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.
One of the most highly regarded and celebrated divisions in the sport right now is the Welterweight division, which has some of the biggest names in it, and some of the most recognisable fighters in it. It also has major issues with actual match making, and almost all the champions have got less than amazing match ups lined up for the first half of 2019.
Shawn Porter (29-2-1, 17) - WBC (0 defenses)
Rough and tumble American fighter Shawn Porter won the WBC title last September, winning an ultra competitive bout with Danny Garcia to become a 2-time world champion. Sadly the win over Garcia was his only bout in 2018, and he has only fought 4 times since the start of 2016, losing one of those bouts to Keith Thurman. With 2 losses to his name we know he's not unbeatable, but he's exciting, heavy handed and enjoys a fight. During his career he has faced a relative who's who including Devon Alexander, Paulie Malignaggi, Kell Brook, Adrien Broner, Keith Thurman, Andre Berto and Danny Garcia. He'll be back in the ring on March 9th to defend his title against the unbeaten Yordenis Ugas.
Errol Spence (24-0, 21) - IBF (2 defenses)
The unbeaten Errol Spence is one of the real rising stars of American boxing and was regarded as one of the top Welterweights before he took the IBF crown from Kell Brook in May 2017. He was a standout amateur who has became a major offensive force in the professional ranks. He's aggressive, exciting, has a personality that will keep fans onside and a real desire to show what he can do in the ring. Sadly he's not been mega active, with just 3 fights in 2017 and 2018 combined, but he has been fighting at a high level with wins against the likes of Chris Algieri, Leonardo Bundo, Kell Brook, Lamont Peterson. He's stopped his last 11 opponents and is a real threat to anyone in the division. His next defense comes on March 9th, when he takes on Lightweight champion Mikey Garcia.
Terence Crawford (34-0, 25) - WBO (1 defense)
The sensational switch hitting Terence Crawford is a 3-weight champion and arguably the #1 pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. At Lightweight he dominated the likes of Ricky Burns and Raymundo Beltran before moving up in weight and unifying all 4 titles at Light Welterweight, defeating the likes of Thomas Dulorme, Henry Lundy, Viktor Postol and Julius Indongo. He moved up in weight last year and popped the cherry's of both Jeff Horn and Jose Benevidez Jr, and showed that he may finally be at his best weight. He's a slippery skilled fighter, who has under-rated power, exceptional skills and speed and is one of the most naturally talented fighters in the sport. His next defense if set for April against Amir Khan, in a bout that has the fell of a stay busy defense, rather than a reputation enhancing one.
Keith Thurman (28-0-0-1, 22) WBA "Super" (0 defenses)
Highly regarded American Keith Thurman has become one of the most frustrating fighters in the sport today. He's a brilliantly talented boxer-puncher with fantastic charisma but the activity that makes fans question whether or not he is an active fighter. He was last in the ring in March 2017 and has once fought 4 times since the start of 2015. He is a former WBA "interim", WBA "regular" and WBC champion, though was stripped of the WBC title due to lack of activity. We're not currently aware of any fighter, in the sport, who still holds a world title after 22 months of inactivity but the WBA do seem to have been very nice in not stripping Thurman. Thankfully he is set to make his ring return on January 26th, it's just unfortunately going to be against Josesito Lopez. Lopez was a great fighter back in the day but he has fought just 3 times since being stopped by Andre Berto in 2015! The situation with Thurman very much feels like the WBA have played politics due to his popularity. We like him, but he shouldn't have been able to hold up the top WBA title for so long without fighting.
Manny Pacquiao (60-7-2, 39) WBA "regular" (0 defenses)
Filipino icon Manny Pacquiao is still going strong at the age of 40. The former multi-weight world champion the WBA "regular" Welterweight title in July 2017, when he beat Lucas Matthysse in 7 rounds in Malaysia. That was Pacquiao's first bout in over a year, following his loss to Jeff Horn in 2017. He's not the fighter he was in his pomp, destroying the likes of Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto, but is still one of the biggest names in the sport. It's hard to know what he has left, but he did look sharp stopping Matthysse and will be looking to show that there is a lot more life in the old dog later this month, when he takes on the controversial Adrien Broner, on January 19th. At his best he was destrutive little fireball with incredible power, speed and unpredictable movement, as he's gotten older he's had to depend more on his boxing ability, and whilst that's solid he's certainly not closer to the fighter he once was.
When I first agreed to write for www.asianboxing.info I did it in the knowledge I'd eventually ruffle a few feathers. What I didn't expect was for the American boxing media to give me an easy pitch to hit out the park, unfortunately however that's what they've done by acting like cheerleaders on an almost never ending basis.
In 2012 we were hearing all about a ginger haired Mexican kid called Saul "Canelo" Alvarez. The youngster was anointed the future of boxing despite having beaten very few "relevant" opponents. In fact by the end of 2012 Canelo's best wins were over a 40 year old Shane Mosley and a massively under-sized Josesito Lopez and although he held the WBC Light Middleweight title he was very much unproven.
Another man we were hearing all about in 2012 was Adrien "The Problem" Broner. Broner, like Canelo, was dubbed the future of boxing, a star with too much talent and charisma to fail. Unfortunately for Broner he too lacked relevant wins despite winning both the WBO Super Featherweight and WBC Lightweight titles. If we considered his most important wins were over Gavin Rees and a controversial decision over Daniel Ponce De Leon he was hardly a proven quality.
