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.
The final part of our look at the Super Middleweight division looks at the prospects emerging through the rankings. If you missed our earlier parts they can be read here:
The state of the Division - Super Middleweight - The Championsand here:
The state of the Division - Super Middleweight - The Contenders
Vladimir Shishkin (8-0, 5)
Unbeaten Russian Vladimir Shishkin looks like he's going to be a fast tracked fighter at Super Middleweight, and that was clearly shown last year. The fighter turned professional in 2016 and took his time to get going, before stopping Siarhei Khamitski and Nadjib Mohammedi in 2018. He's heavy handed, talented and looks to be developing quickly, both in terms of his skills and his physical maturity. It's going to be very exciting to see what he does this year, and we wouldn't be surprised to see Shiskin in the world title mix by the end of 2019.
Zach Parker (17-0, 11)
Englishman prospect Zach Parker is world ranked but hasn't really shown that type of quality yet. Despite not appearing world class he has had some impressive wins, at least domestically, and scored his biggest win last November, when he narrowly outpointed Darryll Williams in Glasgow. He has shown promise, but there is still a lot left for the 24 year to improve on before he starts to think about a world title shot, no matter what he team maybe suggesting.
Nicolas Ezequiel Masseroni (17-0, 17)
It's hard to really know what unbeaten Argentinian Nicolas Ezequiel Masseroni has to offer. So far he has been destructive on the Argentinian domestic scene, taking out 17 opponents in a combined 22 rounds. Despite that the 26 year old is yet to face anyone with a pulse, and we suspect he, and his team, will be looking to pad those numbers a it more before getting him to step up. His 17 career bouts have included some fights on the road, with an early career contest in Uruguay and a couple in Mexico, but it is very hard to know what he really brings to the table.
Aidos Yerbossynuly (10-0, 8)
Kazakh boxing is on the rise, there is a lot of promise making it's self known as Gennady Golovkin sees his career coming to an end. Among those looking to make their mark on the sport is Aidos Yerbossynuly. Despite only being a professional since October 2015 Yerbossynuly has already fought in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, USA and Russia, and looks like he is wanting to make a big mark on the sport. Sadly he has shown some issues with durability, having been dropped several times already, but has a fun and exciting style that should help lead him to pretty notable success in the years to come. Even if Yerbossynuly fails to reach the big time he will certainly give us some exciting fights.
D'Mitrius Ballard (19-0-0-1, 12)
25 year old American D'Mitrius Ballard has been a professional for 6 years and like many American fighters his progress was incredibly slow, especially early on. In 2017 however he did begin to show some interesting signs, beating Adrian Luna Flores and Jaime Solorio, before adding a win over Alan Campa in 2018. It's unclear what Ballard has, but as with many prospects it's going to be interesting to see his development from here, especially given that he's not in his mid 20's and can't afford to take a step backwards from his last few opponents.
Nurzat Sabirov (8-0, 7)
Canadian based Kazakh fighter Nurzat Sabirov is a 25 year old boxer-puncher who only turned professional in 2017 and has been kept active since then, fitting 8 fights into about 20 months. To date his competition hasn't been amazing, but he has beaten more experienced fighters, such as Guillermo Romero and Rocky Montoya. He has looked very heavy handed, very smart, very talented and like a potential star in the making. The big question, as it is with a lot of these super prospects, is whether his team can both challenge him and develop him. If they can do that, then Sabirov may well find himself in the world rankings by the end of 2019, in title fights in the later part of 2020.
Rufat Hajiyev (4-0, 4)
It's not often that we get to talk about Azeri fighters but Rufat Hajiyev is certainly worth talking about. The now 25 year old debuted in December 2017 and has taken out his first 4 opponents in a combined 6 rounds. His competition hasn't been particularly good, with all 4 of his bouts taking place in Georgia, but he has been taking care of business, and been stepping up his level of competition. Hopefully that continues in 2019. Sadly Hajiyev may be one of those fighters who just disappears, having never managed to secure the big fights he needs, but we really hope he isn't, and instead does get a chance to sink or swim.
Dieudonne Wilfred Seyi Ntsengue (2-0, 1)
One of the potential hidden gems at Super Middleweight isCanadian based Cameroonian 21 year old Dieudonne Wilfred Seyi Ntsengue. The unbeaten youngster was a former amateur stand out, winning a Gold medal at the 2015 African Games and a Silver medal at the 2018 Commonwealth games. He would also compete at the 2016 Olympics, though fail to make his mark at Rio. As a professional Ntsengue made his debut in Cameroon in 2017, before fighting in Canada last year and it now looks like he will be returning to a Canadian ring in the coming week, to really kick things off. He really could be the dark horse of the division and given his amateur background he is clearly worth keeping and eye on.
Muslimbek Olimov (2-0, 2)
The Uzbek's are certainly on the rise, and in 2018 a number of Uzbeks really left their mark on the sport with a serious of great displays. There isn't too many uzbek fighters at 168lbs worthy of note, though Muslimbek Olimov seems to be one who is worthy of some attention. The heavy handed man from Fergana debuted in July and scored 2 opening round wins before the year was over. Hopefully his activity will pick up this year, and his level of competition also improves. What is worth nothing is that his debut came against a guy with a record of 13-4 (9) and that level of competition is rare for a debutant.
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.