Light heavyweight has become one of those divisions you can't ignore, but in America at least, comes with some difficulty paying attention. Many of the world's best 175 pounders ply their trade under the American radar, and it's still a division that leans exceptionally old, with only three members of the Bad Left Hook top ten under 30 years of age, six of them over 35, and three of them over 40. And it's the oldest one of them all leading the rankings still.
1. Bernard Hopkins (49-5-1, 32 KO)
Who's he going to fight? Is he going to fight? Hopkins has expressed little interest in fighting Chad Dawson, who isn't on Hopkins' level in terms of things accomplished (or even close to it), but is sort of a backup or default number one given how indifferent Hopkins seems to be to fighting anyone at 175. His last fight came in October, his shockingly one-sided destruction of middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik at a 170-pound catchweight, and since then the biggest talk has been of a move up to cruiserweight to face lineal champion Tomasz Adamek, which then cooled when Hopkins and Golden Boy offered Adamek a ridiculously low amount of money. Rumors have gone back to that fight, but they're way cooler than they were the first time around.
But until he retires or a full year of inactivity has passed, Hopkins will keep this spot with an iron grip. There really are a couple of interesting challenges for him at the weight, but he's 44 years old and if he's going to fight, he understandably wants the big bucks, and nobody at 175 can offer that.
2. Chad Dawson (28-0, 17 KO)
Usually I'd say hats off to Dawson and promoter Gary Shaw for taking a dangerous rematch with Glen Johnson, but both made it clear they didn't want to fight him again, and are only doing it because HBO televised that farce of a rematch between Dawson and Antonio Tarver in order to do a bigger Dawson fight the second time around. With all hope of Hopkins-Dawson dying as soon as the idea left the first person's lips, the biggest fight became Dawson-Johnson II. Shaw did admit that Dawson either fights Johnson for a decent payday or he takes scraps to fight a total unknown, but that doesn't mean they want to. I get the feeling that if the second fight is as close as the first one (which I scored a dead even draw, 114-114), Dawson may not get the nods on close rounds he did the first time around.
3. Glen Johnson (49-12-2, 33 KO)
40 years old, still going exceptionally strong, and still one of boxing's most feared men. Johnson is as durable as they come, driven by an insane will to win, and he has earned more than the 49 he's credited as having. Many feel he beat Dawson -- in fact, there are a lot of people who feel Johnson got the shaft, but very, very few that are adamant supporters of the Dawson win. You either felt it was so close it could've gone either way, or that Johnson won, or you're like me and you go, "I had a tie!" and nobody cares because you're such a wein' you can't even pick the winner. Johnson is another guy on my list of "Guys Who Would Fight Lions If Asked."
4. Zsolt Erdei (30-0, 17 KO, WBO Titlist)
And the quality takes a big drop. I don't think Erdei would stand much of a chance against any of the top three, and Dawson would be his best bet on a neutral, fairly-judged ground. Like many before him, or Felix Sturm for a contemporary comparison, it's not that Erdei is a bad fighter, it's that he appears to have no concern over fighting the best opponents. Statistical Oddity: In fights contractually agreed-upon with 175-pound limits, Erdei has never weighed 175 pounds, always coming in under, and the only time an opponent of his has come in at 175 was Hugo Garay in 2005. Despite any complaints about his schedule, Erdei has earned his spot here, though some of that has to do with nobody below him having earned the right to pass him just yet.
5. Jean Pascal (23-1, 15 KO, WBC Titlist)
Between his 168-pound title loss to Carl Froch in December and his move to 175 with a title win over Adrian Diaconu this past Friday, Pascal fought and knocked out Pablo Daniel Zamora Nievas, a decent fighter, nothing special, not a bum. Though he's stopped the same level fighter early before (Esteban Camou, KO-3), his fifth round knockout of Nievas may have shown that he finally buckled down some, has learned to back off his Jones imitations some, and that he's gotten his head right. He only got into trouble briefly against Diaconu, which was a competitive and exciting fight, but one I felt Pascal clearly won, and thankfully the ringside judges agreed. He was bigger, faster and stronger than Diaconu, and there were times where Pascal just picked him apart. He looked better at 175 than he has at 168. The light may have come on for him. I'm not saying he's going to go on to some Hall of Fame career, but he's making believers out of big time doubters right now.
6. Danny Green (26-3, 23 KO)
The Aussie that Antonio Tarver jerked around because he had no interest in fighting him back in December '07 recently returned to the sport after taking 2008 off (he called it a retirement, which I'm starting to wonder about -- do boxers know what that word actually means?). He has lined up a fight with Roy Jones Jr. later this year should the two of them win on August 15 in the States. Jones-Green would take place in Australia, where it will surely make big money, and if Roy wants to become boxing's one-man Harlem Globetrotters, entertaining folks that have never seen him live and fighting big-time locals, hey, all the best. Stay gold, Pony Boy. But if Jones and Green make it to their clash (which is always a question with promotions like these), I don't think Roy can beat him. Green's no world-beater, but he's a good puncher, a tough guy, and even at 36 is a hell of a lot fresher.
