10. Agustin Gauto (ARG)
Record: 15-0 (10) Age: 22
THE WBO mandatory contender started boxing at the age of 14 and turned professional in 2017 after fights became too hard to come by in the amateur ranks. The baby-faced starlet is inspired by the likes of Roy Jones Jnr and Sugar Ray Leonard, watching their fights regularly, but it was recent news that he is to become a father that now drives him the hardest. Slick and skilled and one of those boxers who looks like they were born to do it, Gauto is already one to watch.
STRENGTHS: His finest asset is his hand speed which allows his punches to be whipped in with serious power. His left hook, which can be screwed into the liver or slammed into the jaw, is perhaps his best.
WEAKNESSES: Hard to tell. Yet to be drawn into a real fight and is lacking any real experience against elite opposition.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Julio Medonza was bombed in less than six minutes in Gauto’s most recent outing.
WORST PERFORMANCE: Gauto has floored all of his opponents bar his second one, David Nunez, in 2017.
WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The Gauto right hand that went through Kenny Cano like a dodgy curry.
HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Looks like the real deal on all available evidence so far.
9. Tibo Monabesa (IDN)
Record: 20-1-2 (8) Age: 30
MONABESA hopes to become his country’s first boxing star since the underrated Chris John departed the scene seven years ago. Monabesa is quite old for a light-flyweight at 30 but has the valid excuse of minimal amateur experience so has essentially been learning on the job in the professional ranks. Steady if unspectacular, the southpaw – who was raised in a small fishing village on the island of Timor – will need to make his move soon if he’s to accomplish anything like John managed to.
STRENGTHS: Monabesa, a decent all-rounder, is patient and counter-punches well. His straight shots through the middle are his weapons of choice.
WEAKNESSES: Lacks concentration in the early going and is not difficult to hit. Not ideal considering he’s prone to cuts.
BEST PERFORMANCE: The former bus driver ground out a close 12-round win over Omari Kinweri in July last year.
WORST PERFORMANCE: Losing to Hiroto Kyoguchi in four rounds back in 2018 was comprehensive.
WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The 2016 battle with Joel Taduran showcases the tenacity Monabesa possesses.
HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? It appears he has too much work to do, and not enough time to do it, to rise to world championship level.
8. Tetsuya Hisada (JPN)
Record: 34-10-2 (20) Age: 35
THE veteran’s four-year unbeaten run was snapped last year when he lost a competitive 12-rounder to WBA champion, Hiroto Kyoguchi. The latest setback is unlikely to deter the 35-year-old too much. He considered retirement in earlier stages of his career, when he was losing as many as he was winning, but stated after the loss to Kyoguchi he wants another world title shot.
STRENGTHS: Exceptionally busy fighter with a great engine who does not take a backward step.
WEAKNESSES: That aggressive nature can make him a nightmarish proposition but it also exposes his faults; his defence and footwork let him down when he’s in against the best. With 10 losses on his ledger, he’s experienced defeat more frequently than any of his rivals.
BEST PERFORMANCE: His reign as Japanese 108lbs champion had plenty of highlights, notably the KO of Tahero Kamikubo in 2017.
WORST PERFORMANCE: Though he’s lost 10 times, he’s only been stopped once – to Hiroyuki Kudaka in four rounds back in 2012.
WATCH ON YOUTUBE: Hauled himself off the canvas to defeat Koki Ono in a Japanese firefight.
HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? He deserves more than to peak here but time isn’t on his side. All that said, even at 35, the hunger remains.
7. Reiya Konishi (JPN)
Record: 17-2 (7) Age: 26
KONISHI turned professional in 2013 and remained unbeaten for the first four years of his career as he went to 15-0 as a strawweight where he picked up the Japanese title. In a bout typical of the WBA’s pointless secondary title, Konishi was nominated to fight for that vacant bauble against Carlos Canizales, despite never having fought in the division before. But Konishi did well against the Nicaraguan, particularly in the middle rounds, before he lost a debatable decision. A 2019 shot at IBF boss Felix Alvarado also went the full route but came without the controversy – Konishi was a comprehensive loser.
