Traditionally the most exciting weight division, through its combination of speed and power, the 168lb super-middleweight class has thrown up huge numbers of top quality operators over the years. Until very recently it remained one of the few classes where there was both a clear pecking order and exciting match-ups to be found. A rarity in the modern game.
Sadly, kingpin Andre Ward disappeared for two years while still in his prime and now appears hell-bent on a fool’s mission to box Krusher Kovalev at light heavy, while stalwarts Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler have retired. In the aftermath a slew of contenders and young pretenders have divided the super-middleweight spoils.
The Saturday night show in Washington DC three days ago exhibited a prime example of the jockeying for position that goes on in these circumstances and it did not make for edifying viewing. WBC champ Badou Jack and IBF titlist James DeGale both defended their belts in tepid bouts against uninspiring opposition, in a show that was clearly organised to sell a future unification between the two.
Undoubtedly, that will now be pushed through, although neither man will have helped the promotional cause on that score. DeGale turned in a display reminiscent of his 2011-2014 doldrums when he claimed he was “boxing with depression” on a string of Mick Hennessy shows in shopping centres live on Channel 5. He showed some nice stuff in bursts but spent too long on the ropes and did not dominate a fairly modest challenger in the way many would have hoped.
Opponent Rogelio Medina came in with six defeats on his ledger, including stoppage losses to Jack and WBO champ Gilberto Ramirez. Yet DeGale failed to force the issue, much of the fight was untidy, with punches from both sides landing on the gloves more than the target area. The wide margin of victory on all three scorecards flattered Chunky and smacked of home decision making.
The story was much in the same in the underwhelming top-of-the-bill dust-up between Jack and one time IBF boss, Lucien Bute. Jack laboured to a contentious draw against an opponent who has looked shot for years, hardly the stuff of a legend-in-the-making. Bute for his part fought as well as he has for a while and can consider him harshly treated by the officials, but now has a record of 2-1-3 in his last six contests, with the two wins coming against third-tier fighters. At 36, it is surely time to consider other ways to make a living.
Post show news reports have suggested the Jack v DeGale fight is already being discussed. It certainly appears a natural match-up, but the question is raised of why they didn’t simply box each other on Saturday, rather than go through the motions in nothing-fights?
The lacklustre performances from both champs indicate Super-Middleweight is now a division needing reinvigoration. Is there anyone capable of starting a new era? The winner of DeGale v Jack, should it happen, can rightly be thought of as world no.1 and will find themselves looking over their shoulders at a slew of evenly matched contenders. Who is most likely to step up?
1. Gilberto Ramirez (Mexico) – WBO champion – looked very handy in outpointing Arthur Abraham for the title, although the latter has been slowing down for years, fighting, as one wag described it, ‘like a bear tied to a stake in the ground.’ Ramirez would be a natural choice for the Jack / DeGale winner, creating a 3-belt champion, something unseen since the days of Joe Calzaghe. A fight with DeGale would be a chess match, one with Jack a more interesting spectacle.
2. George Groves (UK) – already holds a paper-thin win over DeGale and a narrow defeat to Jack, which he would be keen to avenge. If he can get his head right is potentially the best super-middle out there, with the a nice balance between skills and heavy-handedness. Shane McGuigan has added a spring to his step that was lost after the Froch KO but he must come through a tough match-up with world’s hardest bastard, Martin Murray, in June to remain relevant. I expect Groves to prevail in that one, but it won’t be easy.
3. Anthony Dirrell (USA) – lost a majority decision and the WBC title to Jack in 2015 and since then has wiped the floor with Marco Antonio Rubio and Caleb Truax. Well placed for another crack in the near future. A talented and well-schooled fighter, without being exceptional, but a dangerous opponent for anyone on any given day.
4. Felix Sturm (Germany) – WBA champion – should never have been given the decision and a belt against Fedor Chudinov in Feb, but he was and at 37 finds himself in line for at least one more big pay day. Would Sturm’s promotional team risk their ageing cash-cow against the likes of DeGale, Jack or Ramirez? Unlikely. Expect a few low-key defences against nobodies until he finally runs out of gas.
5. Callum Smith (UK) – had to put him in. I haven’t always been his biggest fan, often criticising him for lack of head movement, but two 1st round wins against credible opposition have staked Mundo’s claims for world recognition. Still a bit green but at 6ft 3 and with demonstrable KO power is a massive handful for anyone. At only 26 he still has a couple of years before hitting his prime. Of the current crop, Smith is the only one who could conceivably develop into a dominant champ.
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