When we look through the divisions one really frustrates us more than any other, and that's the Super Middleweight division, which has obvious match ups to make, but yet still finds a way to frustrate and antagonise fans with mismatch among the top fighters, and a lack of great in ring activity. In fact over the last year or so it's felt almost like the champions are intentionally trying to look bad at times. Sadly the contenders are struggling to make a case for a shot at the titles too, further making the division look rather stagnant.
IBF - Caleb Plant (19-0, 11)
Unbeaten American Caleb Plant is arguably the most consistent of the champions, but someone who is also rather untested. Dubbed "Sweet Hands" Plant relies on skills, hand speed and ring craft rather than power, but certainly has enough sting on his shots to get opponents respect, as seen last year when he dropped Jose Uzcategui twice, en route to dethroning the Venezuelan. His first defense was a farcical bout against Mike Lee last July and later this month he'll return to the ring to defend in a mandatory defense against Vincent Feigenbutz.
WBC - David Benavidez (22-0, 19)
Potentially the best fighter in the division, when he's on form, is hard hitting American 23 year old David Benavidez. "El Bandera Roja" is a big guy at the weight, with big power, and an exciting style, when he gets going. Sadly however he also appears inconsistent, with a really poor performance against Ronald Gavril in their first clash, back in 2017, and he looked uninspired last time out, against Anthony Dirrell. Added to his inconsistent performances are out of the ring issues, and he's had recreational drug issues. If he can sort his performances out, and fight to his potential, he's the man to watch, but right now it feels like he could against any of the other champions, or contenders.
WBA "Super" - Callum Smith (27-0, 19)
Heading in to 2019 Callum Smith looked to be the big dog of the division. He had won the WBA "super" title, and the Muhammad Ali Trophy, winning the WBSS tournament in Saudi Arabia. Then 2019 happened and his momentum vanished. Rather than get his promoter to chase the big fights he took on Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam, who had been been stopped 2 fights earlier by Ryota Murata and then struggled to get a very controversial decision over John Ryder. Having entered the year with everything on his side, and in the eyes of many the top man in the division Smith has come in to 2020 with question marks all over him, and on the back of a shocking year. The big man from Liverpool really needs to get a big win this year, and potentially needs his promoter, Eddie Hearn, to help him recapture the public's attention after such a poor year.
WBO - Billy Joe Saunders (29-0, 14)
Talented yet frustrating and inconsistent isn't just something we can use to describe David Benavidez but also unbeaten Englishman Billy Joe Saunders. Saunders is a former WBO Middleweight champion who moved up in weight following an issue with a drug test, and became a 2-weight champion last May when when he beat Shefat Isufi. Since then he has defended the title once, pulling out a late KO to defeat Marcelo Esteban Coceres. Although a skilled southpaw Saunders has shown a frustrating lack of stamina and his competition at times has been close to awful. Fingers crossed he can land a big fight, but the reality is that the 30 year old should have achieved much more since making his debuted almost 11 years ago!
WBA "Regular" - Saul Alvarez (53-1-2, 36)
The WBA strikes again! The The WBA have really caused some messy situations with their multiple titles and it's the case here where Saul Alvarez is holding both their "Super" title at Middleweight and their "Regular" title at Super Middleweight. That Super Middleweight title is one he has held since December 2018, but is yet to defend it. The Mexican might be the biggest name in world boxing but it's hard to know what's next for him. There is talk of Alvarez facing Billy Joe Saunders or Callum Smith in May, but if we're honest neither of those bouts look like that appealing, given the previous performances of Smith and Saunders. Alvarez has only fought once at the weight, but it seems this is going to be the weight that he moved forward at following a short foray at Light Heavyweight last year. He's essentially the princess at the ball, but unfortunately not of the prince's seem all that appealing as dance partnes for "Canelo".
The Middleweight division is one of the biggest messes in the sport, and like the Lightweight division it was the politics of the WBC and WBA that have caused a complete mess. The mess that those bodies have caused is compounded by the fact the division, if we're being totally honest, is rather thin on the ground in terms of worth while contender. In fact whilst the Middleweight division might be one of the most historically significant it is currently one of the worst, lacking depth in the ranks of the contenders, and being a total mess at the top.
WBA "super" and WBC "Franchise" - Saul Alvarez (53-1-2, 36)
Mexican star Saul "Canelo" Alvarez is by far and away the biggest name in the division, and the current unified WBA "super" and WBC "Franchise" champion. Sadly however it's looking less and less likely that he will fight at Middleweight again and is essentially holding up the division's development. As one of boxing's few global stars we understand the title bodies bending over to accommodate Alvarez to some extent but creating the whole "Franchise" tag to help appease him really was a pathetic move form the WBC who have really created a mess here. It's really unclear what Canelo's future holds, but as the biggest name in the sport he really is in the driving seat for whatever the future brings.
