Year-End Top 10
- Erislandy Lara (22-2-2, 13 KO)
- Jermall Charlo (23-0, 18 KO)
- Demetrius Andrade (22-0, 15 KO)
- Austin Trout (30-2, 17 KO)
- Jermell Charlo (27-0, 12 KO)
- Vanes Martirosyan (36-2-1, 21 KO)
- Liam Smith (21-0-1, 11 KO)
- Willie Nelson (24-2-1, 14 KO)
- Cornelius Bundrage (34-6, 19 KO)
- Ishe Smith (28-8, 12 KO)
With Canelo Alvarez now officially out of the division and campaigning as a middleweight (of sorts), there are two top contenders for the No. 1 slot at the end of 2015.
Lara, 32, is the easier choice, a Cuban veteran whose two losses were both debated -- one a flat-out robbery against Paul Williams in 2011, the other a razor thin decision against Canelo in 2014. What really pushes Lara over the top here is not so much what he did in 2015, beating Delvin Rodriguez and Jan Zaveck, but his 2013 win over Austin Trout, which was one-sided and against a guy who's still a top contender in the division.
Jermall Charlo, 25, may be coming for the top spot, though. He started his year with a March win over Michael Finney, then annihilated K9 Bundrage in three rounds to win the IBF belt on September 12. In November, he defended easily against Wilky Campfort. Jermall is the puncher of the Charlo twins, and a good young talent, but we still haven't seen him do something like Lara did against Trout. (Or Paul Williams, for that matter.)
Andrade, 27, is another fighter who could become the top player in this division sometime soon. "Boo Boo" missed almost all of this year before returning in October for an easy win on a non-televised card. The former WBO titleholder has a couple of good wins, but they came in 2013-2014. He needs to get himself going again, but the talent is there.
Trout, 30, went 2-0 this year, beating Luis Galarza and Joey Hernandez, not exactly high-profile fights, and while there's no reason to think he's not still a top contender, it's very easy to understand how he's become sort of an afterthought in the division, and it's not really hard to understand having him lower, either.
Jermell Charlo, also 25, obviously, as the two are twins, had nearly as good a year as his brother, though he didn't win a recognized paper title. Jermell beat Vanes Martirosyan in March, and followed that up with a wipeout win over faded veteran Joachim Alcine. The win over Martirosyan was a good one.
As for Martirosyan, 29, he has had a frustrating career. When with Top Rank, he seemed held back, beating up on guys that weren't in his league, until 2012, when he faced Lara. The two went to a technical draw in nine rounds. He lost a split decision to Andrade in 2013. This year he lost a close decision to Charlo, then beat Ishe Smith in September. He's a good fighter, but so far hasn't quite been able to get over the hump, falling just short of victory against his three best opponents.
Smith, 27, went 4-0 on the year, most notably beating John Thompson for the vacant WBO belt in October. He defended successfully against non-contender Jimmy Kelly to close the year in December. He's a good fighter and with the belt, has an argument for top five.
Nelson, 28, is a somewhat inconsistent fighter, but he's dangerous, too. He fought just once in 2015, stopping Tony Harrison in the ninth round on July 11. He's at the age where he could be starting to really put it together, and with his physical gifts, that could be dangerous for his opposition.
Bundrage, 42, and Smith, 37, are placeholders in the division right now. K9 finally looked old when Jermall Charlo smashed him to bits, and Smith is still a solid fighter but one clearly on a slow downslide. His skill set and style make it so that he should be about this good for a few more years still, but that's a level below being a threat to anyone in the upper tier of the division.
On the Cusp
Carlos Molina (23-6-2, 7 KO) is another veteran still around. The 32-year-old Mexican looked awful in a 2014 loss to Bundrage, but did pick up a win over a club fighter in September of this year. At his best, Molina was a talented nuisance of a fighter, the type of guy just plain hard to beat.
Michel Soro (27-1-1, 17 KO) could have been mentioned at middleweight, but there was a lot more going on in that post than this one, so I'm throwing him in here. He scored a win over Glen Tapia at 154 pounds in May, but his other three fights this year were at 160, including his last bout, where he won the European title by defeating Emanuele Blandamura. Soro seems capable of moving between the two divisions and fighting effectively at either.
Charles Hatley (26-1-1, 18 KO) was another unheralded American who was called up to go to Australia and face Anthony Mundine, and he may have put an end to "The Man's" run with a dominant 11th round TKO win on November 11. 11-11, 11th round. Fancy that. The 29-year-old Texan was stopped in one by Lanardo Tyner back in 2012, but has won nine straight and may be a sleeper contender.
