Whilst there is a clear mess at the top of the Lightweight division, with at least two fighters proclaiming to be champions the contenders also make up a messy bunch with former challengers, emerging hopefuls and those who made their name in lower weight classes. It's not a bad list of contenders, but it's a messy list, and that can actually be really interesting as the scene develops around them.
Luke Campbell (20-3, 16)
Englishman Luke Campbell is now 32 years old and has already come up short in world title bouts twice, however he is expected to get a third shot later this year, with the WBC ordering him to face Javier Fortuna for their title. Stood at 5'9" and fighting out of the southpaw stance Campbell is a nightmare to face, with fantastic technical skills, freakish size, solid power, impressive speed and a real gritty toughness. He's now in "now or never" territory and we suspect he'll know he cannot afford a loss to Fortuna when they finally clash.
Javier Fortuna (35-2-1-2, 26)
Explosive Dominican fighter Javier Fortuna will, as mentioned, face Luke Campbell for the vacant WBC title. He's only 30 but he's a bit of a young veteran and has been a professional for over a decade already. He was once seen as a sensational talent, but hasn't reached the heady heights many expected of him, with his biggest honours being the WBA "interim" Featherweight title. Despite that he does have a bit of time on his hands and proved their was still lie left in his career in recent bouts, including solid wins over Sharif Bogere and Jesus Marcelo Andres Cuellar. The big issue with Fortuna is that he can be unpredictable. On his best day he's a real nightmare, and the hope is that he can string together a couple of good performances to make his before it's too late.
Richard Commey (29-3, 26)
Big punching Richard Commey is a former IBF champion from Ghana who is looking to bounce back from a 2019 loss to Teofimo Lopez. Although not the most technically polished Commey is a big, rangy, strong, powerful an tough guy at the weight. Althouygh he was stopped by Lopez last time out there should be no question marks about his chin, the shot he got dropped with was an absolute bomb and he some how got back up and tried to fight on before being stopped. At 32, and turning 33 in March, he's perhaps got 1 more run to a title in him, though he has had a hard career and the loss to Lopez will leave will leave him with rebuilding to do.
Ryan Garcia (19-0, 16)
It turns out that pretty boy fighter Ryan Garcia is much more than a social media sensation. The 21 year old still has question marks over his head, but he genuinely impressed in 2018, as he blitzed both Jose Lopez and Romero Duno, and proved that he genuinely could punch and was quick against good fringe contenders. We would be surprised if Garcia got a world title fight in 2020, unless the title bodies decide to create even more paper belts, however he certainly has time on his side and will be in the mix for a long time. His success at Lightweight will only be limited how long he remains at the weigh and we wouldn't be that surprised to see him fighting at 140lbs sooner rather than later.
George Kambosos Jr (18-0, 10)
Unbeaten Australian contender George Kambosos Jr is one of the less well known contenders in the division, but one of those who has worked his way towards a world title fight over the last few years. The 26 year old scored his biggest win to date in December, when he beat Mickey Bey, and is now said to be heading to a world title eliminator later in 2020. Although he's unbeaten and has been stepping up his level of competition he is very much untested at world and his upcoming eliminator will be his first real test at the fringes of world class.
Denys Berinchyk (12-0, 7)
Exciting Ukrainian fighter Denys Berinchyk is pretty much the forgotten member of the 2012 Ukrainian Olympic team, despite winning a silver medal and beating both Anthony Yigit and Jeff Horn en route to that medal. Berinchyk is aggressive, very talented, powerful and can set a high pace, which he has proven he can keep up for 12 rounds. Sadly the Alexander Krassyuk promoted fighter has been unable to land the big fights that his career needs and has instead become better known for his unusual and innovative ring walks than his fights. At the age of 31 Berinchyk needs a big fight this year if he's to make an impact at the world level, following the likes of Vasyl Lomachenko and Oleksandr Usyk, and fingers crossed he does get the break out win his talent deserve.
