The final part of our look at the Super Middleweight division looks at the prospects emerging through the rankings. If you missed our earlier parts they can be read here:
The state of the Division - Super Middleweight - The Championsand here:
The state of the Division - Super Middleweight - The Contenders
Vladimir Shishkin (8-0, 5)
Unbeaten Russian Vladimir Shishkin looks like he's going to be a fast tracked fighter at Super Middleweight, and that was clearly shown last year. The fighter turned professional in 2016 and took his time to get going, before stopping Siarhei Khamitski and Nadjib Mohammedi in 2018. He's heavy handed, talented and looks to be developing quickly, both in terms of his skills and his physical maturity. It's going to be very exciting to see what he does this year, and we wouldn't be surprised to see Shiskin in the world title mix by the end of 2019.
Zach Parker (17-0, 11)
Englishman prospect Zach Parker is world ranked but hasn't really shown that type of quality yet. Despite not appearing world class he has had some impressive wins, at least domestically, and scored his biggest win last November, when he narrowly outpointed Darryll Williams in Glasgow. He has shown promise, but there is still a lot left for the 24 year to improve on before he starts to think about a world title shot, no matter what he team maybe suggesting.
Nicolas Ezequiel Masseroni (17-0, 17)
It's hard to really know what unbeaten Argentinian Nicolas Ezequiel Masseroni has to offer. So far he has been destructive on the Argentinian domestic scene, taking out 17 opponents in a combined 22 rounds. Despite that the 26 year old is yet to face anyone with a pulse, and we suspect he, and his team, will be looking to pad those numbers a it more before getting him to step up. His 17 career bouts have included some fights on the road, with an early career contest in Uruguay and a couple in Mexico, but it is very hard to know what he really brings to the table.
Aidos Yerbossynuly (10-0, 8)
Kazakh boxing is on the rise, there is a lot of promise making it's self known as Gennady Golovkin sees his career coming to an end. Among those looking to make their mark on the sport is Aidos Yerbossynuly. Despite only being a professional since October 2015 Yerbossynuly has already fought in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, USA and Russia, and looks like he is wanting to make a big mark on the sport. Sadly he has shown some issues with durability, having been dropped several times already, but has a fun and exciting style that should help lead him to pretty notable success in the years to come. Even if Yerbossynuly fails to reach the big time he will certainly give us some exciting fights.
D'Mitrius Ballard (19-0-0-1, 12)
25 year old American D'Mitrius Ballard has been a professional for 6 years and like many American fighters his progress was incredibly slow, especially early on. In 2017 however he did begin to show some interesting signs, beating Adrian Luna Flores and Jaime Solorio, before adding a win over Alan Campa in 2018. It's unclear what Ballard has, but as with many prospects it's going to be interesting to see his development from here, especially given that he's not in his mid 20's and can't afford to take a step backwards from his last few opponents.
Nurzat Sabirov (8-0, 7)
Canadian based Kazakh fighter Nurzat Sabirov is a 25 year old boxer-puncher who only turned professional in 2017 and has been kept active since then, fitting 8 fights into about 20 months. To date his competition hasn't been amazing, but he has beaten more experienced fighters, such as Guillermo Romero and Rocky Montoya. He has looked very heavy handed, very smart, very talented and like a potential star in the making. The big question, as it is with a lot of these super prospects, is whether his team can both challenge him and develop him. If they can do that, then Sabirov may well find himself in the world rankings by the end of 2019, in title fights in the later part of 2020.
Rufat Hajiyev (4-0, 4)
It's not often that we get to talk about Azeri fighters but Rufat Hajiyev is certainly worth talking about. The now 25 year old debuted in December 2017 and has taken out his first 4 opponents in a combined 6 rounds. His competition hasn't been particularly good, with all 4 of his bouts taking place in Georgia, but he has been taking care of business, and been stepping up his level of competition. Hopefully that continues in 2019. Sadly Hajiyev may be one of those fighters who just disappears, having never managed to secure the big fights he needs, but we really hope he isn't, and instead does get a chance to sink or swim.
Dieudonne Wilfred Seyi Ntsengue (2-0, 1)
One of the potential hidden gems at Super Middleweight isCanadian based Cameroonian 21 year old Dieudonne Wilfred Seyi Ntsengue. The unbeaten youngster was a former amateur stand out, winning a Gold medal at the 2015 African Games and a Silver medal at the 2018 Commonwealth games. He would also compete at the 2016 Olympics, though fail to make his mark at Rio. As a professional Ntsengue made his debut in Cameroon in 2017, before fighting in Canada last year and it now looks like he will be returning to a Canadian ring in the coming week, to really kick things off. He really could be the dark horse of the division and given his amateur background he is clearly worth keeping and eye on.
