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".
Whislt most Treasure Trove articles have tried to give focus on low key bouts, there are some bigger bouts that deserve the attention of a Treasure Trove piece. Today we look at one of the biggest bouts to take place in Asia in recent years, and it was a bout that exceeded all expectations and became an instant classic. That was a bout that was well and truly in the running as the 2019 Fight of the Year, and it was the WBSS Bantamweight final.
Naoya Inoue (18-0, 16) Vs Nonito Donaire (40-5, 26)
In October 2018 we saw the WBSS Bantamweight competition kick off in explosive fashion, with Naoya Inoue taking out Juan Carlos Payano. A few weeks later Nonito Donaire upset Ryan Burnett in his quarter final bout. The two men had made it clear they wanted to face off, but to do so they would need to make it to the final, which they did, and in November 2019, more than a year after the tournament had began they finally faced off. It wasn't the WBSS final many had really wanted, with fans generally suggesting the best possible final would have seen Inoue face Zolani Tete, but it ended up being the final we had deserved after such a long and protracted tournament.
The expectation was that Inoue would continue to sweep opponents aside as he had done in his previous few bouts. He had needed only 19 rounds to take out his previous 7 opponents, and 4 rounds for his last 3 opponents. Since moving to Bantamweight Inoue had even more destructive than he had at Super Flyweight. Although Donaire was clearly a hall of famer, most though he was going to be taken out quickly by the Monster, and had seen better days.
What ended up happening was that Donaire, who had always been incredibly tough, refused to play his role in a mismatch. Instead of toppling over at the power of Inoue the Filipino pressed, was aggressive, and showed a chin made out of something they should be making tanks out of. He took huge shots, and despite being shaken a number of times he was only dropped by a body shot. Even that came later, and came after he had drawn first blood.
This bout was as good as any other world level bout in 2019, and saw two men with massive amounts of respect for each other beat the living snot out of each other in a bout that had massive amounts of drama, incredible skill level, a little bit of controversy and so much action!
Here we give one of the biggest and best gems of last year!
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.
This weeks one to watch comes from Kariya City where we see a touted Japanese prospect taking on a young Filipino with a point to prove, in what looks likely to be a very interesting match up.
The One to Watch?
Kento Hatanaka (10-0, 9) Vs Roland Jay Biendima (15-5-1, 8)
February 11th (Tuesday)
The bout, a WBC Youth title fight, pits a talented young prospects against someone who is a solid challenger to their crown. It comes after the champion was given a real gutcheck and lets us see what improvements he's made since his last bout. It also allows the challenger to aim for his biggest win to date. A good, solid match up between two youngsters, one of whom is destined for big things and the other is likely to have to work for everything he gets.
The 21 year old Kento Hatanaka is regarded as one of Japanese's most exciting young prospects and is following in the footsteps of his father, Kiyoshi Hatanaka. The elder Hatanaka was a world champion back in the 1990's and his on is certainly a fighter being groomed for success. Blessed with a naturally exciting style, explosive power and speed Hatanaka does look like one to watch. He impressed early in his career, stopping his first 9 opponents in a combined 32 rounds, whilst claiming the WBC Youth Flyweight title and recording a defense of the title. Last time out he got a genuine gutcheck, as he went 10 rounds with Jaysever Abcede, being dropped in the bout, and for the first time there was real questions asked of Hatanaka, who was a little lucky to get the win.
Aged 23 Roland Jay Biendima is a Filipino who has been a pro for almost 4 years and has proven to be a fighter who's better than his record suggests. He's no world beater, but he's not been embarrassed so far and his losses have come to good fighters, with defeats to Jayson Mama, Samuel Salva, Taiyo Inoue, Wulan Tuolehazi and Bin Zhou. Comparing his opponents to Hatanaka is really unfair as Biendima has been genuinely up against it, and 3 of his losses have come in the homeland of his opponents. Sadly he's yet to score a notable win, with his best being a stoppage against Ronie Tanallon, but here's proven to be a solid fighter in his losses.
What to expect?
We don't expect to see Hatanaka struggle in the same way he did with Abcede, but we still expect to see him being given a genuine test here. Biendima is a strong fighter, with a powerful jab and is physically imposing, despite not being the biggest puncher or the quickest. He's the sort of fighter who pushes forward behind his jab and keeps up a solid output.
We suspect the technical flaws of Biendima will be his undoing here against a technically sharp Hatanaka, but the Filipino will certainly make Hatanaka work for his success. The real issue Biendima has is that his hands do low and that will give Hatanaka chances to catch him clean. If he does that he could stop Biendima, which we eventually think will happen, at some point.
