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Analysis: The light-heavyweight division

Canelo Alvarez v Sergey Kovalev light-heavyweight
In the third part of our series focusing on each weight class, John Dennen breaks down the light-heavyweight division, one of the most ferociously competitive weight classes in the sport

10. Badou Jack (SWE)
Record: 22-3-3 (13) Age: 36 Height: 6ft 1in

Badou Jack is now a veteran campaigner. His recent bouts have come against a who’s who of key names in both the super-middle and light-heavyweight divisions. He’s fought both James DeGale and George Groves, and hasn’t lost to either of them. His results at light-heavy have been patchy but victory over Nathan Cleverly and drawing with Adonis Stevenson in Canada are respectable results. A surprise defeat to Jean Pascal in December has pushed him down to the bottom of the top 10.

STRENGTHS: His solid fundamentals, he does everything well, have been enough to carry him to championship level.

WEAKNESSES: He’s not a finisher, his career is spotted with close bouts and draws that he could not convert into victories.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Dropping George Groves on his way to defending the WBC super-middleweight title.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: If you need to slake a thirst for blood, Jack suffered one of the worst cuts seen in recent history against Marcus Browne.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? He could claw his way a few places higher in the top 10 if he managed to avenge his loss to Pascal. But time is not on his side.

Badou Jack light-heavyweight

9. Marcus Browne (USA)
Record: 23-1 (16) Age: 29 Height: 6ft 1½ins

A proud New York fighter, he has built his career boxing regularly at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. But for a 2012 Olympian with power it has taken him many years to develop from prospect into contender. Stopping local rival Sean Monaghan was a good win but Jean Pascal arrested his momentum last August with a technical decision victory after a clash of heads.

STRENGTHS: He does have power and is a strong puncher.

WEAKNESSES: Jean Pascal dropped Browne three times, suggesting the American is not as resilient as the elite boxers in this division.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Defeating a bloodied and blinded Badou Jack in Las Vegas is his finest career win.

WORST PERFORMANCE: His eight-round split decision over Radivoje Kalajdzic in 2016 was controversial.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: Browne looking dangerous as he quickly finishes Gabriel Campillo in the first round.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Pascal was a crossroads fight, which sent Browne in the wrong direction. Illustrating his education following that defeat is now crucial.

Marcus Browne light-heavyweight

8. Joe Smith Jnr (USA)
Record: 25-3 (20) Age: 30 Height: 6ft

The scourge of Philadelphia, Smith’s claim to fame is bundling Bernard Hopkins into retirement. Most recently he defeated another Philly fighter, outscoring Jesse Hart on a split decision that should have been unanimous. He has though come up short in world championship class. Dmitry Bivol defended the WBA light-heavy title from him last year and he has also lost to Sullivan Barrera.

STRENGTHS: He can apply rough house pressure well and is a fighter not atop anyone’s wishlist.

WEAKNESSES: Refined boxers can outclass him.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Bernard Hopkins may have been at an advanced age, but was still a legend in the sport and renowned for his unheard of longevity.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Unknown Eddie Caminero stopped him early on in his career.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: A breakthrough bout for Smith was taking out Andrzej Fonfara in the first round.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Unlikely to win a world title but fights with the likes of Jean Pascal or Eleider Alvarez would certainly generate interest.

Joe Smith
Mikey Williams/Top Rank

7. Jean Pascal (CAN)
Record: 35-6-1 (20) Age: 37 Height: 5ft 10½ins

How is Jean Pascal still going? It’s not just that he’s reaching the age when most boxers retire, he’s had a long career full of hard fights, including two bad tempered defeats to Sergey Kovalev. But even though he lost to Dmitry Bivol in 2018, he went the distance with the world champion and has managed to rebound with results over Badou Jack and Marcus Browne. Those impressive comeback victories came 11 years after he pushed Carl Froch all the way in a super-middleweight thriller.

STRENGTHS: Experience, good conditioning and those unpredicatble fast hands keep him in the mix.

WEAKNESSES: The miles on the clock continue to mount up.

BEST PERFORMANCE: He handed Chad Dawson his first loss in 2010.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Losing to a 46-year-old Hopkins in 2011, who paused for some press ups between rounds, was humbling.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: Cast your mind back to 2008 and Pascal’s epic rumble with Nottingham’s own Carl Froch.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? He has already lost to Eleider Alvarez, in fact Pascal’s lofty ranking at this advanced stage of his career is an impressive achievement.

Jean Pascal

6. Eleider Alvarez (COL)
Record: 25-1 (13) Age: 35 Height: 6ft

The Colombian may have lost to Tony Jeffries in the 2008 Olympic Games but as a professional he has gone from strength to strength. Settling in Canada in 2017 he beat two local rivals in Lucian Bute and Jean Pascal. He never reached an agreement with Adonis Stevenson but stunned Sergey Kovalev, and the world, with a knockout finish in 2018. He could not maintain that form and last year the Russian won the WBO world title back from him.

STRENGTHS: Underrated ringcraft will make him a live underdog against anyone above him in the rankings.

WEAKNESSES: Consistency and activity. At 35, logic would dictate that his best years are now behind him.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Knocking out Russia’s fearsome Kovalev was one of the standout performances of 2018.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Who looks good in a fight with Isaac Chilemba?

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: A one-punch highlight reel finish against Michael Seals.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? With only one loss, and that to Kovalev, he remains a threat.

