The Heavyweight contenders are an interesting bunch which probably could be split into "veterans and established world level contenders" and "emerging novices". It's a relatively deep division on paper, but a number of the fighters are probably only a loss away from retirement, whilst a lot of the emerging talent still have some way to go to get a world title fight.
Tyson Fury (29-0-1, 20)
Lineal champion Tyson Fury is the most awkward boxer in the division but the 31 year old Englishman hasn't scored a win of note, officially, in over 4 years. His huge 2015 win over Wladimit Klitschko was the changing of the guard that the division needed in some ways, but his inactivity following that win, then his competition since it really have killed his momentum. An excellent performance in 2018 saw him controversially held to a draw by Deontay Wilder, and the two are set for a rematch later this month.
Oleksandr Usyk (17-0, 13)
Former undisputed Cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk is the WBO mandatory challenger for the and at 33 years old we don't expect him to wait long for his shot. We do wonder what Usyk will be like at Heavyweight, but stylistically he's the best pure boxer in the division, with a high out put, sharp punching, a lot of skill and high ring IQ. We do wonder if he will be under-sized, and whether he has the skills to over-come the size difference, but he is definitely a top contender, just based on what he did at Cruiserweight.
Kubrat Pulev (28-1, 14)
Bulgarian veteran Kubrat Pulev is lined up for a second world title fight, with a bout against Anthony Joshhua expected to take place in May. The 38 year old Pulev had one of the best jabs in the sport, but we do wonder what he has left given his age. In his only world title fight to date he was dismantled by Wladimir Klitschko way back in 2014, but has rebuilt with 8 straight wins to earn his second shot.
Luis Ortiz (31-2-0-2, 26)
We suspect we've probably seen the end of Cuban veteran Luis Ortiz, who has twice for world titles, as a world title challenger. The 40 year old "King Kong" has shown enough in both of his losses, both to Deontay Wilder, to suggest he belonged at world level, but with a brutal KO loss last year, and one in 2018, we suspect he'll be too much "risk" and not enough "reward" to get another big fight before he hangs them up.
Joseph Parker (26-2, 20)
Former WBO world champion Joseph Parker seems to have been around for years, but the 28 year old is more than young enough to mount another series run, if not a couple of runs, towards the top. Parker has proven to be skilled, tough, talented and deserves to be in the mix despite a 2018 loss to Dillian Whyte. Sadly his competition since losing to Whyte, in July 2018, have been poor and his February 2020 bout with Shawndell Terrell Winters has done little to get people excited in the former champion. Lets hope he begins to demand better from his team going forward.
Andy Ruiz Jr (33-2, 22)
Mexican-American Andy Ruiz Jr had a weird 2019. He reached the top of the world in June, stopping Anthony Jsohua to claim the WBA "super", WBO and IBF titles, with one one the biggest upsets in recent memory. Then put on 25lbs, and came in looking like a tub of large in December's rematch. He admitted there was issues with his commitment to training, then split with the trainer that had helped him beat Joshua. It's fair to say that 2020 is going to be a massive year for the 30 year old "Destroyer" who needs to find his hunger back in the ring, not the kitchen.
Dillian Whyte (27-1, 18)
Outspoken and controversial Jamaican born British fighter Dillian Whyte has one of the best records of anyone in the division, and on paper he certainly deserves a world title fight. The issue however is that he's offered opportunities and pulled out or turned them down, including fights with Joshua, and a world title eliminator with Kubrat Pulev. His fans will scream that Deontay Wilder has avoided him and Wilder's fans will scream that Whyte is all talk. At the end of the day Whyte is very much a controversial figure, despite his talent. He'll likely get a shot, but questions need to be asked in why he has turned down previous opportunities whilst suggesting he is being ducked.
Alexander Povetkin (35-2-1, 24)
Russian veteran Alexander Povetkin looked like he was pretty much spent last time out, when he fought to a draw with Michael Hunter in Saudi Arabia. Although still a very talented and heavy handed fighter Povetkin looked slow, old, and like a man who can no longer do 12 rounds at a comfortably pace. Expect him to retire in 2020 if he can't win a big fight. He's very talented, but father time has almost caught up with the 40 year old.
Michael Hunter (18-1-1, 12)
Former Cruiserweight world title challenger turned Heavyweight contender Michael Hunter has seen his career have a breathe of new life since moving up in weight and scoring wins over the likes of Iago Kiladze, Alexander Ustinov, Martin Bakole and Sergey Kuzmin. Technically Hunter is sound, sharp, quick and smart. Sadly a lack of real fire power at Cruiserweight and a relative lack of physicality is likely to be an issue going forward. In 2019 he fought to a draw with Alexander Povetkin and a rematch between the two would be great to see later this year.
Filip Hrgovic (10-0, 8)
Croation fighter Filip Hrgovic is a hard fighter to get a read on. He sometimes shows flashes of real potential, and was a very good amateur, but at other times it seems like he's going through the motions. We'd like to see him get a meaningful fight in 2020, though we suspect his slow burn rise to the top will continue. Sadly it seems like a lack of tests could prove to be a very series problem for Hrgovic who put on a significant amount of weight last year, adding over 16lbs between his first and third bout. If he doesn't get a serious test we expect his weight will continue to increase, taking away some of the fluidity that makes him a compelling prospect.