IBF - Gennady Golovkin (40-1-1, 35)
Kazakh star Gennady Golovkin is one of the stars of the division and still a hugely popular fighter even though he is now coming to the end of his long and successful career. The 37 year old won his first 37 pro bouts, unified the WBA, WBC and IBF titles and gave the division a real sense of clarity with a major divisional king. Sadly though he's gone 3-1-1 in his last 5 and looked more and more human with every fight. His two bouts with Saul Alvarez were both great but it was clear that he had slipped in the year between them. Golovkin looked even more of a faded force last October when he narrowly squeaked a decision against Sergiy Derevyanchenko to reclaim the IBF title. His next bout will be an IBF
WBO - Demetrius Andrade (29-0, 18)
American world champion Demetrius Andrade is a genuine, but also a man who has spent much of his career making poor decisions and and not doing things that would help him. Typically Andrade's fights have been dull to watch, and like he's fighting well within himself. Tall, rangy, talented, awkward and a southpaw he's a fighter that top fighters wouldn't be in a rush to face at the best of times, but he's also done little to help his marketability and his team don't seem to be in a rush to get him big fights. Andrade, known as "Boo Boo" has been a professional since 2008, yes he's fought 29 times in over 11 years, he's become a 2-weight champion, but his competition has been poor and at 31, soon to be 32, he really needs to do something big this year. He's started the year in an acceptable fashion, stopping the over-matched Luke Keeler, but now needs to face top competition to put pressure on the other champions to face him.
WBC - Jermall Charlo (30-0, 22)
The WBC mess, creating the Franchise champion status for Saul Alvarez, has seen Jermall Charlo being upgraded from the WBC "interim" champion to the WBC regular champion. Since being upgraded he's defended the title against Brandon Adams and Dennis Hogan. Charlo, like Andrade, is a 2-weight champion, having held titles at 154lbs and 160lbs, but is another fighter who has failed to secure big fights and done little to deserve them. On paper Charlo has a decent resume, with wins against the likes of Austin Trout, Julian Williams and Matt Korobov, but for a fighter who has been a professional for over a decade and has 30 fights he really should have achieved more. There is an argument that some fighters avoided Charlo, but in reality he did little to appeal to the top guys, and it's likely that he'll continue to meander through lower level challengers rather than get a career defining bout.
WBA "Regular" - Ryota Murata (16-2, 13)
Japanese fighter Ryota Murata might not be the most natural athlete, but the physically strong and imposing fighter is an Olympic champion, a former World Amateur Championship Silver medal winner and a 2-time WBA regular champion. In the ring Murata is a very basic fighter, but a very strong, powerful and heavy handed one who presses forward and looks to unleash monstrous right hands. At 34 years old Murata's time in the sport is limited, but he's expected to get a career defining bout this year, and he's been linked to both Canelo and Golovkin since December. The next 12 months will be pivotal in how Murata's career is remembered though it's hard to deny that he's a mega star in Japan and draws TV audiences in the multiple millions. His team have the money to attract a big opponent to Japan and that seems to be their aim this year.
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.
The Middleweight division, along with the Heavyweight, Light Heavyweight and Welterweight divisions, has typically been one of the key divisions in deciding the state of the sport. Right now however, it does feel rather lacking in terms of depth, despite having some of the sports biggest names. It's a division that is incredibly top heavy and very much lacking in depth. What also doesn't help is that between the champions there has been a lack of established reigns and defenses, making the division have big names but lack a long reigning center figure
Saul Alvarez (51-1-2, 35)- WBC, WBA Super (0 defenses)
Saul "Canelo" Alvarez is arguably the biggest name in boxing right, and commands an insane amount of attention, huge purses and mass fanfare when he gets in the ring. Whether you like him or not, and whether you feel he has had some favours from judges or not, it's undeniable that when Canelo fights the boxing world pays attention. His win over Gennady Golovkin last year, in what was a very controversial result, saw Alvarez claim the WBA "Super" and WBC titles, with the intention now being to unify them on May 4th against IBF champion Daniel Jacobs. Something that is worth noting about Canelo is that he is still looking to rebuild his reputation following a drug test failure in 2018, and it seems like he will look to make a point of proving he is a clean fighter at every opportunity.
Daniel Jacobs (35-2, 29) - IBF (0 defenses)
Canelo won his title in September and the following month Daniel Jacobs won the IBF title, taking the vacant title with a win over Sergiy Derevyanchenko. The IBF title had been stripped from Gennady Golovkin, prior to his rematch with Alvarez, opening up the opportunity for Jacobs to win the belt. The 31 year old, soon to be 32 year old, Jacobs is an exciting and flawed boxer-puncher. He's quick, explosive and a smart fighter than many give him credit for. He also has a heart warming backstory of surviving cancer to become a world champion. Sadly for Jacobs he has shown some fragility, having been stopped by Dmitry Pirog and been put down by Golovkin and Sergio Mora, but he seems to have shown the brains to counter-act his questionable chin. His bout with Canelo should be very interesting, and is one of the first true super fights of 2019.
