Top 15 Heavyweights – January 11, 2015

January 2015 Heavyweight Ranking

Wladimir Klitschko v Kubrat Pulev - IBF IBO WBA WBO Heavyweight World Championship

It’s been more than 8 months since my last attempt at ranking the heavyweight division. It hasn’t been an incredibly active period for the heavies, but the good news is that the best are actually fighting each other, which is very gradually providing some clarity in the division. The champion is unchanged, as has been the case since 2009 (unless you prefer the TBRB’s account of title lineage), and that same man has been considered the best – regardless of belts – since 2006. However, after Dr. Klitschko, the rest of the division is finally starting to heat up.

Generally, the weight classes deemed the best in boxing are distinguished by the top ranked fighters actually facing each other. A novel concept, I know, but bear with me here. Among my top 15, in 2014, champ Klitschko beat Kubrat Pulev, Alex Povetkin beat Carlos Takam, Bermane Stiverne defeated Chris Arreola, Bryant Jennings squeaked by Mike Perez, and Takam himself beat Tony Thompson before his loss to Povetkin. Even when they haven’t fought other top 15 guys, the best have generally taken on solid fringe opponents. Steve Cunningham won a fun brawl with Amir Mansour, Tony Thompson outworked Odlanier Solis, and Deontay Wilder obliterated Malik Scott, who himself later outboxed Alex Leapai. While boxing in general had a down year, the heavyweights have actually enjoyed something of a competitive renaissance. Well, that may be overstating things slightly, but it has been a pretty good year for the big boys.

Mostly.

My insistence on a top 15 (as opposed to top 10) does serve to highlight the relative lack of depth of the division. While the best are indeed fighting each other, it’s making it harder to list more than 10. 11 through 15 can all arguably be interchanged with a number of other fighters within boxrec.com’s top 30 or so, as it’s tougher to compare the relatively similar accomplishments of those just outside the top ten. Losses by several members of my April Top 15 make it harder to justify their continued inclusion, however, the progress of up-and-coming prospects like Andy Ruiz and Joseph Parker has been painfully slow. Few of the young guys have yet to take that step up to even fringe contenders, much less legit top 10-20 opponents.

So, there have been pros and cons to the year, but the future looks promising, and additional clarity is on the horizon. Without further ado, I present the HunterBoxing Heavyweight top 15 for January 2015:

ChampionWladimir Klitschko – 63-3(53) – Ukraine – Linear, Ring, TBRB, IBF, WBO, WBA, IBO titles
Champion in April 2014
Rankings in… C @ Ring, C @ TBRB, C @ BoxingScene, 1 @ Boxrec, 1 @ ESPN
Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 14
Next fight: April 25th vs. TBA (likely #5 Bryant Jennings)

The reigning champ made the 10th defense of his linear belt (lineage per myself, the Ring, CBZ, and Cliff Rold of BoxingScene.com, only the 2nd defense according to the TBRB) against universally-recognized top challenger Kubrat Pulev this past November. Pulev was considered by many to be a reasonably challenging foe for Klitschko, and was considered by a few to be an actual threat to the crown. Pulev himself was extremely confident before the fight, and his trash talk clearly got under the skin of Wlad. For once, viewers were treated to a relatively fun fight by the younger Klitschko brother, who took it to Pulev early and often. Sharp left hooks dropped Pulev twice in the opening round, then again in the 3rd. Pulev landed a few solid rights, but had no answer for the left hook, which Wlad used to good effect throughout the fight. In the 5th, Pulev landed a right cross that wobbled Klitschko very slightly, but unlike the Povetkin fight, in which Wlad clinched whether he was being punched or not, he responded by fighting back, and landed a left hook that dropped Pulev flat on his back for the count. It was an impressive showing for a fighter often derided as boring and dirty. Clinching was relatively light, and he disposed of a legitimate challenger with as much ease as his less legitimate opponents (Wach, Pianeta, Mormeck, et al).

