The Featherweight division has gone through a lot of changes recently and we wouldn't be surprised to see it shine as a division in 2020 with a lot of very interesting match ups already being spoken about for the year ahead, one of which is just a few short weeks away.
IBF - Josh Warrington (30-0, 7)
One of two champions in the division known more for their volume punching than their power is Englishman Josh Warrington. The IBF champion claimed the belt in May 2018, when he dethroned Lee Selby, and has made 3 defenses, including wins over Carl Frampton and Kid Galahad. Warrington is a massive star in Leeds, and can fill out the local football stadium and at 29 is coming into his physical peak. Talk of unification bouts, with either WBO Shakur Stevenson or WBA Can Xu, have done their rounds and both of those would be very interesting bouts for Warrington, if the Englishman wants to prove he's the best in the division.
WBA - Can Xu (18-2, 3)
Chinese fighter Can Xu really burst on to the global scene last year when he took the WBA title with a win over Jesus M Rojas. Since then he has gone from strength to strength, defending his title against Shun Kubo and Manny Robles III. Like Josh Warrington it's fair to say that Xu is more known for his volume, and according to Compubox threw over 1,500 in his last bout, than his power. Despite that Xu does seem to hit harder than his record suggests and he has enough on his shots to get the respect of his opponents, even if he can't stop them. After his second defense he did call out Josh Warrington, and that would be an insane bout to watch, though we would be surprised to see that fight being made next. As the face of Chinese boxing Xu has the potential to bring huge attention to the sport, and could be a very significant figure going forward.
WBO - Shakur Stevenson (13-0, 7)
Fast rising American star Shakur Stevenson turned professional on the crest of momentum following a very impressive run at the 2016 Olympics. The expectation was that he would be an immediate star. It did however take a little while for Stevenson to settle into the pro ranks and really find his feet. In his last few fights however the Top Rank Promoted youngster has looked fantastic blowing out Viorel Simion, stopping Jessie Cris Rosales and dominating Christopher Rosales and Joet Gonzalez. It's still early days for the 22 year old, who only won the WBO title in October, but the future looks very, very bright for Stevenson. Rumour was that he would be facing Warrington next time out, but it now seems that his first defense will be against 33 year old Colombian Miguel Marriaga, who has quietly rebuilt since a 2017 loss to Vasyl Lomachenko.
WBC - Gary Russell Jr (30-1, 18)
It's hard to think of a man with the talent of Gary Russell Jr who has squandered their prime in a similar fashion. Russell had the ability to take the Featherweight division by the scruff of the neck and make it his. He could have been the face of American boxing and a massive star with his lighting quick speed and under-rated power. Instead his WBC title reign, which began in March 2015, has seen him defending the title just 4 times so far. That's once a year! It's unclear whether Russell doesn't like fighting, or just can't be bothered but his horrific level of activity has sat the WBC title on a shelf and really damaged both the title and his reputation. He is expected to make his annual appearance for 2020 in February, when he defends the WBC title against Tugstsogt Nyambayar. At the age of 31, and with his 32nd birthday coming in June, Gary Russell Jr really has wasted his career. A massive shame.
Over the last few days we've covered the champions and contenders in the Super Featherweight division. Whilst there is plenty to be excited about in those 2 groups of fighters there is also a lot of frustration with them. The champions have been inactive and had politics play a major part in their titles and the challengers are, on the most part, under-whelming.
For those who want to know about the divisions champions we have covered those here - The state of the Division - Super Featherweight - The Champions and the contenders have been covered here The state of the Division - Super Featherweight - The Contenders
Thankfully, the prospects in the division are actually exciting, busy, active, charismatic and a great mix of fighters from across the globe.
Eduardo Hernandez (27-0, 24)
At the age of just 21 Eduardo "Nino Artillero" Hernandez has already had 27 fights. He turned professional at the age of just 16 and like many Mexican's he has developed his experience by being active at a young age. In 2018 he fought 3 times, stopping Drian Francisco, Marlyn Cabrera and Luis Diaz Pastrana in a combined 5 rounds, to extend his current KO streak to 21 straight stoppages. Whilst his competition is still only at fringe level he may well be the next fighter to follow Jamie Munguia and Emanuel Navarrete by jumping from notable Mexican prospect to world champion. He's aggressive, hard hitting, young, exciting and has all the hall marks of being a big hit when he leaves Mexico, which could well be in early 2019.
Ryan Garcia (17-0, 14)
Arguably the most marketable prospect in the division is American 20 year old Ryan Garcia, dubbed "King Ry" and "The Flash". He's already gotten huge media attention, a massive amount of followers on social media, and is being given opportunities to shine by promoter Goldn Boy. He's got the "pretty boy" looks which has helped interest female fans but has shown he can really fight, as shown in a recent win over Braulio Rodriguez. At times he has been a little bit lucky, but he recently changed his trainer and it now appears he's taking things more seriously than he was. With his personality, million dollar smile, good looks he has the potential to be a cross over star, like promoter Oscar De La Hoya, but will need to deliver in the ring to have that platform. His promoters are smart and know that they can't rush Garcia, but they also know they have a very marketable young man on their hands and need to protect him whilst he develops his skills and physical strength.