STRENGTHS: When he’s going at full-pelt, and that’s his custom, Konishi fires to the body with serious power. The right hook is perhaps his honey punch.
WEAKNESSES: His seemingly constant forward motion leaves him open to being picked off when he’s on the way in.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Stopping Orlie Silvestre in the 12th and final round highlighted a robust engine.
WORST PERFORMANCE: The 12-round lopsided loss to Alvarado will be hard to rebound from.
WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The 2017 thriller with Shin Ono.
HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? With Alvarado lurking at No. 5, Konishi may find significant progress difficult.
6. Edward Heno (PHL)
Record: 14-1-5 (5) Age: 27
HENO claims to have had 50 amateur fights with only one defeat among them. The southpaw fights for Manny Pacquiao’s MP Promotions, after being brought to the attention of matchmaker Sean Gibbons by Filipino sports reporter, Joaquin Henson. Heno – a father of four and one of nine children – comes from fighting stock. His father, Leopard Ari, was a professional flyweight in the Eighties. He claims that the draws on his records were ‘wins’ but he was the away fighter so he didn’t get the decision. A familiar story? Maybe, but there’s no doubting Heno has always done things the hard way.
STRENGTHS: His left hand is more potent than his stoppage record suggests. Heno is also fiercely determined after spending a lot of time as a child on the streets.
WEAKNESSES: Lacked the composure required to win his gruelling bout with free-swinging WBO champ, Elwin Soto.
BEST PERFORMANCE: The ninth round KO of Cris Ganoza in 2017.
WORST PERFORMANCE: The 12-round draw with Seita Ogido was later avenged.
WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The loss to Soto was a thriller and worth your time if you need a taster of this weight class.
HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Heno is far from perfect but there’s something about him that suggests he can win a major belt.
5. Felix Alvarado (NIC)
Record: 35-2 (30) Age: 31
THE twin brother of featherweight Rene Alvarado, Felix is the current IBF light-flyweight boss and a professional for 10 years. Avoided by the leaders after consecutive (but competitive) losses to Kazuto Ioka and Juan Carlos Reveco (up at flyweight) early in his career, Alvarado rebounded with 16 wins which culminated with claiming the vacant 108lbs IBF belt in 2018. Signed by Golden Boy in February this year, a postponed defence against Dee Jay Kriel looks like it will be his next outing before the year is over.
STRENGTHS: A heavy volume puncher, the aggressive Alvarado is known in his gym for being able to stand up to intense punishment.
WEAKNESSES: Makes defensive mistakes and his jagged features make him susceptible to cuts. He often strays low with his punches.
BEST PERFORMANCE: The rousing breakdown of Randy Petalcorin in the Philippines.
WORST PERFORMANCE: Struggled to a six-round majority decision win over the ordinary Arnoldo Solano in 2011.
WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The bruising beating of Petalcorin or the stirring 12-rounder against Reveco.
HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Perhaps too crude to rule but his suffocating style gives him a chance against all above him in these rankings.
4. Elwin Soto (MEX)
Record: 17-1 (12) Age: 23
STOCKY for a light-flyweight, the bleached-blonde slugger burst on to the scene last year when – as the WBO’s No. 15 contender – he scored a sizeable upset to dethrone Angel Acosta. Going into that bout the heavy-handed Soto had only two wins over opponents with winning records. The jump in class suited him, though, as he floored Acosta in the third round before clawing back a deficit on the cards with a contentious stoppage in the 12th and final session.
STRENGTHS: Like almost all fighters in this division, the entertaining Soto is not afraid to let his hands go. His lead left hook carries a debilitating wallop.
WEAKNESSES: Inexperience at the top level could yet be his downfall.
BEST PERFORMANCE: The last gasp win over Acosta is the obvious standout but merits praise for turning back the spirited challenge of Edward Heno.
