Whilst there is a clear mess at the top of the Lightweight division, with at least two fighters proclaiming to be champions the contenders also make up a messy bunch with former challengers, emerging hopefuls and those who made their name in lower weight classes. It's not a bad list of contenders, but it's a messy list, and that can actually be really interesting as the scene develops around them.
Luke Campbell (20-3, 16)
Englishman Luke Campbell is now 32 years old and has already come up short in world title bouts twice, however he is expected to get a third shot later this year, with the WBC ordering him to face Javier Fortuna for their title. Stood at 5'9" and fighting out of the southpaw stance Campbell is a nightmare to face, with fantastic technical skills, freakish size, solid power, impressive speed and a real gritty toughness. He's now in "now or never" territory and we suspect he'll know he cannot afford a loss to Fortuna when they finally clash.
Javier Fortuna (35-2-1-2, 26)
Explosive Dominican fighter Javier Fortuna will, as mentioned, face Luke Campbell for the vacant WBC title. He's only 30 but he's a bit of a young veteran and has been a professional for over a decade already. He was once seen as a sensational talent, but hasn't reached the heady heights many expected of him, with his biggest honours being the WBA "interim" Featherweight title. Despite that he does have a bit of time on his hands and proved their was still lie left in his career in recent bouts, including solid wins over Sharif Bogere and Jesus Marcelo Andres Cuellar. The big issue with Fortuna is that he can be unpredictable. On his best day he's a real nightmare, and the hope is that he can string together a couple of good performances to make his before it's too late.
Richard Commey (29-3, 26)
Big punching Richard Commey is a former IBF champion from Ghana who is looking to bounce back from a 2019 loss to Teofimo Lopez. Although not the most technically polished Commey is a big, rangy, strong, powerful an tough guy at the weight. Althouygh he was stopped by Lopez last time out there should be no question marks about his chin, the shot he got dropped with was an absolute bomb and he some how got back up and tried to fight on before being stopped. At 32, and turning 33 in March, he's perhaps got 1 more run to a title in him, though he has had a hard career and the loss to Lopez will leave will leave him with rebuilding to do.
Ryan Garcia (19-0, 16)
It turns out that pretty boy fighter Ryan Garcia is much more than a social media sensation. The 21 year old still has question marks over his head, but he genuinely impressed in 2018, as he blitzed both Jose Lopez and Romero Duno, and proved that he genuinely could punch and was quick against good fringe contenders. We would be surprised if Garcia got a world title fight in 2020, unless the title bodies decide to create even more paper belts, however he certainly has time on his side and will be in the mix for a long time. His success at Lightweight will only be limited how long he remains at the weigh and we wouldn't be that surprised to see him fighting at 140lbs sooner rather than later.
George Kambosos Jr (18-0, 10)
Unbeaten Australian contender George Kambosos Jr is one of the less well known contenders in the division, but one of those who has worked his way towards a world title fight over the last few years. The 26 year old scored his biggest win to date in December, when he beat Mickey Bey, and is now said to be heading to a world title eliminator later in 2020. Although he's unbeaten and has been stepping up his level of competition he is very much untested at world and his upcoming eliminator will be his first real test at the fringes of world class.
Denys Berinchyk (12-0, 7)
Exciting Ukrainian fighter Denys Berinchyk is pretty much the forgotten member of the 2012 Ukrainian Olympic team, despite winning a silver medal and beating both Anthony Yigit and Jeff Horn en route to that medal. Berinchyk is aggressive, very talented, powerful and can set a high pace, which he has proven he can keep up for 12 rounds. Sadly the Alexander Krassyuk promoted fighter has been unable to land the big fights that his career needs and has instead become better known for his unusual and innovative ring walks than his fights. At the age of 31 Berinchyk needs a big fight this year if he's to make an impact at the world level, following the likes of Vasyl Lomachenko and Oleksandr Usyk, and fingers crossed he does get the break out win his talent deserve.
