1. James DeGale (22-1, 14 KO, IBF)
DeGale, 29, has come into his own in recent fights, beating good versions of Andre Dirrell and Lucian Bute in his last two. With those wins, and the eye test, and his youth compared to the No. 2 man, I think DeGale has earned a pass over Arthur Abraham. The only thing I thought about was that DeGale had some second half struggles against Dirrell, but Dirrell is a good bit more talented than Paul Smith, a fighter Abraham recently struggled against, or Martin Murray, whom Abraham just had problems against in his last outing. This is debatable at the least, and sort of depends on what you think deserves more credit: DeGale's talent and most recent showings, or Abraham's longevity and career consistency? I'm more about the now with lists like these, so I shade in favor of DeGale.
2. Arthur Abraham (44-4, 29 KO, WBO)
During Abraham's win over Murray on November 21, it occurred to me that Abraham has really had an amazing career considering his limitations. He's a good fighter who made his mark largely with power at 160 pounds, and at 168 he's overcome early issues at the weight to win a pair of world titles and have some good fights. Abraham does what he does, and he does it very well. He's not remotely difficult to plan for, but breaking him down requires real skill.
3. Badou Jack (20-1-1, 12 KO, WBC)
When Jack was knocked out in 61 seconds by journeyman Derek Edwards in February 2014, I didn't think that was, like, it for him, but it did not seem a terribly surprising an outcome, either. I mean, the method of his first loss was certainly unexpected, but Jack had seemed like an overhyped prospect for a while. Since then, though, he's gone to another gear and back-to-back wins over Anthony Dirrell and George Groves. He turned 32 in October, so it was pretty much now or never for him this year, and Jack has delivered, becoming a top fighter during a transitional phase of this division.
4. Andre Dirrell (24-2, 16 KO)
Dirrell, 32, is not a personal favorite fighter of mine, but I've never denied the talent he has when he's focused and on his game. I also think he's come off like a very different fighter and different man since his return to action in 2013. He speaks and carries himself with more legitimate confidence, and he showed the sort of resolve I always suspected he lacked in his loss to DeGale, where he fell in an early hole and battled back pretty valiantly. Dirrell is still a threat to anyone in this division.
5. Fedor Chudinov (14-0, 10 KO, WBA)
Chudinov, 28, is in his prime, and he's also probably about as good as he's going to get. He's a volume puncher and small for the weight at around 5'9", but he looks solid and durable, and he makes for some fun fights. His win over Felix Sturm netted him the WBA "world" belt in April (they have no current "super world" champion, so this is recognizable enough), and he followed that up with a predictable win over surprise challenger Frank Buglioni in late September. Chudinov would likely have a tough time with DeGale, Dirrell, or Jack, but he's an interesting matchup for someone like Abraham, not that that fight is likely to happen any time soon.
6. Anthony Dirrell (28-1-1, 22 KO)
The "other" Dirrell, 31, doesn't have his brother's skill set, but he's a tough and talented fighter in his own right. He was beaten by Jack in April, and he didn't look great that night, but he bounced back fairly well beating Marco Antonio Rubio in September, too. Anthony might deserve to be a spot or two lower, or arguably could be one higher.
7. George Groves (21-3, 16 KO)
The 27-year-old Groves has had a rough go of it in his last five fights, going 2-3 and 0-3 in world title fights. But two of those losses came against Carl Froch, who was the top guy in the class at the time, and the third was a valiant loss to Jack in September. There's no doubt he's taken a step back, but he's still viable until he loses to someone he really shouldn't lose to, or at least that's how I see it. Groves' recent two wins stack up fine compared to what anyone else has done.
8. Callum Smith (18-0, 13 KO)
Smith might be higher for some, but I have learned to be a bit more cautious with super prospects. I think Callum has the goods, though -- at 6'3", he's a giant at 168 pounds, and the way he demolished Rocky Fielding on November 7 was very impressive, but it was impressive for domestic level. He could win a world title by the end of 2016, but it's just as easy to see him tripping as he goes up in competition.
9. Lucian Bute (32-3, 25 KO)
Bute, 35, showed there was still something left in the tank with his loss to DeGale on Saturday, and he belongs back in the mix at 168 pounds. I think we've learned that he's really not a light heavyweight, and he's one of those guys who just has a division and that's it. As soon as Bute can no longer make 168 pounds, he won't be anything more than a name. At 168, he still looks like a contender, and showed a toughness he was missing in his scouting report before the DeGale fight.
10. Gilberto Ramirez (33-0, 24 KO)
Ramirez, 24, may not be the breakout star that Top Rank wanted to have from a big, tall, rangy super middleweight from Mexico, but he's a good fighter. He didn't blow past Maxim Vlasov in January, but Vlasov is a decent fighter. He's owned the ring against Derek Edwards and Gevorg Khatchikian since then. Neither win was exactly thrilling, but he got the job done. Ramirez is one of those tall guys who has a habit of giving away his height, but he can fight. Whether his ceiling is much higher than what he's already shown is a worthy question.
Other Super Middleweight Notes
With Andre Ward moving up upon his return to action and Carl Froch officially retired, this division is, as I noted before, in a state of transition.
One recent prospect who got dropped is Julius Jackson, who was stopped in two rounds by Jose Uzcategui, a power punching Colombian who might be a factor going forward, or maybe not. There aren't a lot of big prospect names in the division, but Top Rank's Jesse Hart (18-0, 15 KO) is interesting, and there's also Tyron Zeuge (17-0, 10 KO) of Germany and Australia's Zac Dunn (19-0, 15 KO) and Rohan Murdock (18-1, 14 KO).
The fringe contender types don't seem to be serious threats to anyone -- Alexander Brand, Marco Antonio Periban, Rogelio Medina, Blake Caparello, Dmitry Sukhotsky, Robin Krasniqi, Eduard Gutknecht, Paul Smith, and several other names you might remember from a fight or two along the way.