Eleider Alvarez
Mikey Williams/Top Rank

5. Dmitry Bivol (RUS)
Record: 17-0 (11) Age: 29 Height: 6ft

At 29 Bivol normally wouldn’t normally be considered a spring chicken. But he is markedly younger than the other excellent Russians who occupy the upper echelons of the top 10. While he has overcome the likes of Jean Pascal and Joe Smith Jnr to defend the WBA light-heavyweight title, he has not dazzled recently and hasn’t won by knockout in two years.

STRENGTHS: Well-schooled, he plies opponents with searching jabs.

WEAKNESSES: He burst onto the scene with knockout finishes. But the power seems to have evaporated.

BEST PERFORMANCE: He became the first man to stop Sullivan Barrera in 2018.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Could have done with a more impressive showing last time out against Lenin Castillo.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: In the World Series of Boxing, a quasi pro league for amateur boxers, he drops and stops Kazakh Olympian Danabek Suzhanov.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? He certainly can progress but needs to rediscover his best form.

Elsa/Getty Images

4. Oleksandr Gvozdyk (UKR)
Record: 17-1 (14) Age: 32 Height: 6ft 2ins

A fine fighter in almost every department, Gvozdyk may not be as celebrated as some of his compatriots but he was a member of the all star Ukrainian amateur team that included Vasyl Lomachenko and Oleksandr Usyk. He may not have the equivalent of their otherworldly skillsets but the Olympic bronze medallist is a fine fighter, solid in all departments. His unification clash with Beterbiev ended in defeat, but expect Gvozdyk to rise again.

STRENGTHS: Good control of himself and his opponents.

WEAKNESSES: A tidy boxer all round he could do with the explosive power and speed some his rivals possess.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Beating Adonis Stevenson in Canada was a great win, sadly overshadowed by the grave injury Stevenson suffered afterwards.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Although Gvozdyk rallied to win by knockout, Tommy Karpency did drop him in the first round.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: It has to be Beterbiev vs Gvozdyk, the best in the division at the time fighting to unify.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? There is no shame losing to Beterbiev, Gvozdyk is expected to reclaim a world title sooner or later.

Oleksandr Gvozdyk vs Artur Beterbiev

3. Sergey Kovalev (RUS)
Record: 34-4-1 (29) Age: 37 Height: 6ft

His first world championship reign began with hammering Nathan Cleverly in Cardiff. He built up a fearsome reputation and ripped more world titles from Bernard Hopkins. The brilliant Andre Ward ended that run in a close and controversial bout, that Ward reinforced with an emphatic victory in their rematch. Kovalev won back his WBO title and would show mettle in avenging a loss to Eleider Alvarez. The three-time champion however was the victim of heavy knockout in the 11th round of his clash with Canelo Alvarez.

STRENGTHS: Uses his jab well and has that ‘krushing’ power.

WEAKNESSES: He might have fine footwork but now Kovalev is increasingly predictable.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Kovalev looked to be at his brutal best when he obliterated Nathan Cleverly in his hometown back in 2013.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Andre Ward is outstanding, but Kovalev complained before, during and after their rematch and just did not adapt.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: His exhibition of sustained ferocity against Bernard Hopkins.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? It’s unlikely he can reclaim a world title, but even on the way down he’ll be in must-watch fights and has a style for fans to savour.

Sergey Kovalev
Mikey Williams/Top Rank

2. Canelo Alvarez (MEX)
Record: 53-1-2 (36) Age: 29 Height: 5ft 8ins
The iconic Mexican needs little introduction. He is ranked at light-heavy because his most recent performance was a stirring victory over Kovalev to win the WBO title. A result all the more impressive when you consider he is a natural middleweight. His key performances have been the contentious bouts with Gennady Golovkin, a draw and a win for Alvarez but both certainly debatable. He’s also beaten Miguel Cotto, unified with Danny Jacobs and is one of the best boxers pound-for-pound on the planet today.

STRENGTHS: Fine combination punching and excellent defensive head movement.

WEAKNESSES: For this division, he is small and will move back down, at least for the time being.

BEST PERFORMANCE: In the second Golovkin contest, Canelo was at times brilliant.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Floyd Mayweather can make fools of most, but while Alvarez may have been weight drained he soon ran out ideas too. At times he appeared to want out.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: Canelo met another great fighter when he fought Miguel Cotto for the WBC middleweight title in 2015.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? A conclusive win over Golovkin and winning a legitimate super-middleweight title would enhance his legacy further.

Canelo Alvarez light-heavyweight

1. Artur Beterbiev (RUS)
Record: 15-0 (15) Age: 35 Height: 5ft 11½ins

In 15 pro fights most boxers would still be a prospect. In the Russian’s case he is a unified world champion and the leading figure in the division. He was a fearsome force in Olympic boxing up at 91kgs (the amateurs’ version of cruiserweight). Beterbiev left London 2012 without a medal but he powered through the pro ranks, marmalising opponents and ultimately meeting Ukraine’s Oleksandr Gvozdyk to unify the WBC and IBF light-heavyweight world titles. He won by stoppage.

STRENGTHS: That power is frightening.

WEAKNESSES: His defence is not flawless and at 35, his future is far from limitless.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Beating Gvozdyk, another outstanding Eastern European.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Callum Johnson dropped him during Beterbiev’s stuttering start in that bout.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: A blast from the past, in the 2011 amateur World championships Beterbiev lost a superb three round bout to a certain Oleksandr Usyk.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? He is capable of becoming undisputed, if he gets the fights.

Artur Beterbiev

Read our cruiserweight analysis HERE

Read our heavyweight analysis HERE

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