Yesterday we looked at the champions in the Light Welterweight divisions, and whilst the division has two unified champions, leading to an obvious bout down the line between the two, the division also has an amazing line up of contenders, which is varied, exciting and very, very interesting.
Downua Ruawaiking (16-0, 13)
Unbeaten Thai Downua Ruawaiking, also known as Apinun Khongsong, is set to get a world title fight with Josh Taylor later in the year. The 23 year old won his first 14 bouts in Thailand, against mostly regional level competition such as Sonny Katiandagho and Adam Diu Abdulhamid before going over to Japan and stopping the teak tough Akihiro Kondo in a world title eliminator, which has seen him secure his fight with Taylor. Talented, big, powerful and with under-rated speed Downua is a credible, if relatively unknown, challenger for Taylor who is expected to get his shot this coming coming spring.
Viktor Postol (31-2, 12)
Ukrainain fighter Viktor Postol is a veteran at 36 and a former WBC champion, having beaten Lucas Matthysse for the belt back in 2015. Sadly Postol's reign was a short one, and he lost the belt in his first defense, to Terence Crawford. Since then he has gone 3-1, with a controversial win over Jamshidbek Najmitdinov, a clear loss to Josh Taylor and then decision wins over Siar Ozgul and Mohamed Mimoune. Despite being 3-2 in his last 5 he's now in a mandatory position to face Jose Carlos Ramirez. He was meant to face Ramirez in February but the bout has been cancelled due to the illness sweeping through China.
Regis Prograis (24-1, 20)
Once beaten American fighter Regis Prograis was the losing finalist in the WBSS and despite the lost has proven himself as one of the top fighters in the division. "Rougarou" is aggressive, exciting, hard hitting, talented and so much fun to watch. He's a former WBA and WBC "Diamond" champion and is expected to have a big 2020 as he looks to bounce back from the loss to Taylor. Aged 31 he's still got time on his side, but will clearly want to have a big year and his style, unfortunately his style is one which will not hold up as he gets older, as it's a very high energy style.
Subriel Matias (15-0, 15)
Big punching Puerto Rican fighter Subriel Matias is an exciting, aggressive, heavy handed and tragic fighter. Whilst he only really came to fans attention in s019 he had been racking up an impressive streak of wins from around 2017, when he stopped Patrick Lopez, then followed that up with wins against Daulis Prescott, Adrian Estrella, Breidis Prescott and Fernando David Saucedo. Sadly Matias made headlines last July with his win over Maxim Dadashev, who passed away following their bout. Although Matias is a real talent it's going to take a while to know what effect the Dadashev tragedy will have on Matias.
Jose Zepeda (31-2-0-2, 25)
Jose Zepeda is a talented southpaw who's career has been plagued by misfortune, had he had some luck there's a real chance he would have won a world title at some point. He suffered a freak injury in 2015, when he lost to Terry Flanagan, and lost a very close decision last year to Jose Carlos Ramirez. Although he's yet to get the win at the top level he did beat Jose Pedraza back in September and is certainly still in the mix for another title fight this year. Aged 30 he has more than enough time to earn another big shot at the top.
Jack Caterall (25-0, 13)
Unbeaten Englishman Jack Caterall has been on the verge of a world title fight for a few years but has yet to land the big fight, and it has felt like his career has stagnated in recent bouts. Solid domestic level wins in 2018 over Tyrone McKenna and Ohara Davies looked like they were going to open the door for the 26 year old from Chorley, England, but 2019 was an effective write off. Although talented Caterall has yet to show anything that would worry any of the divisions top fighters, but there is a feeling that he has got more in the locker than he's had to show. We could see 2020 be a big year for "El Gato", who is expected to get his first world title fight by the end of the year.
Shohjahon Ergashev (18-0, 16)
Big punching Uzbek contender Shohjahon Ergashev looks like he has dynamite in his hands, and has been destructive when he's been in the ring, as we saw earlier this month against Adrian Etrella. The 28 year old is very much a raw puncher who has some great tools to work with but needs to work on some areas. Fighting out of the southpaw stance his left hand is brutal but he really does under-utilise his right hand, which will be an issue when he steps up and it's worth noting he struggled massively against lanky boxer mover Mykal Fox, in what was his most testing bout to date.
Batyrzhan Jukembayev (18-0-0-2, 14)
Unbeaten Kazakh fighter Batyrzhan Jukembayev isn't a big yet in the US or Europe, but has been carving out his career in Canada and has picked up a couple of minor titles and began to make a genuine name for himself. The 28 year old, who made his pro debut in 2015, has already picked up a number of solid wins including a very solid one against Miguel Vazquez last September. It's unclear when, or if, his team are going to begin pushing him for a world title fight, but at the moment he is ranked by 2 of the world title bodies and is certainly heading towards a shot, albeit a touch slower than he needs to be.