The bad news?
At the time of writing it's unclear how this is being made available. We expect CBC to release it online, as they have done with other Hatanaka fights, but it's not obvious when they'll make it available or in what form.
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.
The Light Middleweight division is one of the most interesting as none of the fighters in it can seem to separate themselves from the chasing pack of contenders. It seems that on an any given day one of the contenders could defeat a champion. What makes that even more incredible is the sheer depth of contenders in the division, with more contenders of note than pretty much any other division. These including former champions, solid established contenders, and rising hopefuls on their way to the top.
Brian Carlos Castano (16-0-1, 12)
Unbeaten Argentinian Brian Carlos Castano is a 30 year who won the WBA title in 2017, made 2 defenses before losing the belt, with reports stating that he was either stripped or vacated. Castano's reign ended when he refused to travel to France to face Michel Soro with out his purse being put in escrow and without having confirmation of drug testing in place. It's worth noting that Castano won the title by beating Soro, and then was forced to wait months for his purse. Essentially he lost the title on principle, and should be seen as the belt-less champion. Thankfully he's expected to get a shot at WBO champion Patrick Teixeira later this year.
Jarrett Hurd (24-1, 16)
Exciting American Jarrett Hurd is looking to prove he wasn't just a flash in the pan. The strong and powerful Hurt won the IBF title in 2017, stopping Tony Harrison, then beat Austin Trout before unifying the IBF and WBA titles with a win over Erislandy Lara. His reign was a disappointing one, defeating Jason Welborn before losing the belts to Julian Williams last year. On Hurt has fought once since losing the titles, taking a decision over the much smaller Francisco Santana last time out. Hurt, as his best, is an exciting inside fighter, but he's tried a few times to show a more traditional boxing style, something that works for him against a lower level opponent, but we suspect will not be the most effective for him when he returns to fighting top level fighters later in the year.
Julian Williams (27-2-1-1, 16)
American 29 year old Julian "J-Rock" Williams like so many others here has had a short reign and is looking to recapture a title. He got his first world title shot back in 2016 and was stopped by Jermall Charlo, he would then bounce back and defeat Jarrett Hurd for the IBF and WBA "super" titles in May 2019 before losing the belt in January to Jeison Rosario. A talented boxer puncher Williams is a man who's hard to really get a read one. Sady he's had issues with activity, with just 1 fight in 2019 and only 6 fights since the start of 2017. We suspect he'll be getting a rematch with Rosario later this year, and with the right game plan he could reclaim the titles, though will certainly not risk over looking the Dominican again if they do rematch.
Erickson Lubin (22-1, 16)
Once seen as the face of the division hard hitting American hopeful Erick Lubin saw his unbeaten record come to an end in October 2017 when he was stopped, inside a round, when he faced Jermell Charlo. Since then he has racked up 4 wins, including notable victories over Ishe Smith and Nathaniel Gallimore, to get himself back in the mix. Exciting, with a big punch Lubin is one to keep an eye on, and at just 24 years old there really is no need to rush him. Although talented and a very good contender, it does feel like Lubin needs another fight or two before he should be given a big shot.
Tony Harrison (28-3, 21)
Former WBC champion Tony Harrison shocked the division in late 20018, when he took a close decision win over Jermell Charlo, but lost a rematch a year later and failed to notch a single successful defense. The 29 year old is a very talented boxer-moved, and although he's got close to a 70% KO rate he's not much of an actual puncher with his last stoppage wins of note coming against Siarhei Rabchanka back in 2016. Harrison is someone who will remain a main player in the division, and will likely get another world title fight, but there are question marks about his durability and he has been stopped in all 3 of his defeats. A solid contender, but given the depth in the division he almost merges in the division's many other talented fighters.
Michel Soro (35-2-1, 24)
Talented French fighter Michel Soro is a fantastic contender level fighter with under rated skills and solid pop. He's the sort of fighter who deserves to be in the mix and has remained there due to decent wins over the likes of Glen Tapia, Emanuele Blandamura, Javier Francisco Maciel, Greg Vendetti and John Vera. He's lost in his two bouts at world level, losing a competitive decision to Zaurbek Baysangurov in 2012 and a close decision to Brian Carlos Castano in 2017, but has the wins to solidify his place as a contender. He's expected to get another world title fight in the near future, and at 32 years old that will likely be his last shot.