When Wlad opens up, he can be terrifying to opponents, as he possesses the best boxing skills in the division, is much quicker than he appears, and is arguably the hardest puncher in the sport. Alas, he often fights with a level of caution that is frustrating to both fans and deriders. This most recent win was a good start toward shifting his legacy away from a boring, safety-first jab-and-grabber, to a (sometimes) destroyer. Hopefully he can keep this up. Speaking of which, up next for Wlad is looking to be Bryant Jennings, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on April 25th. Jennings has not officially signed as of this writing, but that seems to be the direction Klitschko is heading. Jennings is a good fighter, and is probably the best active American heavyweight, but at 6’3”, 225 pounds, and not particularly powerful, it’s hard to see this being anything but another easy win for the champ. Assuming a win over Jennings in April, the next most likely opponent would be either Tyson Fury or the winner of the upcoming Stiverne-Wilder showdown. Either opponent would be considered a good fight for Klitschko, and would also be deemed part of a good run of decent opponents over the last couple years (Leapai nonwithstanding). Let’s just hope that the (admittedly amusing) harrassment campaign waged by former linear champion Shannon Briggs doesn’t result in that fight being made.

1.) Alexander Povetkin – 28-1(20) – Russia
Ranked #2 in April
Rankings in… 1 @ Ring, 1 @ TBRB, 1 @ BoxingScene, 2 @ Boxrec, 3 @ ESPN
Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 2
Next fight: Not scheduled

Alexander Povetkin rebounded nicely from his 2013 loss to Klitschko, having fought twice since my last heavyweight ranking back in April. On May 30th, Povetkin took on fringe contender (probably best ranked around 20 to 30 at heavyweight) Manuel Charr, rocking the former Vitali Klitschko challenger with hooks and uppercuts inside, before finally downing him with a nice combination in the 7th.

In October, Povetkin took a step up in competition, facing rising contender Carlos Takam in what became a fun fight. Takam fought pretty evenly with Povetkin through 6 or so rounds, trading hooks inside, and frequently landing looping crosses over the top while on the outside. After 4 rounds, Takam was ahead on two cards, and after 8, the fight was even. Takam began wilting from the pressure and pace, and went down at the end of the 9th. In the 10th round, Povetkin took little time to find and hurt Takam again, and knocked him down and out with one of the best looking left hooks thrown in 2014. Takam had been criminally underrated this past year, and should be ranked in the top 10 by the Ring.

Povetkin beat a top ten heavyweight with a knockout-of-the-year-worthy shot, and climbed back to the top of the contender list. He solidified his spot as the “best of the rest,” but is likely on the outside looking in regarding the title picture. His 2013 loss to Klitschko was both one-sided and excruciatingly boring, and a rematch is not likely anytime soon. The winner of the upcoming Stiverne-Wilder matchup will hold the WBC belt, but neither man has mentioned Povetkin as a possible opponent. Either one will likely aim for Klitschko, or take on a lesser fighter for their next defense. British contender Tyson Fury is also going to take on fringe opposition until he gets a shot at Klitschko. So for now, Povetkin will have to look farther down the ladder if he wants to stay busy. A fight with Vyacheslav Glazkov was discussed last year and would likely make for a decent scrap and a solid test for the Russian.

2.) Bermane Stiverne – 24-1-1(20) – Canada (via Haiti) – WBC title
Ranked #4 in April
Rankings in… 2 @ Ring, 3 @ TBRB, 3 @ BoxingScene, 4 @ Boxrec, 2 @ ESPN
Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 2
Next fight: January 17th vs. #10 Deontay Wilder

Stiverne fought just once this year, besting Chris Arreola in a rematch of their 2013 brawl. The rematch was an exciting fight, albeit shorter than the first. Arreola fought well early on, and seemed to be outworking Stiverne for much of the fight. In the 6th, however, Arreola walked into a massive right hand that ruined his equilibrium and caused him to collapse. He made it to his feet, but was down again shortly thereafter, and finally, referee Jack Reiss pulled the plug as Arreola took a beating from Stiverne with too much time remaining in the round. Stiverne retained the WBC trinket he won in 2013, filling the vacancy created by the retiring Vitali Klitschko.

