A few days ago we shared our Lightweight rankings and confessed that the division was a hard one to really talk about. There was a unified champion, Yuichiro Yoshino, but the rest of the division was a bit of a mess and there was no clarity within it. Things don't get any clearer at 140lbs. In fact Light Welterweight might be an even harder division to rank, but also one of the most interesting with a number of people all banging on the door of big fights.
1-Batyrzhan Jukembayev (18-0-0-2, 14)
Unbeaten Canadian based Kazakh contender Batyrzhan Jukembayev is really banging on the door for a world title fight. Although not too well known internationally Jukembayev has ready scored noteworthy wins against the likes of Cosme Rivera, Patricio Lopez Moreno and Miguel Vazquez. A talented boxer puncher, but still a work in progress, Jukembayev is part of the chasing pack wanting a world title fight sooner rather than later. At 29 the Kazakh will be wanting to get back into the swing of things as soon as possible, and certainly doesn't have too much time to waste if he's going to have a solid time at, or around, the top of the sport. He's not old, but he's also no spring chicken.
2-Shohjahon Ergashev (18-0, 16)
The most explosive and exciting fighter in this top 10 is the powerful, but technically flawed, Shohjahon Ergashev. The heavy handed American based Uzbek is a fighter who can completely destroy opponents with his left hand, but can also be made to look rather rudimentary and basic by those who can control the action against him. Ergashev burst on the wider scene in 2018, when he dismantled Sonny Fredrickson in a charismatic and thrilling performance, and has notched 7 more wins since then. He looked very human against the awkward Mykal Fox, but absolutely terrifying against Nazareno Gaston Ruiz and more recently Adrian Estrella. The crude dangerman of the division.
3-Shakhram Giyasov (9-0, 7)
Another US based unbeaten Uzbek hopeful is 2016 Olympic gold medal winner Shakhram Giyasov. The talented "Wonder Boy" has shown a lot of potential, and looks to be a better boxer than Ergashev, but has got a lot of questions to answer before we move up any further up this list. Although he's a hard hitting boxer-puncher there are defensive holes we've seen from Giyasov and the now 26 year old did not look good against Emanuel Taylor last year. He scored an impressive blow out against Darleys Perez last time out, but still has a lot to prove. We suspect that when Giyasov steps up in class he will impress more than he has so far, but it might be a case of waiting for another year or so before we come close to seeing how good Giyasov really is.
4-Downua Ruawaiking (16-0, 13)
Thailand's Downua Ruawaiking, also known as Apinun Khongsong, was preparing for a world title fight before the global situation pout a halt on worldwide boxing. When we come out of this current situation we would expect to see the Thai getting a shot at unbeaten Scottish fighter Josh Taylor. The Thai hasn't got many wins of note on his record, but his 2019 win over Akihiro Kondo in Japan was very impressive and certainly sees him deserving a high ranking here. Although he's not the quickest, he has shown under-rated technical ability, real power and he is much better than many Thai's around this weight. We don't expect him to defeat Taylor, when the two finally clash, but he is certainly among the very best at 140lbs in Asia, and is going to be someone who would be fancied against pretty much everyone in region.
5-Koki Inoue (15-0, 12)
The unbeaten Koki Inoue is the "lesser known Inoue", and is the cousin of Naoya and Takuma. Inoue isn't as well established as his two cousins, but is another boxing product of Shingo Inoue and the Ohashi gym. Inoue has proven to be a solid punching boxer-mover who has shown the ability to bang when he wants to, as we saw against Jheritz Chavez last year, and box when he needs to, as we saw against Valentine Hosokawa. At times he's been a bit dull to watch, but there is always a sense of tension with his fights, knowing he can go into another gear as, and when, he chooses. Currently Inoue is the Japanese and WBO Asia Pacific and we see him moving onto the next level sooner, rather than later.
5-Daud Yordan (40-4-0-1, 28)
Indonesian veteran Daud Yordan appears to have been around forever, but the former world title contender is still only 32 and his career, which began in 2005, is still very much active. Originally a contender at Featherweight Yordan has seen his body fill out over the last decade and he's now fighting between Lightweight and Light Welterweight. Although not the physically imposing fighter he was lower down the weights he's certainly still a handful and a genuine gatekeeper. His 2018 proved he still deserves to be mentioned here in among the best in Asia, with an excellent win in Russia against Pavel Malikov and a game performance in a loss to Anthony Crolla. Yordan is some way from being world class, but is a definite gatekeeper level fighter.
