Whilst the Super Middleweight division has a talented, yet incredibly frustrating, array of champions the division is sadly lacking in quality in and around the ranks of contenders. Many of the top fighters in and around the world mix have been exposed, are on the way out and are old, rather than vibrant new up and comers. It gives the division a real lack of appeal and excitement. There are some solid contenders, but generally it's a division that is lacking depth and youth. Whilst we could run through the list of fringe contenders who are past it, we'd rather look at the up coming contenders here.
John Ryder (28-5, 16)
Englishman John Ryder should, if we're being honest, be the WBA "super" champion right now. He seemed to do more than enough last November to take the title from Callum Smith and was hugely unfortunate. Sadly Ryder has had a career of misfortune and was also very unlucky against Rocky Fielding in 2017. Although he has 5 losses the reality is that he is much, much better than his record suggests, and "The Gorilla" is one of the few legitimate, proven, contenders in the division, who isn't several years beyond their best.
Vladimir Shishkin (10-0, 6)
Fast rising US based Russian Vladimir Shishkin failed to impressed last time out, when he looked rather uninspiring against Ulises Sierra, but with stoppages against Siarhei Khamitski and Najid Mohammadi there's little doubting his ability. Shishkin is likely to be one of those contenders that fighters don't want to face, but yet doesn't look too impressive on camera and is potentially too much of a high risk low reward fighter, at least at the moment.
Vincent Feigenbutz (31-2, 28)
It's hard to believe that German fighter Vincent Feigenbutz is still only 24, but in many ways we may well have seen the best of the young German, who gets an IBF mandatory shot later this month. Once touted as the future of German boxing it feels like Feigenbutz has come around almost a decade too late and missed out on what the German scene once was. He's not a bad fighter, by any stretch, but he's also not as good as his record suggests and a loss to Caleb Plant on February 15th will push him way down the queue for another shot. He's powerful, but crude amd open and there to be out boxed by a smart fight like Plant.
Kevin Lele Sadjo (14-0, 14)
French puncher Kevin Lele Sadjo is dubbed the "The Phenomen" and with good reason, he can bang. Although not well known outside of France, as we begin 2020, we expect to see him getting some big fighters later in the year. The 29 year old has WSB experience and is a brute in the ring, with an aggressive style, very heavy hands, and a high intensity work rate. He looks like he could be out boxed by someone with very sharp counter punching, but in fairness to Sadjo, his shots are short, and crisp and he looks like a real emerging dangerman in the division
Evgeny Shvedenko (13-0, 6)
Another unbeaten Russian is Evgeny Shvedenko, who has slowly been making a name for himself in Europe, with recent wins against the likes of Nuhu Lawal and Nadjib Mohammedi. Although certainly not a name we expect many to be familiar with he is making his mark slowly and we would expect him to be moving towards an eliminator through the coming year. He's yet to really make a big statement, but we expect to see that sooner rather than later given he's not 29 years old.
Roamer Alexis Angulo (26-1, 22)
We said we wanted to focus on upcoming fighters but the 35 year old Roamer Alexis Angulo is certainly no spring chicken. He's also someone who has come up short in the past, losing in 2018 to Gilberto Ramirez Sanchez. However he has earned a second show on the back of big wins over the previously unbeaten pairing of Reinaldo Gonzalez and Anthony Sims Jr. The Colombian is big, tough, hits hard and appears to be on a good, so don't be too surprised if the US based Colombian gets a second title fight before this year is over.
Nurzat Sabirov (10-0, 9)
Canadian based Kazakh hopeful Nurzat Sabirov is a real hidden gem among the ranks at 168lbs, but is clearly some way away from a world title fight. The 26 year old has looked skilled, heavy handed and is getting good rounds under his belt, but clearly needs to be stepped up this year if he's to heading up into the fringes of the title mix. As with many of the Kazakhs based in Canada he's being matched well and getting experience, though do wonder when, or if, the promoters will pull the trigger and get any of them big fights in 2020. Sabirov probably won't be ready by the end of the year, but it'll be interesting to see whether Batyrzhan Jukembayev or Sadriddin Akhmedov get a big fight and lead the way for Sabirov.
Christian Mbilli (16-0, 15)
Cameroonian born Frenchman Christian Mbilli is one of the most promising fighters in the division, and one of the most exciting. He turned professional after a very successful amateur career, that included an appearance at the 2016 Olympics and time competing in the WSB, and since 2017 he has been building his reputation as a future world champion. He's talented, explosive and very exciting, and he's also proven he can go longer in fighters, with each of his last 3 bouts going 8 or more rounds. Don't be surprised at all if Mbilli gate crashes the title scene before the end of 2020.
Bektemir Melikuziev (4-0, 3)
Unbeaten Uzbek Bektemir Melikuziev looks like not just a future world champion but a future star of the sport. The "Bek Bully" has an exciting in ring style, but has proven he can box as well as bang, he's a devastating body puncher, a former amateur standout and someone who is being fast tracked like no one else in the division. Melikuziev is pencilled in to fight again later this month, against former world title challenger Marco Antonio Periban, and a win there will almost certainly put him on the verge of a world title fight. He might not be a big name, yet, but Melikuziev ticks all the boxes of a future star, and is someone to get very, very excited about.
Aidos Yerbossynuly (13-0, 9)
Another Central Asian making waves in the division is 28 year old Kazakh Aidos Yerbossynuly, who has cracked the top 10 with the WBO and the top 3 with the WBA, showing just how worthless their rankings are at times. The Kazakh has picked up wins in various countries, with his most notable win coming last August in Australia, where he beat Rocky Jerkic, and we expect to see him getting higher profile wins this year. The unbeaten fighter, who is managed by Sulieman Promotions, is certainly someone who deserves to be on the periphery even if his rankings are currently way too high.
Azizbek Abdugofurov (13-0, 5)
Ranked #2 by the WBC unbeaten Uzbek Azizbek Abdugofurov once looked like he was on the fast track to the top, but his rise has certainly in recent times, with "AAA" unable to land a bout of note in 2019. That was a shame as he had momentum coming into the year on the back of good wins over Dmitrii Chudinov and Wuzhati Nuerlang. Fingers crossed he can land a big fight this year and make up for lost time. At 27 years old he has time to get back to where he was, but feels a lot like he's wasted a year of his career, when he should have been getting bouts to prepare him for an eventual world title bout.
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 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.