Shuichiro Yoshino (11-0, 9)
Another of the lesser known contenders in the division is Japanese 28 year old Shuichiro Yoshino, the unified Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific champion. The talented Yoshino isn't well known in the West but has proven himself as the best in Asia and is likely to be looking for a big bout in 2020. He'll be kicking off the year on February 13th, when he faces Izuki Tomioka in a mandatory defense of the Japanese title, but after than his year is unclear. Whilst he's not a big name he's a fighter with a lot of talent, deep amateur experience and a brutal left hook, as Harmonito Dela Torre found out in October. Certainly one to keep an eye on for this year.
3 Fights we want:
Vasyl Lomachenko Vs Teofimo Lopez
Devin Haney Vs Luke Campbell
Gervonta Davis Vs Denys Berinchyk
The Lightweight division is one of the weird division's in the sport right now, thanks to some odd decisions, and political game playing, by the WBC and the WBA. On paper it should be a division with 2 champions set to unify their titles in Spring, but instead it has two legitimate champions, two pretenders to the throne and another pretender on the way.
WBO, WBC "Franchise" and WBA "Super" - Vasyl Lomachenko (14-1, 10)
In the good old days unification bouts were the ideal and the type of bouts that were supposed to clear up the mess made by having 4 world titles. Instead Vasyl Lomachenko has found out that unifying titles has created a mess with the WBA and WBC both inventing new titles just to collect additional fees whilst someone ties up the main belts. Lomachenko moved to the Lightweight division in 2018, seeking challenges after the pointless match up with Guillermo Rigondeaux in 2017. He won the WBA belt in his divisional debut, he unified that with the WBO title in his next fight, had a mandatory and then added the WBC to his collection. In the space of 15 months he had won 3 titles and was lining up a bout at the IBF belt, before the WBC decided to call him the "Franchise" champion, creating a new belt for Devin Haney, and the WBA created a regular title, now held by Gervonta Davis.
WBO - Teofimo Lopez (15-0, 12)
The only legitimate title that Lomachenko doesn't hold is the IBF belt held by explosive American puncher Teofimo Lopez, who claimed the belt in December when he stopped Richard Commey. The touted American is an exciting, heavy handed fighter, but did have some flaws exposed last year when he faced Masayoshi Nakatani and struggled with Nakatani's size, reach, jab and toughness. His win over Commey covered over the Nakatani fight and set him up for the divisional super fight with Lomachenko. He's the division's banger, with dynamite fists, but out of the ring issues, and a lack of experience, combined with over-confidence, could be a problem when he takes faces someone like Lomachenko. At the age of just 22 he's being groomed as a future superstar of American boxing, and win or lose to Lomachenko he has the time to rebuild and become a big player on the US scene.
WBC "In Recess" - Devin Haney (24-0, 15)
Another unbeaten American youngster is Devin Haney, who got a WBC title in weird fashion, when the WBC made Lomachenko the Franchise champion and upgraded Haney's interim title. After defending the belt against the unknown Alfredo Santiago he suffered an injury and the WBC then made him Champion in Recess, making the whole giving him a title, in the way they did, look even more of a joke. At 21 years old and with sensational natural ability, a good boxing mind and a confident, yet level headed, approach in the ring Haney has the hall marks of being something very special. Sadly the WBC have cheapened his first title reign and it feels very much like he's been given an "email world title". His time will come, and he will be a star, but his WBC reign, so far, feels like little more than a cash grab by the WBC.
WBA "Regular" - Gervonta Davis (23-0, 22)
Another unbeaten American making their mark in the division, now, is Gervonta Davis, who made the move up in weight in December. He claimed the "vacant" WBA "regular" title when he stopped Yuriorkis Gamboa last time out, but he really failed to shine against an injured Gamboa. The fact Gamboa lasted into the 12 round, whilst fighting much of the bout on 1 foot, is a worry for Davis, who had been blowing out most opponents early on. Although a very talented and explosive fighter we do wonder about Davis' commitment and professionalism, and he looked in poor condition last time out. He is, also, naturally very small at the weight and this could be a major issue when he begins to face natural Lightweights.
