The Welterweight division is a one of the most notable in the sport, and has been heavily dominated by American fighters in recent years, with the likes of Floyd Mayweather Jr, Keith Thurman, Errol Spence, Terence Crawford, Shawn Porter, Timothy Bradley and others all being among the big name US fighters of the last years. It's also a division where Central Asian fighters are starting to make a mark, and where a certain Filipino still resides. It's not the best division for Asian fighters but it's certainly not the worst, and more than interesting.
1-Manny Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39)
The Filipino might be 41 years old but it's hard to deny that is the #1 Asian fighter in the division. Last year he scored good wins over Adrien Broner and Keith Thurman, showing their was still life in his legs. He's really in a league of his own in regards to Asian fighters at 147lbs and whilst he is certainly not the rapid fire, prime Pacquiao we all fell in love with, he's a more calculated and smart fighter and is going to be a very tricky man to dethrone. Talk of big fights for Pacquiao remain on the radar and it's going to be very interesting to see what is next for him.
2-Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (17-0, 9)
Unbeaten Uzbek Kudratillo Abdukakhorov might be some way behind Pacquiao but is also some way ahead of those ranked behind him. He's set for an IBF title fight, at some point, and with wins against Keita Obara, Luis Collazo, Charles Manyuchi and Dmitry Mikhaylenko he's got a very strong record for a contender. Sadly whilst it's clear that Abdukakhorov is a talented boxer, very skills, we do wonder about his power, his toughness and his physical tools, all of which are perhaps not on the same level as his movement, skills and hand speed. A very talented fighter, but someone who is perhaps going to struggle when he mix at the highest level.
3-Daniyar Yeleussinov (9-0, 5)
Another central Asian fight with a lot of potential and a very high skill level is unbeaten Kazakh Daniyar Yeleussinov. The excellent Yeleussinov won an Olympic gold medal in 2016, at the Rio Olympics, and has been matched impressively so far whilst managing to take some good strides forward. There has been questions over his style and power, but stoppages in 2019 over Reshard Hicks and Alan Sanchez were impressive and he certainly has the tools to go a very long way. Can he adapt and become a world champion? We'll see but the 29 year old certainly has the potential to fight at the highest level.
4-Keita Obara (23-4-1, 21)
Hard hitting Japanese national champion Keita Obara may now have had enough to over-come Abdukakhorov but there's not many Asian fighters who would be favoured over the heavy handed man from Tokyo. Obara isn't going to be a world champion, we've seen him suffer a spectacular loss at world level before and suffer several setbacks since then, but he's in a good gatekeeper like position in the sport. Those above him have the potential to go all the way, but those below him in this list are unlikely to get close to the top, or at least get close to the top any time soon.
5-Nursultan Zhangabayev (8-0, 5)
Another unbeaten Kazakh here is Nursultan Zhangabayev, who looks like the dark sheep of the division. He's not had much attention, especially in the west, but has already scored notable victories Xingxin Yang, Arnel Tinampay, Ivan Matute and Steve Gago. Not only has he scored some solid wins but he has also been picking up wins around the globe, with bouts in China, Russia, Kazakhstan and Australia. Strong, tough, with a good work rate, and a real will to win, Zhangabayev is someone who is showing the tools to go a long way in the sport, but will need some strong backing to help him get the bouts he needs to make it to the top.
6-Riku Nagahama (12-2-1, 4)
Another Japanese fighter in this top 10 is OPBF champion Riku Nagahama. The 28 year old scored the best win of his career last time out, defeating Kudura Kaneko, and has shown great improvement since being stopped by Yuki Nagano around 2 years ago. There are still questions for Nagahama to answer, and his chin certainly doesn't seem anything amazing, but he's improving and the win over Kaneko is good enough for a mid-place ranking here. He has the potential to climb up these rankings but in reality it's going to take another big win to see him climb and we're not sure he can get another big win any time soon.
