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 contenders at 140lbs are numerous, we know we're going to miss some off this list, and it's certainly not an exhaustive one, but it proves how deep the division is right now,and how brilliant the weight class is, even if it does lack, overall, in proven, world-class elite level talent.
If you missed our preview look at the division's champions that can be read here The state of the Division - Light Welterweight - The Champions
Josh Taylor (14-0, 12)
Arguably the best fighter in the division right now doesn't have a title, but could end up with one early in 2019. Josh Taylor is a former amateur standout from Scotland who made an impressive impression early in his career, on national TV in the UK, before massively improving his reputation in 2017 and 2018. In his short career he has already scored notable wins over Ohara Davies, Miguel Vazquez, Viktor Postol and Ryan Martin. More is expected to come when he faces Kiryl Relikh in a WBSS semi-final later this year.
Jorge Linares (45-4, 28)
Venezuelan veteran Jorge Linares, who has won world titles at Featherweight, Super Featherweight and Lightweight, is now competing at Light Welterweight, though has the option of moving backdown in the future. At the age of 33 Linares doesn't have forever to make an impression at 140lbs, but with his name, his reputation, his following and style we suspect there will be a big fight for him later in the year. He's in action on January 18th, against Pablo Cesar Cano, and a win there will almost certainly move him up the ladder towards a world title shot.
Mohamed Mimoune (21-2, 2)
Feather fisted Frenchman Mohamed Mimoune is one of the dark horses in the division, and has been unbeaten in over 5 years, suffering both of his losses back in 2013. During his current unbeaten run, of 10 fights, he has got his passport out and beaten Ceferino Rodriguez and Sam Eggingtton on the round, taken the unbeaten records of Ceferino Rodriguez, Emiliano Dominguez Rodriguez and Nabil Krissi, and, proven that even without power he's a nightmare to fight. A real dark horse on the fringes of world class.
Jack Caterall (23-0, 12)
The highly regarded Jack Caterall is one of the many British fighters looking to make a big statement in 2019. Sadly though it feels like he has been on the verge of making a statement for a few years now and hasn't ever felt like he's managed it. He scored a huge win over former amateur star Thomas Stalker in 2014, and hasn't really managed to make the strides since then. Good wins over Joe Hughes, Martin Gethin, Tyrone Nurse, Tyrone McKenne and Ohara Davies have followed in the years since, but it still feels like he's only operating on a domestic level. At 25 he's young enough to wait, but there is a real risk of him going stale.
Terry Flanagan (33-2, 13)
On the subject of going stale that certainly seems to be the downfall of Terry Flanagan. "Turbo" was once 33-0, the WBO Lightweight champion and a man going places,though has now suffered back to back losses and is only just making it on to this list. His biggest issue was that his record papered over the fact he had been a thoroughly disappointing Lightweight champion. He had won the title in sensational fashion in July 2015 but his challengers were, without trying to sound too harsh, poor and uninspiring. Those poor challengers likely contributed to Flanagan going off the boil and looking very poor in his last two bouts. He needs something to light the fire under his backside in 2019 or his career with crash and burn, but he does have the talent to right the ship. He needs desire to go with that talent if he's to get his career back in track.
Jose Zepeda (30-1-0-1, 25)
Interestingly one of the few notable fighters that Flanagan has beaten was heavy handed American southpaw Jose Zepeda, who unfortunately suffered a nasty injury in his bout with Flanagan. Since the loss to the Englishman we've seen Zepeda going 7-0-0-1 (5) with notable wins overAmeth Diaz, Carlos Diaz Ramirez and Abner Lopez. This wins, and Zepeda's connections, have secured Zepeda a world title shot against Jose Carlos Ramirez in February. That will be make or break for Zepeda, and should, in all honesty, be a gut check for Ramirez at the very least.
Rances Barthelemy (27-1-0-1, 14)
Cuban fighter Rances Barthelemy is a 32 year old former Super Featherweight and Lightweight champion, who has shown world class ability, but not the mentality to go with it. His resume is an impressive one littered with wins over good competition, like Hylon Williams Jr, Arash Usmanee, Argenis Mendez, Fernando David Saucedo, Antonio DeMarco, Denis Shafikov and Kiryl Relikh, but he's had a fair bit of good luck, and some thoroughly uninspired performances. A great talent, but a fighter who tends to underwhelm.