The Lightweight division is one with a strange between the top fighters and the top contenders. The champions really look several levels above their most dangerous contenders, in what is a pretty strange division. Despite being strange at the top it's really at prospect level, with a lot of hungry fighters looking to race through the ranks, a number of which are getting serious attention already.
If you've missed our previous looks into the Lightweight division they can be read here:
The state of the Division - Lightweight - The Champions
The state of the Division - Lightweight - The Contenders
Devin Haney (20-0, 13)
One of the biggest and most highly touted prospects in world boxing right now is 20 year old Devin Haney, who has been viewed as one of the can't miss prospects. Making his debut at the age of 17 Haney has developed a reputation as a skilled boxer-mover and has already been compared to the likes of Floyd Maywather Jr. He has shown touched of real class, beating veterans like Mason Menard and Juan Carlos Burgos in 2018, though there are question marks about his power and his killer instinct, but things that can be worked on over the coming years. Given his age he is likely to out grow the Lightweight limit sooner rather than later, but it's hard not to see him having success at Light Welterweight when that happens.
Teofimo Lopez (11-0, 9)
Regarded as being another of the future faces of American boxing Teofimo Lopez is a 21 year old boxer-puncher, with a lot of spite, and nasty intentions. He debuted in late 2016 and has raced away to 11-0 in just 34 rounds. In 2018 he scored 4 wins, including opening round KO's of Vitor Jones and Mason Menard. Lopez is still a boxing baby though looks like a total monster in the making, and could well be one of the next US superstars, if Top Rank guide him well and if he has the hunger for the sport. At the moment he's ticking every box a prospect can tick, and we dare say he's proven more in less time than the aforementioned Haney.
Joe Cordina (8-0, 6)
Welshman Joe Cordina was an accomplished amateur before turning professional in 2017, following a gold medal at the 2015 European Championships and an appearance at the 2016 Olympics. Aged 27 Cordina is a fully grown man, who will be looking to make a big impression in 2019, and has entered the year with both the WBA International and Commonwealth titles, as well as a notable win over fellow Brit Sean Dodd. There are a lot of questions for Cordina to answer, but with Matchroom Sports behind him along with his amateur pedigree it seems inevitable that he will go far, and will almost certainly end up fighting at world level, somewhere down the line.
Shuichiro Yoshino (9-0, 7)
Another 27 year old prospect with a strong amateur background is Japan's Shuichiro Yoshino, who took the Japanese title in his 6th fight and has already made 3 defenses of the belt. The talented Yoshino went 104-20 (55) in the unpaid ranks and was a multi-time high school champion before turning professional at the age of 24. With the established Misako gym behind him there's a good chance he will progress from Japanese level to regional level in 2019 before moving on to a potential world ranking in 2020. From there it's really a case of proving what he can do. Sadly his activity level hasn't been the best and he won't actually be back in the ring until mid-April, which won't help his rise, sadly.
Alfredo Santiago (11-0, 3)
Puerto Rico based Dominican 24 year old Alfredo Santiago is of the division's hidden gems. The tall fighter debuted in 2015 and hasn't had much publicity despite already having wins over Jayson Velez, Cristian Ruben Mino and Jonathan Victor Barros. Although showing a lot of promise questions will be asked of Santiago's power, having stopped just 1 of his last 8 bouts early, though few can doubt his skills and the experience he's getting, with 4 bouts going 10 rounds already. Also it's worth noting that Santiago is listed 5'11", which is tall for a Lightweight, but he looks even tall with genuinely freakish size and reach.
Ravshanbek Umurzakov (6-0, 5)
Uzbek puncher Ravshanbek Umurzakov made his debut at the end of 2017 and has impressed already in his short career, thanks in part to his brutal power. He impressed almost immediately, with opening round wins against Evgeny Smelov and Dohdan Zemlianya and continued to build on that through 2018. Sadly his biggest win to dat was a 58 second win against Eden Sonsona, with Sonsona really looking like he just didn't want to be in the ring and used any excuse to get away. Despite Sonsona's disappointing performance we shouldn't over-look Umurzakov, who looks like he will be fast tracked through 2019, and could end up in the world rankings by the end of the year.