Efe Ajagba (12-0, 10)
US based Nigerian puncher Efe Ajagba is an interesting hopeful who had a rather curious 2019. He had entered the year 8-0 (7), with his only none T/KO win being an opening DQ win over Curtis Harper and looked like an invincible puncher. In 2019 however he was taken the distance by Ali Eren Demirezen and then dropped by Iago Kiladze, in a sensation December bout. Those two fights showed that Ajagba needs to be given time, and developmental fights, but they could be hard to land for such a perceived danger man.
Daniel Dubois (14-0, 13)
Englishman Daniel Dubois is one of the most interesting prospects in the division. Although he comes across as a genuinely boring person outside of the ring, he is as exciting as they come inside of it. Blessed with power in both hands, under-rated speed and skills that are developing well he is one of the true stars of the future in the division. At 22 years old he ticks every box inside the ring. Give the likes of Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder, who love to talk, Dubois is kinda refreshing in that he wants his work in the ring to speak for him. He'll be back in the ring on April 11th, when he faces Joe Joyce, in a mouth watering British showdown in London.
Joe Joyce (10-0, 9)
Olympic silver medal winner Joy Joyce is a very weird guy to get a read on. Watching him he looks slow, stationary, sluggish, and easy to beat. At 34 years old he's not going to get any quicker or more fluid in the ring. Despite that he's physically strong, power, rugged, tough and seems to just grind down fighters, taking wins over decent, though not great opponents. Last time out took a decision over Bryant Jennings, showing he could do 12 rounds, but looked like he was struggling at times with the faded American veteran. He'll be in action, as mentioned, in April against Daniel Dubois in a mouth watering clash. A loss there could well spell the end for the "Juggernaut"
The Heavyweight division might be seen as the division that sums up boxing's health, at least in some quarters, but in reality it's the division which has been the most frustrating over the last 20 years or so. We've had a lack of real stand out fights at the top level, with only a handful really being great, and although the division does bring excitement and attention to the sport, it also has a knack of not giving us the big bouts we, as fans, want to see. Despite the issues it does have some interesting fighters in it right now, and there are some good bouts on the docket.
WBC - Deontay Wilder (42-0-1, 41)
Heavy handed American Deontay Wilder is one of the sports longest reigning champions and the "Bronze Bomber" is also one of the sports most potent punchers. Although technically not the most polished man in the sport few will doubt the fire power in Wilder's right hand, and does have genuine fight changing power. It's also worth noting that he has got under-rated skills, without being a technical genius, lighting speed, freakish size and a lot of charisma, though he can rub people up the wrong way. Later this month he will be facing Tyson Fury in a rematch of their 2018 draw in what is one of the most anticipated bouts of 2020.
WBA "Super", WBO and IBF - Anthony Joshua (23-1, 21)
It could seem odd listing a unified champion below a single title holder but 2019 left us with more questions than answers for Englishman Anthony Joshua. The popular "AJ" went into 2019 looking like the best in the division, a power punching, offensive boxer-puncher. There was a robot look to him, but he was incredibly effective and seemed to be the second best boxer at the top, behind Tyson Fury, and the second best puncher, behind Wilder. A nightmare US debut saw him being stopped by big under-dog Andy Ruiz Jr in June and having his aura shattered. Although he bounced back to beat Ruiz in December, in Saudi Arabia, there was very much a feeling that his aura had gone...despite a much more polished performance in that December bout. His next bout is expected to be against Kubrat Pulev, in or around May, and it's going to be interesting to see what version of "AJ" turns up against the Bulgarian Cobra.
WBA "regular" - Manuel Charr (31-4, 17)
And we're back to crazy WBA territory here with the WBA still recognising German based Syrian Manuel Charr as their regular champion....more than 2 years after he last fought. In fact he won the title in November 2017 and has yet to defend it. Absolutely bizarre and time the WBA had a look at the 35 year old, and their recognition of him.
Whilst the Cruiserweight division was once the domain for European fighters we have began to see the division open up. It's given a nice look to the division in some ways, but it does feel a bit like the division is lacking some real stars, despite a second series of the WBSS, which comes to an end in March. Having recently looked at the champions, lets now take a look at some of the contenders in what is a very, very disjointed division.
Mairis Briedis (26-1, 19)
Regarded by many as the best in the division the 35 year old Mairis Briedis is Latvian boxing's one big star. The awkward, ugly, tough, talented, and frustrating fighter gave Oleksandr Usyk his toughest bout to date, and holds wins over the likes of Manuel Charr, Marco Huck, Mike Perez and Krzysztof Glowacki. Sadly for all his talent Briedis seems just as happy to spoil, wrestle and frustrate his way to victory. On March 21st he will take on Yuniel Dorticos in the WBSS final, and a loss there could be the end of Briedis, who few will be rushing to face afterwards.
Ryad Merhy (29-1, 24)
Ryad Merhy is a 27 year old Belgian who brings excitement to the ring when he steps between the ropes. A the moment Merhy is the WBA "interim" champion and has rebuild well since a 2018 loss to Arsen Goulamirian, in what was a great fight. At the moment he's riding a 5 fight winning run over some decent competition, but in reality we would like to see him getting another major bout sooner rather than later. The WBA "interim" title he holds is rather worthless, given the way WBA love handing out belts, but Merhy is a damn good fighter and a very fun one to watch.