7-Yuki Beppu (21-1-1, 20)
Another Japanese fighter who deserves to be mentioned in here is WBO Asia Pacific champion Yuki Beppu, who really has been under-rated for much of his career, following his win in the Rookie of the Year. Beppu has been matched for the most part, but he earned a draw against Charles Bellamy, an impressive result at the time, ran Yuki Nagano close in a Japanese title eliminator and then took part in an amazing bout last year against Ryota Yada. Beppu might not be the best, or have the greatest chin, but his will to win is incredible, he has solid power and under-rated skills. He's someone who will struggle to get into would level bouts, but will be a major player at regional level.
8-Bobirzhan Mominov (10-0, 8)
Unbeaten Kazakh hopeful Bobirzhan Mominov has yet to score a big win but has shown enough to be excited about and has shown he can do it where ever he is. He has notches wins in Argentina, Kazakhstan and the US. Sadly however his level of competition added to inactivity, with just one bout in 2019, do leave us with a lot of question about his potential. Fingers crossed we see what Mominov has to offer later this year. He's looked good, but hasn't had the competition needed for us to really know anything about his potential.
9-Roman Zakirov (7-0, 4)
It's good to mention new countries in these pieces, and especially countries we don't think of when we speak about boxing. One great example of that is Azerbaijan, which is the birth place of the talented Roman Zakirov. Zakirov struggled on his professional debut, but since then has gone from stride to stride, with wins over Karen Avetisyan, Daniel Vega Cota and Meshack Mwankemwa. It's going to be interesting to see where Zakirov can go and who will help push his career along. Fingers crossed we see him making a mark at the highest level, but it's a push to imagine him ever having the backing needed to be a champion. At 23 he's young, talented and has potential. Hopefully that potential can be developed.
10-Kenbati Haiyilao (6-2-1, 1)
China's Kenbati Haiyilao rounds out the top 10 thanks to an upset win last year over Nick Frese. The tall, rangy Chinese fighter wasn't expected to be a test for Frese but ended up out boxing the Thai based Dutchman. Aged just 24 Haiyilao has shown something to get excited about and despite the 2 losses against his name he certainly has a lot of promise and is someone we're looking forward to seeing more of. He looks skilled, he's proven he can do 10 rounds, he can box, has a good jab and has the potential to go further in the sport. If he can be matched well and get good sparring. A talented yet unknown hopeful.
*For the sake of these Rankings Sergey Lipinets has been regarded as Russian
On the bubble:
Yuki Nagno, Fazliddin Gaibnazarov, In Duck Seo, Youli Dong and Kudura Kaneko
Earlier this week we posted part 1 of our 19 for 19, looking at Asian prospects. If you missed that it's available to read here 19 for 19: Part 1 - The Teenage Prospects.
Here's part 2. Unlike the first part there isn't a set theme to this, but we have included a trio of youngsters, taken fighters from 4 different countries, including an Olympic champion, a rising Uzbek, a Filipino prodigy and a Japanese Rookie of the Year.
Fumiya Fuse (7-0, 1)
The unbeaten Fumiya Fuse impressed last year, when he not only debuted but also went on to win the All Japan Rookie of the Year at Bantamweight. This year he has only fought twice, but has really impressed, taking the unbeaten record of Yohanis Tatul and shining on the road in Korea, where he schooled Dong Young Lee over 6 rounds. Although lacking power the 20 year old is gorgeous boxer to watch in action, with clean crisp punching, great movement a fantastic engine and a very good boxing brain. The only issue really is his lack of power, and hopefully that'll change as he matures.
Ulugbek Sobirov (9-0, 5)
The Uzbek scene is red hot right now, with a number of rising youngsters coming from the country. One of the youngest is 20 year old Light Middleweight boxer-puncher Ulugbek Sobirov, who looks freakishly mature for such a youngster. He only debuted in January, but has stepped up through the year whilst picking up international experience with bouts in India, Malaysia, the Philipines and Thailand. He's lacking a real break out win, but has been fighting experienced regional opposition and been looking very good so far.
KJ Cataraja (9-0, 7)
The Philippines has, for a long time, relied on it's trio of aging legends, Manny Pacquiao, Donnie Nietes and Nonito Donaire, to keep interesting in boxing high. Thankfully however it's got a number of amazing prospects, the best of which may well be Kevin Jake "KJ" Cataraja. In fact he may well be one of the world's very best prospects, with an offensive and free flowing style that combines skills, speed, power and under-rated defense. Cataraja is still some way from fighting for a world title, but at 23 years old he has a lot of time to mature before being thrown in with world class opponents, which could come by the end of 2019.