William Zepeda (16-0, 14)
In 2018 we saw Jamie Munguia turn his long unbeaten record on the domestic Mexican scene into a world title, and it's fair to suggest that William Zepeda will be looking to follow suit somewhere down the site. The 22 year southpaw from México City turned professional at the age of 19 and has slowly built himself a pretty good looking record, without setting the world on fire. Despite not really getting too much attention he has started to take some minor steps up in class, with wins against Jesus Acosta and Ulises Perez. We expect him to toil away on the Mexican scene a little bit longer, but continue to move up in class, and in 2020 we would 't be surprised to see Zepeda make his US debut. There's plenty for him to develop, but he's young, powerful and gaining valuable experience at a young age.
Xiangxiang Sun (15-0, 10)
Chinese prospect Xiangxiang Sun, dubbed the "Pretty boy", has had a frustrating career. He debuted way back in December 2012 but failed to be active during those early years, fighting just once in each of 2013 and 2014. Thankfully the last couple of years we have seen him being active and scoring notable wins over Roy Mukhlis and Nelson Tinampay. On paper he is a step behind countryman Yongqiang Yang, however we've been more impressed by Sun than Yang, who had a bit of luck to over-come Takuya Watanabe. Between them however they do give China a good 2-pronged attack force at Lightweight, and hopefully one of them will manage to make a serious mark on the world stage.
Shawn Oda (10-0, 8)
Current Japanese Youth champion Shawn Oda is a really interesting prospect, who, at the age of 20, has so much potential. Oda is one of the few fighters who speaks fluent English, opening up the Western markets, and also has a more athletic style to his boxing than many Japanese fighters. He first came to our attention in 2016, the year he debuted, when he won the Japanese Rookie of the Year, at the age of 18. His 2017 was a bit of a write off but with 4 wins in 2018, including his Japanese title win against Seiryu Toshikawa, he has rebounded wonderfully. We suspect 2019 will be a year of development for the youngster, before he looks to progress onto a national title but he is certainly one to watch, and arguably the best hope Japanese has in the division longer term.
Go Hosaka (2-0, 1)
Japanese-Filipino Go Hosaka debuted in the summer of 2016 and has impressed, showing not only speed, power and skills but also excellent composure. He blew his debut opponent away before taking on Jason Tinampay in November. Hosaka began by trying to take Tinampay out but quickly realised the Filipino was luring him in to counter, and began to just control things behind his reach and use his range. Prior to turning professional he was an outstanding amateur and looks likely to be the Asian wild card in the division. At 22 he is slightly older than Oda, but has got the strong amateur pedigree that Oda lacks, which will make it fun to watch the two men as they develop from prospect status. It's worth noting that Filipino promotional powerhouse ALA are guiding Hosaka's career and they do have a decent track record of getting fighters towards world title fights. Sadly though they have often seen their fighters lack something at the very top level, and Hosaka will hopefully avoid being another nearly man of the ALA Gym.
The Lightweight division is one of the most peculiar at the moment, having a unified champion, a vacant title and a champion heading up to Welterweight. This is leaving the division a bit of a mess, but sadly it's a mess that doesn't have a great deal of focus. Thankfully it does have a good number of contenders coming through the ranks, and looking to fill the holes at the top.
If you missed out at the champions in the division that's available to read here- The state of the Division - Lightweight - The Champions
Richard Commey (27-2, 24)
Hard hitting Ghanian fighter Richard Commey has had a hard knock career, winning his first 24 bouts before losing a razor close decision to Robert Easter Jr, in an IBF title fight, then losing another close decision to Denis Shafikov. Since then he has bounced back and will be getting a second world title fight on February 2nd when he faces Isa Chaniev in Texas, for the IBF title. At the age of 31 Commey won't get many more chances and will know that he needs to beat Chaniev if he's going to get the big pay days his career deserves. He's heavy-handed, tough, has a great work rate and is a real nightmare to fight. A real physical force.