Batyr Akhmedov (7-1, 6)
Uzbek born Russian based boxed-puncher Batyr Akhmedov may look inexperienced compared to some of the other contenders but the former amateur standout has already fought for the WBA "regular" title, and was unlucky in his bout with Mario Barrios. Akhmedov, also known as Batuhan Gozgec, was a 2016 Olympian, competing for Turkey, and has been matched hard since he began his career. He has been fast tracked, but has beaten solid competition already, with wins against Ricky Sismundo, Ismael Barroso and Viktor Plotnikov already. He's been ordered by the WBA to have a rematch with Barrios and that's expected to take place this year.
Koki Inoue (15-0, 12)
The 27 year old Koki Inoue is the cousin of Bantamweight sensation Naoya Inoue, and although not as destructive or impressed as the "Monster" Koki is already making waves and has unified the Japanese and WBO Asia Pacific titles, whilst also breaking into the fringes of the world rankings. The southpaw can box or punch, and although some of his bouts haven't been fireworks he has been able to shut down and neutralise talented aggressive fighters. We expect 2020 to be a big year for Inoue and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him fight outside of Japan later this year, in what would be his second international bout. Next up for him is a mandatory defense of the Japanese title against Daishi Nagata on March 16th.
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.
Having looked at the Champions and the Contenders at 140lbs we now move onto the interesting prospects rising through the ranks at 140lbs, and we really get a lovely look across the boxing world in a weight class that has a really metropolitan feel to it.
If you missed our looks at the champions that can be found here The state of the Division - Light Welterweight - The Champions whilst the review of the challengers can be found here The state of the Division - Light Welterweight - The Contenders
Batyr Akhmedov (5-0, 4)
If we were asked to mention just 1 prospect in the division it would have been Uzbek born Russian based Batyr Akhmedov, who confuses things even more having fought at the 2016 Olympics for Turkey under the name Batuhan Gozgec. Akhmedov debuted in early 2017 and hasn't been particularly active, yet has already notched big wins over Ricky Sismundo and Ismael Barroso. He's highly skilled, heavy hand, exciting and wanting to prove himself quickly. We're expecting 2019 to be a massive year for Akhmedov, who will almost certainly be ending the year in the world rankings, even if he does only squeeze 2 or 3 fights into the year.
Fabian Andres Maidana (16-0, 12)
The younger brother of Marcos Rene Maidana is Fabian Andres Maidana, a rising prospect, former amateur standout and one of the future stars of Argentinian boxing. Like his older brother he is a brutal puncher, and his 16 bouts have averaged less than 4 rounds. Notably he has been getting tested, with bouts against the tricky Johan Perez in 2017 and Andrey Klimov in 2018, with wins against those two men helping building his image and profile. There is a lot work for him to do, but with a good team behind him, his brother's advice and a willingness to travel, the expectation is that Maidana will go far. He's Scheduled to fight in January, against Jaider Parra, and could end up having a huge year ahead.
Akeem Ennis Brown (12-0, 1)
One of the lighter hitting prospects in the division is Englishman Akeem Ennis Brown, a tricky, smart, boxer who shone in 2018 with notable wins over Chris Jenkins and Darragh Foley. Those wins saw him build on good victories over Freddy Kiwitt in 2016 and Glenn Foot in 2017. At the age of 23 "Riiddy" looks like being a nightmare to face off, and is perhaps only going to be held back by his lack of power. Despite not having much sting in his shots he is an awfully good fighter, a nightmare to come against and a truly frustrating proposition for anyone in the division.
Fazliddin Gaibnazarov (6-0, 3)
A third notable Uzbek at 140lbs is 27 year old Fazliddin Gaibnazarov, who despite being a gold medal winner looks a lot less of a threat to the champions than compatriots Shakhram Giyasov and Shohjahon Ergashev. Whilst Giyasov and Ergashev turned professional with pro-ready styles the same can't be said of Gaibnazarov, who has had to adapt his style since making his debut in 2017. He has began to show touches of brilliance but unfortunately the jury is still out on him as we enter 2019. Despite not standing out it is worth noting that Gaibnazarov is promoted by Top Rank and will be expecting a huge 2019, beginning with his January 18th bout against Ricardo Garcia.
