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Analysis: The super-middleweight divison

super-middleweight Billy Joe Saunders
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
Who is the best super-middleweight on the planet? This week Matt Christie examines the world leaders at 168lbs

10. DANIEL JACOBS (USA)
Record: 36-3 (30) Age: 33 Height: 5ft 11 1/2ins
There could be an argument that, after losing to both Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez at 160lbs, the charismatic New Yorker’s move to super-middle was necessitated by seeking new opportunities rather than truly growing out of his old weight class. However, there can be no doubt that making 160lbs was a struggle for Jacobs – but whether the grass turns out to be any greener, only time will tell.

STRENGTHS: Overflowing with natural gifts, Jacobs ability to move, box and bang intelligently is bettered by only a small few in and around his division.

WEAKNESSES: At 33 and with some punishing fights – both in and out the ring – behind him his shelf life is up for debate.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Though his one-round bombing of Peter Quillin was scintillating, the problems he gave an unbeaten Golovkin before losing a debated decision is the most telling testament to his ability.

WORST PERFORMANCE: His career was at the crossroads after he was stopped emphatically in five rounds by Dmitry Pirog back in 2010.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The opening round of his 2015 scrap with Sergio Mora.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? If Jacobs still has plenty left in the tank, he’s a danger to every single fighter above him.

Danny Jacobs super-middleweight

9. FEDOR CHUDINOV (RUS)
Record: 22-2 (15) Age: 32 Height: 5ft 9 1/2ins
Stocky and tough, but lacking the one-punch power required to compliment his natural aggression, Chudinov’s career is decorated with noteworthy as opposed to spectacular victories. An underrated and hard to beat boxer, Chudinov’s style isn’t likely to attract any leading names. That his next scheduled opponent was to be the notoriously awkward Isaac Chilemba says it all about the task ahead.

STRENGTHS: His claustrophobic attacks, often punctuated by a whipping overhand right hand, make life exceptionally difficult for his opponents.

WEAKNESSES: Not particularly hard to hit due to his forward motion, Chudinov can be picked off by boxers and broken down by punchers.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Though he lost a rematch, outscoring Felix Sturm in 2015 is his standout victory.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Hasn’t been convincing of late, particularly during a 12-round split decision win over Nadjib Mohammedi in 2018.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: Exciting and providing evidence of both his strengths and weaknesses, the 2017 loss to George Groves is all you need.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Though he holds the bogus WBA ‘Gold’ belt, he’s going to struggle for the opportunities to go much higher.

Fedor Chudinov vs Felix Sturm

8. JUERGEN BRAEHMER (GER)
Record: 52-3 (38) Age: 41 Height: 5ft 11 1/2ins
The elder statesmen of the pack, it’s a minor miracle that this unhinged warrior, who knocked out Ricky Hatton in his amateur days, remains a factor at world level at the ripe old age of 41. At his best at light-heavy – where he held WBO and secondary WBA straps – the likeable hothead is ranked here largely due to his inclusion in the 168lbs World Boxing Super Series. But the lustre from his 2017 victory over Rob Brant is fading.

STRENGTHS: A southpaw who can switch hit to great effect, Braehmer’s biggest strength at this point of his career is vast experience. Still carries decent power in both hands and can dig fiercely to the body.

WEAKNESSES: The flipside of that experience, of course, is his advancing years. Appears to be ripe for the picking.

BEST PERFORMANCE: The 2015 ninth round beatdown of the usually durable Robin Krasniqi.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Blamed a dislocated shoulder for retiring after six against Nathan Cleverly in 2016, the only stoppage loss of his career.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: Knockouts of Tony Averlant (2013) and Pawel Glazewski (2014) highlight his body-punching prowess.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? One suspects this is as good as it gets for the veteran.

