Light heavyweight has been one of boxing's glamor divisions for a while now, but with Bernard Hopkins, Glen Johnson, Roy Jones, and Antonio Tarver all fading or severely faded, we may be seeing significant turnover near the top of the weight class. Right now, it's a weak division, and a while few fighters have been able to take advantage, it's interesting to take a look into the future, so see whether the class will remain weak, with Chad Dawson likely to dominate for the foreseeable future, or if there is a stream of prospects who may help the division rise once again.
Unfortunately, this weight class is a case of "what you see is what you get." Because the 168 pound division is so strong right now, it's unlikely that you'll see the better super middleweight contenders moving up, just because there's more money to be made at super middleweight. What has happened is a number of very fringe contenders have seen the opening at 175 and moved up to take a much easier path to a title. Jean Pascal is currently #3 in the Ring's light heavyweight rankings, but he was really near the bottom of the contenders at 168. Gabriel Campillo was also a lower level fringe contender when he moved up to claim a title. Yusaf Mack, who wasn't even in the discussion at 168, moved up to become a ranked contender. Unfortunately, there ain't a ton there to prevent this from becoming the next wasteland of a weight class, much like middleweight is right now.
At the very least, there are already a few younger fighters who have made it to the championship level who could stay near the top for a while. Chad Dawson is already a pound for pound level fighter. Pascal has an entertaining style and has built up a significant fan base, so he can bounce back even if he loses his upcoming fight with Dawson. Tavoris Cloud has shown some promise, although his lack of willingness to actually make fights and his recent signing with Don King may mean that we see his career stagnate. Guys like Chris Henry, Beibut Shumenov and Adrian Diaconu, while they would be fringe contenders in most other weight classes, can probably stay near the top for a while due to their relative youth and aggressive styles.
Nathan Cleverly - If there's one blue-chip prospect at light heavyweight, it's Clev. The Welshman is now 19-0 and holds the European light heavyweight title. He's on the fast track to a title shot, and while he's still learning and improving, don't be surprised if he's able to win a title in his first try. He can box well and is fairly versatile, although he's best on the outside, utilizing his lanky 6'3" frame. He has good quickness, as well as an awkwardness that may serve him well down the line. The one big knock on Clev had been his lack of power, but he's only recently turned 23, and he's won by knockout in each of his last six fights. His last fight, where he won the European title from recent title challenger Antonio Brancalion, is available on Youtube.
Vyacheslav Uzelkov - Uzelkov is no spring chicken at 31 years old, but the Klitschko stablemate is ranked in Ring Magazine's top 10 and has a title shot already lined up against Beibut Shumenov. Unlike what you may think of an Eastern European fighter, Uzelkov is a brawling tough guy in the mold of Clinton Woods, Danny Green or Hugo Garay, although he does have the boxing skill of a top amateur. At this point, he's 22-0 with 14 knockouts, including wins over former titlist Gabriel Campillo and Julio Cesar Dominguez. While I doubt he'll be a long-time contender because of his age and his mediocre athleticism, don't be surprised if he comes away with a belt when he faces Shumenov in a few months.
Karo Murat - Iraqi-born and German-based Murat is 21-0 with 13 knockouts, including a disputed win over Gabriel Campillo and two wins over Christian Sanavia. A Sauerland fighter trained by Ulli Wegner, Murat has adopted a style similar to stablemate Arthur Abraham, stalking forward behind a shell guard and picking off shots as openings are available. On the positive side, he does fight the full round and for 12 full rounds, unlike Abraham. On the negative side, he doesn't have Abraham's game changing power, and his arms are much shorter in relation to his body than are Abraham's. In a weak division and under careful guidance, he could capture a belt and even hold it for a while, but I wouldn't expect great things from him.
Ismayl Sillakh - With his recent destruction of Daniel Judah, "The Black Russian" may have joined the ranks of the elite light heavyweight prospects. While he was born in the Ukraine and much of his amateur career came overseas, he has relocated to the United States and recently signed with Roy Jones' Square Ring promotions. He's 12-0 with 11 knockouts. It's evident that he has some physical talent, with good quickness and power in both hands. It's possible that he relies a bit too much on athleticism, but if he can close up his defensive holes, he could be around for a long time.
More candidates come after the jump.
Tony Bellew - Liverpudlian Bellew is 12-0 and just recently captured the Commonwealth light heavyweight title, albeit in a fight that looked like a mismatch on paper. At 27 years old, he's being brought along slowly under the watchful eye of Frank Warren. He doesn't have as much talent or skill as Cleverly, and being nearly five years older, not nearly as much upside either, but it's possible that he could enter the world stage, mostly because he has decent quickness, solid upper body movement and a great right hand. Warren has been able to guide guys like Gavin Rees and Enzo Maccaranelli to titles, so who knows. For him to get there, he'll need to improve his defense, as he tries to mostly rely on his reflexes, which probably aren't quite quick enough for him to get away with that at the world level. His destruction of Atoli Moore for the Commonwealth title is available here.