Up next for Stiverne is the untested Deontay Wilder, who will have significant advantages in height and youth, but even less big fight experience than Bermane. Stiverne certainly has the power, hand speed, and boxing skill to beat Wilder, though his low activity rate and tendency to try to counter off the ropes may be problematic against a tall, powerful puncher like Wilder. Either way, the winner may leapfrog Povetkin and create a legitimate number one contender to the true heavyweight throne.

3.) Tyson Fury – 23-0(17) – United Kingdom
Ranked #3 in April
Rankings in… 3 @ Ring, 2 @ TBRB, 2 @ BoxingScene, 5 @ Boxrec, 4 @ ESPN
Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 0
Next fight: February 28th vs. unranked Christian Hammer

Tyson spent much of the year out of the ring, though this was not entirely his fault. His rematch against Chisora was originally scheduled for July, but was postponed due to injury. At one point, he was scheduled to fight Alexander Ustinov – one of the few men in the division as large as he – but that eventually fell through. Finally, on November 29, Fury got his second shot at Chisora. The fight itself was anticlimactic, as Chisora, while in decent shape, fought without energy, and was outboxed by Fury in every round, before his corner pulled the plug after the 10th.

Fury has spent the last couple years calling out Wladimir Klitschko at the top of his lungs, and is currently a mandatory for one of Wlad’s belts. The fight may happen this summer, but Fury is keeping busy, partially to offset his wasted 2014, and will take on unproven and unbeaten Christian Hammer in February. The giant Brit has developed into a solid fighter, with good handspeed and surprisingly fluid combination punching for his size. His power is good, and his chin can be dented, but has yet to completely let him down. He’s also learning to use his height better than before. If he eventually gets his shot at Wlad, he may present an interesting matchup for the champ. Or, he may be dominated and knocked out like everyone else, but there’s no doubt he’ll make it fun while it lasts.

4.) Kubrat Pulev – 20-1(11) – Bulgaria
Ranked #1 in April
Rankings in… 4 @ Ring, 4 @ TBRB, 4 @ BoxingScene, 3 @ Boxrec, 7 @ ESPN
Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 2
Next fight: Not scheduled

Perhaps the only thing Kubrat Pulev accomplished in his November 15 challenge to Wladimir Klitschko was enraging the champ enough to actually make a fairly exciting fight. Pulev was unusually vocal leading up to their fight, and his frequent taunts and accusations of injury faking clearly got under Wlad’s skin. Pulev spoke before the fight of employing deft footwork and bringing himself safely into range to hurt the champion. He did enjoy a small measure of success in the first minute, briefly stunning the champ with an early shot, but from then on, it was a demolition. Pulev was dropped twice in the 1st, once in the 3rd, and once more in the 5th for the coup de grace, all from left hooks. He wasn’t very gracious in his postfight comments, either, arguing that Klitschko had merely been “lucky.”

Pulev can still be a force in the division, and would be the favorite or at least an even fight against pretty much anyone not named Klitschko. However, it may behoove the Bulgarian to keep his right glove a little closer to his chin in his next fight, and actually employ some of his vaunted footwork. That may prevent him from being treated like a basketball the way he was by Klitschko.

5.) Bryant Jennings – 19-0(10) – United States
Ranked #12 in April
Rankings in… 5 @ Ring, 8 @ TBRB, 9 @ BoxingScene, 8 @ Boxrec, 9 @ ESPN
Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 1
Next fight: Potentially April 25th vs. Champion Wladimir Klitschko

The best American heavyweight appears (as of this writing) to be close to securing an April fight with the best overall heavyweight. Jennings is likely the most worthy challenger to the crown that’s currently available and not named Fury. His skill set is solid, his speed and athleticism appear to be among the best in the division. His weaknesses seem to be size and power, which will make him a huge underdog to a man who has thrived against fighters similar to Jennings (see Chris Byrd and Eddie Chambers).