Demetrius Andrade (27-0, 17) - WBO (1 defense)
Unbeaten American Demetrius Andrade is a talented yet incredibly frustrating fighter who seems to have been around for years, and actually debuted back in 2008. Despite his long unbeaten career he has failed to set the world on fire, or even really make the most of any opportunity he's had. He won the WBO title in October, when he defeated Walter Kautondokwa for the title which had been left behind by Billy Joe Saunders following a drugs test. Whilst Kautondokwa was an awkward fighter Andrade seemed to show no killer instinct. He made his first defense of the title this past Friday, and scored a bizarre stoppage over Artur Akavov, in what seemed to be an awful decision by Arthur Mercante. Andrade is a huge, awkward, fast, explosive southpaw, but lacks that something that could make a star. His reign is shrouded in controversy, due to the way Saunder's reign ended, and his performances have regularly failed to show just how good he is. If he can put everything together he could be a star, but it seems like he will never really show what he's capable of.
Rob Brant (24-1, 16) WBA "Regular" (0 defenses)
Once beaten American Rob Brant shocked the boxing world last year, when he upset Ryota Murata to claim the WB "regular" title. The 28 year old was another champion crowned in what was a division changing October, and he'll be making his first defense in February, when he takes on the unbeaten Khasan Baysangurov. From his 25 fights Brant is known for 2. One is the shock win over Murata in which he set an insane pace and out boxed the Japanese Olympic champion with ease. The other is his loss to Juergen Braehmer, which saw Brant looking rather clueless against the German veteran. He has clearly learned from that loss to the German and given his performance against Murata it's clear he is a very talented fighter, with under-rated power, and a great engine.
Jermall Charlo (28-0, 21) WBC interim (1 defense)
Jermall Charlo, the unbeaten twin of Jermell Charlo, won the WBC "interim" title last April when he stopped Hugeo Centono Jr in 2 rounds. Prior to winning the Interim title Charlo had a short reign at 154lbs, where he had held the IBF title and made 3 defenses. Charlo is a talented boxer-puncher, with very respectable power, but is technically not as good as he seems to think he is, as we saw recently when he was fortunate to over-come Matt Korobov. The win over Korobov looked comfortable on paper, against an old and inactive Russian challenger, and looked clear on the judges scorecards but the reality is that Charlo wasn't the clear winner in the eyes of the fans, and it seemed like he was really tested by the first skilled Middleweight he'd faced. Charlo will call for the big fights, but the reality is that he's not in the same league as the top 2 men in the division.
When I first agreed to write for www.asianboxing.info I did it in the knowledge I'd eventually ruffle a few feathers. What I didn't expect was for the American boxing media to give me an easy pitch to hit out the park, unfortunately however that's what they've done by acting like cheerleaders on an almost never ending basis.
In 2012 we were hearing all about a ginger haired Mexican kid called Saul "Canelo" Alvarez. The youngster was anointed the future of boxing despite having beaten very few "relevant" opponents. In fact by the end of 2012 Canelo's best wins were over a 40 year old Shane Mosley and a massively under-sized Josesito Lopez and although he held the WBC Light Middleweight title he was very much unproven.
Another man we were hearing all about in 2012 was Adrien "The Problem" Broner. Broner, like Canelo, was dubbed the future of boxing, a star with too much talent and charisma to fail. Unfortunately for Broner he too lacked relevant wins despite winning both the WBO Super Featherweight and WBC Lightweight titles. If we considered his most important wins were over Gavin Rees and a controversial decision over Daniel Ponce De Leon he was hardly a proven quality.
Both Broner and Alvarez were viewed as superstars in the making. The next men to become pay per view stars. Both however were beaten in 2013 and say their stock dropping. For Alvarez his loss, which came to Floyd Mayweather, wasn't that damaging, he was the under-dog and lost to arguably the best pure boxer on the planet. For Broner however things were different, he out punched and out boxed by Marcos Maidana, a limited but fearless Argentinian puncher. The losses may have been hugely different but both bubbles were burst, neither man seems to have the same vigor about them or excitement surrounding their upcoming bouts that they did for recent contests.
In 2013 we saw fighters like Deontay Wilder, Mikey Garcia, Bryant Jennings and Keith Thurman all given the same hype and support that Canelo and Broner had been having the previous year. All are being spoken about as dominant stars of the future with many viewing Garcia and Thurman as future pound-for-pound champions whilst others have referred to both Wilder and Jennings as future Heavyweight champions.