Muslimbek Olimov (2-0, 2)
The Uzbek's are certainly on the rise, and in 2018 a number of Uzbeks really left their mark on the sport with a serious of great displays. There isn't too many uzbek fighters at 168lbs worthy of note, though Muslimbek Olimov seems to be one who is worthy of some attention. The heavy handed man from Fergana debuted in July and scored 2 opening round wins before the year was over. Hopefully his activity will pick up this year, and his level of competition also improves. What is worth nothing is that his debut came against a guy with a record of 13-4 (9) and that level of competition is rare for a debutant.
One of the best things about the Super Middleweight division is the depth in the contender range, which has a mixture of former champions, rising hopefuls, and fighters from various parts of the globe. Not only is there good variety, but there is also good solid talent through out, and interesting styles.
If you missed our look at the champions that can be read here - The state of the Division - Super Middleweight - The Champions
Anthony Dirrell (32-1-1, 24)
Although not as gifted as brother Andre, Anthony Dirrell does appear to be the more true fighter, and has the grit and determination that would have made Andre a very special fighter. At the age of 34 Dirrell is getting what looks likely to be his final shot at the top, and although he's getting on, and has had a hard career, he is very much a solid fighter. He is a former WBC champion, having beaten Sakio Bike for the belt in 2014, but lost it in his first defense, so Badou Jack back in 2015. Since losing the title he has gone on a 5 fight winning run to land himself a shot at the vacant WBC title on February 23rd against Avni Yildrim.
Avni Yildrim (21-1, 12)
Having mentioned his name it makes perfect sense to go in depth about Turkish fighter Avni Yildrim, who will be looking to claim his first world title when he faces Dirrell. The Turk is a bit of a basic fighter, but at 27 he is in his physical prime and has reeled off 5 wins since losing to Chris Eubank in the WBSS in 2017. Although he is best known for the loss to Eubank ,Yildrim isn't actually a bad fighter, and holds wins over Glen Johnson, Marco Antonio Periban, Ryan Ford and Lolenga Mock. He does seem to be relatively inconsistent though and doesn't do anything special, meaning that he should be there for the taking against Dirrell.
Chris Eubank Jr (27-2, 21)
Second generation fighter Chris Eubank Jr is a very good natural athlete who has chose to follow his father into boxing. He's quick, powerful, strong and tough. Sadly however he lacks the boxing brain, and hasn't really shown what he truly can do, instead of showing how good of a boxer he can be he tends to spend more time moving around, posing and trying to play up to the crowd. If he can make the most of his natural gifts with a new trainer there's no doubting he can go all the way to the top. Sadly though he has suffered losses to two fellow British fighters, Billy Joe Saunders and George Groves, who made the most of Eubank's low boxing IQ to defeat him. He'll be back in the ring on February 23rd when he takes on another Brit, James DeGale.
James DeGale (25-2-1, 15)
Olympic gold medal winner James DeGale was once tipped as a star, but appeared to turn professional with the wrong attitude and fans quickly turned on him early in his career. In fairness however DeGale has turned fans to his side in the later stages of his career, with notable performances against the likes of Andre Dirrell, Lucian Bute, Badou Jack and Caleb Truax. Sadly the tough bouts against Jack and Truax have taken their toll and it's unclear what the 32 year old still has left in the tank. Although a natural talent DeGale did at times show a real sense of laziness in the ring, and that has long been a problem. At 32 it's hard to imagine him showing the energy that was often lacking earlier in his career.
Jose Uzcategui (28-3, 23)
Hard hitting Mexican based Venezuelan Jose Uzcategui recently lost the IBF title to Caleb Plant, in what was a really compelling match up. The exciting Uzcategui is technically a little on the limited side, but is very heavy handed, aggressive and determined. He's unlucky to have 3 losses on his record, with a DQ loss against Andre Dirrell really being harsh, though he has scored notable wins over Julius Jackson, Andre Dirrell, in a rematch, and Ezequiel Osvaldo Maderna. He's not looked his best since winning the IBF title in early 2018 and we do wonder if a move up to Light Heavyweight will do him the world of good, as he looked slow and sluggish early on against Plant. we don't expect to see Uzcateguin in the ring any time soon, but we do look forward to his return.
