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
The new year is fast approaching and I'll be honest I'm really excited about the coming year. It's fair to say that 2018 has been a great year for boxing, despite being a pretty poor year on a personal level, but I'm expecting 2019 to be even better as the sport continues to develop, and be reshaped into something more and more spectacular. If I'm being honest I suspect 2019 may well be one of the best year's the sport has had in a very long time, building on the momentum of a great 2018.
With that in mind I've put together 5 predictions for the new year, and how I think they will effect the boxing world in general
Naoya Inoue wins the WBSS
An obvious one to start with. Japan's Naoya Inoue is strongly favoured to win the WBSS Bantamweight series and for good reason. "The Monster" is one of the few fighters who really lives up to his reputation every time he steps in the ring, and in 2018 he quickly despatched recognisable foes Jamie McDonnell and Juan Carlos Payano without breaking a sweat. I suspect that his current impressive run takes him to the Muhammad Ali Trophy in the coming year, beating Emmanuel Rodriguez in the Spring before winning the final in the Summer. After that it's unclear whether he'll immediately look for bigger challenges at Super Bantamweight or will look to clean up at Bantamweight, with a potential fight against Luis Nery certainly a possibility.
Fast Tracking continues
If we've seen anything really come to the fore these past few years it's been that fast tracking has really exploded. No longer is it just a Japanese and Thai thing but we're seeing Europeans, and Central Asian's fighters all stepping up incredibly quickly. I suspect that actually intensifies in the coming year, with more and more fighters shrugging off the usual preliminary stages of their professional careers and being moved aggressively. Lu Bin was too aggressively matched, but I expect others, like Murodjon Akhmadaliev, Apichet Petchmanee, Ginjiro Shigeoka and Israil Madrimov, to be competing for world titles within 7 fights. Top amateur fighters making their debuts next year will also be pushed hard early on.
A big year for India
Top Rank have made a very conscious effort in signing two of the most notable Indian fighters, Vijender Singh and Vikas Krishan, and I suspect that will only be the start for what could be a massive year for Indian boxing. The market is ripe for surge, and top young amateur fighters like Amit Panghal and Gaurav Solanki could well have professional promoters trying to snap them up as key figures for the long term growth of Indian boxing. The sport isn't huge in India, yet, but with over 1,000,000,000 people living there the potential is massive, if a promoter can sign the right fighters and work well with the local media. It will be a risky market to jump into but given the right promoter it could end up being a game changer. I also expect to see aforementioned Vijender Singh challenge for a world title before the end of 2019.
Boxing Grows in non-Boxing Countries
It's not just India that I expect to see boxing grow in but also Vietnam, Teipai, Malaysia and Singapore. We've certainly seen Singapore and Malaysia develop their scenes recently, but Vietnam and Teipai will likely follow suit, albeit for different reasons. Malaysia and Singapore are key hubs for the area, and money in those countries towards boxing has grown due to the promoters wanting to build the scenes. For Vietnam and Teipai however it seems likely that the OPBF will be the fulcrum behind their growth, and the development of the OPBF Silver titles, specifically in those two countries, will be key. In fact we could see that extending into other locations like Mongolia as the OPBF become more than just a title body but also, in association with the JBC, an overseer of several, non-boxing countries as they plant seeds of potential growth.
An Uzbek Take Over
It's hard to believe that only two Uzbek fighters have ever won world titles, Artur Grigorian and Ruslan Chagaev. This coming year I'm expecting that to change and wouldn't be massively surprised to see that number double in 2019, with the likes of the aforementioned Akhmadaliev along with Shakhram Giyasov, Elnur Abduraimov and Kudratillo Abdukakhorov all likely to be fighting for world titles by the end of the year. The Uzbek take over will be a hostile one, as the fighters look to put not only themselves on the boxing map, but also their country and we suspect the number of Uzbek amateurs turning professional will grow substantially in not only 2019, but also 2020. Uzbek fighters who miss out on the 2020 Olympics will likely jump at the chance to turn professional, and I expect them to do so with a lot of ambition to climbing the rankings as quickly as possible.
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).