Yves Ulysse Jr (17-1, 9)
Sensational Canadian fighter Yves Ulysse Jr is a 30 year old who looks to be wanting to prove himself before getting a world title opportunity. In 2017 he began to make a charge through the rankings, dominating Zachary Ochoa and Ricky Sismundo, but suffered a real set back of a decision loss to Steve Claggett inn October 2017. Since then he has bounced back brilliantly with wins over Cletus Seldin, Ernesto Espana and Maximilliano Becerra. He may have a loss on his record but he also has a host of good wins and is quickly moving towards a world title fight.
Maxim Dadashev (12-0, 10)
Unbeaten Russian fighter Maxim Dadshev, aka "Mad Max", is a hard hitting 28 year old who is based in the US and is rising contender to get excited about. His first 4 or 5 bouts were nothing special but since then every fight has been a step forwards. In 2018 he scored notable wins over Abdiel Ramirez, Darleys Perez and Antonio DeMarco. He's not looked unbeatable, and was forced to dig deep against Perez and DeMarco, but after just 12 fights that's not really a surprise. In 2019 we expect his team to continue matching hard and prepare him for a world title shot in 2020. A flawed but exciting fringe contender.
Anthony Yigit (21-1-1, 7)
Swedish fighter Anthony Yigit is best known internationally for his gutsy loss to Ivan Baranchyk in October 2018, when his face was badly swollen and the referee stopped the fight. Prior to that loss he had been unbeaten and pretty impressive picking up the European title and scoring good wins over the likes of DeMarcus Corley, Lenny Daws,Sandor Martin and Joe Hughes. Despite the loss to Baranchyk the personable Yigit certainly deserves to remain in the title mix, and hopefully he does get another shot in the future.
Hiroki Okada (19-0, 13)
Japan's Hiroki Okada is another fringe contender, looking to come into his own in 2019. He's a former Japanese and WBO Asia Pacific champion, but really failed to deliver on his US debut, struggling past Cristian Rafael Coria. His next bout is set for February 10th against Raymundo Beltran, and that is going to be make or break for both men. Beltran is seen as being on the slide, but Okada is seen as untested. A loss to Beltran will likely send Okada back to Japan with his tail between his legs, whilst a loss for Beltran will end his career. Interestingly the Okada Vs Beltran bout is expected to decide a future WBC title challenger, for Jose Carlos Ramirez
Akihiro Kondo (31-7-1, 18)
Another Japanese fighter in and around the world rankings at 140lbs is 33 year old tough guy Akihiro Kondo, who will be fighting in an IBF eliminator in February against Downua Ruawaiking. The tough Kondo is best known for losing in an IBF title fight to Sergey Lipinets in 2017. Kondo is a technically solid but unspectacular fighter who is insanely tough, has a good engine and is very steady in the ring. Sadly though he is pretty 1-paced and even a win in his world title eliminator won't really prepare him for any of the champions.
Downua Ruawaiking (14-0, 11)
The man Kondo is fighting in his IBF title eliminator is unbeaten Thai youngster Downua Ruawaiking, aka Apinun Khongsong, who debuted at the age of 19 is now only 22. Despite his youth he has been on a tear on the regional scene and really impressed back in December he did a number on Sonny Katiandagho to record a 4th straight stoppage win, and didn't look like he had even got out of 1st gear. It's hard to really know how good Downua is, but we're expecting to find out when he faces Kondo, he could be the next hidden gem from Thailand, or a fighter who fails when he takes the next step up. A really interesting match up.
Shohjahon Ergashev (15-0, 14)
One of a number of Uzbek fighters rising through the ranks, at an alarming pace, is Shohjahon Ergashev. The hard hitting 27 year old southpaw announced himself on the international scene in 2018, with notable wins against Sonny Fredrickson and Zhimin Wang. Ergashev is incredibly exciting, hard hitting, dangerous and aggressive. His last couple of wins in 2018 took less than 90 seconds combined and he's coming into 2019 with a lot of momentum and a much higher profile. Whether he's the #1 Uzbek in the division is yet to be seen, but he's certainly in the conversation.
Shakhram Giyasov (6-0, 5)
The other Uzbek looking to prove he is the #1 is 2016 Olympic silver medal winner Shakhram Giyasov, who only turned in 2018, making his debut in March, but has quickly become one of the most exciting rising stars out there. Despite his short career he has looked sensational, heavy handed, exciting and like a sure fire world champion. Technically there are things for him to work on but his competition so far has been stellar, with a combined record of 139-35-2. We're expecting to see Giyasov take a huge step up this year, and he's expected to fight in the Uzbek national stadium in Tashkent in early 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.