Juergen Braehmer

7. ANTHONY DIRRELL (USA)
Record: 33-2-1 (24) Age: 35 Height: 6ft 2ins
Fought at 178lbs as an amateur because his brother, Andre, was competing down at 165. No longer burdened with the pressure of “eating myself” into the higher class, Anthony has been a perennial player at super-middle since winning the WBC belt in 2013. He lost the title in his first defence (to Badou Jack) before a fine run of form was snapped last time out when David Benavidez ended Dirrell’s second brief reign as WBC boss last year.

STRENGTHS: Carries significant power in his straight right hand, that he fires with precision through the middle of defences.

WEAKNESSES: Careless when on the attack, his habit of leaving his hands too low was exploited by both Jack and Benavidez in Dirrell’s only losses. Susceptible to cuts.

BEST PERFORMANCE: The one-round blowout of Caleb Truax is easier on the eye than his gruelling 12-round victory over Sakio Bika.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Laboured to an eight-round points victory over the unheralded Don Mouton in 2013.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The tight defeat over 12 rounds to Badou Jack in 2015 was keenly fought.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Hard to see him putting together the kind of results required to challenge again. At 35, he appears to be in decline.

Anthony-Dirrell

6. LIONELL THOMPSON (USA)
Record: 22-5 (12) Age: 34 Height: 5ft 11in
Boxing logic dictates that you’re only as good as your last fight and Thompson – in dropping and decisioning the highly-favoured Jose Uzcategui – proved to be far better than we thought in December. A career light-heavyweight (he was shellacked by a peak Sergey Kovalev in 2012) where he was a gatekeeper at best, the former TMT fighter might at last be able to build on his amateur promise (he was a five-time New York Golden Gloves champion) at 168lbs.

STRENGTHS: Well-schooled, Thompson is adept at setting traps and counter-punching spitefully.

WEAKNESSES: Erratic performer who’s overly reliant on his reflexes, he rarely shows the gym form that persuaded Floyd Mayweather Jnr to sign him in 2014.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Without question the upset 10-round unanimous points win over Uzcategui at the end of last year.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Lost on points over eight rounds to Paul Parker in 2016.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The ever reliable Derrick Findlay provided Thompson with 10 tough and exciting rounds in 2018.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? The victory over Uzcategui – and the high ranking it secured – will likely flatter him before long.

5. JOHN RYDER (ENG)
Record: 28-5 (16) Age: 31 Height: 5ft 9ins
Though his high ranking is largely because many felt he deserved to beat division leader Callum Smith following their hotly-contested 12-rounder in November, Ryder proved his quality long before that. Trained by the excellent Tony Sims, Ryder has tailored what was once a slick style at middleweight into educated aggression in the higher weight class. As a consequence, he’s proved to be a hard-hitting handful at 168lbs.

STRENGTHS: Makes his lack of height and reach work in his favour. Excellent on the inside with short hooks and uppercuts, he can also counterpunch very effectively.   

WEAKNESSES: Though an excellent boxer, he is not elusive in defence.

BEST PERFORMANCE: That he’s pushed both Smith and Billy Joe Saunders says plenty, but thrashing Patrick Neilson was mightily impressive.

WORST PERFORMANCE: The 12-round points loss to Jack Arnfield seemed to spell the end in 2016.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The one-punch finish of Jamie Cox, delivered with his back to the ropes, was technically brilliant.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Unlikely to be underestimated again, Ryder will need to find yet another gear to lift a major belt.

4. DAVID BENAVIDEZ (USA)
Record: 22-0 (19) Age: 23 Height: 6ft 1 1/2ins
After bettering the robust Rogelio Medina in two bouts in 2017-18, the young starlet was WBC champion with the world at his feet. Though he was dragged out of the amateur system after only 15 bouts – he was picking up bad habits, his team said – Benavidez exhibits class beyond his years. Outside the ring, though, he lost his title after testing positive for cocaine but has since regained it after cutting and stopping Anthony Dirrell last year.

STRENGTHS: Aggressive and not afraid to trade, Benavidez displays good variety as he employs hefty hooks to head and body.    

WEAKNESSES: Careless and open to counters when on the way in.  

