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.
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.
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.