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 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.