By: Ste Rowen
Ever since the inception of the super-middleweight division, American and British boxers have dominated it’s rankings and outstanding bouts. From Sugar Ray Leonard to Andre Ward, Joe Calzaghe to Callum Smith, super-middle has been one of the great divisions for boxers on either side of the Atlantic, and although we never got James Toney vs. Benn or Chris Eubank the final year of the teens, the 10’s, the tenties? Whatever the proper name for this decade is, it could be about to signal the biggest conflict between the US and Great Britain since the 1700’s.
After the roaring success of the World Boxing Super Series which concluded last September, there was a worry that the division might hit a lull in excitement. Worry no more. Where 2018 was the year of the cruiserweights, or more specifically, the year of Usyk, 2019 is set to be the year of the 168lbers.
Caleb Plant was the first to make his mark on the division this year when, thirteen days into 2019, the Tennessee-native dominated IBF champion, Jose Uzcategui, dropping him twice en route to a comfortable twelve-round decision. He joined titlists Callum Smith (WBC & Ring) as well as then WBO champ, Gilberto Ramirez.
Despite conflicting reports it appears Ramirez has vacated and is making the move up to light-heavyweight which has opened the door for another Brit to enter the title scene. At the time of writing, Billy Joe Saunders will fight Shefat Isufi in April for the WBO 168lb belt.
If Saunders wins, as is expected he will enter the super-middle scene just after his past adversary, Chris Eubank Jr pulled off a career-best performance to defeat former world title holder, James DeGale.
Last Saturday, Eubank dominated DeGale across twelve rounds. It was very reminiscent of Plant’s performance vs. Uzcategui. Chris dropped DeGale twice en route to a unanimous decision win, which turned out to be a little too close on the official scorecards – Howard Foster, it’s time to call it a day – But despite the cards, the IBO champion’s performance and general fighting style and intrigue means nobody will forget him when talking about the biggest fights that can be made in the division.
A couple of hours after Eubank pulled off the slight upset over British rival, DeGale, brother of a former DeGale opponent, Anthony Dirrell was announcing himself back into view with a split – and slightly controversial – decision win over Avni Yildrim.
The curious career of Dirrell continues. His only pro-defeat has come at the hands of Badou Jack back in 2015, and despite proving himself to be just above fringe level multiple times, including a 1st round KO of former champion, Caleb Truax; inactivity has seriously hampered the Michigan boxer. But with the top 10 looking as it currently does, it’s gonna be difficult to find a fight that won’t define the top super-middleweight’s careers.
So let’s assume that Ramirez has moved up to light-heavy and Billy Joe Saunders will fight and win the vacated WBO – sorry Shefat. I’ll publicly apologize if you beat Saunders in April – then the 168lb scene is set to draw it’s battle-lines in a dysfunctional US vs. UK way.
On one side of the Atlantic: Caleb Plant, the unbeaten IBF champion; alongside Anthony Dirrell, WBC titlist with just one defeat on his record and almost forgotten.
On the other we have: Callum Smith, WBA and Ring king, arguably the only man who has a legitimate claim to being #1 in the division; Then Chris Eubank Jr, holder of the minor IBO belt but more importantly the victor over DeGale; and Billy Joe Saunders, the unproven entity at 168 but it feels safe to assume he’ll fit in nicely considering his style of technical boxing.
But don’t forget the US wildcard: former WBC champion, David Benavidez lurking in the background, itching to gain back his title and claim supremacy. David at just 22-years old lost his belt outside the ring and based on the evidence of his past performances, a switched-on Benavidez is a world class fighter.
In the 90’s the division was on the verge of a Roy Jones Jr/Toney/Benn/Eubank round robin that never occurred. When you look at the world champions and challengers right now, it will be just as much of a disappointment in two years if we’re not talking about the Smith/Plant/Eubank/Dirrell/Saunders/Benavidez wars of 2019.
Somebody give Kalle Sauerland a call for a WBSS Super-Middleweight 2 ASAP.