Yazid Amghar (21-0, 9)
Over the last few years the French boxing scene has come alive, with a number of interesting and talented fighters breaking through the ranks. One of those is 29 year French Light Welterweight champion Yazid Amghar. Having debuted in 2012 it took a while for Amghar to gain much traction with his career, but that has started to happen recently thanks to good wins over Douda Sow, Jarkko Putkonen and Berman Sanchez, as well as a total gutcheck against Renald Garrido, a favourite of everyone here! Amghar is perhaps not a world class prospect, but will certainly be mixing in the European title scene in the years to come and will be a good addition to those ranks.
Alexander Duran (17-0, 4)
Duran is the most iconic of names in Panamanian boxing, and 26 year old southpaw Alexander Duran has been unfortunate enough to share the same surname as the legendary Roberto Duran. Despite the same surname the two won't every be fairly compared, however the unbeaten hopeful is worth talking about following some good recent results. These have included wins over Patrick Lopez, Luis Ronaldo Castillo and once touted Mexican Adrian Estrella. There is still a long way for Duran to go, but he's had a good 24 months and should be breaking on to the radar of more fight fans in 2019.
Genaro Gamez (8-0, 5)
American 23 year old Genaro Gamez came to our attention last year when he beat Shoki Sakai, in what was a really good step up for the youngster. Gamez looks to build on that win in February when he takes on Ivan Delgado and despite being a big of a hidden gem we would be very surprised if more fans weren't talking about him towards the end of the year. He has been featured on Golden Boy on ESPN cards, the Golden Boy team and has looked like a sharp puncher with nice movement and quick hands. There is clearly a lot of work to do with Gamez, but after just 8 fights he looks really promising and just needs his team to put him in the right tests in 2019.
Juan Pablo Romero (9-0, 6)
We don't see too many Mexican fighters making a mark on the international amateur scene before beginning their career but Juan Pablo Romero, or "Pivi", did just that, making his way to the 2016 Olympics. Sadly Romero's Olympic dream was ended by Italian Vincenzo Mangiacapre but he's now on a professional journey and is rising quickly. He debuted in April 2017 and was 5-0 (3) by the end of the year, before stepping up his competition in 2018, going 4-0 (3) including a very nice win over Jose Luis Prieto. Mexican TV are behind him, he looks a very clean puncher, very sharp and defensively smart with some lovely body shots in his arsenal. At 28 he's going to be moved quickly this year and we'd suspect his US debut is just around the corner.
Mykquan Williams (13-0, 7)
American youngster Mykquan Williams has been a pro for close to 3 years, but is still only 20 years old. He's not had the spotlight shined on him in the way some American prospects have, but has impressed, especially in 2018 when he went 4-0 and hardly lost a round. He's a boxing baby but took his first professional title last year and will look to continue building momentum. He has a pretty aggressive style, a likable personality and a recognisable promoter in DiBella. He comes across as someone who has his head on his shoulders and a strong team guiding his career at this early stage. It could be a few years before we see what he's able to do, but we do like what we've seen of him.
Lei Wang (2-0, 1)
Whilst Batyr Akhmedov might be the 1st name we'd put on a prospect list at 140lbs China's Lei Wang isn't far behind. The former Chinese amateur star made his professional debut in September 2018, stopping Anthony Sabalde, and went on to beat Ricky Sismundo in December. Although he's only done 11 rounds as a professional Wang has shown a lot to be excited about. Although he was given a really tough time by Sismundo that shouldn't be a negative for Wang, who would have learned more in that bout than 10 at a lower level. There's a lot to like about Wang, but also a lot that he and his team need to work on now he's in the professional ranks.
Koki Inoue (12-0, 10)
The third member of the Kanagawa Inoue clan is Koki Inoue, the cousin of Naoya Inoue and Takuma Inoue. The Shingo Inoue trained southpaw boxer-puncher will be getting a Japanese title fight later this year and looks to add to his impressive start to professional boxing. There's a lot to like about Inoue, even if he isn't comparable to his cousins, and he's an aggressive, exciting, hard hitting fighter who is expected to move well beyond domestic level. He didn't look close to his best last time out, against Marcus Smith, though it was later revealed he was carrying several injuries into that bout. If he can defeat Valentine Hosokawa in their title showdown he will instantly be getting a lot more attention.
Masahiro Suzuki (1-0, 1)
Another fighter who made their debut in 2018 is Masahiro Suzuki, who debuted in November against the hard hitting Antonio Siesmundo. We were incredibly impressed by Suzuki who showed a real calmness in the face of a hard hitting pressure fighter, and we were instantly looking forward to what he's going to do in the future. He looked talented, sharp, intelligent, exciting and incredibly promising on debut, and was clearly looking to use his amateur background as a starting point for what he's doing in the professional scene. He's expected to be back in the ring in Spring and it's going to be a very exciting journey to follow him on.
