The Light Middleweight division is one of the most interesting as none of the fighters in it can seem to separate themselves from the chasing pack of contenders. It seems that on an any given day one of the contenders could defeat a champion. What makes that even more incredible is the sheer depth of contenders in the division, with more contenders of note than pretty much any other division. These including former champions, solid established contenders, and rising hopefuls on their way to the top.
Brian Carlos Castano (16-0-1, 12)
Unbeaten Argentinian Brian Carlos Castano is a 30 year who won the WBA title in 2017, made 2 defenses before losing the belt, with reports stating that he was either stripped or vacated. Castano's reign ended when he refused to travel to France to face Michel Soro with out his purse being put in escrow and without having confirmation of drug testing in place. It's worth noting that Castano won the title by beating Soro, and then was forced to wait months for his purse. Essentially he lost the title on principle, and should be seen as the belt-less champion. Thankfully he's expected to get a shot at WBO champion Patrick Teixeira later this year.
Jarrett Hurd (24-1, 16)
Exciting American Jarrett Hurd is looking to prove he wasn't just a flash in the pan. The strong and powerful Hurt won the IBF title in 2017, stopping Tony Harrison, then beat Austin Trout before unifying the IBF and WBA titles with a win over Erislandy Lara. His reign was a disappointing one, defeating Jason Welborn before losing the belts to Julian Williams last year. On Hurt has fought once since losing the titles, taking a decision over the much smaller Francisco Santana last time out. Hurt, as his best, is an exciting inside fighter, but he's tried a few times to show a more traditional boxing style, something that works for him against a lower level opponent, but we suspect will not be the most effective for him when he returns to fighting top level fighters later in the year.
Julian Williams (27-2-1-1, 16)
American 29 year old Julian "J-Rock" Williams like so many others here has had a short reign and is looking to recapture a title. He got his first world title shot back in 2016 and was stopped by Jermall Charlo, he would then bounce back and defeat Jarrett Hurd for the IBF and WBA "super" titles in May 2019 before losing the belt in January to Jeison Rosario. A talented boxer puncher Williams is a man who's hard to really get a read one. Sady he's had issues with activity, with just 1 fight in 2019 and only 6 fights since the start of 2017. We suspect he'll be getting a rematch with Rosario later this year, and with the right game plan he could reclaim the titles, though will certainly not risk over looking the Dominican again if they do rematch.
Erickson Lubin (22-1, 16)
Once seen as the face of the division hard hitting American hopeful Erick Lubin saw his unbeaten record come to an end in October 2017 when he was stopped, inside a round, when he faced Jermell Charlo. Since then he has racked up 4 wins, including notable victories over Ishe Smith and Nathaniel Gallimore, to get himself back in the mix. Exciting, with a big punch Lubin is one to keep an eye on, and at just 24 years old there really is no need to rush him. Although talented and a very good contender, it does feel like Lubin needs another fight or two before he should be given a big shot.
Tony Harrison (28-3, 21)
Former WBC champion Tony Harrison shocked the division in late 20018, when he took a close decision win over Jermell Charlo, but lost a rematch a year later and failed to notch a single successful defense. The 29 year old is a very talented boxer-moved, and although he's got close to a 70% KO rate he's not much of an actual puncher with his last stoppage wins of note coming against Siarhei Rabchanka back in 2016. Harrison is someone who will remain a main player in the division, and will likely get another world title fight, but there are question marks about his durability and he has been stopped in all 3 of his defeats. A solid contender, but given the depth in the division he almost merges in the division's many other talented fighters.
Michel Soro (35-2-1, 24)
Talented French fighter Michel Soro is a fantastic contender level fighter with under rated skills and solid pop. He's the sort of fighter who deserves to be in the mix and has remained there due to decent wins over the likes of Glen Tapia, Emanuele Blandamura, Javier Francisco Maciel, Greg Vendetti and John Vera. He's lost in his two bouts at world level, losing a competitive decision to Zaurbek Baysangurov in 2012 and a close decision to Brian Carlos Castano in 2017, but has the wins to solidify his place as a contender. He's expected to get another world title fight in the near future, and at 32 years old that will likely be his last shot.
