry Bivol and Badou Jack. Him holding a title is the bull shit the WBA have created, but as a fighter, who been written off time and time and time again Pascal is a throw back to an era where ducking was less prevalent. We do, genuinely, worry about Pascal's health after his career comes to an end, and he has taken a lot of punishment, and hope that when he does hang them up he has a great life afterwards. After his last bout, a narrow win over Badou Jack, it seems likely that retirement will be sooner rather than later.
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.