The contenders at 140lbs are numerous, we know we're going to miss some off this list, and it's certainly not an exhaustive one, but it proves how deep the division is right now,and how brilliant the weight class is, even if it does lack, overall, in proven, world-class elite level talent.
If you missed our preview look at the division's champions that can be read here The state of the Division - Light Welterweight - The Champions
Josh Taylor (14-0, 12)
Arguably the best fighter in the division right now doesn't have a title, but could end up with one early in 2019. Josh Taylor is a former amateur standout from Scotland who made an impressive impression early in his career, on national TV in the UK, before massively improving his reputation in 2017 and 2018. In his short career he has already scored notable wins over Ohara Davies, Miguel Vazquez, Viktor Postol and Ryan Martin. More is expected to come when he faces Kiryl Relikh in a WBSS semi-final later this year.
Jorge Linares (45-4, 28)
Venezuelan veteran Jorge Linares, who has won world titles at Featherweight, Super Featherweight and Lightweight, is now competing at Light Welterweight, though has the option of moving backdown in the future. At the age of 33 Linares doesn't have forever to make an impression at 140lbs, but with his name, his reputation, his following and style we suspect there will be a big fight for him later in the year. He's in action on January 18th, against Pablo Cesar Cano, and a win there will almost certainly move him up the ladder towards a world title shot.
Mohamed Mimoune (21-2, 2)
Feather fisted Frenchman Mohamed Mimoune is one of the dark horses in the division, and has been unbeaten in over 5 years, suffering both of his losses back in 2013. During his current unbeaten run, of 10 fights, he has got his passport out and beaten Ceferino Rodriguez and Sam Eggingtton on the round, taken the unbeaten records of Ceferino Rodriguez, Emiliano Dominguez Rodriguez and Nabil Krissi, and, proven that even without power he's a nightmare to fight. A real dark horse on the fringes of world class.
Jack Caterall (23-0, 12)
The highly regarded Jack Caterall is one of the many British fighters looking to make a big statement in 2019. Sadly though it feels like he has been on the verge of making a statement for a few years now and hasn't ever felt like he's managed it. He scored a huge win over former amateur star Thomas Stalker in 2014, and hasn't really managed to make the strides since then. Good wins over Joe Hughes, Martin Gethin, Tyrone Nurse, Tyrone McKenne and Ohara Davies have followed in the years since, but it still feels like he's only operating on a domestic level. At 25 he's young enough to wait, but there is a real risk of him going stale.
Terry Flanagan (33-2, 13)
On the subject of going stale that certainly seems to be the downfall of Terry Flanagan. "Turbo" was once 33-0, the WBO Lightweight champion and a man going places,though has now suffered back to back losses and is only just making it on to this list. His biggest issue was that his record papered over the fact he had been a thoroughly disappointing Lightweight champion. He had won the title in sensational fashion in July 2015 but his challengers were, without trying to sound too harsh, poor and uninspiring. Those poor challengers likely contributed to Flanagan going off the boil and looking very poor in his last two bouts. He needs something to light the fire under his backside in 2019 or his career with crash and burn, but he does have the talent to right the ship. He needs desire to go with that talent if he's to get his career back in track.
Jose Zepeda (30-1-0-1, 25)
Interestingly one of the few notable fighters that Flanagan has beaten was heavy handed American southpaw Jose Zepeda, who unfortunately suffered a nasty injury in his bout with Flanagan. Since the loss to the Englishman we've seen Zepeda going 7-0-0-1 (5) with notable wins overAmeth Diaz, Carlos Diaz Ramirez and Abner Lopez. This wins, and Zepeda's connections, have secured Zepeda a world title shot against Jose Carlos Ramirez in February. That will be make or break for Zepeda, and should, in all honesty, be a gut check for Ramirez at the very least.
Rances Barthelemy (27-1-0-1, 14)
Cuban fighter Rances Barthelemy is a 32 year old former Super Featherweight and Lightweight champion, who has shown world class ability, but not the mentality to go with it. His resume is an impressive one littered with wins over good competition, like Hylon Williams Jr, Arash Usmanee, Argenis Mendez, Fernando David Saucedo, Antonio DeMarco, Denis Shafikov and Kiryl Relikh, but he's had a fair bit of good luck, and some thoroughly uninspired performances. A great talent, but a fighter who tends to underwhelm.
