Between 2009 and 2011, the super middleweight division was one of the hottest weight classes in boxing. It was loaded with talent and the structure of Showtime’s Super Six tournament created a contractual situation in which the top 168-pound fighters in the world were facing each other with regularity. The tournament ended up launching Andre Ward as a pound-for-pound star.
But in recent years, Ward’s lack of activity has caused the division to grow stagnant, and Ward now appears set to make a full-time move to light heavyweight. Carl Froch’s retirement earlier this year removed the division’s second biggest star from the picture.
Fortunately, 2015 has seen exciting new stars emerging at 168. The new life at super middleweight was on vivid display in Quebec City over the weekend, when IBF champion James DeGale of England turned in a tremendous performance in his first defense of the belt, beating former champion Lucian Bute in Bute’s own backyard.
Lucian Bute fought the best fight he has in years, but James DeGale’s was the sharper, quicker fighter. Earlier this year, DeGale became the first ever British fighter to win both an Olympic gold medal and professional world championship, when he bested Andre Dirrell. With the wins over Dirrell and Bute, he’s had about as good of a year as anybody in the sport.
Another exciting young champion to emerge this year is Badou Jack, who won the WBC belt in April and then looked outstanding in defending it against Englishman George Grove last September. James DeGale has already called for a unification fight with Jack. It’s exactly the sort of fight that would bring a lot of attention to the division.
WBO champion Arthur Abraham is a hold-over from an earlier era. He retained his title by split decision over Martin Murray last month. He has a comfortable home base in Germany, so it’s unclear if he would go on the road to face one of the young champions. But he’s too rugged and experienced to dismiss from the conversation at this point.
The previously mentioned Dirrell brothers, who both suffered set-backs this year, still remain among the class of the field at 168. Rising, undefeated contenders like Gilberto Ramirez, Callum Smith and Fedor Chuvinov should definitely get their shots in the coming year.