Thabiso Mchunu (22-5, 13)
South African southpaw Thabiuso Mchunu has a record that would maybe suggest he's not a top contender, but in reality he's one of the best in the division, and deserves a big fight this year after essentially sending Debis Lebedev into retirement last year. Since his first loss, back in September 2011, he has only been beaten by genuinely world class fighters in the form of Ilunga Makabu, Oleksandr Usyk, Constantin Bejenaru and Thomas Oosthuizen. It's worth adding that the Oosthuizen bout was controversial enough to have a rematch that Mchunu dominated. Talented, slippery, skilled, calm in the ring, but sadly inconsistent at times. On his day a nightmare for anyone with his excellent skill-set.
Lawrence Okolie (14-0, 11)
Englishman Lawrence Okolie is a talented fight, yet probably the most frustrating man in the sport to watch. Blessed with a freakish frame Okolie should be a brilliant outside fighter, keeping things long and dominating behind his straight shots. Instead he's one of, if not the, ugliest fighter to watch, and does a fantastic boxing impression of a hug addicted octopus. He's had so many bouts that could be described as "unwatchable" that he's going to be a hard sell for fans. Although we typically want to see the best fighting the best, we would genuinely hate for a bout between Okolie and Briedis, and it would almost certainly go down as one of the worst bouts of the year, if it happens.
Krzysztof Glowacki (31-2, 19)
Polish hard man Krzysztof Glowacki is in a weird position right now. He's owed a shot with the WBO, and will likely fight for their vacant next, but really should only have 1 loss on his record after horrific officiating saw him being knocked out after a showcase of fouls from Mairis Briedis last June. It's hard to know what the 33 year old has left in the tank, given he has had more than his share of wars, and has taken a lot of punishment during his career, but at his best he is a fantastic contender, and could well reclaim a title down the line. It will be really interesting to see what the Briedis bout took from him, both mentally and physically.
Kevin Lerena (25-1, 12)
One of the fresher faces of the division is South African "KO Kid" Kevin Lerena. The 27 year old southpaw has been a pro since 2011 and has reeled off 14 straight wins since a loss in 2014 to Johnny Muller. Whilst he's not made too much noise in the grand scheme of things he has been racking up a solid record with wins against the likes of Mikki Nielsen, Youri Kayembre Kalenga, Dmytro Kucher, Roman Golovashchenko and Firat Arslan. A big fight cannot be far away for the the in form Lerena.
Aleksei Egorov (10-0, 7)
For years Russia have been pumping out some amazing Cruiserweights, though at the moment it does feel like they are a dying breed. The best of the Russian right now looks to be heavy handed, but technically quite limited, Aleksei Egorov. Whilst he's strong and likely to be a force on the world stage we don't see him as the obvious successor for the likes of Denis Lebedev and Grigory Drozd. A solid professional, but someone who just appears to be lacking that something special. It is however early days for the 28 year old, and there's a chance he will have more in his locker than we've seen so far.
Michal Cieslak (19-1, 13)
Another tough Pole competing at Cruiserweight is Michal Cieslak, who suffered his first loss recently to Ilunga Makabu in Kinshasa. That bout was a set back, as any loss is, but the who situation around the contest was shady and won't have helped Cieslak preparing to face someone as good as Makabu. Prior to his loss he had strung together good wins over the likes of Jarno Rosberg, Francisco Palacios, Youri Kayembre Kalenga and Olanrewaju Durodola. Despite the loss he's certainly in the mix still and we wouldn't be surprised to see him getting a second world title fight later this year.
Very few divisions changed in the way the Cruisierweight division has over the last year or so. As we entered 2019 there was only one man anyone saw as the world champion and that was Ukrainian star Oleksandr Usyk, with a good solid base of contenders fighting for second place. Since the Usyk has left the division, with Murat Gassiev also leaving the division, as both men pursue gold at Heavyweight. We've also seen the, long over-due, retirement of Russian veteran Denis Lebedev, who hung them up following a loss to Thabiso Mchunu in December. Despite the changes the division is still a really good one, and we are really looking forward to the upcoming WBSS final in March.
IBF - Yunier Dorticos (24-1, 22)
Having mentioned the upcoming WBSS final it's worth starting this with IBF champion Yunier Dorticos, who will be defending his IBF title in that final on March 28th against Mairis Briedis. The big punching Cuban is a genuine talent, with big power. Typically his bouts seem to be very good, or god awful, though whatever they end up being there is always a chance that the "KO Doctor" will land a bomb and leave his opponent out cold. On paper his resume is really solid, with wins over Youri Kayembre Kalenga, Dmitry Kudryashov, Mateusz Masternak and Andrew Tabiti, in 4 of his last 5, however a 2018 loss to Murat Gassiev and only 5 bouts in the last 4 years have hurt Dorticos' overall standing in the sport. Also with his 34th birthday coming in March he cannot afford another loss, or that could be the end for him
WBC - Ilunga Makabu (27-2, 24)
Earlier this year Ilunga Makabu became the WBC champion with a decision over the previously unbeaten Michal Cieslak in the Democratic Republic Of The Congo. That was Makabu crowning win and his 8th win since a 2016 loss in the UK to Tony Bellew. Amazingly since the loss to Bellew Makabu has fought in 6 countries, and scored notable wins not just over Cieslak but also the the 11-0 Aleksei Papin and the always dangerous Dmitry Kudryashov. Talented, heavy handed, tough and with top level experience Makabu is a genuine top fighter. He has the tools to beat anyone but just enough vulnerability to make fighters think they can take him out. With the WBC title around his waist he will be a target for fighters to chase, but is not an easy fighter to beat and on his day he could beat anyone at the weight.