WORST PERFORMANCE: A young Soto was outpointed over four rounds by Danny Andujo as recently as 2017.
WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The finish against Acosta and judge for yourself if the stoppage was premature.
HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Loaded with potential but will struggle to break the top three on the evidence we’ve seen so far. Nonetheless, it would be fun to find out for sure.
3. Carlos Canizales (VEN)
Record: 22-0-1 (17) Age: 25
IN a nod to Gennady Golovkin, Canizales’ nickname is “CCC”. Forced out of his homeland in his last three bouts, Canizales is resigned to fighting away from Venezuala due to the sparsity of opportunities there. The secondary WBA belt-holder, Canizales’ can boast solid victories over Reiya Kinoshi and Sho Kimura. Sandwiched between was a 12-round hammering of 2016 Olympian, Bin Lu, who was only engaging in his second professional bout when he audaciously challenged Canizales.
STRENGTHS: Not completely unlike Golovkin in style, Canizales is an educated puncher who cuts off the ring effectively. His straight right is arguably his best punch.
WEAKNESSES: A head-hunter who neglects going to the body indicates where the “GGG” similarities end.
BEST PERFORMANCE: The completely dominant victory over Sho Kimura underlined Canizales’ class.
WORST PERFORMANCE: Laboured to a points win over the winless Alexander Guarecuco in 2016.
WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The 2016 draw with Ryoichi Taguchi.
HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Would be a live underdog against either of the top two.
2. Hiroto Kyoguchi (JPN)
Record: 14-0 (9) Age: 26
A FORMER IBF champion at strawweight, Kyoguchi moved up and dethroned WBA light-flyweight champion Hekkie Budler in 2018. A karate fan as a child, Hiroto took up boxing at the age of 12 after watching former bantamweight titlist Joichiro Tatsuyoshi on the television. Caught the eye as an amateur – where his record was 52-14 – in 2014 when he won a championship at the National Sports Festival. Ten months after turning over he knocked out Armando de la Cruz in the third of a scheduled 12 to win the OPBF 105-pound title.
STRENGTHS: Pugnacious pressure fighter with real power in both hands. Can box and bang.
WEAKNESSES: Though far cuter than he used to be, he still has tendency to whirlwind with his right and habitually falls in after throwing his left hook or uppercut.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Hekkie Budler was pulled out by his trainer Colin Nathan, who claimed the South African had been struggling with sinus problems before and during the bout. Nonetheless, Kyoguchi’s swarming punches likely played a bigger part.
WORST PERFORMANCE: Outpointing Jonathan Refugio.
WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The Budler beatdown.
HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Progressing nicely but appears to lack the finesse to beat Ken Shiro.
1. Ken Shiro (JPN)
Record: 17-0 (10) Age: 28
ONE of the sport’s best secrets, Kenshiro Teraji has held the WBC title since 2017 when, in just his 10th pro bout, he won a tough 12-round majority over Ganigan Lopez. Sharing the name of popular manga character, Kenshiro, the Japanese fighter also wanted to be known by one name only but authorities ruled he had to have two: So he split it in half and Ken Shiro was born. Steadily improving, Shiro is one of several exciting talents in the smaller weight divisions whose skills deserve to be showcased to wider audiences.
STRENGTHS: An excellent all-rounder, Shiro’s jab is nearly always on point. The powerful counter right is another favourite punch.
WEAKNESSES: Rarely goes to the body (though highlighted in the Lopez return he’s more than able) and doesn’t always look comfy when on the back foot.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Emphatically defeated Lopez in their rematch, scything through the ageing campaigner in round two.
WORST PERFORMANCE: Had a tough time with Mexico’s Pedro Guevara in October 2017, winning a majority verdict.
WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The short and sneaky right that finished Jonathan Taconing.
HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? In an ideal world he will get the chance to fight his closest rivals to prove his supremacy before moving up in weight.