David Benevidez (20-0, 17)
Hard hitting David Benevidez is one of the top youngsters in the sport, and actually won the WBC title back in 2017, when he defeated Ronald Gavril. Sadly his reign was interrupted after issues with recreational drugs, and he's now been out of the ring since February 2018. Blessed with brutal power, and solid boxing skills the 22 year old does seem like he could be a major player for the next 10 years or so, but will obviously need to sort out his out of the ring issues to do that. He'll be back in action in March, and should he win that he will likely look to recapture the WBC title, from the winner of the Dirrell Vs Yildrim fight.
David Lemieux (40-4, 34)
Canadian puncher David Leemieux has long been a fixture on the Middleweight scene, but has had repeated issues with making the 160lb limit. With that in mind it's expected that he will make the move up to Super Middleweight. In terms of power he should have more than enough on his shots to hurt fighters at 168lbs, though his lack of reach and size is likely to be a problem for him, and he had short arms even at Middleweight. At the age of 30 it does seem like Lemieux should roll the dice, move up and see how he can do, as he has had so many issues making the Middleweight limit, that it's simply not worth boiling down for again. He's popular, exciting and well backed, so shouldn't struggle to get notable bouts at 168lbs going forward.
Azizbek Abdugofurov (12-0, 4)
Uzbek 26 year old Azizbek Abdugofurov looks to be the best hope for Central Asia and at one point it was hard to imagine not going to the top. He started his career in 2016 and immediately looked like a star in the making, taking his first title, a regional WBC belt, just 2 months after his debut. Sadly he hasn't really shined since then, despite scoring wins over notable names like Sirimongkol Singwancha, Martin Fidel Rios and Dmitrii Chudinov. He is still young and could improve but there is a feeling that he doesn't have the power he will need to make an impact at the top, and he's gone the distance in his last 8 bouts. He's a talent, but certainly needs to have a big 2019 to stay in the mix with some of the other top contenders.
Jesse Hart (25-2, 21)
American Jesse Hart is a 2-time world title challenger, having lost two competitive decisions to Gilberto Ramirez in bouts for the WBO title. Hart, a second generation fighter following in the footsteps of Eugene "Cyclone" Hart, has proven to be a talented boxer-puncher. He was a standout amateur, racking up an 85-11 record in the unpaid ranks, and has been a solid professional who will almost certainly get another shot sooner rather than later. Although talented Hart has some clear technical flaws to tidy up, and we dare say if he can sort those out he could end up going all the way. He is a "nearly man" at the moment, though with his likable personality and relatively exciting style he will get more chances.
Rocky Fielding (27-2, 15)
It's hard to know what to make of 31 year old British fighter Rocky Fielding. At times he looks solid, and like he belongs to be in the list of contenders, and other times he doesn't. He did notable take the WBA "regular" title from Tyron Zeuge last year, but had it ripped form his hands in 3 rounds by Saul Alvarez. His other loss was a opening round defeat to Callum Smith. So it's clear he's well below the level of those at the top of the division, but he has wins over Zeuge, John Ryder and Christopher Rebrasse, show that, at worst, he's a solid European level fighter. We suspect we'll see what he has left in his next serious outing, and we may also find out what desire he still has left as a fighter.
John Ryder (27-4, 15)
Englishman John Ryder may have lost to Rocky Fielding but there is no reason that the 30 year old Southpaw isn't to be regarded as a prospect himself. In fact since that loss to Fielding, in 2017, Ryder has reeled off 3 of his best wins, stopping Patrick Nielsen, Jamie Cox and Andrey Sirotkin, to keep himself in the world title mix. Although he's on a good run of stoppages Ryder isn't a big puncher, he's more a talented boxer, who has started to sit on his punches more. He began his career at Middleweight, losing a razor thin decision to Billy Joe Saunders, lost by stoppage to Nick Blackwell and then found a real lease of life at Super Middleweight. Sadly though he is small for the weight, and there is a feeling that a top guy would out power him. Still he's hard to ignore and is certainly on the verge of a wold title shot.
Erik Bazinyan (22-0, 17)
One of the lesser known contenders is Canadian based Armenian Erik Bazinyan, who looks to be the a contender worthy of attention. The hard hitting 22 year old made his debut in 2013, when he was just 18, and has been busy since then. As with most fighters his early record isn't worth getting too excited about, but he has stopped 14 of his last 16, including Adrian Luna Flores, Francy Ntetu, David Zegarra. Managed by the well respected Eye of the Tiger Management he has a strong team behind him and could be the gem of the division. We suspect he might be a year or two away from a title fight, but with the wins he's been getting it's going to be very hard to hold him back. A really exciting contender, and someone every one should be following.