Both Broner and Alvarez were viewed as superstars in the making. The next men to become pay per view stars. Both however were beaten in 2013 and say their stock dropping. For Alvarez his loss, which came to Floyd Mayweather, wasn't that damaging, he was the under-dog and lost to arguably the best pure boxer on the planet. For Broner however things were different, he out punched and out boxed by Marcos Maidana, a limited but fearless Argentinian puncher. The losses may have been hugely different but both bubbles were burst, neither man seems to have the same vigor about them or excitement surrounding their upcoming bouts that they did for recent contests.
In 2013 we saw fighters like Deontay Wilder, Mikey Garcia, Bryant Jennings and Keith Thurman all given the same hype and support that Canelo and Broner had been having the previous year. All are being spoken about as dominant stars of the future with many viewing Garcia and Thurman as future pound-for-pound champions whilst others have referred to both Wilder and Jennings as future Heavyweight champions.
From where I'm sat however I can't help but think that we are merely looking at the next Broner, Canelo and various other American hypes such as Andre Berto, Victor Ortiz and Seth Mitchell.
I'll start with Deontay Wilder, an Olympic bronze medal winner who has been a professional since 2008 and run up a perfect record of 30-0 (30). Like Broner and Alvarez, the number of worth while wins on his record are minimal, in fact for a man universally ranked in the top 15 Wilder's opponents have been awful. The WBC, WBO and WBA all have Wilder in the top 5 of their rankings yet his biggest win is over the shadow of Sultan Ibragimov, hardly a win that deserves a top 15 ranking, never mind a top 5 ranking. Wilder's power is clearly impressive, though from the level of opponents he's not proven himself any more than Ali Raymi (who is 20-0, 20) and if anything he's left a lot of fans very worries about his chin which is certain a big worry.
Whilst Wilder is completely unproven for a 30 fight "veteran" it's fair to say that Bryant Jennings, also a Heavyweight, is actually pretty proven. Jennings, who sports a perfect 18-0 (10) record has only been a professional since 2010 and to be fair to him he has been more impressive than most other Heavyweights. Unfortunately for Jennings he doesn't do a lot that stands out like a "future" world Heavyweight champion. He doesn't have concussive power, he doesn't have a real killer instinct and he doesn't have a big amateur background. He can box much better than Wilder but there is something very much "mediocre" about him and when compared to the likes of Bulgaria's Kubrat Pulev there is little that makes me think Jennings is a future champion, just the next over-hyped American Heavyweight.
For Keith Thurman things do, for the immediate future, look pretty good. The unbeaten Welterweight, who sports a solid 22-0-0-1 (20) record, is a man who is being viewed in the same as Broner was. He's more talented and much more personable than Broner though like Broner he appears to be better with his mouth than he does in the ring. Thurman's best wins, which are decent, have come against the likes of Jesus Soto Karass, Diego Gabriel Chaves and Jan Zaveck who are fringe top 10 fighters in the division. If you were to listen to the American media however you'd think you were hearing about a man who had taken out a series of world champions in their prime, something that hasn't happened and is unlikely to happen.
Personally the one I believe is the most over-hyped is WBO Super Featherweight champion Miguel Angel Garcia. Like the others mentioned Garcia is unbeaten with a record of 34-0 (28) and like Broner was at the end of 2012, he is a 2 weight world champion who seems to be thinking bigger and bigger. Garcia, prior to winning the WBO Super Featherweight title, was the WBO Featherweight champion, a title he won by dominating Orlando Salido. Garcia, like Broner, was forced to give up his first world title by being unable to make weight. It was, as we often see with American fighters, just accepted that Garcia was maturing into a man after being a boy though at the time he failed he weight he was already 25 and a man.
Following his failure to make weight Garcia made the move to Super Featherweight, a division that for me sees Takashi Miura and Takashi Uchiyama sitting clearly as the #1 and #2 fighters. Garcia didn't aim to take a title from one of those two but instead WBO champion Roman "Rocky" Martinez, a man whose nickname summed up his reign. Martinez had controversially beaten Miguel Beltran Jr for the title, some how held on to it with a very fortunate draw against Juan Carlos Burgos and was lucky again against Diego Magdaleno. Garcia picked the easiest title, as did Broner, and just like Broner Garcia is looking at moving up another weight.
Garcia hasn't just been speaking about moving up to Lightweight, for a mooted bout with Yuriorkis Gamboa, but of moving all the way up to Light Welterweight if not Welterweight to fight Manny Pacquiao. Garcia, whose best wins have come against the likes of Salido and Burgos, is being viewed as potentially a future pound-for-pound #1 but after 34 fights, spread over 7 and a half years he's not shown anything that makes me think he'll ever be a top 10 pound-for-pound fighter, merely a well managed one. He's skillful and powerful but there is a lot of issues with him and even more if he insists on climbing through the weights as quickly as he seems to be wanting to do.
The American media may, right now, considering Wilder, Jennings, Thurman and Garcia as their darlings, though trust me they will ditch them as quickly as the dumped Broner when they lose. Whilst they could be well managed for the next few years they were become the fighters that Ring, HBO, Showtime and ESPN want them to become. They will never be the next great star of boxing and they will never become the next Mayweather or the next Pacquiao.
Personally I have Wilder down as the next Seth Mitchell, a chinny but powerful and raw Heavyweight, Jennings is the next Malik Scott, a talented but unspectacular fighter, Thurman is the next Andre Berto, an explosive and fun to watch but criminally over-rated Welterweight and Garcia really is the next Broner though much more humble than "The Problem".
I may be wrong, but the evidence is that the US media are so desperate to find their next superstar that they are trying to create a star rather than letting one emerge. In boxing, stars create themselves and aren't created just by the media.
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.