6-Zhankosh Turarov (24-0, 17)
The second Kazakh to make it on to this list is the unbeaten 29 year old "Kazakh Kid" Zhankosh Turarov. The unbeaten Turarov has been a professional for more than a decade but has yet to make a real mark at the top, not help by the fact he spent around 21 months out of the ring from September 2017 to June 2019. Although talented there has, seemingly, been lacking direction and hunger in his career and he really needs some stiffer competition to see what he's really made out of. It'd be great to see Turarov taking on a test this year, but we do wonder if the desire is really there. He was supposed to be in a tournament last year but pulled out with injury and with that in mind we do need to wonder if he's perhaps, maybe, a touch fragile and injury prone. A talent, but one who needs to be questioned and needs to do more, soon.
7-Rikki Naito (22-2, 7)
OPBF champion Rikki Naito is in an interesting position. He's clearly a talented boxer who has won the Japanese Super Featherweight title and now holds the OPBF title at 140lbs, but he's a talented boxer with some real issues. We know his stamina isn't great, and he tends to run on fumes in the championship rounds. We know he lacks power, which further makes his lack of stamina and issue, as bouts do go long, and physically he's not the strongest at the weight. Despite those flaws he's fast, very skilled, smart and know how to move around the ring. As with Turarov his ability isn't going to be questioned, but boxing isn't all about ability and we can all see Naito's flaws, so to will future opponents. Jheritz Chavez and Daishi Nagata have pushed Naito all the way, and we suspect any decent regional level fighter will do the same, but he has been finding ways to win!
8-Daishi Nagata (14-2-1, 5)
It's hard to know how good 20 year old Japanese fighter Daishi Nagata is. It's clear he can fight, it's clear he's a warrior and his performances against Rikki Naito, in a razor thin loss, and Cristiano Aoqui, in a 2019 win, showed what he could do. Sadly though he's been fairly inconsistent, struggling past the unheralded Min Ho Jung and being battered into submission by Vladimir Baez. When he's on song Nagata could well be a nightmare for those ranked above him, as he was for Naito, but his next bout is likely to be against Inoue and we suspect there will be a clear between the two Japanese fighters when we get around to seeing that one.
9-Andy Hiraoka (15-0, 10)
Talented Japanese fighter Andy Hiraoka is someone we should have seen fans talking about internationally back in April. He was pencilled in to fight on the under-card of the now cancelled Naoya Inoue Vs Johnriel Casimero bout and the reality is that he would have got a lot of eye balls on him there. The talented 23 year old is big, strong, tough, fast and has the athletic traits to be a real one to watch in the division, with the potential to quickly outgrow the Asian scene. Despite the athletic ability Hiraoka is still a work in progress and needs to develop the technical skills to go with his athletic tools. We saw Hiraoka make good development last year, and his decision win over Akihiro Kondo was a career best win, but the best is yet to come.
10-Ablaikhan Khussainov (11-0, 8)
Rounding off our top 10 is another Kazkh, Ablaikhan Khussainov. Khussainov, like Jukembayev, fought much of his career in Canada but is now based in the US where he is hoping to have a big break through in the near future. The talented Kazakh fought much of his career at Lightweight but his last two bouts have suggested that a move to being a fully fledged Light Welterweight it now on the cards. Although not as proven as the others on this list Khussainov is a good former amateur, who has proven his professional ability around the globe and is clearly ready to be tested. His future may lie at Lightweight but for now we're ranking him at 140lbs, where his 29 year old body may be better, rather than draining the extra 5lbs. We're hoping that when the sport returns in 2020 we see Khussainov in a real test, as we genuinely believe he'll rise to the occasion.
On the bubble:
Hiroki Okada, Yusuke Konno, Baishanbo Nasiyiwula, Tuguldur Byambatsogt and Hwang Kil Kim
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.
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)
The past few days have been interesting ones for fight fans excited about the rise of Central Asian fighters with a number of very good prospects being in action in a very short amount of time. Not only was there a lot but there was also some excellent performances by fighters from the "Stans" with those fighters all looking like they are wlel on their way to doing something special in the professional ranks.
Also on Sunday we had very impressive performances from Muhammadkhuja Yaqubov (12-0, 7), who took out Mexican Victor Alejandro Gonzalez (18-2, 9) with a brutal body shot inside the opening round and Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (13-0, 10), who destroyed the upset minded Robinson Castellanos (24-14, 14) in 2 rounds with Castellanos being dropped 4 times.
It's also worth noting that Uzbek Ravshanbek Umurzakov (5-0, 4) scored a big win over Eden Sonsona (36-9-2, 13) on Sunday, stopping Sonsona in the opening round. Sadly whilst it's a great result the performance wasn't really anything special with Sonsona going down after 58 seconds and taking the 10 count, robbing Umurzakov of any chance to shine.
Whilst we don't think any of the fighters mentioned here are ready for a world title fight, yet, all the Central Asian fighters who picked up a win took a huge step towards getting a shot at a world title, and all will be chasing gold in the very near future.
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).