Isa Chaniev (13-1, 6)
Having mentioned Commey's February 2nd bout it makes sense to talk about his upcoming opponent, 26 year old Russian fighter Isa Chaniev. Chaniev's career, which began in 2015, saw him take 9 low key wins before stepping up and beating Rimar Metuda. That win was followed by a loss to Fedor Papazov in May 2017 and since then he has really come of age, with 3 impressive against Jean Pierrer Bauwens, Juan Martin Elorde and Ismael Barroso. He's earned a shot at the title, but will likely be the under-dog against the hard hitting Commey. He's a good fighter, who has been impressive recently, but maybe getting his shot just a touch too early.
Luke Campbell (19-2, 15)
Baby faced Englishman Luke Campbell is a 31 year old southpaw who looked shaky early in his career, following an excellent amateur career, but has developed into a fantastic boxer-puncher. As an amateur he won European and Olympic gold medals, and came runner up in the World Championships. As a professional he showed some problems adapting to the professional style losing in 2015 to Yvan Mendy and being dropped in 2016 by Argenis Mendez. Since then he has matured, adjusted his style, avenged the loss to Mendy and given Jorge Linares a really tough contest. He's expected to get a second title shot in 2019 and would likely be favoured against anyone in the division, other than Vasyl Lomachenko and Mikey Garcia.
Robert Easter Jr (21-1, 14)
Rangy American boxer Robert Easter Jr is a former IBF champion, having won the belt in 2016 when he narrowly beat Richard Commey. He held the title for close to 2 years before losing it in July 2018 to Mikey Garcia. His seems impressive on paper, with wins against Luis Cruz, Denis Shafikov and Javier Fortuna, but the reality is that he was very fortunate against Shafikov, a bout that had some of the worst scorecards in recent memory, and Fortuna, and his title win was also very questionable. Despite some fortunate results Easter is still a top contender, his resume is a strong one and given his dimensions he could be a nightmare for anyone. We just wonder whether he would be better off moving up in weight and letting his frame fill out a bit rather than drain his body so much to make a weight that doesn't seem to suit him particularly well.
Anthony Crolla (34-6-3, 13)
Well liked Englishman Anthony Crolla, dubbed "Million Dollar", is one of the sports good guys and at 32 years old he is on the verge of one more big fight. The former WBA Lightweight champion secured himself another shot at the WBA title when he beat Daud Yordan in November, and is now being lined up to fight Vasyl Lomachenko. Although not a huge puncher he hits hard enough to get respect from his opponents, has underrated technical ability, is tough and has a great work rate. Sadly a couple of losses to Jorge Linares showed he was a touch under the level of the divisional elite, but that doesn't change the fact that he is a top contender, and a live fighter against anyone but the very, very best.
Edis Tatli (31-2, 10)
Finland's 31 year old Edis Tatli is edging towards a world title fight. The European champion has got a strong following at home, where he has fought 32 of his 33 professional bouts, and he is very highly ranked by both the IBF and WBC, with an IBF world title eliminator in 2019 against Japan's Masayoshi Nakatani. Although not a big puncher Tatli is a hard worker in the ring, and has scored notable wins over the likes of Yvan Mendy, Francesco Patera, Mzonke Fana and Antonio De Vitis. A very talented and over-looked fighter, but one who has had a hard career with 232 rounds already under his belt, and a lot of gruelling 12 round contests.
Masayoshi Nakatani (18-0, 12)
Having mentioned Talti's potential next opponent could be Masayoshi Nakatani it makes sense to talk about the rangy Japanese boxer-puncher. The Osakan is almost 6' tall and has a 71" reach, giving him size advantages over almost anyone else in the division. He's only 29 but already has 11 OPBF title defences and has beaten a number of good fighters, such as Shuhei Tsuchiya, Yoshitaka Kato and Ricky sismundo. Despite those good wins there has been growing frustration over the way his career has gone and it really feels like he needs to have a big bout now, or risk going stale. He's a talented boxer-puncher and a fight with Tatli would tell us a lot about both men
Nihito Arakawa (31-6-2, 18)
At 37 years old Japanese tough guy Nihito Arakawa is in the final stages of his career, but is still highly ranked by the WBO thanks to holding the WBO Asia Pacific title, which could help him secure one last big bout. The Tokyo man, now fighting out of the Watanabe gym, is best known for his 2013 bout with Omar Figueroa, a bout he lost by a long way. Over the 2 years that followed that loss Arakawa went 1-3, but has now rebounded with a run of 6-0-1, claiming the Japanese and WBO Asia Pacific titles along the way. He's still tough, but his hard and long career is likely to show when he steps up again. Still given how he fights we'd love to see him get one final big bout in 2019, before hanging them up.