Shuichiro Yoshino (11-0, 9)
Another of the lesser known contenders in the division is Japanese 28 year old Shuichiro Yoshino, the unified Japanese, OPBF and WBO Asia Pacific champion. The talented Yoshino isn't well known in the West but has proven himself as the best in Asia and is likely to be looking for a big bout in 2020. He'll be kicking off the year on February 13th, when he faces Izuki Tomioka in a mandatory defense of the Japanese title, but after than his year is unclear. Whilst he's not a big name he's a fighter with a lot of talent, deep amateur experience and a brutal left hook, as Harmonito Dela Torre found out in October. Certainly one to keep an eye on for this year.
3 Fights we want:
Vasyl Lomachenko Vs Teofimo Lopez
Devin Haney Vs Luke Campbell
Gervonta Davis Vs Denys Berinchyk
The Lightweight division is one with a strange between the top fighters and the top contenders. The champions really look several levels above their most dangerous contenders, in what is a pretty strange division. Despite being strange at the top it's really at prospect level, with a lot of hungry fighters looking to race through the ranks, a number of which are getting serious attention already.
If you've missed our previous looks into the Lightweight division they can be read here:
The state of the Division - Lightweight - The Champions
The state of the Division - Lightweight - The Contenders
Devin Haney (20-0, 13)
One of the biggest and most highly touted prospects in world boxing right now is 20 year old Devin Haney, who has been viewed as one of the can't miss prospects. Making his debut at the age of 17 Haney has developed a reputation as a skilled boxer-mover and has already been compared to the likes of Floyd Maywather Jr. He has shown touched of real class, beating veterans like Mason Menard and Juan Carlos Burgos in 2018, though there are question marks about his power and his killer instinct, but things that can be worked on over the coming years. Given his age he is likely to out grow the Lightweight limit sooner rather than later, but it's hard not to see him having success at Light Welterweight when that happens.
Teofimo Lopez (11-0, 9)
Regarded as being another of the future faces of American boxing Teofimo Lopez is a 21 year old boxer-puncher, with a lot of spite, and nasty intentions. He debuted in late 2016 and has raced away to 11-0 in just 34 rounds. In 2018 he scored 4 wins, including opening round KO's of Vitor Jones and Mason Menard. Lopez is still a boxing baby though looks like a total monster in the making, and could well be one of the next US superstars, if Top Rank guide him well and if he has the hunger for the sport. At the moment he's ticking every box a prospect can tick, and we dare say he's proven more in less time than the aforementioned Haney.
Joe Cordina (8-0, 6)
Welshman Joe Cordina was an accomplished amateur before turning professional in 2017, following a gold medal at the 2015 European Championships and an appearance at the 2016 Olympics. Aged 27 Cordina is a fully grown man, who will be looking to make a big impression in 2019, and has entered the year with both the WBA International and Commonwealth titles, as well as a notable win over fellow Brit Sean Dodd. There are a lot of questions for Cordina to answer, but with Matchroom Sports behind him along with his amateur pedigree it seems inevitable that he will go far, and will almost certainly end up fighting at world level, somewhere down the line.
Shuichiro Yoshino (9-0, 7)
Another 27 year old prospect with a strong amateur background is Japan's Shuichiro Yoshino, who took the Japanese title in his 6th fight and has already made 3 defenses of the belt. The talented Yoshino went 104-20 (55) in the unpaid ranks and was a multi-time high school champion before turning professional at the age of 24. With the established Misako gym behind him there's a good chance he will progress from Japanese level to regional level in 2019 before moving on to a potential world ranking in 2020. From there it's really a case of proving what he can do. Sadly his activity level hasn't been the best and he won't actually be back in the ring until mid-April, which won't help his rise, sadly.
