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Analysis: The middleweight division

Canelo Alvarez vs Gennady Golovkin
Al Bello/Getty Images
In the fifth instalment of our weekly series, Paul Wheeler surveys the scene in one of boxing’s classic divisions, middleweight

10. LIAM WILLIAMS (WAL)
Record: 22-2-1 (17) Age: 27 Height: 5ft 10ins
Campaigning at super-welterweight in 2017, Williams suffered a pair of losses to ex-WBO champion Liam Smith – the first of which was particularly controversial. A move up in weight followed, resulting in six straight inside-schedule victories. Four months ago, the two-division British titlist stopped the 6ft 4in Alantez Fox in ruthless fashion to cement a high ranking with the WBO.

STRENGTHS: The aggressive and well-conditioned Welshman packs a solid dig, especially when supplementing jolting jabs with forceful backhands down the middle.

WEAKNESSES: Cuts have hindered him in the past, with the skin around his eyes being specifically suspect.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Karim Achour had been the distance with Martin Murray, Lukas Konecny and David Lemieux, but Williams destroyed him in just two rounds.

WORST PERFORMANCE: After his impressive showing in the first Smith bout, his performance in the rematch was not as fluent.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The compelling bloodbath of a battle with Smith in their initial encounter.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? He is the reigning British title-holder but has the ambition and talent to achieve more. Ranked at No. 2 by the WBO and No. 4 by the WBC, he is certainly heading in the right direction.

9. KAMIL SZEREMETA (POL)
Record: 21-0 (5) Age: 30 Height: 5ft 9 1/2ins
One of only three undefeated boxers on this list, the stocky Szeremeta is the least well-known name in the top 10, having contested the vast majority of his bouts in his native Poland. A bullish, come-forward combatant, he has worked his way into the mandatory challenger position for Gennady Golovkin’s IBF belt, as well as being highly placed by the WBC. He has also held the European championship.

STRENGTHS: Arguably the freshest fighter listed, the robust Pole hurls accurate hooks both upstairs and down.

WEAKNESSES: Although he has won three of his last five outings inside time, he had prevailed via the early route in only two of his previous 16 contests. He has yet to compete against a world-level opponent.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Quickly dismissing the usually durable Alessandro Goddi in fine style on away turf in Italy to become European champ.

WORST PERFORMANCE: The unheralded Ismael Teboev made him work hard for a majority verdict victory in his fourth professional fight.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: His conclusive knockout of Ruben Diaz in his opening EBU title defence.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? If and when he challenges the division leader Golovkin, he will justifiably be a massive outsider.

8. WILLIE MONROE JNR (USA)
Record: 24-3 (6) Age: 33 Height: 5ft 10ins
The son of ‘80s/’90s pro middleweight Willie “The Body Rock” Monroe and great nephew of former Marvin Hagler conqueror Willie “The Worm” Monroe, “El Mongoose” comes from fighting stock. His two world title tries (versus Gennady Golovkin and Billy Joe Saunders) have both ended in defeat. In late 2018 there was an adverse finding in his drug test, though no suspension was ever reported.

STRENGTHS: The American’s slick southpaw skills, quick hands and clever movement make him an awkward adversary.

WEAKNESSES: His 22 per cent KO ratio is the lowest of any boxer on this list. He has not won inside the course since September 2013, meaning he is without a knockout or stoppage win in 12 fights.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Winning ESPN’s 2014 Boxcino tournament with a near-shutout triumph over the previously unbeaten Brandon Adams, who went on to claim The Contender crown in 2018.

WORST PERFORMANCE: The man from Rochester in New York state failed to get going in his tepid clash with Saunders.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: Monroe’s gutsy approach against Golovkin produced some good two-way action.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? He seems more likely to drop out of the top 10 rather than advance further up it.

7. ROB BRANT (USA)
Record: 25-2 (17) Age: 29 Height: 6ft 0 1/2in
Twelve months after being comprehensively outpointed by veteran Juergen Braehmer in the World Boxing Super Series super-middleweight quarter-final in October 2017, Brant pulled off a notable upset by widely outscoring Ryota Murata for the needless WBA secondary strap back down at 160lbs. In July last year, however, Murata gained revenge by violently dispatching Brant in just over five-and-a-half minutes.

