The contenders at the Middleweight division make for an odd bunch, with very few fighters in the mix who have previously world titles, and many who are really more prospects than contenders. In fact really the division is really lacking in terms of top tier contenders, with only a handful who have proven they belong in and around world level. It's a bad division as such but it's one that is clearly in transition
Rob Brant (25-2, 17)
American fighter Rob Brant shocked the boxing world in 2018 when he out pointed Ryota Murata to claim the WBA "regular" title. Sadly for him however his reign was a short one and it ended in 2019 when he travelled to Japan to face Murata in a rematch. Brant is a talented volume fighter who belongs in the title mix, but he'll need to rebuild in 2020 if he's to get a shot at the big time. Sadly it feels like his short reign at the top is going to be as good as it gets for Brant.
Chris Eubank Jr (29-2, 22)
Second generation fighter Chris Eubank Jr received a lot of attention in his homeland early in his career, under the guidance of his enigmatic father. In recent years however he has seemingly vanished off the face of the planet. Wins over James DeGale and Matt Korobov in 2019 are impressive, but the profile of the two fights was miniscule compared to the quality of fighters in them. Since losing in 2018 to George Groves Eubank has really struggled to get attention, no matter how solid his competition has been. Fingers crossed 2020 is a better year for the 30 year old, who is talented, charismatic and exciting.
Jaime Munguia (35-0, 28)
Former WBO Light Middleweight champion Jaime Munguia moved up to Middleweight for his last fight, and 11th round TKO win over Gary O'Sullivan. The 23 year old Mexican is an exciting, high volume fighter, but a pretty limited one and someone who we expect will struggle to make a mark on the division if he doesn't tighten up his defense, significantly. If we look at Munguia as a fan friendly fringe contender, and are willing to give him time to improve, he could become a solid contender. In reality however he's too well known to be given time and the division is too weak to stall a title fight for him. His biggest issue at Middleweight was his biggest strength at Light Middleweight. His size. At Light Middleweight he was huge, but being huge has forced him to move up and face bigger fighters. We suspect this is going to be a really tough year for Munguia and his management team.
Sergiy Derevyanchenko (13-2, 10)
Talented Ukrainian Sergiy Derevyanchenko is an unlucky man. The technically excellent, solid punching 34 year old could, well have had wins over Daniel Jacobs and Gennady Golovkin had judges just seen things a little bit different. Both of his losses, to legitimate world class fighters, have essentially been decided by 2 rounds, and he has given both men one of their toughest bouts. Sadly at 34 years old Derevyanchenko is likely on the slide, and may get 1 more shot at the top, if he's lucky. On the other hand he may well find himself as part of the "who needs him?" cub following his impressive performances in defeat.
Liam Smith (29-2-1, 16)
Englishman Liam Smith is a former WBO Light Middleweight champion who has moved up in weight but is yet to really show what he can do at Middleweight, having scored a couple of rather low level wins since moving up. At Light Middleweight he was a strong, powerful and tough, yet relatively basic, fighter. At 31 years old Smith does have time to mount a real charge at 160lbs, but he can't keep wasting time against B tier competition. This year has to be one where he steps back up to the fringes and gets the chance to prepare for a top Middleweight.
Liam Williams (22-2-1, 17)
Another British fighter looking to make their mark at Middleweight is Liam Williams, a 27 year old from Wales. Both of his losses came to Liam Smith at Light Middleweight but since changing trainer Williams has looked a more powerful and devastating fighter. He's not the most polished or rounded fighter out there, but he's strong, powerful and is still very much an improving fighter with a very fun style. It's going to be fun to see him mixing at world level, and given his Decemeber 2019 win over Alantez Fox a world title fight isn't going to be far away.
Kamil Szeremeta (21-0, 5)
Poland's relatively unknown Kamil Szeremeta is next in line for Gennady Golovkin and is the IBF mandatory challenger. The 30 year old has become the mandatory more on the volume of his wins than the quality of them but the former European champion is certainly not a bad fighter. He's been unbeaten since his pro debut in 2012 and has a couple of past it fringe contenders on his record, in the form hand Rafal Jackiewicz and Kassim Ouma. He's strong, despite not being much of a puncher, but shouldn't really be much of a test for Golovkin, even a much faded 2020 Golovkin.