Yves Ulysse Jr (17-1, 9)
Sensational Canadian fighter Yves Ulysse Jr is a 30 year old who looks to be wanting to prove himself before getting a world title opportunity. In 2017 he began to make a charge through the rankings, dominating Zachary Ochoa and Ricky Sismundo, but suffered a real set back of a decision loss to Steve Claggett inn October 2017. Since then he has bounced back brilliantly with wins over Cletus Seldin, Ernesto Espana and Maximilliano Becerra. He may have a loss on his record but he also has a host of good wins and is quickly moving towards a world title fight.
Maxim Dadashev (12-0, 10)
Unbeaten Russian fighter Maxim Dadshev, aka "Mad Max", is a hard hitting 28 year old who is based in the US and is rising contender to get excited about. His first 4 or 5 bouts were nothing special but since then every fight has been a step forwards. In 2018 he scored notable wins over Abdiel Ramirez, Darleys Perez and Antonio DeMarco. He's not looked unbeatable, and was forced to dig deep against Perez and DeMarco, but after just 12 fights that's not really a surprise. In 2019 we expect his team to continue matching hard and prepare him for a world title shot in 2020. A flawed but exciting fringe contender.
Anthony Yigit (21-1-1, 7)
Swedish fighter Anthony Yigit is best known internationally for his gutsy loss to Ivan Baranchyk in October 2018, when his face was badly swollen and the referee stopped the fight. Prior to that loss he had been unbeaten and pretty impressive picking up the European title and scoring good wins over the likes of DeMarcus Corley, Lenny Daws,Sandor Martin and Joe Hughes. Despite the loss to Baranchyk the personable Yigit certainly deserves to remain in the title mix, and hopefully he does get another shot in the future.
Hiroki Okada (19-0, 13)
Japan's Hiroki Okada is another fringe contender, looking to come into his own in 2019. He's a former Japanese and WBO Asia Pacific champion, but really failed to deliver on his US debut, struggling past Cristian Rafael Coria. His next bout is set for February 10th against Raymundo Beltran, and that is going to be make or break for both men. Beltran is seen as being on the slide, but Okada is seen as untested. A loss to Beltran will likely send Okada back to Japan with his tail between his legs, whilst a loss for Beltran will end his career. Interestingly the Okada Vs Beltran bout is expected to decide a future WBC title challenger, for Jose Carlos Ramirez
Akihiro Kondo (31-7-1, 18)
Another Japanese fighter in and around the world rankings at 140lbs is 33 year old tough guy Akihiro Kondo, who will be fighting in an IBF eliminator in February against Downua Ruawaiking. The tough Kondo is best known for losing in an IBF title fight to Sergey Lipinets in 2017. Kondo is a technically solid but unspectacular fighter who is insanely tough, has a good engine and is very steady in the ring. Sadly though he is pretty 1-paced and even a win in his world title eliminator won't really prepare him for any of the champions.
Downua Ruawaiking (14-0, 11)
The man Kondo is fighting in his IBF title eliminator is unbeaten Thai youngster Downua Ruawaiking, aka Apinun Khongsong, who debuted at the age of 19 is now only 22. Despite his youth he has been on a tear on the regional scene and really impressed back in December he did a number on Sonny Katiandagho to record a 4th straight stoppage win, and didn't look like he had even got out of 1st gear. It's hard to really know how good Downua is, but we're expecting to find out when he faces Kondo, he could be the next hidden gem from Thailand, or a fighter who fails when he takes the next step up. A really interesting match up.
Shohjahon Ergashev (15-0, 14)
One of a number of Uzbek fighters rising through the ranks, at an alarming pace, is Shohjahon Ergashev. The hard hitting 27 year old southpaw announced himself on the international scene in 2018, with notable wins against Sonny Fredrickson and Zhimin Wang. Ergashev is incredibly exciting, hard hitting, dangerous and aggressive. His last couple of wins in 2018 took less than 90 seconds combined and he's coming into 2019 with a lot of momentum and a much higher profile. Whether he's the #1 Uzbek in the division is yet to be seen, but he's certainly in the conversation.
Shakhram Giyasov (6-0, 5)
The other Uzbek looking to prove he is the #1 is 2016 Olympic silver medal winner Shakhram Giyasov, who only turned in 2018, making his debut in March, but has quickly become one of the most exciting rising stars out there. Despite his short career he has looked sensational, heavy handed, exciting and like a sure fire world champion. Technically there are things for him to work on but his competition so far has been stellar, with a combined record of 139-35-2. We're expecting to see Giyasov take a huge step up this year, and he's expected to fight in the Uzbek national stadium in Tashkent in early 2019.
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.