On July 26, Jennings jumped in the ratings and earned his shot with a narrow win over contender Mike Perez. Bryant struggled early with the boxing ability of Perez, but began to take control with a consistent body attack and better stamina. The fight would have been scored a draw, but Perez was docked a point in the 12th for hitting on the break. Jennings showed both his attributes and drawbacks in the fight. He was clearly outgunned by the larger man early on, and lacked the boxing skills of Perez, but his durability and workrate shone, and allowed him to take control late in the fight. He will be facing much larger deficits in size and skill should he get the fight against Klitschko, to the point where his stamina and toughness may not be enough to compensate.

6.) Carlos Takam – 30-2-1(23) – France (via Cameroon)
Ranked #14 in April
Rankings in… NR @ Ring, 5 @ TBRB, 5 @ BoxingScene, 13 @ Boxrec, NR @ ESPN
Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 1
Next fight: Not scheduled

The hard luck Takam might be the most underrated fighter in the division. Inexplicably unrated by the Ring or ESPN, Takam first came to prominence with his January draw against Mike Perez – a fight many thought he deserved to win. He followed that up with a good win over a fading, but still capable Tony Thompson, and then went toe-to-toe with Alex Povetkin for 10 rounds, holding his own with the second best fighter at heavyweight before succumbing to maybe the best hook of the year. He had one of the best 1-1-1 years a fighter can have, and seriously elevated his standing over the past year. Takam is a strong, durable fighter with decent skills and speed. He isn’t likely to get a title shot anytime soon, but he remains a solid player in the division.

7.) Vyacheslav Glazkov – 19-0-1(12) – Ukraine
Ranked #5 in April
Rankings in… 7 @ Ring, 7 @ TBRB, 8 @ BoxingScene, 6 @ Boxrec, 5 @ ESPN
Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 1
Next fight: March 14 vs. #8 Steve Cunningham

Glazkov fought twice since the last ranking in April. In August, he squeaked by gatekeeper Derric Rossy in a fight where he did not impress. Then in November, he stopped long time journeyman Darnell Wilson. Glazkov is a good fighter, and has some power, but is not particularly fast or dynamic. He’s a very basic, straightforward boxer-puncher, with more emphasis on the boxer part as he’s stepped up his competition. He loses ground in the rankings due to his mediocre opposition since his March breakout win over Tomasz Adamek, as well as more impressive performances by Jennings and Takam. However, the man known as “Czar” has a chance to improve his standing and move up the ladder this March, with an upcoming fight against #8 Steve Cunningham. It’s a winnable fight for both men, and would bolster the resume of either.

8.) Steve Cunningham – 28-6(13) – United States
Ranked #10 in April
Rankings in… NR @ Ring, 9 @ TBRB, 6 @ BoxingScene, 12 @ Boxrec, NR @ ESPN
Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 0
Next fight: March 14 against #7 Vyacheslav Glazkov

Since April, the former cruiserweight champion fought just once, a 7th round stoppage over unheralded prospect Natu Visina. The massive Samoan had fought only 21 rounds in 10 fights before facing Cunningham, and his opponents combined record had been a mere 22-22. On paper, this was a mismatch, and also on paper Cunningham won handily. Cunningham also impressively gave up 73 pounds, which is akin to a strawweight fighting a small cruiserweight. However, he was still knocked down by a novice, and took 7 rounds to finally stop his opponent. For now, Cunningham is a top ten heavyweight, but his days in the division may be numbered. His upcoming fight with Glazkov will confirm whether or not Steve belongs with the big boys. A win may lead to a fall or winter title shot. A loss may be a strong hint that either retirement or a return to cruiserweight would be best for him.