Israil Madrimov (4-0, 4)
Uzbek 24 year old Israil Madrimov is one of those rare, rare fighters who looked like he was ready for big things immediately after turning professional. On his debut he impressed, in dominated Vladimir Hernandez, showed an ability to switch hit, box, move, and punch. Since then he has gone on to stop Frank Rojas, Norberto Gonzalez and Alejandro Barerra in 3 very impressive performances. It's clear Madrimov is facing good competition, but needs excellent competition to get the best from him. Although he only has 4 fights as a professional he was a stellar amateur and it's clear that they could push him to a world title before the end of 2020. A rare, sensational athlete, with a strong boxing background and excellent ring IQ. The only problem for Madrimov is keeping him interested, and at times he's looked like he's been entertaining himself against his solid, but over-matched, opposition.
Takeshi Inoue (16-1-1, 10)
Once beaten Japanese fighter Takeshi Inoue is best known for his 2019 loss to Jaime Munguia in a WBO world title fight. Since then he has scored 3 stoppages, in a combined 5 rounds, to win and defend the WBO Asia Pacific title. Aged 30 the rugged, and physically strong Inoue is thought to be aiming to secure another world title fight this year, and we wouldn't be surprised to see him getting a shot given his fan friendly style, toughness and his performance against Munguia. He would be the under-dog against any of the champions but would certainly be a tough 12 round test, for any of the top fighters in the division.
Bakhram Murtazaliev (17-0, 13)
US based Russian contender Bakhram Murtazaliev has been quietly making a name for himself with a string of C tier wins over the likes of Norberto Gonzalez and Elvin Ayala. It would seem likely he'll make the move up to B level guys in 2020 and then begin heading towards a title fight before the year is over. Aged 27 time is there for him to develop and improve, but the feeling is that his team aren't willing to put up the money to get him the best competition and it could be another frustrating year for a man who needs better tests than he's getting. With Egis Klimas behind him there's always the potential for him to get a break sooner, rather than later, but it feels like his career has been a case of making steps the last couple of years, and rarely losing rounds in the process.
Serhii Bohachuk (17-0, 17)
An US based foreign born fighter is Ukrainian destroyed Serhii Bohachuk who has racked up 17 wins, all by stoppage, in just 50 professional rounds. He made his around 3 years ago and did so without much song and dance and has developed an impressive reputation as a destructive, heavy-handed, aggressive and exciting fighter. He's not the most technically sound of the Uzbek fighters out there but he's a very big, powerful fighter who applies pressure and beats people up. So far he's looked really exciting and promising, but his competition has been rather limited and we still have a lot of questions for Bohachuk to answer, regarding his chin and stamina. Certainly one to get excited about, and one we expect to see a lot of in 2020.
Over the last couple of years the Light Middleweight division has been one of the most interesting with regular upsets, shocks and surprises. On paper it's one of the most interesting divisions, but also one of the most frustrating with none of the fighters involved really being able to make the divisions theirs. It's not a bad division, not even close, but it's one that is lacking consistency and is very much a mess, an exciting, competitive, mess.
WBA "Super" and IBF - Jeison Rosario (20-1-1, 14)
Dominican fighter Jeison Rosario announced himself on the boxing world earlier this year when he stopped Julian Williams to claim the WBA "Super" and IBF titles. Prior to that win he wasn't particularly well-known but had notched decent wins against Justin DeLoach, Jamontay Clack and Jorge Cota. Notably he has suffered a stoppage loss, being stopped in 6 rounds by Nathaniel Gallimore back in 2017. Since that loss he has bounced back and gone 8-0-1 (5) and matured from the 22 year old kid he was when that loss was suffered. Strong, heavy handed and physically powerful, he's going to be a very tough may to win a war against.
WBC- Jermell Charlo (33-1, 17)
American boxer-puncher Jermell Charlo has been happy to talk the the talk and has got himself a solid resume, with wins against the likes of John Jackson, Erickson Lubin, Austin Trout and Tony Harrison. In reality however he's very much a fighter who has frustrated fans. As a 2-time WBC champion he's a talented fighter, and has avenged his sole defeat, but there is very much a feeling that should do more, both in regards who he faces and what he does in the ring. Although not a puncher he certainly isn't feather fisted, and when he catches an opponent clean he can take them out. Probably the best in the division, but also one of the most frustrating.