WBA "Super" - Arsen Goulamirian (26-0, 18)
Armenian born Frenchman Arsen Goulamirian is possibly the division's hidden gem, and he current WBA "super champion. Goulamirian won the "interim" title in 2018 and the some how seems to have become the "super" champion by the time he first defended it, when he stopped Kane Watts. He then netted his second defense in just weeks after stopping Watts, as he broke down Constantin Bejenaru. The exciting, aggressive, tough and talented Goulamirian isn't just unbeaten in 26 but has stopped his last 6, taking the unbeaten records of Bejenaru and Ryan Merhy along the way. Although he's only fought in France and Belgium he has proven to be a nightmare to go up against and we wouldn't be surprised to see him heading out to pastures new by the end of 2020 in search of big pay days and serious tests.
WBA "Regular" - Beibut Shumenov (18-2, 12)
Sometimes things completely surprise us, and finding out that Beibut Shumenov stills holds a world title is one such thing. The 36 year old Kazakhhas fought only once since June 2016, and that was back in summer 2018, yet the WBA still have him listed as their champion. Bizarre. Once a pretty talented Light Heavyweight we do need to wonder what his connection is to the WBA for them to have still have him listed, it's frankly bizarre. We genuine assumed Shumenov had retired when we started this. As a Cruiserweight his crowning glory was beating BJ Flores, and yet he is some how a 2-time WBA champion. If anyone can explain please do! Also we expect the WBA to strip him sooner rather than later, especially now they know that someone is aware of Shumenov's current "reign".
Whilst the Light Heavyweight division only really has 2 champions, in Artur Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol, the division is packed with contenders and they make up a wonderful mix of rising youngsters, established contenders and former world champions, giving us one of the deepest and most interesting divisions in the sport.
Sergey Kovalev (34-4-1, 29)
Former multi-time world champion Sergey Kovalev is still one of the biggest names in the division, despite being past his prime and very much a fighter who's future doesn't look bright, at all. He had a strange 2019 in the ring, in which he avenged his loss to Eleider Alvarez, defended the WBO title in Russia against Anthony Yarde then lost to Saul Alvarez, and a controversial one of the ring, with legal issues. The future doesn't look bright for "Krusher" but as far as contenders go he is still there and a win over him still means a lot.
Eleider Alvarez (25-1, 13)
The now 35 year old Eleider Alvarez, like Kovalev, doesn't appear to have much time left in the sport. The Canadian based Colombian, dubbed "Storm", is a real talent, but a real frustration and all too often he has cruised in the ring instead of shining. He has notched big wins, over the likes of Isaac Chilemba, Lucian Bute, Jean Pascal and Sergey Kovalev, but has regularly done "just enough". At 35 he may get a chance to become a 2-time champion, but in reality we wouldn't be surprised to see him being avoided by the top guys as he heads into retirement.
Gilberto Ramirez (40-0, 26)
It's not often we see big Mexican fighters but Gilberto Ramirez has proven that Mexicans can indeed fight at the heavier weights. Ramirez is a former WBO Super Middleweight champion who moved up in weight last year, after struggling to make 168lbs. Sadly since moving up he has only fought once, beating Tommy Karpency last April, though he is now expected to get a place in a 4 man WBO world title tournament later this year and could potentially become a 2-weight champion. Although he can be an exciting fighter he has looked like a man who has maybe peaked already at 28 is perhaps not developing as many had previously hoped, when he began to break through make waves.
Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-1, 14)
Former WBC champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk won his first 17 bouts before running into Artur Beterbiev last October. The talented Ukrainian held his own with the Russian brute through the first 9 rounds but was broken down in round 10, of a genuinely sensational fight. Despite the loss to Beterbiev we certainly wouldn't write off "The Nail" who we expect to see bouncing back from the Beterbiev loss and get himself straight back into the title mix. Do not sleep on this former champion who dethroned Adonis Stevenson in 2018.
Marcus Browne (23-1, 16)
American fighter Marcus Browne is a former WBA "interim" and WBC "silver" champion and someone who has got a lot of questions hanging over him, both inside the ring and outside. He's certainly a talented fighter, and his win over Badou Jack is one of the few times Jack has been beaten without a debate, though fair enough Jack did fight a lot of that bout with half of his head missing. Sadly though Browne was made to look very vulnerable by Jean Pascal last August and we can't see him being competitive with the two Russian world champions. In fact it would take a career best performance for him to over-come Oleksandr Gvozdyk.
Fanlong Meng (16-0, 10)
Upcoming IBF title challenger Fanlong Meng isn't a name that many will be too familiar with but the unbeaten 32 year old Chinese southpaw will be a man fans will hear a lot about in March ahead of his bout with Artur Beterbiev. Meng is a talented boxer who looks relaxed in the ring, and controls the range and tempo well, as we saw against Frank Buglioni. Sadly he's not the type of fighter who should be matched with someone like Beterbiev, who can really whack. At 32 years old it's now or never for Meng, but having been dropped by Adam Deines, last June, and Zura Mekereshvili, back in 2016, he has question marks over his chin. Meng is certainly a talent, but we can't help thinking that his chin will be a major issue against a rock fisted monster like Beterbiev.
