10. ALEKSEI PAPIN (RUS): Record: 11-1 (10) Age: 32 Height: 6ft 1in
An experienced and successful former kickboxer, Papin’s perfect record was punctured last time out in August against Ilunga Makabu. However, the manner of this reverse – a very tight majority decision – and Makabu’s subsequent world title win means that his stock did not take a serious hit. The fact that the bout was one of the best fights of 2019 didn’t harm his cause either.
STRENGTHS: With 10 of his 11 victories coming inside time, Papin’s prime attribute is obvious – his punch power.
WEAKNESSES: Having only transitioned from kickboxing to boxing under four-and-a-half years ago, at the late age of 28, the Russian lacks seasoning as a boxer.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Ex-world title challenger Ismayl Sillah lasted a mere 127 seconds before being brutally bludgeoned to defeat.
WORST PERFORMANCE: Having emphatically won all of his other contests, it has to be the Makabu setback.
WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The all-action Makabu thriller.
HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? With the division looking far more open since Oleksandr Usyk’s departure, Papin could feasibly put himself in the mix for world honours.
9. KEVIN LERENA (RSA): Record: 25-1 (12) Age: 27 Height: 6ft 1in
This muscular southpaw’s sole defeat – which was later avenged – occurred almost five-and-a-half years ago. Since then, he has won 14 fights in a row, collecting some decent scalps along the way. Due to a lack of amateur opportunities in his native South Africa, he turned pro without ever having fought in the vested code. With his burly physique, it is not easy for him to make the 200lb limit.
STRENGTHS: Lerena thrusts out solid jabs and one-twos, often followed up by thudding left hooks around the opposition’s guard.
WEAKNESSES: He can be rather flat-footed at times, which provides his opponents with opportunities to tag him.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Taking Artur Mann’s ‘0’ in four rounds with a booming left hand.
WORST PERFORMANCE: His clear points loss to the inconsistent Johnny Muller.
WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The clinical stoppage of Mann is impressive in its ruthlessness.
HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Like Papin, he seems likelier to rise further up the top 10 list, rather than dropping out of it. The challenge of weight-making could prove an obstacle though.
8. NOEL GEVOR (GER): Record: 24-2 (10) Age: 29 Height: 6ft 2 1/2ins
Gevor can consider himself unlucky, having been on the wrong end of disputed decisions against two other fighters who feature in the top 10. Krzysztof Wlodarczyk pipped him to a split vote, while Mairis Briedis unanimously outscored him in controversial circumstances. Athletic and well-conditioned, the Armenia-born German is a tidy but unspectacular operator.
STRENGTHS: As well as boasting a strong defence, he also works the body with accuracy and efficiency.
WEAKNESSES: His KO ratio is the lowest on this list. The last time he won inside the distance was five years ago.
BEST PERFORMANCE: It was far from pretty, but he largely nullified Briedis and should have received the verdict.
WORST PERFORMANCE: He was the recipient of a debatable victory himself against Stephen Simmons.
WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The Wlodarczyk fight was a close and competitive one. See who you think merited the win.
HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Despite his sound fundamentals, Gevor is lacking unpredictability and panache – an X factor. For this reason, he may well remain the nearly man of the division.
7. THABISO MCHUNU (RSA): Record: 22-5 (13) Age: 32 Height: 5ft 11ins
In December, Mchunu comprehensively outpointed former unified champ Denis Lebedev on away turf in Russia. Though the 40-year-old was past his best – he announced his retirement afterwards – it was still a notable triumph. The stocky South African southpaw was KO’d by Oleksandr Usyk when challenging for the WBO title, but is the current number one contender for the WBC crown.
STRENGTHS: Pivoting from the waist and utilising a shoulder roll technique, he is difficult to pin down. His bursts of counterpunches are swiftly delivered.
WEAKNESSES: Three of his five losses have come inside schedule, so his chin is not the sturdiest. He is also shorter than everyone else in the top 10.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Lebedev was forced to swallow a significant number of shots en route to being conclusively conquered.
WORST PERFORMANCE: Being halted by the dangerous but flawed Zack Mwekassa.
WATCH ON YOUTUBE: His fast hands and sharp reflexes are eye-catchingly on display against Garrett Wilson.
HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? His vulnerability when tagged has cost him before and is likely to do so again.
6. KRZYSZTOF WLODARCZYK (POL): Record: 58-4-1 (39) Age: 38 Height: 6ft 1in
No other boxer on the list can come close to the experience possessed by this vastly seasoned Pole, who turned pro an incredible two decades ago. He has twice been a world champion, although his last title reign came to an end five-and-a-half years ago. Since being knocked out by Murat Gassiev in three frames, he has won five fights on the spin, albeit against adversaries he was expected to overcome.
STRENGTHS: Substantial know-how built up from his years in the ring, plus dogged resilience and spirit.
WEAKNESSES: The oldest fighter in the top 10, he will turn 40 next year and is understandably slowing up.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Despite suffering an early knockdown, Wlodarczyk tore through betting favourite Rakhim Chakhkiev in eight rounds on away soil in Russia.
WORST PERFORMANCE: His usual durability betrayed him against Gassiev.
WATCH ON YOUTUBE: His action-packed, up-and-down war with Chakhkiev.
HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? The battle-hardened veteran has had his time. Unfortunately for him, it seems that the only way is down at this stage of his career.
5. ILUNGA MAKABU (COD): Record: 27-2 (24) Age: 32 Height: 6ft
The newest world title-holder in the division, Makabu picked up the vacant WBC belt in January by unanimously outscoring the previously unbeaten Michal Cieslak. The success was made all the sweeter for the powerful portsider as it took place in DR Congo – his home country. His first world title tilt ended in a third-round stoppage defeat to Tony Bellew.
