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.
The Middleweight division, along with the Heavyweight, Light Heavyweight and Welterweight divisions, has typically been one of the key divisions in deciding the state of the sport. Right now however, it does feel rather lacking in terms of depth, despite having some of the sports biggest names. It's a division that is incredibly top heavy and very much lacking in depth. What also doesn't help is that between the champions there has been a lack of established reigns and defenses, making the division have big names but lack a long reigning center figure
Saul Alvarez (51-1-2, 35)- WBC, WBA Super (0 defenses)
Saul "Canelo" Alvarez is arguably the biggest name in boxing right, and commands an insane amount of attention, huge purses and mass fanfare when he gets in the ring. Whether you like him or not, and whether you feel he has had some favours from judges or not, it's undeniable that when Canelo fights the boxing world pays attention. His win over Gennady Golovkin last year, in what was a very controversial result, saw Alvarez claim the WBA "Super" and WBC titles, with the intention now being to unify them on May 4th against IBF champion Daniel Jacobs. Something that is worth noting about Canelo is that he is still looking to rebuild his reputation following a drug test failure in 2018, and it seems like he will look to make a point of proving he is a clean fighter at every opportunity.
Daniel Jacobs (35-2, 29) - IBF (0 defenses)
Canelo won his title in September and the following month Daniel Jacobs won the IBF title, taking the vacant title with a win over Sergiy Derevyanchenko. The IBF title had been stripped from Gennady Golovkin, prior to his rematch with Alvarez, opening up the opportunity for Jacobs to win the belt. The 31 year old, soon to be 32 year old, Jacobs is an exciting and flawed boxer-puncher. He's quick, explosive and a smart fighter than many give him credit for. He also has a heart warming backstory of surviving cancer to become a world champion. Sadly for Jacobs he has shown some fragility, having been stopped by Dmitry Pirog and been put down by Golovkin and Sergio Mora, but he seems to have shown the brains to counter-act his questionable chin. His bout with Canelo should be very interesting, and is one of the first true super fights of 2019.
Demetrius Andrade (27-0, 17) - WBO (1 defense)
Unbeaten American Demetrius Andrade is a talented yet incredibly frustrating fighter who seems to have been around for years, and actually debuted back in 2008. Despite his long unbeaten career he has failed to set the world on fire, or even really make the most of any opportunity he's had. He won the WBO title in October, when he defeated Walter Kautondokwa for the title which had been left behind by Billy Joe Saunders following a drugs test. Whilst Kautondokwa was an awkward fighter Andrade seemed to show no killer instinct. He made his first defense of the title this past Friday, and scored a bizarre stoppage over Artur Akavov, in what seemed to be an awful decision by Arthur Mercante. Andrade is a huge, awkward, fast, explosive southpaw, but lacks that something that could make a star. His reign is shrouded in controversy, due to the way Saunder's reign ended, and his performances have regularly failed to show just how good he is. If he can put everything together he could be a star, but it seems like he will never really show what he's capable of.
Rob Brant (24-1, 16) WBA "Regular" (0 defenses)
Once beaten American Rob Brant shocked the boxing world last year, when he upset Ryota Murata to claim the WB "regular" title. The 28 year old was another champion crowned in what was a division changing October, and he'll be making his first defense in February, when he takes on the unbeaten Khasan Baysangurov. From his 25 fights Brant is known for 2. One is the shock win over Murata in which he set an insane pace and out boxed the Japanese Olympic champion with ease. The other is his loss to Juergen Braehmer, which saw Brant looking rather clueless against the German veteran. He has clearly learned from that loss to the German and given his performance against Murata it's clear he is a very talented fighter, with under-rated power, and a great engine.
Jermall Charlo (28-0, 21) WBC interim (1 defense)
Jermall Charlo, the unbeaten twin of Jermell Charlo, won the WBC "interim" title last April when he stopped Hugeo Centono Jr in 2 rounds. Prior to winning the Interim title Charlo had a short reign at 154lbs, where he had held the IBF title and made 3 defenses. Charlo is a talented boxer-puncher, with very respectable power, but is technically not as good as he seems to think he is, as we saw recently when he was fortunate to over-come Matt Korobov. The win over Korobov looked comfortable on paper, against an old and inactive Russian challenger, and looked clear on the judges scorecards but the reality is that Charlo wasn't the clear winner in the eyes of the fans, and it seemed like he was really tested by the first skilled Middleweight he'd faced. Charlo will call for the big fights, but the reality is that he's not in the same league as the top 2 men in the division.
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.