Abraham Nova (14-0, 10)
Aged 24 Abraham Nova, aka "El Super" is a Puerto Rican born American who is already filling his passport with various stamps. During his 14 fight career, that began in 2016, he has fought in the US, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Uruguay and Belgium, in fact 4 of his last 7 fights have been in Belgium. Although yet to really step up in class he has won the NABA USA Super Featherweight title, gone 10 rounds, and had been an accomplished amateur. He's probably best known for fighting on a PBC show early in his career, being trading knockdowns with Wilfredo Garriga, but since then has developed significantly and shouldn't be written off due to that performance.
Shakur Stevenson (9-0, 5)
American fighter Shakur Stevenson is one of the mostly regarded prospects in the division, if not in boxing. The 21 year old shined as a teenager at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, taking a silver medal, and has shown real promise as a professional, despite some problems when he first turned professional. He struggled to show real power in his first few bouts, but a sensational stoppage of Romanian veteran Viorel Simion in October showed that he can punch and is developing his man strength, as he matures from a boy to a man. With Top Rank behind him, an abundance of confidence, a fantastic and appealing look and a feel good story Stevenson looks like one of the biggest potential stars in American boxing, and he may well be fighting for a world title sooner rather than later. Potentially the best prospect in the division.
Akzhol Sulaimanbek Uulu (13-0, 6)
One of the few gems in the RCC stable is Russian based Kyrgyzstan fighter Akzhol Sulaimanbek Uulu, who had a solid 2018 with wins over the likes of Leonardo Padilla and Jon Jon Estrada. He's 28, so will need to make a move in 2019, but has been impressive without being spectacular and looks like he's learning with every fight. He has an exciting style, and a pretty unique look, but has been dropped a few times and does appear to be a bit on the reckless side. Uulu is unlikely to reach the very top, but his journey to an eventual world title fight will be exciting and well worth watching.
Michael Dutchover (12-0, 9)
"West Texas Warrior" Miichael Dutchover is a 21 year old American fighter who has been a professional for a little over 2 years and took some notable steps up in class during a busy 2018, which saw him fight 5 times. His biggest tests to date have seen him going the distance, but there is certainly power there, with multiple knockdowns in many of his wins. He's promoted by the excellent people at Thompson Boxing Promotions, who have helped guide Daniel Roman to a world title, and appears to be building a following in California. Even at the age of 21 there's a lot to like about Dutchover and with such a good team behind him we don't see any reason for him not to be moving towards contendership by the end of 2019. If he keeps his head on his shoulders then there is real promise for this young man.
Michel Rivera (14-0, 9)
Dominican 20 year old Michel Rivera began his career in early 2016 and has fought entirely on the domestic scene, where he has beaten the likes of Marco Acevedo, Manuel Botis and Yankiel Leon. His next bout is however set to take place in Uruguay as he looks to expand his name and his profile. Footage of him shows a pretty nice looking fighter, who's relaxed, composed and judges distance well. There are question marks, as there is always, about how he'll fight when he travels but from what we've seen we're really excited about his potential, his style and his flair. Like many Dominican fighters it does look like he wants to have fun in the ring as well as win and that is something we'd like to see a touch more of from fighters.
Robson Conceicao (10-0, 5)
At 30 years old Brazilian hopeful Robson Conceicao is on the old side for a prospect, but is a fighter who we suspect will be raced from "prospect" to "contender" in 2019, perhaps even ending the year in a world title fight. The unbeaten fighter from Salvador made his name in the amateurs, winning gold in the 2016 Rio Olympics after failing to shine in the 2008 and 2012 games. He turned professional after winning Olympic gold and has fought 10 pro bouts since November 2016. Fighting under the Top Rank banner Conceicao will be moved on to bigger and better fights and is scheduled to fight later this month. An old prospect, but someone worthy of some attention.
Sam Bowen (14-0, 10)
Englishman Sam Bowen is the current British and WBO Inter-Continental champion at 130 and he already has notable wins over Lorenzo Parra, Maxi Hughes and Horacio Alfredo Cabral. He's supposed to be back in the ring on February 23rd against the under-rated Ronnie Clark, in what should be a great test for the 24 year old "Bullet". He's tall and powerful at the weight but still needs to work on a few technical aspects, though has a lot of potential and has shown a great ability to fight on the inside with great body shots. He's certainly one to keep an on.
Shu Utsuki (3-0, 2)
Japan's Shu Utsuki was a former amateur standout who has been who debuted in March 2018 and notched 3 wins during the year, with the latest coming as the headline bout of a notable Japan Vs China card. He's proven to be highly skilled, very composed and has solid power. At the moment it's probably too soon to get too excited about him, but he's promoted by the Watanabe gym who fast tracked their former Super Featherweight star Takashi Uchiyama and look to have current hopeful Hironori Mishiro on a fast track as well. With that in mind we suspect Utsuki will be in notable bouts by the end of 2019.
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.