Joe Smith Jr (25-3, 20)
One of boxing's feel good stories of the last few years has been the rise of Joe Smith Jr, who was a relative unknown before stopping Andrzej Fonfara inside a round in 2016. Smith Jr is a win some-lose some type of fighter, but with a solid chin, big power and decent work rate he's someone we can't help but enjoy watching. With wins over Fonfara, Bernard Hopkins and Jesse Hart Smith is certainly remains in the title mix, despite losses to Sullivan Barrera and Dmitry Bivol in his last 4 bouts. Aged 30
Umar Salamov (25-1, 19)
Once beaten Russian Umar Salamov will be getting a world title eliminator later this year and yet is relatively unknown outside of Ukraine and Russia. He began his career in Ukraine, back in 2020, and fought 13 of his first 14 bouts there, before fighting 9 of his following 12 in Russia, with two bouts in Australia and one in America. His only loss was a very close one in Australia to the once touted Damien Hooper, and since then he has reeled off 12 wins against decent, but unspectacular competition. In the ring he's heavy handed and aggressive, with a tall and long frame, but really lacks polish and looks like someone who perhaps finds himself getting his place in a title tournament a little bit too early in his career.
Maksim Vlasov (45-3 26)
Another Russian we expect to be involved in the title tournament is 33 year old veteran Maksim Vlasov, who seems to have been around for blooming years! Vlasov made his debut way back in 2005 and won his first 19 bouts before coming up short in a very competitive bout against Isaac Chilemba. Another solid winning run came to an end when he lost a relatively competitive bout against Gilberto Ramirez, A move up to Cruiserweight lead to another winning run before he lost to Krzysztof Glowacki, and then headed back down to Light Heavyweight, and avenged his loss to Chilemba. A solid, consistent professional
Joshua Buatsi (12-0, 10)
When we look at the best rising prospects in the UK, across all the divisions, few fill us with the hope that Light Heavyweight Joshua Buatsi does. The explosive 26 year old is ticking a lot of boxers and with stoppages over Marco Antonio Periban and Ryan Ford in 2019 he took big strides towards some huge fights this year. He's heavy handed, fast, exciting and although he's still a bit rough around the edges there is the natural talent there for his team to work with. At the moment the feeling, at least for us, is that he needs to face a few solid tests to prepare for a world title bout. Taking on someone in one of the top 15 next time out would serve his career well, though we suspect Eddie Hearn will move him slowly and wait for an opening, rather than risking Buatsi against someone like Beterbiev and Bivol. Very exciting, but still rather untested.
Rustam Tulaganov (3-0, 1)
Unbeaten Uzbek fighter Rustam Tulaganov turned pro in 2017 and debuted that year, then spent more than 2 years away from a professional ring before returning in late 2019. He now looks like the man in the division who is set to be fast tracked, and we wouldn't be surprised, at all, if he faces a world ranked fighter before the end of 2019. Earlier this month he took a clear decision over Polish veteran Norbert Dabrowski, in an 8 rounder, and the assumption now is that he will be moved in to 10 and 12 rounders whilst his team, Patriot Boxing in Russia, look to secure him a big fight. Aged 28 he does have time on his side, but we certainly expect him to be moved quickly regardless. Don't be surprised to see him gate crashing the rankings sooner, rather than later.
Ali Izmailov (2-0, 1)
Although Russian fighter Ali Izmailov isn't likely to be on the radar of many fans he's one that we suspect will be moved very aggressively over the next few years. The 26 year old debuted in August 2019, and in just his second bout he shut out Dmitry Sukhotskiy over 6 rounds. Next up for Izmailov is Gasan Gasanov, later this month, and we would expect that to be Izmailov's final bout over 6 rounds, with 8 and 10 rounders likely to come before the end of this year. Whilst he's super early in his career he's potentially the wird card at 175lbs, and someone to make a note of now as he rises through the ranks.
One of the sports most intriguing divisions right now in the Light Heavyweight division, which has fighters wanting to fight, want to unify, and wanting to prove themselves. Even though there are a lot of veterans hanging around they are all proving themselves as top fighters, time and time again, the division also has plenty of fresh blood and a nice mix of styles, experiences and excitement. It's one of the few divisions that really does thrive with must watch fights and it sometimes seems like it doesn't even matter who is facing who, we're going to be in for something memorable. It's also a division with a vacant WBO title up for grabs later this year.
WBC and IBF - Artur Beterbiev (15-0, 15)
Russian destroyer Artur Beterbiev was once one of the most avoided men in the sport, in the space of just 2 years he has gone 4-0 (4) in world title bouts and unified the WBC and IBF titles, making him essentially the man people have to look at, if they want to become a world champion. With bricks for fists, an aggressive mentality and bull like strength it would be easy to write Beterbiev off as just a puncher but he's not. He's actually more of a boxer-puncher, but one with absolutely dynamite punches. He's a well schooled former amateur standout with scary power, but also someone who had been dropped several times himself, leaving some question marks over his chin. His best win is is his 10th round TKO win over Oleksandr Gvozdyk, though stoppages over Tavoris Cloud, Gabriel Campillo and Enrico Koelling are solid wins, especially at the time he beat them. He'll be back in the ring in March when he defends his title against Fanlong Meng and then there is plans for a huge bout later in the year in Russia.
