1. Mikkel Kessler (41-1, 31 KO)
I'm sticking to my guns: Kessler is the world's best super middleweight fighter until it's proven otherwise. There are a couple problems you might have with that:
1. Kessler's career is currently half on the shelf due to disputes with the Palles, his promoters.
2. Kessler hasn't exactly fought top competition since losing to Joe Calzaghe, going back to his cocoon in Denmark against Dimitri Sartison (who was a lame unbeaten) and Danilo Haussler (a crappy mandatory).
I do think Kessler would have plenty of trouble with the new and improved Lucian Bute. I think he'd have trouble with a handful of guys in the division, in fact. But Kessler fought Joe Calzaghe about as well as anyone ever did, and that means something, or at least it should. I'd love for him to get the thing with the Palles settled, fight one of the other top guys, and show how good he is. He's an outstanding fighter.
2. Lucian Bute (24-0, 19 KO)
Forget about the 12th round against Andrade. Bottom line is he got up and he won the fight because he got up. Let's also not forget that for 11 rounds, he beat on Andrade pretty good, and then he came back to just demolish poor Fulgencio Zuniga, who looked like he had no business in Bute's ring.
Bute has also proven to be a class act. When Andrade beat Vitali Tsypko in Montreal, Bute was ringside cheering for him, and he plans to match up with Librado again later this year. It's a mandatory, but guys have skipped on mandatories they don't want before. He seems like he genuinely wants to settle their unfinished business. He was also in Connecticut last night to watch Allan Green manhandle Carlos de Leon, Jr., as he's said he'd like to fight Green for an optional defense this summer. He's not looking to take easy fights. Both Andrade and Green are legit top 10 guys in the division and fairly dangerous opponents since both can punch. That said, Bute should beat both of them handily. He's gotten very good.
3. Sakio Bika (27-3-2, 18 KO)
This is no knock on Froch, I just think Bika is maybe the most dangerous guy in the division right now. Calzaghe didn't have an easy night with him and I think Bika has actually gotten better. He's a ferocious fighter at his best, a strong guy that throws huge shots and isn't terrible from a fundamentals standpoint. No one's going to confuse him with an artiste in there, but he holds his own with anybody. Bika is the guy no one in the division wants to fight.
4. Carl Froch (25-0, 20 KO)
Froch has taken his shots for being slow and mouthy, but his stunning win over Jermain Taylor should quiet some of that. Yeah, he's got some fundamental problems with his physical ability that he'll never be able to fix. He's not going to get faster. He's also never going to be a good defensive fighter. And his chin, while good, was busted up a bit by Taylor, who dropped Froch for the first time ever. What's good? He won. He showed a ton of heart against both Taylor and Jean Pascal and came out the victor both times in a couple of damn good fights.
5. Jermain Taylor (28-3-1, 17 KO)
What's the biggest issue here? One of the things I notice is not just that he gets a little lazy in the middle rounds, or that he doesn't seem to have a FINISH HIM! bone in his body, it's this strange arrogance (or something) that he gives off during fights he's winning. He did it against Lacy and got hurt in that fight. He did it against Froch and it allowed Froch -- who is better than Lacy -- a chance to build huge momentum and kick the crap out of Taylor in the final round.
Jermain has every physical tool. He's not a huge puncher, but he's got more than enough power to keep guys honest. In two of his losses, he's floored the other guy. He's been competitive every time he's lost, and he dominated parts of the draw with Winky Wright. I no longer really know what to make of Jermain. Is it a mental thing? Should he really consider going back to Pat Burns? Does he just lack "it"?
He's a heck of a good fighter and a nice guy. He could easily beat Froch on a different night. But I don't think I'd ever pick him to beat Froch. It would require something he just hasn't shown much of in his last handful of fights.
6. Librado Andrade (28-2, 21 KO)
Triple tough. A bulldozer of a fighter. Nice guy, too.
Andrade gets by on nothing but muscle, guts, and a stupid steady chin. I say this in the nicest way: He is a terrible boxer. He's flat-footed, has no jab, doesn't move his head very well. He does roll with punches exceptionally well; he's like the freaking master of that craft. He could teach an $80 seminar. He's got heavy hands and outrageous stamina. There will never be an Andrade fight in his prime years that I don't want to see.
7. Andre Dirrell (18-0, 13 KO)
Dirrell has really won me over since that awful performance against Curtis Stevens that got him booed off of HBO's young fighter radar. I really didn't care if I ever saw Dirrell again after that fight, but he's come back to prove he doesn't need to run, which was what made the Stevens fight so upsetting. He's got power, he's got speed, he's a good defensive fighter, and he's still improving. Dirrell could be the real deal and a future ruler of this division.
8. Allan Green (28-1, 20 KO)
He didn't have enough time to stare at his feet or find himself not punching, as he put the hammer to Carlos de Leon, Jr., four times in the second round for a dominant, quick and easy victory on Saturday. Since Green has still not stepped up to fight the best of the best, I don't know exactly how good he is, even though I've seen him fight many, many times now. I really like him when he's aggressive. I really don't when he's not. If I were taking a guess I'd say he's a B-plus fighter on his very best nights, generally closer to a low B or a B-minus. There are a lot of people that scoff at the idea of him being top ten in the division, but while the class is strong, it's top-heavy, too. I think Green fits in quite nicely in the latter part of the top ten.