Kazuto Takesako (12-0-1, 11)
It's unlikely we'll ever see Kazuto Takesako making a mark at world level, but the hard hitting Japanese fighter is knocking on the door of the top 15 and has unified the Japanese and OPBF titles, whilst being fun to watch, powerful and exciting. There is, obviously a gap between him and the top guys in the world, but given the relative lack of depth at 160lbs the 28 year old could end up finding himself as fringe contender sooner rather than later. He's here more because the division is weak, rather than being anything great, but we would advise fans do at least make a note of his name, as he is very fun to watch.
Janibek Alimkhanuly (8-0, 4)
Top Rank promoted Kazakh Middleweight hopeful Janibek Alimkhanuly is a former amateur standout who took some time to adapt to the professional ranks, but now appears to have settled at the weight. In 2019 he racked up 4 wins, 3 by stoppage, and took on progressively better competition. We would be a little bit surprised to see the 26 year old southpaw get a world title fight in 2020, but we wouldn't be surprised to see him knocking on the door as we go into 2021.
Edgar Berlanga (13-0, 13)
The divisional wild card is American puncher Edgar Berlanga, who may end up being a genuine star, if his power carries up through the levels. In 13 fights he has blown away 13 opponents, all in the first round. His competition has, admittedly, been limited, but not terrible and his December win over Cesar Nunez was particularly notable as Nunez had gone 8 rounds with Vincent Feigenbutz in his only previous loss. He's still very much a work in progress but if he keeps blowing opponents up and taking steps forward it's going to be very, very hard to hold him back from world level contenders for long.
Whilst the champions at Middleweight are exciting the Contenders unfortunately don't have great quality running through them, with a few standouts, a few unproven fighters and a few that seem to be making up the numbers.
We covered the champions here, The state of the Division - Middleweight - The Champions, if you missed it
Gennady Golovkin (38-1-1, 34)
The standout contender at Middleweight is Kazakh puncher Gennady Golovkin, a former unified champion and the man who was long considered the best in the division. He lost his belts in controversial fashion last year, losing a razor thin decision to Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, after having previously fought to a draw with Alvarez. Although still an elite level fighter we do wonder what his body has left in it, and he turns 37 in April. There is no set future plan for Golovkin and he is yet to announce which TV network he will be working with after the demise of HBO's boxing content. It's assumed he will head over to DAZN but no announcement has yet been made, and he may find himself frozen out of big fights until early next year.
Billy Joe Saunders (27-0, 13)
Another former champion in the division is England's Billy Joe Saunders, a controversial figure who has really harmed his career with out of the ring activity. The out of the ring issues saw Saunders turn many against him last year, before he failed a drug's test and forced the cancellation of a bout against Demetrius Andrade in late 2018. He's now been ordered to fight Adrade, in a mandatory title shot, but will receive a very low share of the purse and may well look else where. Saunders is a talented southpaw, and seemed set to become a star following his impressive win over David Lemieux, but the out of the ring issues has certain killed his moment.
Ryota Murata (14-2, 11)
Former WBA "regular" champion Ryoto Murata has blown hot and cold through his career, and at 33 it's not clear how much the 2012 Olympic champion can actually improve. Murata is a heavy handed and physically strong pressure fighter, but he's very basic, rather slow and can be out worked, out manoeuvered and outsped. At his best he's a tank but his title loss to Rob Brant last year showed just how limited he can be when fighters with good lateral movement and combinations face him. That loss was his only clear loss, with the other being a very controversial decision that was later avenged. He's hugely popular in Japan, but we do wonder if he will get another chance at the top given how poor he was against Brant.
Jason Quigley (15-0, 11)
Unbeaten US based Irishman Jason Quigley had long been linked to a fight with Murata, prior to Murata's loss to Brant, and as with many Irish fighters he does have a notable and loyal following. Despite that, following he is lacking in terms of notable victories and doesn't seem to have progressed in the way many had expected. As an amateur he won a Silver medal at the 2013 World Amateur Championships and a Gold medal at the European championships. He's been a professional since 2014, and whilst he is just 27 his best wins are against the like of James De La Rosa and Glen Tapia, rather than true top contenders.
Sergiy Derevyanchenko (12-1, 10)
Talented Ukrainian 33 year old Sergiy Derevyanchenko proved he belonged at world level with a good showing against Daniel Jacobs last year. He's a technically solid fighter, who is strong and has decent power, but at the age of 33 and given his lack of size he may well find himself unable to get the big win in the division. He was a standout in the WSB but turning professional in 2014 may well have cost him his peak years and it's hard to know how long he really has at the top. He's a fantastic fighter, it just feels like his career will be coming to an end before it ever really got the chance to take off. He was avoided at times but seems to be a high risk-little reward opponent for anyone in the sport, and may well be avoided again until he's slipped to the point where another contenders fancies their chances against him.