WBA "super" - Dmitry Bivol (17-0, 11)
Another Russian champion is Dmitry Bivol, who lacks the power and physicality of Beterbiev, but is instead is a more polished boxer. The 29 year old Bivol started his career looking like an aggressive, exciting fighter, but as he's stepped up in class he's become more of a boxer-puncher, using his feet to create space and keeping things long and at range. In many ways Bivol looks like he's keeping things simple in there, though his ring IQ is very allowing him to using the basics incredible well. His last 4 bouts have all gone the distance, but he's been clearly winning them behind his boxing skills and ring control. Whilst he's not as destructive as Beterbiev his recent resume is stronger, with wins against Sullivan Barrera, Isaac Chilemba, Jean Pascal and Joe Smith Jr.
WBA "regular" - Jean Pascal (35-6-1-1, 20)
Although the WBA have created a mess for themselves with a regular champion and a super champion, again, we must confess that Jean Pascal is someone we, as boxing fans in general, absolutely love. The Hatian born Canadian 37 year old has done what we, as fans, want to see. He has faced pretty much a who's who of who since 2008. Win or lose he's not looked to duck fighters and instead has gone in with the likes of Carl Froch, Chad Dawson, Bernard Hopkins, Lucien Bute, Sergey Kovalev, twice, Eleider Alvarez, Dmitry Bivol and Badou Jack. Him holding a title is the bull shit the WBA have created, but as a fighter, who been written off time and time and time again Pascal is a throw back to an era where ducking was less prevalent. We do, genuinely, worry about Pascal's health after his career comes to an end, and he has taken a lot of punishment, and hope that when he does hang them up he has a great life afterwards. After his last bout, a narrow win over Badou Jack, it seems likely that retirement will be sooner rather than later.
Whilst the Super Middleweight division has a talented, yet incredibly frustrating, array of champions the division is sadly lacking in quality in and around the ranks of contenders. Many of the top fighters in and around the world mix have been exposed, are on the way out and are old, rather than vibrant new up and comers. It gives the division a real lack of appeal and excitement. There are some solid contenders, but generally it's a division that is lacking depth and youth. Whilst we could run through the list of fringe contenders who are past it, we'd rather look at the up coming contenders here.
John Ryder (28-5, 16)
Englishman John Ryder should, if we're being honest, be the WBA "super" champion right now. He seemed to do more than enough last November to take the title from Callum Smith and was hugely unfortunate. Sadly Ryder has had a career of misfortune and was also very unlucky against Rocky Fielding in 2017. Although he has 5 losses the reality is that he is much, much better than his record suggests, and "The Gorilla" is one of the few legitimate, proven, contenders in the division, who isn't several years beyond their best.
Vladimir Shishkin (10-0, 6)
Fast rising US based Russian Vladimir Shishkin failed to impressed last time out, when he looked rather uninspiring against Ulises Sierra, but with stoppages against Siarhei Khamitski and Najid Mohammadi there's little doubting his ability. Shishkin is likely to be one of those contenders that fighters don't want to face, but yet doesn't look too impressive on camera and is potentially too much of a high risk low reward fighter, at least at the moment.
Vincent Feigenbutz (31-2, 28)
It's hard to believe that German fighter Vincent Feigenbutz is still only 24, but in many ways we may well have seen the best of the young German, who gets an IBF mandatory shot later this month. Once touted as the future of German boxing it feels like Feigenbutz has come around almost a decade too late and missed out on what the German scene once was. He's not a bad fighter, by any stretch, but he's also not as good as his record suggests and a loss to Caleb Plant on February 15th will push him way down the queue for another shot. He's powerful, but crude amd open and there to be out boxed by a smart fight like Plant.
Kevin Lele Sadjo (14-0, 14)
French puncher Kevin Lele Sadjo is dubbed the "The Phenomen" and with good reason, he can bang. Although not well known outside of France, as we begin 2020, we expect to see him getting some big fighters later in the year. The 29 year old has WSB experience and is a brute in the ring, with an aggressive style, very heavy hands, and a high intensity work rate. He looks like he could be out boxed by someone with very sharp counter punching, but in fairness to Sadjo, his shots are short, and crisp and he looks like a real emerging dangerman in the division
Evgeny Shvedenko (13-0, 6)
Another unbeaten Russian is Evgeny Shvedenko, who has slowly been making a name for himself in Europe, with recent wins against the likes of Nuhu Lawal and Nadjib Mohammedi. Although certainly not a name we expect many to be familiar with he is making his mark slowly and we would expect him to be moving towards an eliminator through the coming year. He's yet to really make a big statement, but we expect to see that sooner rather than later given he's not 29 years old.
Roamer Alexis Angulo (26-1, 22)
We said we wanted to focus on upcoming fighters but the 35 year old Roamer Alexis Angulo is certainly no spring chicken. He's also someone who has come up short in the past, losing in 2018 to Gilberto Ramirez Sanchez. However he has earned a second show on the back of big wins over the previously unbeaten pairing of Reinaldo Gonzalez and Anthony Sims Jr. The Colombian is big, tough, hits hard and appears to be on a good, so don't be too surprised if the US based Colombian gets a second title fight before this year is over.