Mercito Gesta (32-2-2, 17)
Once highly touted Filipino fighter Mercito Gesta has come up short in a couple of world title bouts, losing to Miguel Vazquez and Jorge Linares, but bounced back from the loss to Linares with a win over Robert Manzanarez to remain in the mix. He would be an under-dog against the bigger names in the division but is a proven fighter, who has a wealth of experience, good skills and relatively large following, as well as name value in the US. Sadly Gesta was one of the many fighters who was dubbed the next Pacquiao, a tag that never seems to do a fighter any good, and his early promise has never been fulfilled, and likely never will be.
Roman Andreev (22-0, 16)
Russian fighter Roman Andreev is a limited but dangerous fighter who has beaten the likes of Rey Labao and Craig Evans. At 32 years old he's an old fighter, but will feel like he still has time on his side, having only had 91 professional rounds under his belt. He can be out boxed, as we saw when he faced Evans in February, but has good power, toughness and a will to win, and could well pick up a title in a division that looks set to be blown open. Sadly if he does win a belt it's hard to imagine him holding it long, and we suspect he would be little more than a transitional champion. At the time of writing he is ranked #1 by the WBO, but would really need Vasyl Lomachenko to vacate the title to have any chance of winning the belt.
The Lightweight division is currently one of the strangest and most top heavy divisions in the sport. It has two truly elite level fighters holding world titles, but one of those is heading all the way up to Welterweight, whilst the other has just recently unified titles. It's a division that had an obvious super fight, but a super fight that we won't be able to see any time soon, if ever.
Vasyl Lomachenko (12-1, 9) - WBA "super" & WBO (1 defense of WBA "super", 0 defenses of WBO)
Ukrainian sensation Vasyl Lomachenko is one of the sports very few unified world champions, having recently unified his WBA "super" title with the WBO title thanks to a decision win over Jose Pedraza. The former amateur sensation won the WBA title in May 2017, becoming a 3 weight world champion in just his 12th bout, and appears to have hit the point where his frame is about as maxed out for his style as it can. His rise through the sport has seen him score notable wins over the likes of Gary Russell Jr, Roman Martinez, Nicholas Walters, Guillermo Rigondeaux and Jorge Linares. In the space of just 13 fighter as a professional he has already booked himself a hall of fame place. He's one of the most highly skilled and educated fighters on the planet and even a supposedly bad night saw him take a wide decision win over Jose Pedraza. It should be noted that given his style his age and size may become a factor in the near future, and he does look less effective at 135lbs than he did at 130lbs.
Mikey Garcia (39-0, 30) - WBC (1 defense)
Unbeaten 31 year old American fighter Mikey Garcia is preparing to challenge himself against IBF Welterweight king Errol Spence Jr in March, potentially vacating this title as a result. He was last seen in the ring unifying the WBC and IBF titles, with a clear win over Robert Easter Jr and has amassed himself a very impressive record whilst winning world titles from Featherweight up to Light Welterweight. During his 39 fight career he has beaten the likes of Jonathan Victor Barros, Orlando Salido, Juan Manuel Lopez, Roman Martinez, Dejan Zlaticanin, Adrien Broner, Sergey Lipinets and the aforementioned Easter. He's been a fighter who has grown into the Lightweight division, but may well find himself unable to come back down in weight after his next bout. Garcia is a solid punching, technically strong fighter with an excellent jab and dynamite right hand, but we really do question the thought process behind moving up to Welterweight to take on Spence at this moment in time.
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.