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Boxing Year in Review 2015: The Cruiserweights

Call it boxing's eternally overlooked division (at least north of super flyweight). The cruiserweights provided some thrills again in 2015, and top fighters didn't shy away from tests.

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Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

Year-End Top 10

  1. Grigory Drozd (40-1, 28 KO)
  2. Denis Lebedev (28-2, 21 KO)
  3. Krzysztof Glowacki (25-0, 16 KO)
  4. Marco Huck (38-3-1, 26 KO)
  5. Junior Makabu (19-1, 18 KO)
  6. Youri Kalenga (22-2, 15 KO)
  7. Victor Ramirez (22-2-1, 17 KO)
  8. Ola Afolabi (22-4-4, 11 KO)
  9. Thabiso Mchunu (16-2, 10 KO)
  10. Ovill McKenzie (25-12-1, 13 KO)

Any of the top three fighters here -- Drozd, Lebedev, and Glowacki -- could be argued as the No. 1 fighter in the division. Lebedev probably has a better argument than Glowacki based on longevity and proven track record. For now, we stick with Drozd.

Huck remains a relevant player for sure, his knockout loss to Glowacki a stunner in a fight he was leading in the 11th round. Makabu scored a big win over Mchunu on May 16, a fight that Mchunu led narrowly on two of three scorecards (the third was even) when Makabu knocked him out in the 11th round, similar to the Huck-Glowacki fight.

Kalenga, from Congo and fighting out of France, lost to Lebedev in a competitive fight in April, then beat Roberto Bolonti handily in November. Ramirez has had a nice career comeback after sitting out from August 2009 until December 2013. This year, he beat Afolabi to win the interim IBF belt in April, then had a debatable draw with McKenzie on October 2, both fights taking place in Argentina. Despite being a titleholder, Ramirez is clearly behind the others in the division right now.

It's worth noting that other than Drozd, everyone in this top ten fought someone else in the top ten this year.

On the Cusp

Top prospect Oleksandr Usyk (9-0, 9 KO) looks like the real deal, and could easily wind up in the top five by the end of 2016, depending on how aggressive his matchmaking is next year.

Tony Bellew (26-2-1, 16 KO) went 3-0 this year, but the only notable win came on December 12 against Mateusz Masternak, where Bellew picked up the vacant European title, struggling down the stretch. Bellew is 6-0 as a cruiserweight, but none of the performances have really stood out, and he was 0-2 in world title fights as a light heavyweight. You could argue him into the No. 10 spot.

Olanrewaju Durodola (22-2, 20 KO) scored a big upset over Dmitry Kudrayshov on November 4, but he's also 35 years old and the clock is ticking. Other than beating Kudrayshov, he really has no notable victories. Along with Kudrayshov (18-1, 18 KO), Rakhim Chakhkiev (24-2, 18 K) was upset on November 4, knocked out by Ola Afolabi in the fifth round.

Former light heavyweight titleholder Beibut Shumenov (16-2, 10 KO) moved up in weight late last year, and this year defeated BJ Flores on July 25. He was set to face Krzysztof Wlodarczyk on December 18, but had to pull out due to injury.

45-year-old German southpaw Firat Arslan (36-8-2, 22 KO) is still at it, winning a pair of easy fights this year. Miami-based Cuban Yunier Dorticos (20-0, 19 KO) remains more at the prospect level than he might like after six years as a pro.

The Titleholders

WBC: Grigory Drozd

  • def. Lukasz Janik (TKO-9, 5/22)

WBA: Denis Lebedev

  • def. Youri Kalenga (UD-12, 4/10)
  • def. Lateef Kayode (TKO-8, 11/4)

IBF: Victor Ramirez

  • def. Ola Afolabi (UD-12, 4/10)
  • vs Ovill McKenzie (D-12, 10/2)

WBO: Krzysztof Glowacki

  • def. Marco Huck (KO-11, 8/14 - TITLE CHANGE)

Top 5 Prospects

Olympics Day 15 - Boxing Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images
  1. Oleksandr Usyk (9-0, 9 KO)
  2. Murat Gassiev (22-0-1, 16 KO)
  3. Yunier Dorticos (20-0, 19 KO)
  4. Keith Tapia (17-0, 11 KO)
  5. Micki Nielsen (20-0, 14 KO)

Usyk, 28, was the heavyweight gold medalist at London 2012, representing Ukraine, and won a trio of fights this year. He's arguably already top 10 in the division, and could really be as high as top five if you're just going on pure talent. He looks like the sort of fighter who could take over the division long-term.

Gassiev, 22, Russia, scored wins in January, April, and May, all on U.S. soil, and looked to close strong in December against Isiah Thomas, but that fight went to a no-contest after three rounds, when Thomas couldn't continue after being hit after the bell. Gassiev is a strong prospect, not quite the level of Usyk, but he's also a good deal younger.

Miami-based Cuban Yunier Dorticos, 29, fought two times in 2015, beating veterans Galen Brown and Fulgencio Zuniga. He's been a pro since 2009 and hasn't seen his career progress a ton, but he's got talent.

Puerto Rico's Tapia, 25, nicknamed "Machine Gun," is an intriguing prospect. At 6'2" with an 80-inch reach, he has the physical size and the weight is no issue for him, though he's fought as high as 214 pounds as a pro. He made his PBC debut with a wide decision win over Garrett Wilson on December 8's FS1 show.

Nielsen, 22, is a Danish southpaw starting to make a few waves. He turned pro in 2011 and is starting to develop nicely.

Notable Inactives

Both Yoan Pablo Hernandez and Krzysztof Wlodarczyk were on the sidelines through the year.

Hernandez (29-1, 14 KO) was the IBF titleholder and recognized lineal champion of the division, but was stripped of the IBF belt in September after 13 months of inactivity, and RING Magazine removed his lineal status in November. Hernandez was supposed to face Victor Ramirez in July, but the fight was pushed back, then rescheduled for September 26, then for October 2. It was a whole mess and eventually canceled entirely, with word that Hernandez would retire, but nothing is really official other than Hernandez is currently inactive.

Wlodarczyk (49-3-1, 35 KO) hasn't fought since his September 2014 loss to Grigory Drozd. The 34-year-old Polish veteran was set for a rematch in the spring, but withdrew due to illness. He was then set to face Beibut Shumenov on December 18, but Shumenov pulled out of that fight. So Wlodarczyk does intend to fight, and should be back in 2016.

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