Nurzat Sabirov (10-0, 9)
Canadian based Kazakh hopeful Nurzat Sabirov is a real hidden gem among the ranks at 168lbs, but is clearly some way away from a world title fight. The 26 year old has looked skilled, heavy handed and is getting good rounds under his belt, but clearly needs to be stepped up this year if he's to heading up into the fringes of the title mix. As with many of the Kazakhs based in Canada he's being matched well and getting experience, though do wonder when, or if, the promoters will pull the trigger and get any of them big fights in 2020. Sabirov probably won't be ready by the end of the year, but it'll be interesting to see whether Batyrzhan Jukembayev or Sadriddin Akhmedov get a big fight and lead the way for Sabirov.
Christian Mbilli (16-0, 15)
Cameroonian born Frenchman Christian Mbilli is one of the most promising fighters in the division, and one of the most exciting. He turned professional after a very successful amateur career, that included an appearance at the 2016 Olympics and time competing in the WSB, and since 2017 he has been building his reputation as a future world champion. He's talented, explosive and very exciting, and he's also proven he can go longer in fighters, with each of his last 3 bouts going 8 or more rounds. Don't be surprised at all if Mbilli gate crashes the title scene before the end of 2020.
Bektemir Melikuziev (4-0, 3)
Unbeaten Uzbek Bektemir Melikuziev looks like not just a future world champion but a future star of the sport. The "Bek Bully" has an exciting in ring style, but has proven he can box as well as bang, he's a devastating body puncher, a former amateur standout and someone who is being fast tracked like no one else in the division. Melikuziev is pencilled in to fight again later this month, against former world title challenger Marco Antonio Periban, and a win there will almost certainly put him on the verge of a world title fight. He might not be a big name, yet, but Melikuziev ticks all the boxes of a future star, and is someone to get very, very excited about.
Aidos Yerbossynuly (13-0, 9)
Another Central Asian making waves in the division is 28 year old Kazakh Aidos Yerbossynuly, who has cracked the top 10 with the WBO and the top 3 with the WBA, showing just how worthless their rankings are at times. The Kazakh has picked up wins in various countries, with his most notable win coming last August in Australia, where he beat Rocky Jerkic, and we expect to see him getting higher profile wins this year. The unbeaten fighter, who is managed by Sulieman Promotions, is certainly someone who deserves to be on the periphery even if his rankings are currently way too high.
Azizbek Abdugofurov (13-0, 5)
Ranked #2 by the WBC unbeaten Uzbek Azizbek Abdugofurov once looked like he was on the fast track to the top, but his rise has certainly in recent times, with "AAA" unable to land a bout of note in 2019. That was a shame as he had momentum coming into the year on the back of good wins over Dmitrii Chudinov and Wuzhati Nuerlang. Fingers crossed he can land a big fight this year and make up for lost time. At 27 years old he has time to get back to where he was, but feels a lot like he's wasted a year of his career, when he should have been getting bouts to prepare him for an eventual world title bout.
When we look through the divisions one really frustrates us more than any other, and that's the Super Middleweight division, which has obvious match ups to make, but yet still finds a way to frustrate and antagonise fans with mismatch among the top fighters, and a lack of great in ring activity. In fact over the last year or so it's felt almost like the champions are intentionally trying to look bad at times. Sadly the contenders are struggling to make a case for a shot at the titles too, further making the division look rather stagnant.
IBF - Caleb Plant (19-0, 11)
Unbeaten American Caleb Plant is arguably the most consistent of the champions, but someone who is also rather untested. Dubbed "Sweet Hands" Plant relies on skills, hand speed and ring craft rather than power, but certainly has enough sting on his shots to get opponents respect, as seen last year when he dropped Jose Uzcategui twice, en route to dethroning the Venezuelan. His first defense was a farcical bout against Mike Lee last July and later this month he'll return to the ring to defend in a mandatory defense against Vincent Feigenbutz.
WBC - David Benavidez (22-0, 19)
Potentially the best fighter in the division, when he's on form, is hard hitting American 23 year old David Benavidez. "El Bandera Roja" is a big guy at the weight, with big power, and an exciting style, when he gets going. Sadly however he also appears inconsistent, with a really poor performance against Ronald Gavril in their first clash, back in 2017, and he looked uninspired last time out, against Anthony Dirrell. Added to his inconsistent performances are out of the ring issues, and he's had recreational drug issues. If he can sort his performances out, and fight to his potential, he's the man to watch, but right now it feels like he could against any of the other champions, or contenders.
WBA "Super" - Callum Smith (27-0, 19)
Heading in to 2019 Callum Smith looked to be the big dog of the division. He had won the WBA "super" title, and the Muhammad Ali Trophy, winning the WBSS tournament in Saudi Arabia. Then 2019 happened and his momentum vanished. Rather than get his promoter to chase the big fights he took on Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam, who had been been stopped 2 fights earlier by Ryota Murata and then struggled to get a very controversial decision over John Ryder. Having entered the year with everything on his side, and in the eyes of many the top man in the division Smith has come in to 2020 with question marks all over him, and on the back of a shocking year. The big man from Liverpool really needs to get a big win this year, and potentially needs his promoter, Eddie Hearn, to help him recapture the public's attention after such a poor year.
