Whilst the world champions at Light Middle are a pretty interesting and exciting bunch it should be noted the contenders are also a really interesting mix, with some well known names, potentially at the end of their career's, and some emerging talent breaking through the ranks.
If you missed our look at the champions that's available here - The state of the Division - Light Middleweight - The Champions
Takeshi Inoue (13-0-1, 7)
On January 26th unbeaten Japanese fighter Takeshi Inoue will be getting his shot at the big time, as he takes on WBO Champion Jamie Munguia. The 29 year old Japanese fighter is totally unknown outside of Japan, and is no relation at all to Naoya Inoue, but he's already unified the Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles, during his short career. He was a top domestic amateur, who has been fast tracked through the regional scene and already has notable wins over the likes of Akinori Watanabe, Koshinmaru Saito, Yuki Nonaka and Ratchasi Sithsaithong. Sadly he's small at the weight and although aggressive and exciting will be the huge under-dog against Munguia.
Erislandy Lara (25-3-2, 14)
Cuban veteran Erislandy Lara is a fantastically talented fighter, and in his pomp he was one of the best in the division. He was able to box circles around good fighters and blast others out. Sadly his ability didn't match his performances and despite being able to do great things he often had a negative mentality in the ring, a mentality that saw his reputation become that of a dull fighter. It was often a case of winning first and foremost, rather than entertaining the fans. Sadly at the age of 36, and with tough, damaging, fights taking their toll on his body it's hard to know what he still has left. He did run Jarrett Hurd razor close last year, but took significant punishment in the later stages.
Kell Brook (38-2, 26)
Another fighter who has taken a lot of punishment recently is former Welterweight champion Kell Brook. Once regarded as one of the brightest talents in the UK Brook's career is really best known for 3 fights that took, and one that hasn't. He announced on the wider boxing world in 2014, when he beat Shawn Porter for the IBF Welterweight title, but a string of weak challengers killed his moment. He then suffered back to back stoppage losses to Gennady Golovkin and Errol Spence Jr and hasn't really shown that he's a world class fighter since then. Instead of showing what he has left he has faced less than stellar opponents and repeatedly called for a show down with Amir Khan, in a bout that is looking less likely by the day. Although a talented fighter Brook has had a hard career and despite "only" being 32 he is likely close to the end of his career.
Jermell Charlo (31-1, 15)
Former WBC champion Jermell Charlo may feel he doesn't belong here, in fact he likely feels like he was robbed against Tony Harrison back in December. The reality however is that Charlo has had a frustrating few years, calling for big fights but doing little to earn them, doing little to shine and regularly looking like a rather lazy fighter, who perhaps began to rely on his power a bit too much. Although very talented he, like Lara, often seems to have the wrong mentality in the ring. He was lucky that his power bailed him out when he was being out boxed against John Jackson and managed to over-come Austin Trout thanks to 2 knockdowns. Don't get this wrong, he is very talented, but will need to change his attitude if he's going to be the star his ego thinks he should be.
Julian Williams (26-1-1, 16)
Julian "J rock" Williams is one of the many fighters in the mix for a world title fight, which would be his second. He came up short against Jermall Charlo, back in 2016, when he was stopped in 5 rounds, and that seemed to be the bout where fans began to query about his chin. Whilst he doesn't seem the most durable, he is a very talented boxer-puncher, with more than respectable power. Through his career he has beaten the likes of Luciano Leonel Cuello, Joshua Conley, Ishe Smith and Nathaniel Gallimore. He's expected to get another world title fight this year, though was expected to face the aforementioned Takeshi Inoue in 2018, though negotiations for that bout never seemed to conclude before the fighters went in different directions.
Michel Soro (33-2-1, 22)
One of the top contenders, and most over-looked fighters in the division, is French fighter Michel Soro. Soro is a 31 year old who has been around for a long time. He made his debut in 2008, fought for the WBO title in 2012, losing a competitive decision to Zaurbek Baysangurov, and has struggled to get big fights since then, fighting decent contenders whilst trying to earn a shot. He's currently the WBA "interim" champion, and should really have been included in our "Champions" section, but the reality is that we don't think Soro is happy with an interim title, which he got from stopping Greg Vendetti in December, and instead he'll be wanting a shot at a real title this year.
Liam Smith (26-2-1, 14)
Former WBO world champion Liam Smith is one of the 4 fighting brothers from the Smith family in Liverpool, England. Despite losing the WBO title to Saul Alvarez in 2016 he has remained in the title mix, and fought Jamie Munguia for the belt back in July. At the age of 30 there is still life left in his legs, and having just signed with Matchroom Sport there are big openings for him, including a rumoured show down with Kell Brook in the UK. He's not an elite level talent, but is certainly on of the more notable names in the division and will remain in the title mix, especially with Matchroom behind him, for the foreseeable future.
Sergio Garcia (28-0, 13)
Unbeaten Spanish hopeful Sergio Garcia is set to have a major test on February 2nd when he travels to the UK to take on British prospect Ted Cheeseman, in what is very much a key bout for the division. At the moment Garcia is the European champion, having won that title last year, he is a fringe contender and someone who has not had much attention due to his entire career, so far, being fought entirely in Spain. There is skills, size and potential for Garcia, but he will be having a massive test when he takes on the unbeaten Cheeseman. By February we should know if he is a contender, or a pretender, and whether Cheeseman is a prospect, or a legitimate rising threat.
Magomed Kurbanov (16-0, 11)
At the moment there are a lot of Russian prospects, contenders and notable hopefuls. Some, like Evgeny Chuprakov, aren't all they are hyped to be, whilst others will exceed expectations. The jury is still out on 23 year old Magomed Kurbanov, who is edging his way up the rankings, but not blowing people away with his performances. In fact Kurbanov is sort of looking like he's picking up wins whilst doing little more than going through the motions. The "Black Lion" already has notable victories over Dennis Laurente, Akinori Watanabe and Charles Manyuchi, but looks very pedestrian at times. There is clear potential for him to click and the performances to come together, but it feels like we might be waiting a while for that to happen.
Dennis Hogan (28-1-1, 7)
Once beaten Irish Australian Dennis Hogan is lined for a show at the WBO title later this year, making him a very interested party in the upcoming bout between Jamie Munguia and Takeshi Inoue. Hogan, originally from Kildare in Ireland though now based down under, has fought almost his entire career in Australia, barring a few bouts in the US and one in Germany. Through his career he has often been over-looked but performed well when he went to Germany and fought Jack Culcay, giving the then WBA "interim" champion a tougher than expected bout. Since the loss to Culcay we've seen Hogan go 6-0 scoring notable wins over Samuel Colomban, Yuki Nonaka and Jimmy Kilrain Kelly. Whilst talented Hogan does lack power, and that is likely to be a major issue against world class opponents, who won't give him much respect if he can't hurt them.
Erickson Lubin (19-1, 14)
Once touted as the future of the division Erickson Lubin isn't where he would want to be. He turned professional at the age of 18 following a stellar amateur career and was the winner of various of the year awards early in his career whilst running up 18 straight wins. The southpaw would live up to his nickname of "The Hammer" whilst stopping the likes of Daniel Sandoval, Jorge Cota and Ayi Bruce. Sadly though he would come up short, inside a round, when he got a world title fight in 2017 against Jermell Charlo. That loss was in October 2017, in 101 seconds, and since then he fought just once, beating journeyman Silverio Ortiz. At the age of 23 he has time on his side, but there is a clear feeling of Lubin missing out a chunk of his development time, and having potential mental scares from the loss to Charlo. He will return in February, against Ishe Smith, and that really is a must win for Lubin.
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.