From where I'm sat however I can't help but think that we are merely looking at the next Broner, Canelo and various other American hypes such as Andre Berto, Victor Ortiz and Seth Mitchell.
I'll start with Deontay Wilder, an Olympic bronze medal winner who has been a professional since 2008 and run up a perfect record of 30-0 (30). Like Broner and Alvarez, the number of worth while wins on his record are minimal, in fact for a man universally ranked in the top 15 Wilder's opponents have been awful. The WBC, WBO and WBA all have Wilder in the top 5 of their rankings yet his biggest win is over the shadow of Sultan Ibragimov, hardly a win that deserves a top 15 ranking, never mind a top 5 ranking. Wilder's power is clearly impressive, though from the level of opponents he's not proven himself any more than Ali Raymi (who is 20-0, 20) and if anything he's left a lot of fans very worries about his chin which is certain a big worry.
Whilst Wilder is completely unproven for a 30 fight "veteran" it's fair to say that Bryant Jennings, also a Heavyweight, is actually pretty proven. Jennings, who sports a perfect 18-0 (10) record has only been a professional since 2010 and to be fair to him he has been more impressive than most other Heavyweights. Unfortunately for Jennings he doesn't do a lot that stands out like a "future" world Heavyweight champion. He doesn't have concussive power, he doesn't have a real killer instinct and he doesn't have a big amateur background. He can box much better than Wilder but there is something very much "mediocre" about him and when compared to the likes of Bulgaria's Kubrat Pulev there is little that makes me think Jennings is a future champion, just the next over-hyped American Heavyweight.
For Keith Thurman things do, for the immediate future, look pretty good. The unbeaten Welterweight, who sports a solid 22-0-0-1 (20) record, is a man who is being viewed in the same as Broner was. He's more talented and much more personable than Broner though like Broner he appears to be better with his mouth than he does in the ring. Thurman's best wins, which are decent, have come against the likes of Jesus Soto Karass, Diego Gabriel Chaves and Jan Zaveck who are fringe top 10 fighters in the division. If you were to listen to the American media however you'd think you were hearing about a man who had taken out a series of world champions in their prime, something that hasn't happened and is unlikely to happen.
Personally the one I believe is the most over-hyped is WBO Super Featherweight champion Miguel Angel Garcia. Like the others mentioned Garcia is unbeaten with a record of 34-0 (28) and like Broner was at the end of 2012, he is a 2 weight world champion who seems to be thinking bigger and bigger. Garcia, prior to winning the WBO Super Featherweight title, was the WBO Featherweight champion, a title he won by dominating Orlando Salido. Garcia, like Broner, was forced to give up his first world title by being unable to make weight. It was, as we often see with American fighters, just accepted that Garcia was maturing into a man after being a boy though at the time he failed he weight he was already 25 and a man.
Following his failure to make weight Garcia made the move to Super Featherweight, a division that for me sees Takashi Miura and Takashi Uchiyama sitting clearly as the #1 and #2 fighters. Garcia didn't aim to take a title from one of those two but instead WBO champion Roman "Rocky" Martinez, a man whose nickname summed up his reign. Martinez had controversially beaten Miguel Beltran Jr for the title, some how held on to it with a very fortunate draw against Juan Carlos Burgos and was lucky again against Diego Magdaleno. Garcia picked the easiest title, as did Broner, and just like Broner Garcia is looking at moving up another weight.
Garcia hasn't just been speaking about moving up to Lightweight, for a mooted bout with Yuriorkis Gamboa, but of moving all the way up to Light Welterweight if not Welterweight to fight Manny Pacquiao. Garcia, whose best wins have come against the likes of Salido and Burgos, is being viewed as potentially a future pound-for-pound #1 but after 34 fights, spread over 7 and a half years he's not shown anything that makes me think he'll ever be a top 10 pound-for-pound fighter, merely a well managed one. He's skillful and powerful but there is a lot of issues with him and even more if he insists on climbing through the weights as quickly as he seems to be wanting to do.
The American media may, right now, considering Wilder, Jennings, Thurman and Garcia as their darlings, though trust me they will ditch them as quickly as the dumped Broner when they lose. Whilst they could be well managed for the next few years they were become the fighters that Ring, HBO, Showtime and ESPN want them to become. They will never be the next great star of boxing and they will never become the next Mayweather or the next Pacquiao.
Personally I have Wilder down as the next Seth Mitchell, a chinny but powerful and raw Heavyweight, Jennings is the next Malik Scott, a talented but unspectacular fighter, Thurman is the next Andre Berto, an explosive and fun to watch but criminally over-rated Welterweight and Garcia really is the next Broner though much more humble than "The Problem".
I may be wrong, but the evidence is that the US media are so desperate to find their next superstar that they are trying to create a star rather than letting one emerge. In boxing, stars create themselves and aren't created just by the media.
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.