9. Karoly Balzsay (21-0, 15 KO)
29-year old southpaw Balzsay beat Denis Inkin for the WBO super middleweight title in January, and came back with his first defense against 42-year old, 5-foot-8 New Zealander Maselino Masoe last night. Masoe stayed in there until being knocked out in the 11th:
Masoe is old and short. Balzsay is in his prime and might be able to hang on the world stage. I don't know. I'd love to see him prove he's one of the best, I do know that.
10. Denis Inkin (34-1, 24 KO)
Inkin, 31, hasn't fought since losing to Balzsay. Inkin was supposed to fight Froch last year on Shobox, which would've been very interesting, but then Denis pulled out and Froch instead battered the less-qualified Albert Rybacki. Inkin is borderline top ten, but his record isn't totally padded, and he was at least willing to fight Balzsay.
You Coulda Been a Contender...
Andre Ward (18-0, 12 KO) could join the top ten if he wins impressively against Edison Miranda (32-3, 28 KO), which is a fight I think is perfect for Ward. Miranda is nothing but a puncher (and a bit of an overrated puncher at that -- the guy's not Godzilla) and Ward should be able to outclass him if his chin is sturdy. It would finally give him a Big Win, or at least a win certainly bigger than the ones over "Sugar Poo" Buchanan and Rubin Williams. I really don't care for his "Son of God" nickname; not because I'm super religious or find it offensive, just because it's stupid and we're hardly talking about some sort of unreal talent. He could be very good, but it's not like he's projecting as an all-time great or anything.
Jean Pascal (22-1, 15 KO) is better than a lot of people give him credit for. I really believe that. He fought Froch tooth-and-nail and lost a great fight. Pascal might get a lot of flak just because he seems to think he's way better than he is. He's pretty fast, but not absurdly fast. He's got decent power, but not great power. He has good reflexes, but they aren't amazing.
Jesse Brinkley (33-5, 22 KO) is still out there, and is coming off of a dominant UD win over Joey Gilbert, who he'd been rivals with outside of the ring for years. Gilbert raised Brinkley's hand after the beatdown he took. The most positive thing about that fight: It sold out in Reno, about 6,660 capacity. This again proves that boxing can be promoted very effectively on a "local" scale, as if Mosley and Margacheato setting a Staples Center record wasn't enough.
Sam Soliman (35-11, 13 KO) is also still out there, at least in theory. He hasn't fought since his 47th loss to Anthony Mundine last May.
25-year old German Karo Murat (19-0, 12 KO) might be coming up in the world. He's got two wins over Italian Christian Sanavia, who beat Markus Beyer five years ago (and then lost the rematch).
Fulgencio Zuniga (22-4-1, 19 KO) probably shouldn't fight at 168 pounds. He was so much smaller than Bute it looked like a total mismatch. He's got big power, but he's lost to the best guy he's fought at 154 (Daniel Santos), 160 (Kelly Pavlik) and 168 (first Inkin, now Bute).
Dimitri Sartison (24-1, 15 KO) has one loss and it came to Kessler. He was dominated for 11 rounds and knocked out in the 12th. He's come back with a couple wins over bums since then. He had beaten nobody before he got the shot at Kessler.
Adonis Stevenson (12-0, 9 KO) is a Canadian-based Haitian with a Memphis wrestling name. He's also 31 years old, which means he has to move fast if he wants to really make a career for himself. He last fought in August, finishing off veteran Anthony Bonsante in just 46 seconds, one of the more bizarre fights of '08:
Don Mouton (9-3, 8 KO) isn't a real contender or close to it, but the 30-year old Houston fighter has back-to-back upset wins over Walid Smichet and Jerson Ravelo going for him right now. He also almost upset 22-year old Russian prospect Maxim Vlasov last October before those two wins. He fights Curtis Stevens on April 28.
Speaking of guys beating Smichet, Peter Manfredo Jr. (32-6, 17 KO) is on the short list for 2009 KO of the Year thanks to his waxing of Walid on April 18. Manfredo is listed as a middleweight at BoxRec even though he hasn't fought at 160 since 2004, or in other words, in his last 11 fights.
Fellow Rhode Islander Joe Spina (24-1-1, 17 KO) has racked up five wins over tomato cans since losing big to Manfredo in '06.
Alejandro Berrio (28-5, 27 KO) will be back in action against fast-rising light heavy prospect Beibut Shumenov on May 9. I have no idea if Berrio plans to move up to 175 for good, or if he just thinks this could be a good chance to get his name out there. When you hit like he does, anything is possible.
Mads Larsen (51-2, 38 KO) will eventually get the world title shot he seems sort of half-interested in actually taking. Honestly I think Mads is content to go on boxing scrubs in eight rounders for the rest of his life. He's one of a few "victims" of Sven Ottke, too.
Jean Paul Mendy (25-0-1, 13 KO) got to the finals of that Showtime/Don King super middleweight tournament a few years ago. Remember that thing? Remember how good an idea it seemed like? Then the final was a draw, and neither Mendy nor Anthony Hanshaw (21-2-1, 14 KO) have done much since. Hanshaw has lost to Roy Jones and Andre Dirrell, and Mendy has beaten two cans in Columbia, South Carolina, an odd thing considering he's French and based in Las Vegas.
Jaidon Codrington (19-2, 15 KO) hasn't officially retired yet, but the talk has been there. He looked God awful in his last fight and I don't think he'll ever recover from the Bika brawl.
I actually quite like Robert Stieglitz (34-2, 21 KO) as a contender that would probably never get over the hump without a perfect night. I just wanted to say that.