Yordanis Despaigne - While he's only 5 fights into his career at 30 years old, he probably deserves a mention simply because he's getting a lot of TV exposure and because he was a Cuban Olympian (albeit one who lost to Andre Dirrell, and beat Karoly Balzsay and Jean Pascal, before the medal round). He was a three-time Cuban national champion at 165 pounds in the amateurs. There's obviously some talent and some good skill here, but at his age and never having gone past four rounds, one has to wonder if there's enough time for him to reach the top. He doesn't have the blazing quickness of some of the other top Cuban prospects, but he's as technically solid as anyone, does all of the little things you would want a fighter to do in terms of movement and footwork, and his punches have a lot of power behind them.
Luis Garcia - While Despaigne may be the better known Cuban, Garcia is by far the better Cuban prospect. He too is 5-0, but he's only 22 years old and he's already fought a higher level of pro competition while working out of Gary Hyde's stable in Ireland. He was slated to fight for Cuba in the 2008 Olympics, but when he was denied a spot due to fears he would defect, it caused him to actually defect. While people think of Cuban prospects as being refined, Garcia is raw as hell, but has absurd talent if he chooses to use it. In addition, he's an extremely aggressive fighter with a very crowd-pleasing style. I hate to throw around these kinds of comparisons, but the fighter he most closely resembles in terms of style, strengths and weaknesses is a young Mike Tyson (although he's not as technically sound as Tyson was). The big concerns here are motivation and inactivity. It's been nearly a year since he last fought, first canceling a bout with Gabriel Campillo (who, as a result of this cancellation, was the late replacement to fight Hugo Garay, winning a title) and then suffering some injuries. If you're interested, his last fight, which came against a 35-fight veteran, is available here.
Artur Hein - Another Sauerland fighter, Hein fights with the more typical European amateurish style. Maybe in part because of this, it seems that he's often afraid to pull the trigger, even at this low level. He puts his punches together well, and when he does throw, he displays decent quickness and power, and once he gets on the offensive, he continues to attack. He's 12-0 with 7 knockouts, and is 24 years old. It's tough to tell too much about him quite yet, but he could develop into a serious contender, and he's already developing a fan base in Germany.
Yathomas Riley - Riley, a national golden gloves champion, went pro in 2008 after missing out on the Olympics. At 27 years old, he's not a kid, but he's been featured several times on Friday Night Fights already. Riley is a southpaw with an awkward style where his feet are extremely spread out and he fights almost sideways to his opponent. Despite this, his above average quickness allows him to land punches with leverage, and he has decent power in his right hand as well as his left. He's probably not going to blow the world away, but if he can get conditioned to fight 12 rounds, he's probably no worse than a number of other world-level fighters.
Dustin Dirks - Dirks is a young 21 year old who is 14-0 with 9 knockouts. As a native German, you can be sure that Universum will bring him along carefully and try to guide him to a title. However, for this to happen, he will need to progress significantly and be matched very carefully. Physically, he doesn't have any tools that really jump out, and even against mediocre competition, he's been very easy to hit, although his defense has been improving. Expect to start seeing hype about him in the not too distant future, but don't buy into it - he just doesn't have the skill or the talent to be a competitor on the world level in the long term.
Haxhi Krasniqi - Luan Krasniqi's cousin, Haxhi has amassed a 31-2 record at 22 years of age, while being moved along very slowly. He lost two of his first three fights, and has rattled off 30 consecutive wins since then against a very slowly increasing level of competition. The Albanian is still quite raw, but he has very good quickness and handspeed, although he often slaps his punches. It's questionable whether he'll have enough power to compete at the top level of a power division - even against weak competition, he only has 11 knockouts in 31 wins. Still, he's stayed busy enough and has improved enough over time that he may be able to compete at the higher levels despite his deficiencies.
Isiah Thomas - And this guy's even from Detroit, formerly a member of the Kronk stable! Thomas was a world junior amateur champion and two-time junior national champion, but decided to go pro after losing to Deontay Wilder in the Olympic trials. So far, Thomas is 6-0 as a pro and was recently signed by Lou DiBella. He reportedly has quite a bit of athletic talent, so he may be one to watch out for.
A few others to potentially watch out for, but who either I haven't seen enough of to make a good call on: Vasily Lepikhin, Will Rosinsky, Alfonso Lopez, Ronald Johnson, Mark Tucker, Nadjib Mohammedi, Igor Mikhalkin.