The Light Welterweight division is one that really benefited from the WBSS tournament, leaving us with a Muhammad Ali Trophy winner who managed to unify two major titles, and now has fighters wanting to face him. It also benefited by the fact one of the fighters who didn't compete in the WBSS went on to unify titles outside of the tournament, giving us a 2 unified champions, who now look to be on a collision course to become the division's undisputed champion. It's one of the few division's where there is a clear #1 and #2 and where we all want those two men to face off. It's also a division with a fantastic array of contenders, ranging from former champions to unknown fighters rising through the ranks.
Whilst Light Welterweight may not be a star studded division right now it's certainly a solid looking one.
WBA and IBF - Josh Taylor (16-0, 12)
Scottish southpaw Josh Taylor had a fantastic 12 months, starting in November 2018, which saw him take the unbeaten records of Ryan Martin, Ivan Baranchyk and Regis Prograis. Those 3 wins saw him build on previous victories against the likes of Miguel Vazquez and Viktor Postol, and unify the WBA and IBF titles. With an aggressive and fan friendly style Taylor is a man who is great watch and at 29 years old really has time on his side to build his reputation further. Notably he has split from long term promotional outfit Cyclone Promotions, and trainer Shane McGuigan, earlier this year, so his next fight will be the first with a new time. Talking about his first bout of 2020 that's expected to be an IBF mandatory title defense against Downua Ruawaiking in Spring.
WBC and WBO - Jose Carlos Ramirez (25-0, 17)
Whilst Taylor was busy building his reputation in the WBSS Jose Carlos Ramirez was busy building his own outside of the tournament. He won the WBC title in early 2018 and has now defended it 3 times and unified it with the WBO title. Like Taylor he has been taking unbeaten records, giving Antonio Orozco and Maurice Hooker their first losses, and also beating solid contenders like Amir Imam and Jose Zepeda. An all action pressure fighter Ramirez is great to watch, though he can be out boxed, as he was at times by Jose Zepeda. His entire gameplan is based on pressure and aggression and it's a style that has worked, whilst also making him a star in Fresno. A scheduled bout in February with mandatory challenger Viktor Postol was planned, though had to be cancelled due to coronovirus in China. We've got our fingers crossed in the hope that that bout will be rescheduled for later in the year.
WBA "regular" - Mario Barrios (25-0, 16)
Whilst the WBA "regular" title might be a damn joke it's champion at 140lbs is a noteworthy fighter in Mario Barrios, an unbeaten and exciting American boxer-puncher who makes for fun fights. He won the belt last September, winning a genuine FOTY contender with Batyr Akhmedov. Notably he's only 24 and is very tall for the weight, stood at 5'10", so his time at 140lbs is likely limited though he'll almost certainly fill into a very well sized Welterweight down the line. It's unclear what is next for Barrios, but he has been ordered to face Akhmedov again, and that is a rematch we're really looking forward to.
The Light Welterweight division has suddenly become one of the most interesting divisions, following what was really a weak era due to the sheer dominance by Terrence Crawford who was several levels above everyone else. With Crawford having unified all 4 titles in 2017 and leaving the division in 2018 it's left the 140lb weight class wide open, and that has been brilliant, giving us compelling match ups as everyone scrambles to reach the top.
Kiryl Relikh (23-2, 19) - WBA (1 defense)
Belorussian puncher Kiryl Relikh was a relative unknown until 2016, despite having a record of 21-0 (19) at the time and being associated with the very popular Ricky Hatton. Since then he has gone 2-2, though should have been 4-0 with 2 very debatable losses. His break out bout, in many ways, was a controversial decision loss to Ricky Burns in the summer of 2016. Despite losing many felt Relikh had deserved the decision. Relikh's bout following that was another controversial loss, this time to Rances Barthelmy, which was avenged in 2018 as Relikh won the WBA title, a title he has defended once, beating Eduard Troyanovsky, whilst also qualifying for the semi-final of the WBSS. Relikh is an aggressive, heavy-handed fighter with a solid work rate and a generally exciting style. At 29 years old he is still relatively young, but he did debut in 2011 and has taken punishment in his last few bouts, going 48 rounds in his last 4 bouts.
Maurice Hooker (25-0-3, 17) - WBO (1 defense)
Unbeaten American fighter Maurice Hooker had a huge 2018, travelling to England to defeat Terry Flanagan, to claim the WBO title, and then made his first defense by defeating Alex Saucedo. In both of those bouts he snapped long unbeaten runs, and built well on a great 2017 as well, with 2017 seeing him defeat veteran Cristobal Cruz and defeated the then 18-0 Courtney Jackson, meaning Hooker is now on a run of taking 3 unbeaten records in a row. Although under-rated Hooker is a tough man to look good against, and could end up being the hidden gem of the division in this post Crawford era. He's tall, rangy and has strong management behind him with Matchroom sport, who will likely look to market him hard as they attempt to make their mark on the US scene.
Ivan Baranchyk (19-0, 12) - IBF (0 defenses)
Another Belorussian champion in the division is Ivan Baranchyk,who won the IBF title in October when he stopped Anthony Yigit in a WBSS quarter-final. Baranchyk was a former amateur standout, especially at Junior level, who turned professional in 2014, fighting at home, before relocating to the US and building his name with a string of very impressive and destructive performances. Those destructive performance have just kept coming and in 2018 he became the second man to stop Petr Petrov before stopping the previously unbeaten Anthony Yigit, giving Yigit a badly swollen left eye that forced the bout to be stopped. He's aggressive, exciting, hard hitting and despite some technical flaws he's going to be a very hard man to beat. He's relentless and a complete nightmare to fight.
Jose Carlos Ramirez (23-0, 13) - WBC (1 defense)
Someone else who's relentless is American Jose Carlos Ramirez, who is creating a real buzz in California and becoming a real must watch fighter with intense aggression, underrated defense and insane work rate. On paper he doesn't look like he has power, but the 26 old former Olympian is likely to score a lot of stoppages through accumulation as time goes on. He's marketable, exciting, has a great personality and exciting style. Sadly however he's missing out on the WBSS, and Top Rank do appear to want to match him in house going forward, which does limit his options, and obviously his appeal, which is a shame given how much fun we get watching Ramirez
Regis Prograis (23-0, 19) - WBC "Diamond" (1 defense)
American Southpaw Regis Prograis is in a bizarre position where by the WBC had him win the interim title, then immediately allowed him to fight for the "Diamond" title, not the regular title. So despite not holding the world title we have included him in the champions, and in fairness to him he's potentially the best fighter in the division. Like Ramirez and Baranchyk he's pretty relentless, throwing a lot of shots, he's heavy-handed and shows much more to his boxing than the other champions. He not only keeps a high work rate through out but switches levels, throws from unusual angles, using a lot of movement and mixes everything up with an awkward southpaw stance. He's not the natural talent of Crawford, but is an aggressive and fun to watch fighter, and we'll be looking forward to every bout he has going forward.
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.