7. Adrian Diaconu (26-1, 15 KO)
Diaconu fought pretty hard, but was outgunned against Pascal and forced to hit the reset button so much it simply took him out of the fight. While a legit contender, his height (5'9") is always going to be an issue against good light heavies.
8. Tavoris Cloud (19-0, 18 KO)
I've been semi-critical of the way Cloud has sat on his mandatory ranking while he has no name and called out Chad Dawson from afar, knowing the fight wasn't good business for the Dawson camp, and that if he wanted to become a bigger name, hey, maybe fight some more, get yourself out there, knock some more dudes out. But I do like Cloud. He's a wicked puncher and at 27, still has good years ahead of him, which many of these guys can't say. I would pick Cloud to knock the crap out of Tarver, Woods, Jones and lots of other more established names that I haven't gotten to yet, so if you're wondering what this dude with the rather empty record is doing ahead of them, that's it. They might give him some trouble with savvy, but eventually he's going to hit them.
9. Antonio Tarver (27-6, 19 KO)
I've taken so many shots at Tarver by this point that I sort of feel like it's become almost good natured, and let me assure you it didn't start that way -- not that I was being mean, either. I respect Tarver, and always have. I just find him dreadfully dull most of the time and feel he's still living off of that time he knocked Roy Jones into Montana with one perfect punch. Tarver acts like he's some Hall of Famer, but really he's not even close. Still, you have to give him his due: He was the first guy to ever come close to having Jones' number (and boy howdy did he have it); he beat everyone he ever faced besides Hopkins, who is just better than him, and Dawson, who was way younger; and he made himself a great living and, as he's fond of saying... he's still pretty. You'd really never know by looking at him that Tarver has been a professional figher.
He's done, though, and should probably retire.
10. Clinton Woods (42-4-1, 24 KO)
Woods checks in here because I would pick him to beat Jones, too, even taking into the account the lashing Jones gave him in 2002. That's so long ago it may as well have not even happened. He also stays despite the rotten night he had against Tarver last spring. If you handicap for the fact that 2003 Jones >>>>>>>> 2008 Tarver, that was probably the worst night of Woods' career. He looked like he didn't want to be there and had no gameplan. You could argue several guys into this spot, including Jones.
You Coulda Been a Contender...
Roy Jones Jr. (53-5, 39 KO) is fighting Jeff Lacy (25-2, 17 KO) in a sorta crossroads fight in August, where the two Floridians are basically fighting to see who gets to stay relevant, or at least that's one way to look at it. Considering every single fight Lacy's had since he was embarrassed by Joe Calzaghe could have gone the other guy's way, I'd argue that no matter what happens, neither of them are relevant. Neither of them has looked good in years.
Shaun George (18-2-2, 9 KO) gained some notoriety when he hammered Chris Byrd last year in Byrd's attempt to shed 40 pounds and stay a professional fighter, which was just horrible. Though George has fought and won a fight since then, I still have my doubts, simply because Byrd is old and that was an awful idea, period.
Beibut Shumenov (8-0, 6 KO) is as close to the top ten as any fighter can be after eight fights in today's climate. He's also setting up a nice living for himself as he works as a promoter, too. He appears to have a good head on his shoulders and a pair of fists to match it.
Yusaf Mack (28-2-2, 17 KO) is one of those rough-edged brawlers that probably never gets past fringe contender, but he can put on a show. His win over Chris Henry (23-2, 18 KO) came as a surprise to most.
Gabriel Campillo (18-2, 6 KO, WBA Titlist) just won the WBA title from Hugo Garay (32-4, 17 KO) in another fairly surprising result. Had Garay won the fight, I would've slotted him in at No. 7 on this list, but the loss drops him out of the top ten and doesn't put Campillo in from where I sit, but you could argue for it. He's a titlist, one of his losses is disputed, and he's got a style that could trouble plenty of folks.
Juergen Braehmer (33-2, 27 KO) is another guy who has an argument. He avenged his loss to Mario Veit, and his other defeat came by decision to Garay last year. He's fought and won twice this year against OK competition.
Marcus Oliveria (19-0-1, 15 KO) has yet to beat anyone of real note, but does own a win over Oklahoma City oddity Buck Smith (179-20-2, 120 KO), a 43-year old, 5'9" now-cruiserweight with a 68" reach, or a reach one inch longer than that of Manny Pacquiao.
Nathan Cleverly (16-0, 6 KO) holds the Commonwealth title and is formerly of the Enzo Calzaghe camp, but given Enzo's non-Joe track record, that shouldn't be a big deterrent as opposed to staying.
Montell Griffin (49-8, 30 KO) still fights. Who'da thunk it? He recently was shut out by Shumenov.