9.) Mike Perez – 20-1-1(12) – Ireland (via Cuba)
Ranked #13 in April
Ranked in… 8 @ Ring, 10 @ TBRB, NR @ BoxingScene, 16 @ Boxrec, 10 @ ESPN
Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 0
Next fight: Not scheduled

Mike Perez has had something of a down year. After his tragic fight in late 2013 against Magomed Abdusalamov, he struggled with Carlos Takam in January, getting a fortunate draw, and then lost a razor-thin decision against Bryant Jennings in July. Many thought that poor conditioning was to blame for both fights, and early on, especially against Jennings, he largely controlled the fight with his solid boxing fundamentals and good power. Eventually Jennings managed to force the pace of the fight and outworked Perez in the later rounds. A point deducted in the 12th changed the final round to a 10-8 round for Jennings, and the fight went from a draw to a narrow win for Jennings. Perez showed both his strengths and flaws in the fight. He’s a skilled boxer, and can punch, but often seems unfocused and lackadasical in the ring. He still has a future in the division, and is a threat to almost everyone currently ranked above him, but may need to work on his conditioning and dedication for future fights.

10.) Deontay Wilder – 32-0(32) – United States
Ranked #11 in April
Ranked in… 6 @ Ring, 6 @ TBRB, 7 @ BoxingScene, 10 @ Boxrec, 8 @ ESPN
Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 0
Next fight: January 17th vs. #2 Bermane Stiverne

Deontay is finally taking his big step up. After 32 fights against what can generously be called marginal competition, he’s taking on the number 2 contender and current WBC bauble holder, Bermane Stiverne. Stiverne has fought only two men who are arguably better than anyone Wilder has faced, but even that makes him a huge step up for the Alabama native. Wilder did win an Olympic medal, and he is nearly 6’7” with long arms and frightening power. While Wilder’s best opponents were a frightened Malik Scott and a very shot Siarhei Liakhovich, he also did what he was supposed to with them, knocking both out in one round. Wilder has never gone past the 4th, which is both positive and negative for him. It showcases his legitimate power, but also makes it hard to judge his stamina or how he responds to adversity.

I rank Wilder this high mostly by default. Nobody ranked below has done enough to remain above The Bronze Bomber, but a loss to Stiverne – especially a bad one – will quickly drop him in the rankings. Right now Wilder is where he is based on potential. In one week, we’ll find out how that potential translates to real life.

11.) Ruslan Chagaev – 33-2-1(20) – Uzbekistan – WBA (regular) title
Ranked #15 in April
Ranked in… 10 @ Ring, NR @ TBRB, NR @ BoxingScene, 22 @ Boxrec, 6 @ ESPN
Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 2
Next fight: Not scheduled

The next five spots are tougher to rank. Back in April, I did a top 15 instead of top 10 to highlight some more fighters in the division and demonstrate what seemed to be improving depth. Problem is, since then, nobody new has really done anything to distinguish themselves and jump into the top 15, but a few that already were on this list suffered losses. So my April number 15 contender, Ruslan Chagaev moves up, on the strength of a single win since April, as well as losses by the men now below him.

In July, the former WBA titlist took on faded former contender Fres Oquendo in a battle, well, basically to remain relevant. It was a close, slow-paced fight that could have been scored the other way. Chagaev boxed well early, and showed that he still has elite skills, but his conditioning was poor, and he allowed Oquendo to work his way back in the fight. Chagaev was never as powerful as originally advertised, and at just under 6 foot, is outsized by many heavyweights. He also is fighting these days at 20 or so pounds above his best weight. And yet, he’s nearly a top ten heavyweight. This speaks to both his abilities, and the lack of depth in the division. For now, Ruslan remains ranked, though I don’t forsee his stay near the top lasting all that long.

12.) Chris Arreola – 35-4(31) – United States
Ranked #9 in April
Ranked in… 9 @ Ring, NR @ TBRB, NR @ BoxingScene, 19 @ Boxrec, NR @ ESPN
Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 0
Next fight: Not scheduled

Chris Arreola lost his rematch to Bermane Stiverne in brutal fashion. Chris came into the fight in good shape, and actually started well, largely outworking Stiverne. However, his attacks were often sloppy, and he left himself open to counters. In the 6th, Stiverne landed a massive shot that wobbled Arreola and caused him to stagger and fall. He wasn’t the same after, dropping a second time in short order, and eventually being stopped after rising from the second knockdown. Arreola has good power, and decent handspeed, but his conditioning is still inconsistent, and his chin seems to be fading, though that may have just been a matter of being caught by a big puncher. Arreola can still be factor in the division, but so far he’s 0-4 against genuine top-ten contenders. His ceiling may have been reached. If he chooses to fight on, though, he will remain an exciting draw in a sometimes dull division.