BEST PERFORMANCE: Overwhelmed Dirrell with savage attacks.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Forced to learn on the job as he got up off the floor to squeak past Gavril in their first fight.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: That 2017 war with Gavril was a thriller.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Still very much a work in progress, Benavidez – presuming he can avoid distractions outside the ring – will be very hard to beat.

David benavidez
Rosie Cohe/Showtime

3. CALEB PLANT (USA)
Record: 20-0 (12) Age: 27 Height: 6ft 1in
Managed by Al Haymon, Plant’s backstory is grimly compelling: His daughter was born with an unknown illness that made her susceptible to seizures before she died from pneumonia aged just 19 months; Plant’s mother passed away in hospital after she was shot by police while pulling out a knife. The bearded Plant fights like embittered fighters often do; swaggering and spiteful, the IBF champion might just be a star in the making.

STRENGTHS: Busy and accurate, Plant’s showboating skills – which he exhibits moving forwards, backwards and going side-to-side – are up there with the best of them.

WEAKNESSES: Though not exactly feather-fisted, Plant lacks the kind of power required to really punctuate his trickery.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Beating up Jose Uzcategui to snatch the IBF strap.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Rogelio Medina is hard to impress against.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The thrashing of the overmatched Mike Lee is a thrilling and bite-sized showcase of Plant at his best.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Feasibly to the top. But important to remember his bedazzling skills are yet to come against anything approaching the elite.

Caleb Plant

2. BILLY JOE SAUNDERS (ENG)
Record: 29-0 (14) Age: 30 Height: 5ft 11ins
The WBO champion continues to act like a prat outside the ring and recently had his British boxing licence suspended after his latest video nasty went viral. The inevitable apologies that followed have been heard before and one hopes that, this time, he means them. Still only 30, and with ability to burn, Saunders might one day fulfil the potential he’s had since his amateur career. When focused and at his best, only a fool would bet against him.

STRENGTHS: Belies his out-of-the-ring persona when truly focused; loaded with skills and intelligence, Saunders can make novices out of educated pros.

WEAKNESSES: Yet to prove he’s a true super-middleweight and just as likely to come undone against an unfancied trier – due to his habit of being unmotivated – as he is to upset a true superstar.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Masterful while making David Lemieux look woeful.

WORST PERFORMANCE: Fortunate not to lose his unbeaten record against Artur Akavov in 2016.

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The shootout with Chris Eubank Jnr is worthy of another viewing.

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? Getting harder and harder to predict a happy ending.

1. CALLUM SMITH (ENG)
Record: 27-0 (19) Age: 29 Height: 6ft 3ins
Smith is the most deserving of the pack chasing a big fight with Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez. Whether either really fancies taking on the Scouser is another matter. Yet to be a true breakout star in the UK – despite being one of the best three fighters in the country, pound for pound – Smith can look truly sensational in the ring when in the mood. One hopes he gets the chances his skills deserve but he shouldn’t waste time waiting too long – there’s plenty to achieve against the fighters just below him here.

STRENGTHS: A fearsome puncher and master boxer, the tall and rangy Smith can do everything well.

WEAKNESSES: He was forced out of his comfort zone by John Ryder, who had success burrowing inside Smith’s long levers. Lack of concentration almost cost him against Erik Skoglund, too.

BEST PERFORMANCE: Beating George Groves so emphatically was no mean feat.  

WORST PERFORMANCE: Though he didn’t get ‘lucky’ against Ryder, he didn’t look good while working hard for victory.  

WATCH ON YOUTUBE: The blistering knockout of the sturdy Hassan N’Jam N’Jikam.

Callum Smith v John Ryder

HOW HIGH CAN HE GO? He needs a big fight and a big occasion to get to the next level.

1 Comment

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  • Probably would have had David Lemieux and maybe Zach Parker in the lower part of the list rather than including Jurgen Brahmer and Lionell Thompson.
    I do agree that Billy Joe Saunders isn’t a proper super middleweight – imo he’s a very good but ill-disciplined middleweight looking for a big money fight.

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