WBO - Billy Joe Saunders (29-0, 14)
Talented yet frustrating and inconsistent isn't just something we can use to describe David Benavidez but also unbeaten Englishman Billy Joe Saunders. Saunders is a former WBO Middleweight champion who moved up in weight following an issue with a drug test, and became a 2-weight champion last May when when he beat Shefat Isufi. Since then he has defended the title once, pulling out a late KO to defeat Marcelo Esteban Coceres. Although a skilled southpaw Saunders has shown a frustrating lack of stamina and his competition at times has been close to awful. Fingers crossed he can land a big fight, but the reality is that the 30 year old should have achieved much more since making his debuted almost 11 years ago!
WBA "Regular" - Saul Alvarez (53-1-2, 36)
The WBA strikes again! The The WBA have really caused some messy situations with their multiple titles and it's the case here where Saul Alvarez is holding both their "Super" title at Middleweight and their "Regular" title at Super Middleweight. That Super Middleweight title is one he has held since December 2018, but is yet to defend it. The Mexican might be the biggest name in world boxing but it's hard to know what's next for him. There is talk of Alvarez facing Billy Joe Saunders or Callum Smith in May, but if we're honest neither of those bouts look like that appealing, given the previous performances of Smith and Saunders. Alvarez has only fought once at the weight, but it seems this is going to be the weight that he moved forward at following a short foray at Light Heavyweight last year. He's essentially the princess at the ball, but unfortunately not of the prince's seem all that appealing as dance partnes for "Canelo".
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 is one of the biggest messes in the sport, and like the Lightweight division it was the politics of the WBC and WBA that have caused a complete mess. The mess that those bodies have caused is compounded by the fact the division, if we're being totally honest, is rather thin on the ground in terms of worth while contender. In fact whilst the Middleweight division might be one of the most historically significant it is currently one of the worst, lacking depth in the ranks of the contenders, and being a total mess at the top.
WBA "super" and WBC "Franchise" - Saul Alvarez (53-1-2, 36)
Mexican star Saul "Canelo" Alvarez is by far and away the biggest name in the division, and the current unified WBA "super" and WBC "Franchise" champion. Sadly however it's looking less and less likely that he will fight at Middleweight again and is essentially holding up the division's development. As one of boxing's few global stars we understand the title bodies bending over to accommodate Alvarez to some extent but creating the whole "Franchise" tag to help appease him really was a pathetic move form the WBC who have really created a mess here. It's really unclear what Canelo's future holds, but as the biggest name in the sport he really is in the driving seat for whatever the future brings.
IBF - Gennady Golovkin (40-1-1, 35)
Kazakh star Gennady Golovkin is one of the stars of the division and still a hugely popular fighter even though he is now coming to the end of his long and successful career. The 37 year old won his first 37 pro bouts, unified the WBA, WBC and IBF titles and gave the division a real sense of clarity with a major divisional king. Sadly though he's gone 3-1-1 in his last 5 and looked more and more human with every fight. His two bouts with Saul Alvarez were both great but it was clear that he had slipped in the year between them. Golovkin looked even more of a faded force last October when he narrowly squeaked a decision against Sergiy Derevyanchenko to reclaim the IBF title. His next bout will be an IBF
WBO - Demetrius Andrade (29-0, 18)
American world champion Demetrius Andrade is a genuine, but also a man who has spent much of his career making poor decisions and and not doing things that would help him. Typically Andrade's fights have been dull to watch, and like he's fighting well within himself. Tall, rangy, talented, awkward and a southpaw he's a fighter that top fighters wouldn't be in a rush to face at the best of times, but he's also done little to help his marketability and his team don't seem to be in a rush to get him big fights. Andrade, known as "Boo Boo" has been a professional since 2008, yes he's fought 29 times in over 11 years, he's become a 2-weight champion, but his competition has been poor and at 31, soon to be 32, he really needs to do something big this year. He's started the year in an acceptable fashion, stopping the over-matched Luke Keeler, but now needs to face top competition to put pressure on the other champions to face him.
WBC - Jermall Charlo (30-0, 22)
The WBC mess, creating the Franchise champion status for Saul Alvarez, has seen Jermall Charlo being upgraded from the WBC "interim" champion to the WBC regular champion. Since being upgraded he's defended the title against Brandon Adams and Dennis Hogan. Charlo, like Andrade, is a 2-weight champion, having held titles at 154lbs and 160lbs, but is another fighter who has failed to secure big fights and done little to deserve them. On paper Charlo has a decent resume, with wins against the likes of Austin Trout, Julian Williams and Matt Korobov, but for a fighter who has been a professional for over a decade and has 30 fights he really should have achieved more. There is an argument that some fighters avoided Charlo, but in reality he did little to appeal to the top guys, and it's likely that he'll continue to meander through lower level challengers rather than get a career defining bout.
WBA "Regular" - Ryota Murata (16-2, 13)
Japanese fighter Ryota Murata might not be the most natural athlete, but the physically strong and imposing fighter is an Olympic champion, a former World Amateur Championship Silver medal winner and a 2-time WBA regular champion. In the ring Murata is a very basic fighter, but a very strong, powerful and heavy handed one who presses forward and looks to unleash monstrous right hands. At 34 years old Murata's time in the sport is limited, but he's expected to get a career defining bout this year, and he's been linked to both Canelo and Golovkin since December. The next 12 months will be pivotal in how Murata's career is remembered though it's hard to deny that he's a mega star in Japan and draws TV audiences in the multiple millions. His team have the money to attract a big opponent to Japan and that seems to be their aim this year.
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.