This weekend’s Pro Boxing Championship series from Boston puts a spotlight on the super middleweight division, as James DeGale and Andre Dirrell face off for the vacant IBF belt. The 168-pound division features some exciting fighters, but even by alphabet-soup standards, it’s a division with no real mooring.
Between 2009 and 2012, it was perhaps the hottest weight class in the sport. The Showtime Super Six tournament allowed Andre Ward to emerge as a true champion and made runner-up Carl Froch into Britain’s top boxing star.
Ward and Froch remain the two biggest names in the division. But Ward hasn’t fought in over a year and Froch has vacated any claims he previously held to the title, perhaps in search of one or two last major fights before he calls it a career.
Behind Ward and Froch is a solid group that is mostly either untested or already established as second-tier talent.
Arthur Abraham holds the WBO belt. He remains a rugged, come-forward fighter, but at this point he cannot be credibly viewed as the future at super middleweight. Badou Jack captured the WBC with a majority decision victory over previously undefeated Anthony Dirrell (younger brother of Andre). It was a major win for Jack, but I can’t really view a fighter who was TKOd in Round 1 by Derek Edwards and fought to a draw with Marco Antonio Periban as elite.
Fedor Chudinov seized the vacant WBA title by by defeating long-time middleweight champion Felix Sturm. It was a big win for a fighter with only a dozen professional fights, but Sturm has been in decline for years now.
Of all the fighters at 168 not named Ward of Froch, the oldest Dirrell brother has perhaps the most impressive resume. His only loss came to Froch in 2009 by hotly debated split decision in England. Dirrell was handling Abraham with ease in 2010, but won on DQ in Round 11 when Abraham knocked him out with a vicious hook after he had slipped and fallen to the mat. The injury from that shot stallled out Dirrell’s career. He hasn’t fought anybody at the elite level since. His last two wins were nice victories over Edwards and Nick Brinson, but DeGale will represent a major step up.
DeGale’s only loss came against fellow Brit George Groves by majority decision in 2011. I’d argue he’s the hottest fighter in the division right now. In 2014, he recorded three impressive stoppage victories, over Periban, Brandon Gonzales and Gevorg Khatchikian.
DeGale vs. Dirrell is a very good matchup and should be a great fight. Hopefully the winner will move forward and make unification fights so that some clarity can once again return to super middleweight.