STRENGTHS: Speedy, smart and sharp-hitting, the energetic Dallas-based fighter throws a lot of punches.

WEAKNESSES: Brant has a poor record when on his travels. He has fought outside of the US on two occasions as a pro and has lost both times – against Braehmer in Germany and Murata in Japan.

BEST PERFORMANCE: His unexpected conquest of Murata in their first bout. The dominant manner of the success made it all the more surprising.

WORST PERFORMANCE: He was overwhelmed by Murata in the second round of their return match, despite performing positively for much of the first frame.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The highlight-reel KO of Decarlo Perez.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? With Brant having exercised his contractual clause for a rubber match with Murata, the familiar foes are seemingly set to meet again. The significant favourite would be Murata.

Ryota Murata
Mikey Williams/Top Rank

6. CHRIS EUBANK JNR (ENG)
Record: 29-2 (22) Age: 30 Height: 5ft 11ins
In December against Matvey Korobov, Eubank returned to middleweight after a six-fight spell at super-middle, which included an unsuccessful WBA title tilt against George Groves in the WBSS semi-final. A shoulder injury forced Korobov out in the second session, giving Eubank the victory and the Interim WBA belt. As unnecessary as this award is, it has nonetheless led Junior to No. 1 in the WBA ratings.

STRENGTHS: The pressure-fighting Brightonian boasts a granite chin like his famous father and namesake. His other standout attributes are his speed, athleticism and spiteful combination-punching.

WEAKNESSES: Eubank has been guilty of neglecting the fundamentals in the past, leading his attacks to be overly wild at times. Better-schooled technicians like Billy Joe Saunders and Groves have taken advantage of this.

BEST PERFORMANCE: He demonstrated noticeable technical improvements to deservedly defeat the decorated James DeGale.

WORST PERFORMANCE: His strengths were largely nullified by Groves’ intelligent tactics.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The explosive knockout of Avni Yildirim, followed by trademark Eubank posturing and showmanship.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Quality educated boxers will always fancy their chances of outmanoeuvring him, but if he continues to improve on the basics then he has the capacity to attain world honours.

Chris Eubank Jr
Stephanie Trapp/Showtime

5. DEMETRIUS ANDRADE (USA)
Record: 29-0 (18) Age: 32 Height: 6ft
Andrade moved up to middleweight in the latter half of 2017, after formerly operating in the super-welter division, where he ruled as WBO boss for a time. Since becoming a full-fledged 160-pounder, the Rhode Islander has won all five of his bouts, including a WBO title win and three successful defences – the most recent of which saw him halt the overmatched Luke Keeler three months ago.

STRENGTHS: A skilful, fleet-fisted southpaw, Andrade secured a gold medal at the 2007 World Championships before participating in the 2008 Olympic Games. Accuracy, variety and an effective jab are his strong points.

WEAKNESSES: The stop-start nature of his career has impeded his rise. He had just one fight a year in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Decking the in-form Willie Nelson four times en route to a final-frame stoppage victory.

WORST PERFORMANCE: The Providence stylist lacked his usual rhythm in getting past ex-EBU 154lb titlist Jack Culcay on a split vote in Germany.

Demetrius Andrade
Amanda Westcott/Showtime

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The boxing clinic he put on against Nelson.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? At his free-flowing, hard-to-handle best, none of the fighters higher up this list would be queuing up to face him.

4. RYOTA MURATA (JPN)
Record: 16-2 (13) Age: 34 Height: 6ft 0 1/2in
A big star in his home country of Japan, Murata scooped gold at the 2012 Olympics. In 2017, he split two bouts with former WBO ruler Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam. Such was the controversy surrounding his points defeat in the initial contest, an immediate rematch was ordered, with Murata earning a retirement victory. After going 1-1 with Rob Brant, he blasted through the outgunned Steven Butler four months ago.

STRENGTHS: A dynamic and heavy-handed aggressor, he uses his long levers to bombard the opposition with fierce volleys.

WEAKNESSES: In their maiden meeting, Brant showed that Murata can be outworked.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Avenging his loss to Brant with a devastating display in the follow-up fight.