WBO - Patrick Teixeira (31-1, 22)
Exciting Brazilian fighter Patrick Teixeira shocked many in November when he took a decision over the highly regarded Carlos Adames to claim the WBO "interim" title, which later became the full version of the title when Jaime Munguia moved up in weight. Although not the best fighter out there Teixeira combines skills, power and toughness, along with good size for a fighter in the division and a southpaw stance. Notably he was stopped back in 2016, by Curtis Stevens at Middleweight, but since then he has racked up 5 wins and claimed the WBO title. He's expected to make his first defense later this year against Brian Carlos Castano.
WBA "regular" - Erislandy Lara (26-3-3, 15)
Cuban veteran Erislandy Lara, who is now 36, has long been in and around the world title scene with a mix of bad luck and not doing himself many favours. The skilled southpaw is arguably the best natural boxing talent in the division, but he's also proven to be one of the most frustrating and has, like other Cuban fighters, done a lot to hamper his own career. Through his career he has beaten a who's who, but many of his best wins are years in the past and he once has 1 win since the end of 2017, with that being a victory over Ramon Alvarez. Although he was competitive with Jarrett Hurt in 2018, losing a close decision, and fought to a draw with Brian Carlos Castano last year. He's world class, but we do wonder what he has left in the tank.
The Welterweight scene is an interesting one, though it's not got the most established or notable contenders out there. It has some well-known names, some emerging names, but little in terms of bankable contenders for the champions. On the other hand the division does look set for a shake up, and that is exciting.
Shawn Porter (30-3-1, 17)
The 32 year old Shawn Porter is one of the few really established contenders in the division. The former world champion is a nightmare to fighter with a high work rate, solid power, an impressive gas tanks and a real willingness to just take the fight to anyone. His chin isn't cast iron, and he has been down a couple of times, but it's rare to actually see him hurt and he's always gotten back up to continue giving opponents hell. Technically not the best, but with bull like strength Porter is not an easy out for anyone.
Danny Garcia (36-2, 21)
Another former world champion is Danny Garcia, who is another notable contender in the division. Garcia is a talented but someone who has really frustrated fans, as we saw recently in his win over Ivan Redkach. At his best he's genuinely world class, tough, and has a very heavy left hook. At his worst however he's predictable, and faces some pretty poor competition between his big bouts. With wins against the likes of Amir Khan, Lucas Matthysse, Erik Morales and Lamont Peterson he's certainly got a good resume, but at Welterweight he does lack an A tier win and has lost to 2 of the more notable fighters at the weight.
Keith Thurman (29-1-0-1, 22)
The final of the real big name contenders is 31 year old boxer-puncher Keith Thurman. Sadly Thurman's career has been rather a wasted one with the charismatic "One Time" being plagued by inactivity and injury. Last time out he was beaten by Manny Pacquiao. At his best Thurman was regarded as a top level talent, with the potential to be a genuine star. Sadly with just 4 fights since the start of 2016 his career really has failed to become what many had hoped. Although he has scored wins against Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia, two huge wins, his inactivity has really been a massive problem, and it's unclear when he'll be back in the ring.
Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (17-0, 9)
Unbeaten Uzbek Kudratillo Abdukakhorov is one of a number of contenders who is on the verge of a potential break out. The Top Rank promoted 26 year old is the IBF mandatory challenger and is expected to get his first world title fight later this year, with an IBF "interim" title bout being ordered for him. Although not the most exciting fighter out there Abdukakhorov is a talented boxer, with sharp punches, decent hand speed and a good boxing brain. Sadly however he does have a lack of power, which is likely to be an issue against the divisional elite. He's now gone the distance in 5 of his last 6 and we do wonder whether or not the top fighters will simply walk him down over 12 rounds.
Sergey Lipinets (16-1, 12)
Once beaten Kazakh born Russian Sergey Lipinets is the man that Abdukakhorov will likely be facing for the IBF interim title, with the IBF ordering the two men to face off. Lipinets is a former world champion at 140lbs who has moved up to Welterweight following a loss to Mikey Garcia back in 2018. He didn't look good on his debut at the weight, but a stoppage win over Lamont Peterson last year put him instantly in the mix and it's going to be very interesting to see what the 30 year old Russian can do this year. He's rugged, strong, powerful and heavy handed. Maybe not the biggest or most skilled, but still a genuine handful.
Vergil Ortiz Jr (15-0, 15)
Fast rising American youngster Virgil Ortiz Jr is a real one to watch, and at just 21 years old his future is really bright. So far the power punching youngster has only had 38 rounds as a professional but has already blasted through the likes of Mauricio Herrera, Antonio Orozco and Brad Solomon. Expect 2020 to be the year where Ortiz announces himself as a top contender, though may just miss out on a world title fight this year. If he's not managed a world title fight in 2020 he'll almost certainly be getting one in 2021. A real star in the making and the man who is likely to be a major part of the US boxing scene over the next decade or so.