Israil Madrimov (4-0, 4)
Uzbek 24 year old Israil Madrimov is one of those rare, rare fighters who looked like he was ready for big things immediately after turning professional. On his debut he impressed, in dominated Vladimir Hernandez, showed an ability to switch hit, box, move, and punch. Since then he has gone on to stop Frank Rojas, Norberto Gonzalez and Alejandro Barerra in 3 very impressive performances. It's clear Madrimov is facing good competition, but needs excellent competition to get the best from him. Although he only has 4 fights as a professional he was a stellar amateur and it's clear that they could push him to a world title before the end of 2020. A rare, sensational athlete, with a strong boxing background and excellent ring IQ. The only problem for Madrimov is keeping him interested, and at times he's looked like he's been entertaining himself against his solid, but over-matched, opposition.
Takeshi Inoue (16-1-1, 10)
Once beaten Japanese fighter Takeshi Inoue is best known for his 2019 loss to Jaime Munguia in a WBO world title fight. Since then he has scored 3 stoppages, in a combined 5 rounds, to win and defend the WBO Asia Pacific title. Aged 30 the rugged, and physically strong Inoue is thought to be aiming to secure another world title fight this year, and we wouldn't be surprised to see him getting a shot given his fan friendly style, toughness and his performance against Munguia. He would be the under-dog against any of the champions but would certainly be a tough 12 round test, for any of the top fighters in the division.
Bakhram Murtazaliev (17-0, 13)
US based Russian contender Bakhram Murtazaliev has been quietly making a name for himself with a string of C tier wins over the likes of Norberto Gonzalez and Elvin Ayala. It would seem likely he'll make the move up to B level guys in 2020 and then begin heading towards a title fight before the year is over. Aged 27 time is there for him to develop and improve, but the feeling is that his team aren't willing to put up the money to get him the best competition and it could be another frustrating year for a man who needs better tests than he's getting. With Egis Klimas behind him there's always the potential for him to get a break sooner, rather than later, but it feels like his career has been a case of making steps the last couple of years, and rarely losing rounds in the process.
Serhii Bohachuk (17-0, 17)
An US based foreign born fighter is Ukrainian destroyed Serhii Bohachuk who has racked up 17 wins, all by stoppage, in just 50 professional rounds. He made his around 3 years ago and did so without much song and dance and has developed an impressive reputation as a destructive, heavy-handed, aggressive and exciting fighter. He's not the most technically sound of the Uzbek fighters out there but he's a very big, powerful fighter who applies pressure and beats people up. So far he's looked really exciting and promising, but his competition has been rather limited and we still have a lot of questions for Bohachuk to answer, regarding his chin and stamina. Certainly one to get excited about, and one we expect to see a lot of in 2020.
Whilst the Middleweight division doesn't appear to have much depth in terms of contenders it does have some really interesting fighters rising through the ranks right now, and they are a very varied bunch of fighters from all over the globe.
For those who missed our looks at the champions and contenders at Middleweight those were covered here:
The state of the Division - Middleweight - The Champions
The state of the Division - Middleweight - The Contenders
Christian Mbilli (13-0, 13)
One of the best prospects in world boxing, regardless of weight, is Cameroonian born French fighter Christina Mbilli, who is looking like one of the most outstanding Middleweight hopefuls out there. He was a stellar amateur, winning gold medals at the European Youth, European Union and European Olympic qualifiers, and competed on the WSB. Since turning professional less than 2 years ago he has ripped through his competition, stopping his 13 foes in just 38 rounds. His competition hasn't been the strongest, but he has taken the unbeaten record of Ramon Aguinaga and smashed through Mexican Luis Fernando Pina. At 23 years old he should be regarded as one of the hottest fighters in professional boxing and someone to seriously keep an eye on.
Serhii Bohachuk (12-0, 12)
We know how there's a Ukrainian take over of boxing with the likes of Vasyl Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk and Oleksandr Gvozdyk all holding world titles and all set out to prove they are. There is also a second wave of Ukrainians below those top tier fighters, and including in that is 23 year old Serhii Bohachuk. The youngster made his debut in early 2017 and has gradually stepped up his competition, whilst running through fighters. Dubbed "El Flaco" he is certainly explosive and appears to have no issues making Light Middleweight, at the moment, but clearly has the frame to fill into a very strong Middleweight. A long term prospect, but one well worthy of attention.