Alfredo Santiago (11-0, 3)
Puerto Rico based Dominican 24 year old Alfredo Santiago is of the division's hidden gems. The tall fighter debuted in 2015 and hasn't had much publicity despite already having wins over Jayson Velez, Cristian Ruben Mino and Jonathan Victor Barros. Although showing a lot of promise questions will be asked of Santiago's power, having stopped just 1 of his last 8 bouts early, though few can doubt his skills and the experience he's getting, with 4 bouts going 10 rounds already. Also it's worth noting that Santiago is listed 5'11", which is tall for a Lightweight, but he looks even tall with genuinely freakish size and reach.
Ravshanbek Umurzakov (6-0, 5)
Uzbek puncher Ravshanbek Umurzakov made his debut at the end of 2017 and has impressed already in his short career, thanks in part to his brutal power. He impressed almost immediately, with opening round wins against Evgeny Smelov and Dohdan Zemlianya and continued to build on that through 2018. Sadly his biggest win to dat was a 58 second win against Eden Sonsona, with Sonsona really looking like he just didn't want to be in the ring and used any excuse to get away. Despite Sonsona's disappointing performance we shouldn't over-look Umurzakov, who looks like he will be fast tracked through 2019, and could end up in the world rankings by the end of the year.
William Zepeda (16-0, 14)
In 2018 we saw Jamie Munguia turn his long unbeaten record on the domestic Mexican scene into a world title, and it's fair to suggest that William Zepeda will be looking to follow suit somewhere down the site. The 22 year southpaw from México City turned professional at the age of 19 and has slowly built himself a pretty good looking record, without setting the world on fire. Despite not really getting too much attention he has started to take some minor steps up in class, with wins against Jesus Acosta and Ulises Perez. We expect him to toil away on the Mexican scene a little bit longer, but continue to move up in class, and in 2020 we would 't be surprised to see Zepeda make his US debut. There's plenty for him to develop, but he's young, powerful and gaining valuable experience at a young age.
Xiangxiang Sun (15-0, 10)
Chinese prospect Xiangxiang Sun, dubbed the "Pretty boy", has had a frustrating career. He debuted way back in December 2012 but failed to be active during those early years, fighting just once in each of 2013 and 2014. Thankfully the last couple of years we have seen him being active and scoring notable wins over Roy Mukhlis and Nelson Tinampay. On paper he is a step behind countryman Yongqiang Yang, however we've been more impressed by Sun than Yang, who had a bit of luck to over-come Takuya Watanabe. Between them however they do give China a good 2-pronged attack force at Lightweight, and hopefully one of them will manage to make a serious mark on the world stage.
Shawn Oda (10-0, 8)
Current Japanese Youth champion Shawn Oda is a really interesting prospect, who, at the age of 20, has so much potential. Oda is one of the few fighters who speaks fluent English, opening up the Western markets, and also has a more athletic style to his boxing than many Japanese fighters. He first came to our attention in 2016, the year he debuted, when he won the Japanese Rookie of the Year, at the age of 18. His 2017 was a bit of a write off but with 4 wins in 2018, including his Japanese title win against Seiryu Toshikawa, he has rebounded wonderfully. We suspect 2019 will be a year of development for the youngster, before he looks to progress onto a national title but he is certainly one to watch, and arguably the best hope Japanese has in the division longer term.
Go Hosaka (2-0, 1)
Japanese-Filipino Go Hosaka debuted in the summer of 2016 and has impressed, showing not only speed, power and skills but also excellent composure. He blew his debut opponent away before taking on Jason Tinampay in November. Hosaka began by trying to take Tinampay out but quickly realised the Filipino was luring him in to counter, and began to just control things behind his reach and use his range. Prior to turning professional he was an outstanding amateur and looks likely to be the Asian wild card in the division. At 22 he is slightly older than Oda, but has got the strong amateur pedigree that Oda lacks, which will make it fun to watch the two men as they develop from prospect status. It's worth noting that Filipino promotional powerhouse ALA are guiding Hosaka's career and they do have a decent track record of getting fighters towards world title fights. Sadly though they have often seen their fighters lack something at the very top level, and Hosaka will hopefully avoid being another nearly man of the ALA Gym.
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.