With Carl Froch happily retired and Andre Ward moving up to the light-heavyweight division in search for a potential blockbuster fight with Unified Champion Sergey Kovalev, the question arises: who is the current super-middleweight king?
The current champions are as follows:
WBC – Badou Jack (22-1-1)
IBF – James DeGale (22-1)
WBO – Arthur Abraham (44-4)
WBA Super – Felix Sturm (40-5-3)
WBA – Giovanni De Carolis (24-6)
Out of the current assortment of super-middleweight Champions, James DeGale remains the standout fighter in the division. The former Olympic gold medalist and current IBF world champion has drastically improved in his recent fights. Since his close majority decision loss to George Groves in 2011, he has in certain respects become more humble in his approach to boxing. His move to Matchroom and association with Al Haymon has helped drive this alteration in his psychological pattern.
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The platform and exposure he has gained from his move to Sky Sports and on Premier Boxing television shows in America certainly has a hand to play in his motivation and dedication to be the best.
The fourth round stoppage of the previously undefeated Brandon Gonzales acted as a catalyst in what has led to a string of impressive victories, which has ultimately seen him obtain the IBF title off Andre Dirrell. Although the experience of Arthur Abraham and the boxing ability of Badou Jack have a case to be known as the best super-middleweight at the moment, James DeGale is the stellar champion of the division with the best capability, both technically and physically.
However recently, a new emerging British talent is beginning to make a name for himself and he will - with the right development - be able to rise to the top of the division and mix with the elites mentioned above.
Callum Smith (19-0), the youngest of the talented batch of Smith brothers, retained his WBC Silver belt as well as becoming the new European champion with an impressive demolition over the durable Hadillah Mohoumadi who notably went the distance with DeGale. Smith is now the mandatory challenger for the WBC belt, currently held by Badou Jack. Should Jack overcome Bute and deny or get denied the chance at a unification bout with one of the other champions, he must face Smith by the end of the year.
As noted by Eddie Hearn, Smith is a very big super-middleweight and with his size, he has incredible power. The power has been showcased in his last two fights; stoppages over Rocky Fielding and Mohoumadi highlighted his ferociousness and ability to latch onto any signs of an opening.
His fellow countryman George Groves’ has in the past shown vulnerability in his chin and signs of fatigue during a fight. The question arises if Groves would be able to maintain the high pace Smith can generate and maintain in a fight.
As for the champions in the division, he has the capability to stop them all, even Abraham. The iron chin of Abraham, which withstood the power of Froch all those years ago would unlikely be able to handle the aggressive nature of Smith. His height would also be a disadvantage as Smith can pick him due to his long reach and wear him down with his jab, which will become a key component of his in the upcoming years.
The jab in British boxing is a weapon that is drilled into fighters from a young age and is typically a well-developed punch when looking at fighters from the UK. However the varieties of the jab are not utilised in British boxing and this is where he could struggle technically when facing the likes of Badou Jack.
Although Jack would likely struggle with the pressure Smith can maintain throughout a fight, Jack uses lateral movement which could hinder the British fighter. 'Mundo' tends to fight more in straight lines and as of yet has not needed to face an opponent who pivots, uses angles and has a wide variety of jabs to assist them in controlling range in a fight. Although Jack does not hold the superior physical attributes that Smith holds, he does have the capability to outbox Smith if he utilises the real-estate of the ring and his boxing IQ.
It can be strongly argued that it was Groves’ issue with fatigue that cost him the fight against Jack. As for the two WBA champions, Sturm is on his last legs following that controversial win over Chudinov and in regards to De Carolis - the whole WBA super/regular debate can be epitomised by him alone.
As for DeGale, again Smith has the potential to beat DeGale but whether he has the boxing ability to pull it off right now is unlikely. It is likely that Jack will beat Bute comfortably and search for a unification bout before facing Smith. Whether that leads to a DeGale fight, is something we will need to wait and see.
DeGale should beat Jack and if that happens, it will be interesting to see how a potential DeGale vs Smith fight plays out. Smith believes he has the power to hurt anyone in the ring and his last two performances go a long way in proving that. If his ability to box at range and secure rounds within fights improves, he could reign over this division for years to come.
Having said all of the above, the word ‘could’ appears frequently. Smith is a young fighter with tremendous physical attributes, but we have seen in boxing time and time again that although one fighter may be able to look better against an opponent than another, this does not make them superior to that fighter.
Manny Pacquiao had stopped several opponents which Floyd Mayweather beat in a 12 round unanimous decision. Similarly, George Foreman had stopped Joe Frazier in devastating fashion, whereas Muhammad Ali struggled to defeat him and even lost to him. But the infamous rumble in the jungle proved once again as boxing history continuously does, that triangle theories in boxing are baseless arguments.
Smith will do very well with come forward opponents, tough guys and brawlers. However when he faces a fighter who has a wealth of experience, good lateral movement and an excellent jab, his limitations will show.
He also lacks defensive skills, head movement and stands straight up. On paper, these limitations tell us that he can be beaten by many fighters however, to withstand his tremendous offensive capability with excellent body punching and either beat him over 12 rounds or knock him out is a very difficult task for anyone in the division.
As of late, it seems as if there will be a unification bout for Jack if he overcomes the hurdle that is Lucian Bute. With Jack's promoter, Floyd Mayweather mentioning a potential unification bout for Jack over the weekend, it seems as if Smith won’t be able to cash in his mandatory position this year.
If that is the case, George Groves should be his next fight. A fighter who has been in there with champions and fallen short three times, he will be hungry for another chance but as mentioned before, Smith can wear Groves down and potentially stop him with his power, somewhat like a certain Carl Froch managed to do in front of 80,000 at Wembley Stadium.
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