Kazuto Takesakao (10-0, 10)
Japanese Middleweight champion Kazuto Takesako isn't the next Ryota Murata, but the 27 year old is a legit prospect, and a really heavy handed, aggressive and exciting fighter, who usually comes forward, and always throws with bad intent. His KO win over Shoma Fukumoto was a big coming out win, and since the he has won the Japanese title and defended it once, with his next defense set for March. There are technical issues he needs to sort before progressing beyond regional level, but he has suggested that he wants to unify the Japanese title with the OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific titles, so it's clear that he's looking to make gradual steps upwards, towards a world title fight. One to watch, but not one who will be in the world mix in the next 12 months.
Meiirim Nursultanov (10-0, 8)
The 25 year old Meiirim Nursultanov is one of two notable Kazakh prospects at Middleweight, and is probably the better of the two, if we're being honest. The Oxnard based, Klimas managed fighter turned pro in late 2016 and has been moved gradually through the rankings, with his best wins coming in his last 2 bouts. In late 2018 he stopped Jamar Freeman and began his 2019 with a win over Ramon Aguinaga. He's young, very powerful, and has been sparring with top competition, helping develop his skills, though he is still some way from a big fight of his own.
Misael Rodriguez (8-0, 4)
Talented Mexican Misael Rodriguez won a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics and is tipped to turn that medal into professional titles under the guidance of Abner Mares and Richard Schaefer. The talented 24 year old debuted in 2017 and although easy so far he is a fantastic talent who is getting experience and being developed by a fantastic team. Although talented it's unclear how talented he is given the level he's been fighting at, but given his amateur credentials and the team involved with him it's hard to not be excited about him. Sadly he appears to be a long term project, and it could be 3 or 4 years before we see him in really meaningful fights, though he is scheduled to fight just hours after this article goes live.
Artem Chebotarev (6-0, 4)
At the age of 30 Russian fighter Artem Chebotarev will need to make a big step up this year, but he did show signs of doing that last year, so we will give him the benefit of the doubt. He was a stellar amateur, winning a gold at the European Championships in 2010 and a bronze at the 2013 World Amateur Championships. He won the APB title in 2016, and scored notable wins in both the APB and the Amateurs. Sadly those side ventures meant he didn't make his "proper" professional debut until January 2017. In his debut year he went 4-0 (3) and scored a notable win over Nuhu Lawal. He built on that start in 2018 and ended the year with a big win over Javier Francisco Maciel, though did lose 12 months out of the ring. If he can score 1 or 2 big wins this year he will certainly be in the title mix by the end of the year.
Ulugbek Khakberdiev (5-0, 3)
Unbeaten Uzbek hopeful Ulugbek Khakberdiev has had a frustrating career so far. He turned professional in 2017 and beat Karen Avetisyan, a very under-rated journeyman. He really came to our attention in September 2017, when he stopped Dmitry Sukhotsky, in what should have been a huge break out win, but he would then have a break from the ring losing momentum and not fight for over 7 months, before picking up a low key win in Uzbekistan. Sadly he's again been inactive, and hasn't fought since May 2018. Given how talented, promising, heavy handed he is there is so much to be excited about, and at 26 he does have time on his side, but needs to get active after essentially wasting the last year and a bit. He's too good to not fight, but it appears there is something keeping him inactive, and that is a huge shame during what should be the start of his prime years.
Janibek Alimkhanuly (4-0, 1)
Whilst top Uzbek amateur fighters have taken immediately to the pros, some of the top Kazakh amateurs have taken a few fights to adapt. It appears another Kazakh who hasn't quite settled to the professional style yet is the unbeaten Janibek Alimkhanuly, who looks to have the tools to go a long way, but just needs a little bit of time. As an amateur he won the World Amateur Championships, the Asian Championships, twice, and competed at the Olympics. As a professional his career has been stop start, but he's now based in the US with Top Rank and has fully committed to being a professional boxer. He's notched recent wins over tough competition, in the form of Carlos Galvan and Vaughn Alexander and we're expecting to see him really spread his wings in 2019, with some top performances as he continues to adapt to professional boxing.
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.