Whilst the Cruiserweight division was once the domain for European fighters we have began to see the division open up. It's given a nice look to the division in some ways, but it does feel a bit like the division is lacking some real stars, despite a second series of the WBSS, which comes to an end in March. Having recently looked at the champions, lets now take a look at some of the contenders in what is a very, very disjointed division.
Mairis Briedis (26-1, 19)
Regarded by many as the best in the division the 35 year old Mairis Briedis is Latvian boxing's one big star. The awkward, ugly, tough, talented, and frustrating fighter gave Oleksandr Usyk his toughest bout to date, and holds wins over the likes of Manuel Charr, Marco Huck, Mike Perez and Krzysztof Glowacki. Sadly for all his talent Briedis seems just as happy to spoil, wrestle and frustrate his way to victory. On March 21st he will take on Yuniel Dorticos in the WBSS final, and a loss there could be the end of Briedis, who few will be rushing to face afterwards.
Ryad Merhy (29-1, 24)
Ryad Merhy is a 27 year old Belgian who brings excitement to the ring when he steps between the ropes. A the moment Merhy is the WBA "interim" champion and has rebuild well since a 2018 loss to Arsen Goulamirian, in what was a great fight. At the moment he's riding a 5 fight winning run over some decent competition, but in reality we would like to see him getting another major bout sooner rather than later. The WBA "interim" title he holds is rather worthless, given the way WBA love handing out belts, but Merhy is a damn good fighter and a very fun one to watch.
Thabiso Mchunu (22-5, 13)
South African southpaw Thabiuso Mchunu has a record that would maybe suggest he's not a top contender, but in reality he's one of the best in the division, and deserves a big fight this year after essentially sending Debis Lebedev into retirement last year. Since his first loss, back in September 2011, he has only been beaten by genuinely world class fighters in the form of Ilunga Makabu, Oleksandr Usyk, Constantin Bejenaru and Thomas Oosthuizen. It's worth adding that the Oosthuizen bout was controversial enough to have a rematch that Mchunu dominated. Talented, slippery, skilled, calm in the ring, but sadly inconsistent at times. On his day a nightmare for anyone with his excellent skill-set.
Lawrence Okolie (14-0, 11)
Englishman Lawrence Okolie is a talented fight, yet probably the most frustrating man in the sport to watch. Blessed with a freakish frame Okolie should be a brilliant outside fighter, keeping things long and dominating behind his straight shots. Instead he's one of, if not the, ugliest fighter to watch, and does a fantastic boxing impression of a hug addicted octopus. He's had so many bouts that could be described as "unwatchable" that he's going to be a hard sell for fans. Although we typically want to see the best fighting the best, we would genuinely hate for a bout between Okolie and Briedis, and it would almost certainly go down as one of the worst bouts of the year, if it happens.
Krzysztof Glowacki (31-2, 19)
Polish hard man Krzysztof Glowacki is in a weird position right now. He's owed a shot with the WBO, and will likely fight for their vacant next, but really should only have 1 loss on his record after horrific officiating saw him being knocked out after a showcase of fouls from Mairis Briedis last June. It's hard to know what the 33 year old has left in the tank, given he has had more than his share of wars, and has taken a lot of punishment during his career, but at his best he is a fantastic contender, and could well reclaim a title down the line. It will be really interesting to see what the Briedis bout took from him, both mentally and physically.
Kevin Lerena (25-1, 12)
One of the fresher faces of the division is South African "KO Kid" Kevin Lerena. The 27 year old southpaw has been a pro since 2011 and has reeled off 14 straight wins since a loss in 2014 to Johnny Muller. Whilst he's not made too much noise in the grand scheme of things he has been racking up a solid record with wins against the likes of Mikki Nielsen, Youri Kayembre Kalenga, Dmytro Kucher, Roman Golovashchenko and Firat Arslan. A big fight cannot be far away for the the in form Lerena.
Aleksei Egorov (10-0, 7)
For years Russia have been pumping out some amazing Cruiserweights, though at the moment it does feel like they are a dying breed. The best of the Russian right now looks to be heavy handed, but technically quite limited, Aleksei Egorov. Whilst he's strong and likely to be a force on the world stage we don't see him as the obvious successor for the likes of Denis Lebedev and Grigory Drozd. A solid professional, but someone who just appears to be lacking that something special. It is however early days for the 28 year old, and there's a chance he will have more in his locker than we've seen so far.
Michal Cieslak (19-1, 13)
Another tough Pole competing at Cruiserweight is Michal Cieslak, who suffered his first loss recently to Ilunga Makabu in Kinshasa. That bout was a set back, as any loss is, but the who situation around the contest was shady and won't have helped Cieslak preparing to face someone as good as Makabu. Prior to his loss he had strung together good wins over the likes of Jarno Rosberg, Francisco Palacios, Youri Kayembre Kalenga and Olanrewaju Durodola. Despite the loss he's certainly in the mix still and we wouldn't be surprised to see him getting a second world title fight later this year.
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.