WORST PERFORMANCE: He was thoroughly beaten by Brant the first time around.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The crunching left hook square on the jaw that brutally finished Butler.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? As the owner of the WBA’s excessive secondary strap, Murata is in contention as a future foe of Canelo Alvarez – the full WBA champion who most recently fought at light-heavy. He would be a major underdog against the pound-for-pound supremo, but would be in with a shout against those above him on this list.

Ryota Murata
Naoki Fukuda

3. SERGIY DEREVYANCHENKO (UKR)
Record: 13-2 (10) Age: 34 Height: 5ft 9ins
Despite having had the least pro bouts of anyone in the top 10, Derevyanchenko is not lacking in ring experience. The 2008 Olympian enjoyed and extensive and fruitful amateur career, notably in the World Series of Boxing. He has twice challenged for the IBF title, but was pipped by Daniel Jacobs (October 2018) and Gennady Golovkin (October 2019) in close, competitive duels.

STRENGTHS: The tough, stern-striking Ukrainian, who fights out of Brooklyn, drives forward and applies constant, refined pressure.

WEAKNESSES: Jacobs and Golovkin both registered knockdowns against him in the opener, which suggests he can be caught cold early on in bouts.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Derevyanchenko was edged out on the scorecards by Golovkin, but there were many people watching who thought that he was unlucky to lose.

WORST PERFORMANCE: He overcame Jack Culcay on points, yet admitted afterwards that he did not perform to his optimum level on the night.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: His stirring scrap with Golovkin.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Considering on another day he could have been given the decision against Golovkin, who is the top dog in the division, then he should be aiming for pole position and nothing less.

2. JERMALL CHARLO (USA)
Record: 30-0 (22) Age: 29 Height: 6ft
The twin brother of two-time WBC super-welterweight king Jermell Charlo, this Texan is an ex-world titlist at 154lbs himself, having occupied the IBF throne for just under 18 months from 2015 to 2017. In June last year, he was upgraded from Interim WBC middleweight champion to the full title-holder. This was a result of Canelo Alvarez inexplicably being reclassified as the Franchise champion.

Jermall Charlo
Stephanie Trapp/Showtime

STRENGTHS: An imposing athlete who hits hard and comes on strong as fights progress, Charlo’s consistent, demoralising jab is a valuable weapon.

WEAKNESSES: He was slightly overzealous on occasion against cultured late substitute Matvey Korobov, who managed to catch him with a few counters, as did the tricky Austin Trout.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Knocking down Julian Williams three times and recording a KO in their clash of unbeatens. Williams went on to become a unified world champ at super-welter.

WORST PERFORMANCE: With his crafty moves, Trout made it difficult for Charlo to look good.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The way he viciously disposed of Williams was attention-grabbing and is worth a watch.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Currently in his physical prime, the Houston resident is perfectly placed to make a play for the No. 1 spot.

1. GENNADY GOLOVKIN (KAZ)
Record: 40-1-1 (35) Age: 38 Height: 5ft 10 1/2ins
After 14 years as a pro, Golovkin is still a P4P mainstay. In around 350 amateur bouts, the Kazakh wrecking ball suffered only a handful of losses and took gold at the 2003 Worlds and silver at the 2004 Olympics. The current IBF belt-holder and former unified (WBC, WBA and IBF) champion, he was unfortunate to only draw with Canelo Alvarez the first time, while his rematch reverse was debatable too.

STRENGTHS: An expert at cutting off the ring, “GGG” possesses an excellent jab, iron chin and bone-rattling power – his KO percentage is the highest on this list. His signature arcing hooks are particularly punishing.

Gennady Golovkin
Tom Hogan/K2

WEAKNESSES: His defence has never been the tightest and he is getting on in age.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Against such a stellar rival, his accomplished performance versus Canelo in their opening contest warranted a win.

WORST PERFORMANCE: He shipped a fair few shots prior to breaking down the naturally smaller Kell Brook.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The sickening body blow that left Matthew Macklin writhing on the canvas in agony.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Just two years shy of 40, he is understandably no longer the fully formidable force of old, yet is still a worthy No. 1.

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