Yordenis Ugas (24-4, 11)
It's rare to have exciting Cuban in the sport right now but Yordenis Ugas certainly does fit the role of exciting Cuban. The 33 year old is exciting, talented, aggressive and willing to test himself against the best without airs or graces. His record isn't the best but he has given everyone he's faced fits, whilst notching wins against the likes of Jamal James, Levan Ghvamichava, Thomas Dulorme, Ray Robinson and Omar Figueroa Jr. Last year he came up just short against Shawn Porter and has done enough to remain in the mix with another potential title fight later this year. First up for him will be a bout in February with Mike Dallas Jr, in what is a clear stay busy fight.
Gabriel Maestre (2-0, 2)
It might seem incredibly premature to be talking about Gabriel Maestre as a contender but the 33 year old Venezuelan is here on merit. The former amateur stand out made his professional debut in July and knew he had to move quickly. As an amateur he's a 2-time Olympian and as a professional he has already beaten the then 20-0 Jeovanis Barraza and the 27-5-1 Deigo Gabriel Chaves. Those wins have seen Maestre jump into the WBA top 15 and he's very much in the mix for a title fight in the near future. At 33 he really doesn't have time, and watching him more towards a title fight will be a lot of fun.
Jaron Ennis (25-0, 23)
The US really does have some great fighters making their mark at 147lbs. Already is Vergil Ortiz Jr and here we have Jaron Ennis. The 22 year old "Boots" has struggled with getting serious backing, but that looks likely to change this year and he was really impressive earlier this year when he beat Kazakh Bakhtiyar Eyubov. Ennis looks like a star in the making, and he can box or fight. He looks like a real star for the future and with 25 bouts already under his belt he's now ready for a big break out. We wouldn't be surprised if he, like Ortiz, had to wait until 2021 for a world title fight, but by then boxing fans will be talking about him, and will be very excited to see him get a shot at the big time.
In recent memory the only division which has attracted attention similar to the Heavyweight division has been the Welterweight division, which has created a lot of buzz in recent times with several of the top names in the sport fighting there. Today the division is certainly an interesting one, but one where the obvious massive fights aren't being made.
WBA "super" - Manny Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39)
The biggest name in the division is WBA "Super" champion Manny Pacquiao, who rolled back the clock last year when he defeated both Adrien Broner and Keith Thurman. The now 41 year old Filipino certainly has the clock ticking down on his career, but we suspect that until he loses again he's pretty the man that everyone in the division wants. He's not the mega star he once was, but he's still the biggest name in the division, and the one true PPV fighter at Welterweight. Essentially he's the one guy who can pick who fights, when he fights.
WBC and IBF - Errol Spence (26-0, 21)
Unified champion Errol Spence is widely regarded by fans and media in America despite having a relatively thin resume. His best wins have been over Kel Brook, Shawn Porter and a very under-sized Mikey Garcia. Whilst not bad, it does lack depth. In 2019 Spence was involved in a series traffic accident which is currently putting his career on ice, until medical and legal issues are sorted out. At the age of 30 time is on his side for a full return to the ring, and given he's a very fighter to watch, with a likeable personality the future is still bright for Spence. Fingers crossed he concentrates on his career for the next few years, then can party to his hearts content, with his finances and legacy assured.
WBO - Terence Crawford (36-0, 27)
With most of the top Welterweights over on the PBC side of the boxing street WBO champion Terence Crawford has found himself struggling to secure career defining bouts at 147lbs. Regardless his legacy is already a strong one, having won a Lightweight title, become the undisputed Light Welterweight champion and claimed a Welterweight title. As a 3 weight champion, the 32 year old "Bud" has a solid resume, and is one of the most adaptable and smart men in the ring. Able to box, brawl and punch Crawford is a fantastic fighter, but sadly his reign at Welterweight desperately needs a big fight after a string of solid but uninspired opponents.
WBA "Regular" - Alexander Besputin (14-0, 9)
At the moment the future is unclear on Russian 28 year old Alexander Besputin, who has had a drug testing anomaly in his A sample. At the moment we're awaiting the results of the B sample, and whatever investigation takes place. He impressively won the WBA "regular" title last year when he defeated Radzhab Butaev in Monaco. In the ring Besputin looks to be a lot of fun, and a bit like a discount store version of Vasyl Lomachenko, which is certainly not a complain. His drug situation is going to be a very interesting story to follow over the coming weeks.
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.