By Jake Collins (@MelancholyFolly)
Super Middleweight: the gladiatorial arena with a 168 pound limit bestowed upon all combatants. For a long time, this realm was ruled with absolute conviction by Andre Ward. Eventually, he moved up and there’s been a scramble to establish a new ruler ever since. The WBSS will put forward perhaps the most serious contender but of course there exists entities outside of that too. Although most recently, James DeGale has been taken out of that equation.
I adore an upset and to see someone like Caleb Truax get his hands on a world title was a beautiful moment. However, Truax ultimately isn’t the man who would be king. DeGale had a case for being the top dog here. But retrospectively, his close fight with Medina and what should have been a loss to Jack bring that into question. It’s been a long time since DeGale has produced an assured and exemplary performance, so I feel it’s fair to erase him from this discussion. Of course, I welcome his return to prove me wrong and wish no direct disrespect to either Truax or DeGale with this post.
So who are we left with? A handful of very good fighters, although none I would personally say are at an elite level or even really just shy of it. Some have room to grow into that, some clearly do not. Seeing as we’ve just been speaking about DeGale, let’s begin with his rival George Groves. Groves for such a long time was a nearly man. He had plenty of talent, an exceptional jab (which it must be said has lost some of its authority, though it remains particularly effective) and was an entertaining guy outside of the ring too; his ability to get under Froch and DeGale’s skins was enjoyable to watch. He finally got his world title dream fulfilled last year with a stoppage win over the capable but ultimately limited at the world stage Fedor Chudinov. He followed that up by stopping the game but untested Jamie Cox with a fabulous body shot. Cox is an aggressive come forward fighter (similar to his next foe) and Groves was able to counter him effectively. Cox had success but I don’t think Groves was ever in any real trouble. Instead, he used his countering ability to battle Cox away and time him coming forward. More than just that, Groves possess very good power too. This is something that often gets overlooked when discussing him. His previous losses and habit of tiring over 12 make his claim to the throne contentious but he has been on an increasingly impressive run since the Jack loss. Groves is actually my pick to win the WBSS but it isn’t a pick I make with unremitting confidence. Speaking of which…
Chris Eubank Jr! I’ve been a detractor since day 1 in all honesty. That being said, I’m starting to come around to The Eubank Show. Technically, I think he is still riddled with mistakes and will always lose to a well founded ‘boxer’. He is over reliant on hooks, is often off balance and leaves himself well open to counters. Athletically though he appears top notch and he’s been able to make what he does have work efficiently. He got a shutout against Abraham who hasn’t looked above European level for a long time, even less so at 168 really. Even so, Jr outworked him and made him look uncomfortable without ever suffering himself. The Yildrim fight produced a stunning KO from Jr. Again, his level isn’t really known. He just about got past Periban in the fight before but his size was something I thought might pose Jr trouble. He elected to get into a fight and unfortunately for Yildrim he got absolutely pasted. Jr is very much a work in progress still in some ways. I don’t think he’ll be able to best smart fighters who can match him for pace over 12 rounds (although it must be said he does have a habit of not doing an awful lot at times during rounds, so it isn’t like he is an incessant worker) but if someone chooses to stand and trade with him then he has a great shout against anyone. Jr may well prove me wrong but I think he will be found wanting at the very top. He’s fun to watch though and that’s something I always welcome.
Staying in the UK, Callum Smith still divides opinion. Smith is big at the weight, has solid fundamentals and seems to be a tough fighter too. I can’t quite put my finger on it but I feel he just lacks ‘something’. I’ve never quite been as sold on him as others have. I fully expect him to stop Braehmer but that says more about Braehmer than anything else. Skoglund gave Smith a difficult time with his movement and jab. Smith got the job done which is the key point but there were some signs of concern there for me. Smith works the body very well but could do with being more elusive; his head is often too still and he backs up in straight lines. His size and strength would make a fight with Jr very interesting indeed, though I’m not too sure where I’d lean. I’ve seen Smith look a little bewildered when pressure is applied to him and I’m not sure how simple a process it would be to coach that out of him. He has capable power and won’t be easy work for anyone but I just see an air of limitation about him. He has his chance to show me up in the WBSS, of course.
The unbeaten WBO World Super Middleweight southpaw from Mexico is someone noticeably absent from the WBSS who really ought to be involved. At just under 6’3, Gilberto Ramirez is tall and an accomplished boxer to boot. He put in an impressive showing against Jesse Hart although showed something of a lack of killer instinct when required. Ramirez has an interesting resume. He schooled Abraham over the distance (as anyone who can move and throw should be able to) and holds solid but not outstanding wins over Max Bursak, Derek Edwards, Maxim Vlasov (a win that has aged well) and the previously mentioned Medina much earlier in his career. With 36 wins under his belt and 24 stoppages, Zurdo has amassed a respectable amount of experience for a 26 year old. I’m keen to see him really tested in deep waters and he’ll need one of the other names from this list to achieve that. Zurdo has the ability to be The Man in this division; his fast hands and inside fighting ability will give anyone problems. However, until he gets a top name under his belt then he can’t make such a claim with any conviction.
David Benavidez is an exciting fighter. At just 21, he’s already won the vacant WBC world title against Ronald Gavril. That fight was a tremendous battle and one that was very close too, with many feeling Benavidez actually lost. Thankfully, the rematch will show if Benavidez is good enough to make the required adjustments. He was down for the first time in his career against Gavril, who is decent but not world level. Given his age though, I would expect inconsistency from Benavidez and at this stage even a loss doesn’t really affect his future prospects too much. Aside from a particularly high ceiling, Benavidez has lightning fast hands and a solid punch selection. He KO’d Medina (poor guy must be sick of it by now) with a wonderful combination last year which is primarily what caught people’s attention on this side of the Atlantic. As with the other fighters on this list though, he is not without fault. As was evident when he hit the deck against Gavril, Benavidez has a nasty habit of leaving his other hand way too low when throwing. Offensively impressive, his defence in general leaves a lot to be desired. This is something that can definitely be worked but once you have a world title your learning days are in the past. I’m not too confident in picking Benavidez to beat others on this list currently but I think out of everyone mentioned he has the most potential, assuming he is nurtured correctly and has the right mentality.
There are fighters outside of these guys who may have something to say about being omitted I’m sure but I think these are without a doubt the standout fighters in the division. My hope is that this time next year we have an unequivocal answer as to who is The King but my tumultuous relationship with boxing leads me to believe otherwise.by