STRENGTHS: The South Africa-based puncher poses a real threat with his thumping left hooks. He can operate at a high pace with his smooth and spiteful combinations.
WEAKNESSES: He has been caught cold in the past, as both of his losses have come early – inside three sessions.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Halting the heavy-handed Dmitry Kudryashov in five on away ground and leaving the Russian a bloody mess.
WORST PERFORMANCE: Being stopped on his debut after just 29 seconds by fellow first-timer Khayeni Hlungwane.
WATCH ON YOUTUBE: His toe-to-toe slugfest with Thabiso Mchunu, ending in a brutal late KO win.
HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Currently in a rich vein of form, he would be rightly confident against anyone.
4. ARSEN GOULAMIRIAN (FRA): Record: 26-0 (18) Age: 32 Height: 6ft 1in
Born in Armenia and fighting out of America (having grown up in France), this strong and imposing specimen flew under the radar until March 2018, when he triumphed via late stoppage against Ryad Merhy, who had never lost before. This earned him the Interim WBA strap, which was later upgraded to the full title. Just over three months ago, he wrecked Constantin Bejenaru’s spotless résumé in nine.
STRENGTHS: Goulamirian’s aggressive approach is typical of a fighter who trains at the Summit Gym in Big Bear, California. He lets fly freely with left hooks downstairs and arcing rights over the top of the guard.
WEAKNESSES: The vast majority of his contests have been staged in his customary confines of France. He will no doubt have to venture further afield for higher-profile fights in the future, so it will be interesting to see how he copes with an unfamiliar environment.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Merhy was continually pressured and eventually overwhelmed by Goulamirian’s swarming tactics.
WORST PERFORMANCE: The teak-tough and time-served Ismail Abdoul made him work hard for a split verdict victory.
WATCH ON YOUTUBE: His crippling body-shot finish of Kane Watts.
HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? The top three should be looking over their shoulder with caution.
3. YUNIEL DORTICOS (CUB): Record: 24-1 (22) Age: 34 Height: 6ft 3ins
A multi-medallist at the Cuban national championships as an amateur, Dorticos is a two-time world titlist in the pros. A unanimous points win over the capable Mateusz Masternak, followed by a wipeout of the formerly undefeated Andrew Tabiti, reserved his spot in the yet-to-be-contested WBSS final against Mairis Briedis. The tall and rangy IBF king boxes in a relaxed and composed manner.
STRENGTHS: The Miami resident boasts quick fists, fine body work and a pump-action jab, but his greatest quality is undoubtedly his bone-rattling power, especially in his ruinous right hand. His KO ratio is the highest of anyone on this list.
WEAKNESSES: He faded in the championship rounds in his unification bout with Murat Gassiev, who dramatically finished him in the 12th.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Dispatching both Dmitry Kudryashov and Tabiti in highlight-reel fashion.
WORST PERFORMANCE: He was well in the fight against Gassiev until his tank emptied late on.
WATCH ON YOUTUBE: Take your pick from the Kudryashov stoppage, the Tabiti KO, his thrilling encounter with Gassiev or his exciting battle with Youri Kalenga, whom he halted.
HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Briedis will be the favourite when they meet, but Dorticos can be considered a very live underdog.
2. KRZYSZTOF GLOWACKI (POL): Record: 31-2 (19) Age: 33 Height: 6ft
In his next outing, Glowacki is slated to box Lawrence Okolie for the vacant WBO crown – a title he has held twice before. The game Pole dropped the strap to Mairis Briedis via third-round stoppage in a controversy-filled fight in June. The chaotic clash featured blatant fouls, a knockdown of Glowacki scored well after the bell and a violent conclusion. Unsurprisingly after all that occurred, a rematch between the pair was ordered. When Briedis failed to agree to the sequel, he was stripped of the belt.
STRENGTHS: Employing a wide-legged stance, he supplements crisp southpaw jabs with energy-sapping blows to the midsection.
WEAKNESSES: With his eagerness to attack, he can sometimes be rather wild, which leads gaps to appear in his defence.
BEST PERFORMANCE: In what was Marco Huck’s 14th defence of the WBO title, Glowacki got up off the canvas to deck him twice and secure a knockout victory in round 11.
WORST PERFORMANCE: His decisive decision loss to Oleksandr Usyk – considering the extenuating circumstances surrounding the Briedis reverse.
WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The Huck shoot-out is a cracker.
HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? He will have his hands full with the awkward, fresher Okolie, who will fancy his chances of prevailing against the older man.
1. MAIRIS BRIEDIS (LVA): Record: 26-1 (19) Age: 35 Height: 6ft 1in
Another ex-kickboxer on the list, Briedis’ two most recent appearances have been marred by controversy, as previously detailed. In early 2018, he conceded a nip-and-tuck majority verdict to Oleksandr Usyk in their unification contest. The year before this, the Latvian unanimously saw off noteworthy names in Marco Huck and Mike Perez.
STRENGTHS: In addition to having a good engine, he fires out accurate jabs and forceful two-fisted bursts, plus fierce assaults to the midriff. The former two-time world ruler is not averse to clinching up close in order to spoil and negate the work of his opponents.
WEAKNESSES: At times he walks a tightrope in terms of discipline inside the ring, with his propensity to bend the rules putting him at risk of point deductions and disqualifications.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Oddly, his reputation-enhancing effort against the brilliant Usyk is his standout showing, despite this being the only occasion on which he has lost.
WORST PERFORMANCE: The Noel Gevor fight for his disjointed display or the Krzysztof Glowacki bout for his flagrant use of the elbow.
WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The superb exhibition of top-class boxing that he produced in combination with Usyk.
HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? He can cement his standing as the division leader with a win over Yuniel Dorticos in the WBSS final, but it will be far from easy.