Khasan Baysangurov (17-0, 7)
Russian born, Ukrainian based, 21 year old fighter Khasan Baysangurov is one of the youngest challengers in the division, and is lined up for a shot against Rob Brant in February. Despite being a relative unknown he has been picking up wins against the likes of Guido Nicolas Pitto and Paul Valenzuela Jr. Given the quality of those wins he certainly doesn't seem ready for a shot at Brant, and very much looking like a fighter being jumped up levels. He is a decent boxer, but lacks power, and is really a few years away from developing his man strength. In a few years time Baysangurov might be a very good fighter, but right now it's far too early for him to get a shot at the top level.
Matt Korobov (28-2, 14)
At 36 years old Korobov is one of the sports most frustrating talents. He was an elite amateur, twice claiming World Amateur Championship gold medals, and he turned professional in 2008 at the age of 25 with the potential to go all the way. His career showed early promise, but he could regularly put in the performance that he was capable of, often preferring to win safe rather than to shine. In 2014 he got his first shot at the big time, but was stopped in the 6th round by Andy Lee and since then his career has struggled to come alive, that was until last December when he challenged Jermall Charlo and give the unbeaten Charlo a real test. That loss raised Korobov's profile and could well lead to another shot in the near future.
Maciej Sulecki (27-1, 11)
Poland's Maciej Sulecki is a 29 year old who has been a professional since 2010, but only really began to make a name for himself in the last few years. Since 2014 he has scored notable wins over Grzegorz Proksa, Darryl Cunningham, Huge Centeno Jr and Jack Culcay, as well as giving Daniel Jacobs a much tougher than expected fight. He's tough, has a good engine and a fun to watch style, though his lack of power and technical flaws do seem likely to hold him back from being a champion. He's a fun fighter however and should be considered a main contender at the moment.
Jack Culcay (25-3, 13)
Former WBA Light Middleweight champion Jack Culcay was just mentioned as one of Sulecki's best wins and is a pretty decent fighter himself, though sadly he sort of sums up the gulf between the top contenders and the other contenders. Culcay was a notable amateur, winning the World Amateur Championships in 2009, and was regarded as a big German hope as part of the post Sturm and Abraham era. Sadly however he has failed to fill the void left by the great Germans that came before him. Culcay is a pretty standard level European fighter who won the European title last year, but vacated it before making his first defense. He will likely get a world title fight, but unless he improves drastically at 33 he will be little more than a contender, never doing enough to become a true champion.
Liam Williams (19-2-1, 14)
Talented Welshman Liam Williams is probably another fighter who should be regarded as a European level fighter looking to move up a level. The 26 year old is a fighter who does have plenty of skill, but often ends up in gruelling affairs, which is a shame as when he's on point he is a fantastic fighter. He made his mark mostly at Light Middleweight, but move up after a couple of losses to Liam Smith and look fantastic last time out when he stopped the touted Mark Heffron. He still has a long way to go to prove he's a world class Middleweight, but he's young enough to develop the experience and tools. Worries do remain about his stamina and toughness at the highest level, but he does deserve a mention here.
Esquiva Falcao (22-0, 15)
Brazilian fighter Esquiva Falcao is one of two Brazilian fighters who are looking to get title fights at 160lbs this year. The southpaw from Vitoria is a talented fighter who won a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics, a bronze at the 2011 World Amateur championships and competed in the WSB. As a professional his career hasn't really taken off, and at the age of 29 it's getting to the point where it really needs to move on to the next level. His best wins aren't anything special but his performances have, for the most part, been dominant and it's clear he can step up another level. Sadly his competition has been several levels below world class, and we really don't know how good he is.
Yamaguchi Falcao (16-0-0-1, 7)
The other Brazilian brother looking to win a world title is the other brother, Yamaguchi Falcao. At 31 he is now in the "now or never" territory in regards to stepping up in class. He's proven to be talented, though like his brother we really don't know how good he is, and he's yet to face anyone of any known quality. Like his younger brother Yamaguchi was a top amateur, taking a bronze medal in the 2012 Olympics and competing in the WSB. If he's able to get the push he needs this year he could certainly be managed into a world title fight, but it really does seem too late in his career for him to become the star that Brazilian boxing needs.
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.