James Kirkland (32-2, 28 KO) was trucked in three rounds by Canelo Alvarez in May, and who knows when or if we'll see him fight again? And if we do, is there really anything left? This is a man whose career has been very stop-and-start, and his inactivity and personal issues long ago stunted his development. Against Alvarez, he frankly looked hopeless. Still brave, still a warrior, but hopeless.
Matthew Macklin (34-6, 22 KO) hopes to make a run at 154, but that idea didn't get off to a great start when he moved down to face Jason Welborn on October 17. Macklin won, but it was a competitive fight, and he didn't look like he was going to become a contender at the new weight, now 33 years of age with plenty of miles.
Shane Mosley (49-9-1, 41 KO) returned to action this year and went 2-0, beating up on a bloated zombie version of Ricardo Mayorga in August, then taking his talents to Panama for a win in December over Patrick Lopez. Mosley can still make 147, but there may be better opportunities for him at 154, and he's probably more likely to secure another world title shot, even if he doesn't really deserve one at age 44. Mosley was also a breakthrough superstar on Twitter this year, as he began to "be himself," which led to lots of fun stuff, and for once wasn't even just a guy suddenly being really offensive. Mosley's funny.
- Title vacated 11/2 after Floyd Mayweather's retirement
WBA: Erislandy Lara
- def. Delvin Rodriguez (UD-12, 6/12)
- def. Jan Zaveck (TKO-3, 11/25)
IBF: Jermall Charlo
- def. Cornelius Bundrage (TKO-3, 9/12 - TITLE CHANGE)
- def. Wilky Campfort (TKO-4, 11/28)
WBO: Liam Smith
- Title stripped from Demetrius Andrade (7/31)
- def. John Thompson (TKO-7, 10/10)
- vs Jimmy Kilrain Kelly (12/19)
Top 5 Prospects
- Erickson Lubin (13-0, 10 KO)
- Julian Williams (21-0-1, 13 KO)
- Jarrett Hurd (17-0, 11 KO)
- Tony Harrison (22-1, 15 KO)
- Brian Castaño (11-0, 8 KO)
There are some good prospects in the division, more than just those listed here, too.
Lubin, 20, is not going to be in big fights any time soon, but as far as pure talent goes, I think he's a notch above the rest of the prospects at 154 pounds. He's got good size (5'11", 76-inch reach), speed, big power, and a lot of confidence. He has at times let that confidence make him look sloppy, but he's still a developing fighter. If he winds up able to harness his ability, he could be special. Lubin went 5-0 this year with good wins for his level.
Williams, 25, is a Philadelphia prospect who has gotten a lot of prospect attention, and for good reason. Thus far as a pro, he's done exactly what's been asked of him, and this year went 3-0, beating Joey Hernandez by 10-round shutout, followed by stoppage wins over Arman Ovsepyan and Luciano Cuello. He's the closest to world level-ready of this group.
Hurd, 25, went 3-0 this year, beating veteran Eric Mitchell, club fighter Jeff Lentz, and fellow prospect Frank Galarza, who may be dating Susan Sarandon. Hurd doesn't exactly leap off the screen when he fights, but he's good.
Harrison, 25, is still a good prospect, but no doubt his stock took a hit this year when he was stopped by Willie Nelson in a step-up bout. He had stopped Antwone Smith and Pablo Munguia before that, and beat Cecil McCalla by decision in October, too. He's got a big punch and the ability is there, but he has some defensive lapses and too often seems to rely on his power. Still, there's reason to believe he can adapt and come back very strong.
Castaño, 26, edges out the fighters listed below for the fifth spot. I probably could've done another top 10 instead of a top five, but even with a lot of depth in the prospect ranks, I don't see a lot of true top prospect type quality in this division, so I stuck with five. Once you get past the top three, I think you could choose any two of a number of guys, and Harrison is a wild card I kept in the mix because I do think there's still significant upside for him. Castaño is an Argentine fighter now with Mayweather Promotions, one of their two notable young fighters in the division, the other being Chris Pearson.
Other prospects of note, in alphabetical order: Domonique Dolton, Terrell Gausha, Oscar Molina, Ahmet Patterson, Chris Pearson, Oleksandr Spyrko, Patrick Teixeira, Danny Valdivia, Liam Williams.