Shefat Isufi (27-3-2, 20)
The world rankings throw some weird things at us, and one of the weirdest could be the fact the WBO's #1 ranked contender at Super Middleweight, at the time of writing, is Shefat Isufi. We at Asian Boxing tend to think that we're pretty knowledgeable about global boxing, but we hadn't heard of Serbian born German Isufi prior to starting this article. The 29 year old has been a professional since 2010 and was 12-2-2 (8) after 16 fights. Since then he has gone 15-1 (12) but only really beaten David Zegarra, taking far longer than Bazinyan, and Uruguayan veteran Radael Sosa Pintos. There is almost nothing else of note on his record, and it's almost impossible to work out what he's done for his world ranking. A really odd ranking from the WBO.
Vincent Feigenbutz (30-2, 27)
Whilst Isufi has a weird ranking his fellow German Vincent Feigenbutz is well deserving of a world rankings. The 23 year old, who debuted at the age of 16, is already a young veteran with 32 fights on his ledge. He would lose in his second bout but bounce back and reel off 20 wins, picking up a WBA title along the way. A loss to Giovanni De Carolis in 2016 derailed his rise to stardom but he has bounced back with 9 wins since then and has scored stoppages in his last 4 wins. He is strong, powerful, heavy handed and technically decent, but has areas to improve on before moving to the top for another world title shot. A proper contender, who is perhaps just a win or two away from a world title fight.
Historically the Super Middleweight division has been dominated by European fighters, with British boxers in particular having a great history there with the likes of Joe Calzaghe, Carl Froch and the recently retired George Groves being huge stars there. Today though the division has sort of shifted with a new found Mexican influence at the top.
So lets begin by looking at the top guys at 168lbs.
Callum Smith (25-0, 18) - WBA "super" (0 defenses)
English boxer-puncher Callum Smith claimed the WBA "super" title in 2018, when he won the Super Middleweight WBSS and stopped George Groves. Despite that being his first world title bout he had long been considered as one of the truly elite fighters in the division, having held English, British, European and WBC "Diamond" titles. At 28 Smith is in his physical prime and is a huge and imposing fighter at 168lbs. Sadly his size is likely going to be an issue and force him to move up sooner rather than later. However, as long as he's at 168lbs he will be one of the top guys there, and one of the best body punchers in the sport today. There are some technical flaws to work on, but the reality is that he's a big, strong, powerful talented guy who will typically be able to overpower more skilled foes.
Gilberto Ramirez (39-0, 25) - WBO (5 defenses)
Another huge fighter at the weight is unbeaten Mexican Gilberto Ramirez Sanchez, who has held the WBO title since April 2016. The 27 year old Mexican is seen as a fighter who may be moving up in weight sooner rather than later, as he's huge and stands over 6'2". Fighting out of the southpaw stance Ramirez has the hall marks of a big Mexican star. He's talented, looks good, can be exciting, if matched properly, hits hards and has good boxing fundamentals. Sadly his recent performances haven't been great, and his competition hasn't allowed to really show what he can do. He also seemed to suffer an injury last time out, so it could be a bit of wait until he faces another top name.
Caleb Plant (18-0, 18) - IBF (0 defenses)
Unbeaten American Caleb Plant, dubbed "Sweethands", showed how good he was in January when he dethroned Jose Uzcategui in LA, to claim the IBF title. The talented Planet proved he his harder than his record suggests, dropping Uzcategui twice, as managed to show great hand speed, movement and activity, at least early on. He struggled late in the bout, in what was only his second 12 round bout. Despite holding a world title Plant looks like a fighter who is still a work in progress, but the 26 year old American is certainly a solid boxer, with a likable personality and a back story that will have fans on his side for a long time to come. It's hard to imagine him beating any of the other champions at the weight, but in reality there's not many contenders that would be clearly favoured over him, and if he improve as we expect than he could end up having a very good reign.
Saul Alvarez (51-1-2, 35) - WBA "regular" (0 defenses)
A bit of an oddity here is that Saul "Canelo" Alvarez is the WBA interim champion, having won the belt in late 2018 from Rocky Fielding. That win showed that Canelo, at 168lbs, still holds a punch but appears to have been little more than a 1-off, for now. The 28 year old Mexican icon has since announced that he will be dropping back down to Middleweight to face Daniel Jacobs in a WBA "super", IBFand WBC Middleweight title unification. Alvarez will certainly end up at 168lbs down the line, but for now he's a Middleweight who dipped his toes at Super Middleweight and picked up a secondary title.
Takahiro Onaga is a regular contributor to Asian Boxing and will now be a featured writer in his own column where his takes his shot at various things in the boxing world.