Daniyar Yeleussinov (5-0, 3)
At the 2016 Olympics we saw Daniyar Yeleussinov take his most notable amateur tournament win, winning the gold medal in the talent laden 69KG division. Since then the Kazakh has began to make a mark in the professional ranks. Originally he didn't look like he suited the professional style though his last two fights have changed that opinion, a lot, and he looks like he is now settling into the professional ranks in a very fashion. He still has a lot of questions to answer, but the story out of Kazakhstan is that he will be moved into minor title fights in summer 2019 and so we should see those questions being answered in the near future.
We've decided to look at these two men in our first ever “A Vs B”, where we look at the two and try to predict who will have the better future.
Given that Yeleussinov [Данияр Маратұлы Елеусінов] won the Olympic gold medal we'll start by looking at him first.
The Kazakh was an outstanding amateur fighter who had essentially been the best at 69KG's for several years.
Between 2008 and 2016 he had claimed major international medals on a consistent basis. These included a silver at the Youth World Championships in 2008, Asian Games gold medals in 2010 and 2014, gold medals at the 2013 and 2015 Asian Championships, a gold at the 2013 World championships, and a silver at 2015 World Championships as well as the 2016 Olympic gold medal.
Following his sensational amateur career Yeleussinov's signature was one that many promoters were chasing, with Matchroom Sports managing to edge out others and sign the Kazakh. Since then here has hardly put a foot wrong, winning his first 3 professional bouts. Despite the good start there are many suggesting his style is still very amateurish and he's not yet learned to really sit on his shots yet. He's very much showing signs of being an overly patient and skilled counter puncher, who unfortunately hasn't been matched with aggressive opponents and instead of being given show cases around his strengths he has almost struggled to shine.
Whilst not yet impressive in terms of his professional performances Yeleussinov has shown some glimpses of genius. His hand speed is fantastic, his timing is brilliant and his understanding of distance is unquestionable. It's not his skills that are underwhelming, just his style in the ring which needs a lot of tweaking is he's to become a star.
Although Giyasov did come up short against Yeleussinov in the Olympics he didn't have a particularly bad amateur career himself. In fact not only did he claim an Olympic silver medal but he then went on to claim the gold medal at both the Asian Championships and the World Championships in 2017. By the time he was done with the amateurs he was seen as one of the hottest properties, but did remain outside of the professional ranks whilst he finished his time in the WSB, preparing him as a pro-ready fighter before his debut.
Given he was a sensational amateur and had been through the WSB experience there was no wonder that several promoters chased his signature, before he signed with World of Boxing, the promotional power house run by Andrey Ryabinsky, with Giyasov signing along fellow Uzbek amateur standout Murodjon Akhmadaliev. Although he's a Uzbek promoted by a Russian he's actually based in the US, where he will be able to get fantastic sparring and training.
Having had a stellar 2017 as an amateur Giyasov made his professional debut this past March with a lot of expectations on his shoulders. It amazingly took just 15 seconds for him to get his debut over and done with, stopping Nicolas Atilio Velazquez with pretty much the first combination of the bout. Since then he has looked fantastic, exciting, aggressive, offensive and a touch arrogant. Not only has he looked great since turning professional but he has also been stepping up his competition and in August he scored an excellent win over Albert Mensah.
In our eyes the more polished professional skills, and the style of Giyasov is more likely to see him having a stronger professional career. He is already a step ahead of Yeleussinov in terms of competition and we think he may be more aggressively matched. We wouldn't be surprised to see both men win world titles, but we expect Giyasov's reign to be a better, longer and more impressive one. But feel free to vote in the poll below.
(Image courtesy of Sky Sports and World Boxing Series)
Thinking Out East
With this site being pretty successful so far we've decided to open up about our own views and start what could be considered effectively an editorial style opinion column dubbed "Thinking Out East" (T.O.E).