13.) Dereck Chisora – 20-5(13) – United Kingdom
Ranked #7 in April
Ranked in… NR @ Ring, NR @ TBRB, NR @ BoxingScene, 18 @ Boxrec, NR @ ESPN
Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 0
Next fight: Not scheduled

Dereck Chisora is in a very similar situation to Chris Arreola. Both are tough, powerful pressure fighters with a history of inconsistent training and focus. Both fought rematches against prior conquerors. And both lost by stoppage. Chisora first fought Tyson Fury back in 2011, when they were both considered prospects more than actual contenders. Back then, Chisora was overweight, out-of-shape, and largely lifeless in losing to the larger, sharper Fury. He promised much more energy going into their long-delayed rematch. Despite weighing in 20 pounds lighter than their first meeting, the fight pretty much went the same way, with Fury outboxing Chisora from the outside, as Dereck fairly passively absorbed the punishment before his corner pulled him after the 10th. Sometimes Chisora can be aggressive and exciting. He gave Vitali Klitschko an exciting fight 3 years ago, and was arguably robbed against Robert Helenius immediately before that. But his focus seems to be lacking these days. He can still beat a lot of fighters, but the will is questionable, until he proves otherwise.

14.) Anthony Joshua – 10-0(10) – United Kingdom
Unranked in April
Ranked… NR @ Ring, NR @ TBRB, 10 @ BoxingScene, 21 @ Boxrec, NR @ ESPN
Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 0
Next fight: January 30th vs. unranked Kevin Johnson

It may be a bit early to have the 2012 Olympic gold medal winner ranked this highly this early. David Price was sneaking into top 10 lists around this point in his career, and we see how that went. Mostly, Joshua is here because the rest of the division is so shallow. He has fought the usual suspects in his first 10 fights, but has disposed of them handily, going past the 2nd round only once. In November, he blew away longtime British heavyweight stalwart Michael Sprott in just one round. Considering he had gone the distance in recent years with good fighters like Alexander Dimitrenko and Robert Helenius, it was an impressive victory for a young prospect.

Joshua is built like a comic book character, standing 6’6” and weighing a very solid 235 to 240. He appears to have excellent power, good speed, and is well-schooled. It’s still too early to tell how far he may go, but at this point, his potential is enormous.

15.) Tony Thompson – 39-5(26) – United States
Ranked #6 in April
Ranked in… NR @ Ring, NR @ TBRB, NR @ BoxingScene, 27 @ Boxrec, NR @ ESPN
Wins over top 10 Ring-rated opponents: 1
Next fight: Not scheduled

Tony Thompson is in a similar situation to Arreola and Chisora. Loser of his last fight – albeit to a contender – Thompson is still a solid fighter, but appears to be on the decline. And as the oldest legitimate contender in the division (I’m not ready to grant that title to Antonio Tarver just yet), he presumably has the least time to waste. Tony won a mild upset over perennial underachiever Odlanier Solis back in March, but then dropped a wide decision to Carlos Takam in June. Tony hasn’t fought since, and doesn’t have anything scheduled for the time being.

Tony is tall, long-armed, is a decent boxer, a southpaw, and usually has a decent workrate. However, his power is middling, and he’s one of the slowest contenders in the sport, and at 43, isn’t getting any faster. Tony Thompson may still have enough to beat a few of the men on this list, but he needs to get back in the ring soon if he wants to remain relevant.

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About hbreck

Writer, debater, contrarian, storyteller, occasional troublemaker. I'm mostly just making things up as I go.
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