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Boxing Year in Review 2015: The Light Heavyweights

The top light heavyweights were largely stagnant in 2015, but there appears to be change coming in the form of some top prospects and some rising contenders.

Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
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. Sergey Kovalev (28-0-1, 25 KO)
  2. Adonis Stevenson (27-1, 22 KO)
  3. Andre Ward (28-0, 15 KO)
  4. Jean Pascal (30-3-1, 17 KO)
  5. Juergen Braehmer (47-2, 35 KO)
  6. Andrzej Fonfara (28-3, 16 KO)
  7. Artur Beterbiev (9-0, 9 KO)
  8. Eleider Alvarez (19-0, 10 KO)
  9. Sullivan Barrera (17-0, 12 KO)
  10. Isaac Chilemba (24-3-2, 10 KO)

It was something of a quiet year for the light heavyweight division, with the biggest fight coming on March 14. That night, Sergey Kovalev beat Jean Pascal in Montreal, stopping the former champion in the eighth round and retaining his three title belts. Aside from that, there just weren't many big fights at 175.

Kovalev, 32, has pretty clearly separated himself from main rival Adonis Stevenson. Stevenson, 38, had what was thought to be a pretty lackluster campaign in 2014, and managed to follow that with another disappointing year in 2015. It's not easy to go 2-0 in two straight years and still feel like a fighter whose career momentum is gone, but Adonis Stevenson and his team have managed it, so kudos to them.

Ward, 31, could understandably be ranked fourth or perhaps lower, as he has only one fight since 2013 and only three since 2011, and only one above 168 pounds in that stretch, and it was a catchweight fight, and it was against Paul Smith, and we still have to see if his career is really going anywhere, but, like, he's also Andre Ward, and we know how good he is. If Jean Pascal had been more impressive against Yunieski Gonzalez, maybe Pascal, 33, would keep the No. 3 spot. But that win was questionable.

Braehmer, 37, is a good fighter, and likely we'll never know exactly how good, because he can't leave Germany. In his case, it's perhaps not even so much that he won't or that he doesn't want to, as it is that he can't. He's an ex-con, and traveling abroad can be extremely difficult.

Fonfara, 28, gave Adonis Stevenson a decent fight in 2014, and spent his 2015 angling for a possible rematch. He absolutely demolished Julio Cesar Chavez Jr in an April catchweight bout, then brawled past a game Nathan Cleverly in an October thriller in Chicago. Beterbiev, 30, sort of went from extremely interesting fan favorite to just another Haymon fighter this year, fighting twice in April and June before his team basically avoided fighting Sullivan Barrera in an IBF eliminator.

Alvarez, 31, pretty much stayed the course in 2015, beating Anatoliy Dudchenko, Isidro Prieto, and then Chilemba in December, in what may lead to a shot at Stevenson. The win over Chilemba, 28, was one of quality, but Alvarez frankly has the look of a B fighter. Barrera, 33, capped a 3-0 year with a December 12 wipeout of former title challenger Karo Murat.

On the Cusp

Top prospect Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (15-0, 12 KO) made a pitch for top 10 status on December 19, beating Cuba's Yunieski Gonzalez (16-2, 12 KO), himself right around the top 10, in a good action fight. There will be a bit more on Shabranskyy below. Gonzalez, 30, has lost two in a row to Pascal and Shabranskyy, but would he be any sort of real underdog against any of the bottom three in the top 10? At worst, he'd be a live dog against any of them.

South Africa's Thomas Oosthuizen (25-0-2, 14 KO) was once an intriguing rising contender at 168, where his 6'4" height made him enormously tall. He's still enormously tall at 175, but his career has somewhat stalled, too. He did go 2-0 this year, but he hasn't fought in the States since 2013, when he had a draw against Brandon Gonzales.

Edwin Rodriguez (28-1, 19 KO) is hoping to become a contender at 175 after growing out of 168. He beat Craig Baker and Michael Seals this year, both guys undefeated coming in, stopping both in three. Neither of them had proven much coming in, but the Seals fight was one of the most purely entertaining battles of the entire year, too.

Former titleholder Nathan Cleverly (29-3, 15 KO) dropped back down from a failed stint as a cruiserweight, and was beaten up in a valiant effort against Fonfara in October. Chad Dawson (33-4, 18 KO) made a return to action on December 8, shutting out a club fighter over 10 rounds. He hadn't fought in 14 months, since losing to Tommy Karpency. It's unlikely Dawson will become a serious contender again; he's 33 and not getting younger. But he could be fed to a rising Haymon name at some point.

The Titleholders

WBC: Adonis Stevenson

  • def. Sako Bika (UD-12, 4/4)
  • def. Tommy Karpency (TKO-3, 9/11)

WBA: Sergey Kovalev

  • def. Jean Pascal (TKO-8, 3/14)
  • def. Nadjib Mohammedi (KO-3, 7/25)

IBF: Sergey Kovalev

  • def. Jean Pascal (TKO-8, 3/14)
  • def. Nadjib Mohammedi (KO-3, 7/25)

WBO: Sergey Kovalev

  • def. Jean Pascal (TKO-8, 3/14)
  • def. Nadjib Mohammedi (KO-3, 7/25)

Top 5 Prospects

Vyacheslav Shabransky vs. Emil Gonzalez Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images
  1. Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (15-0, 12 KO)
  2. Dmitry Bivol (5-0, 5 KO)
  3. Marcus Browne (17-0, 13 KO)
  4. Oleksandr Gvozdyk (8-0, 6 KO)
  5. Egor Mekhontsev (10-0, 7 KO)

Golden Boy doesn't have a lot of top names right now, but they do have some prospects, and Shabranskyy, 28, is probably as ready as he's going to get. He went 4-0 on the year, beating three guys he should have in January, May, and June, then battled past a good fighter in Yunieski Gonzalez on December 19. There's a lot to like about Shabranskyy.

Bivol, 25, might have the higher ceiling. Born in Kyrgyzstan and now fighting out of Vsevolzhsk, Russia, he turned pro in November 2014 and has pretty much smashed his way through his first five fights, and he's fought guys with some experience in each bout, too. I mean, nobody's going to argue that Joey Vegas or Felipe Romero are particularly good, but they know their way around the ring. Bivol also fought in the World Series of Boxing in 2012-13.

Browne, 25, is the lone American in the top five. The Staten Island native represented the U.S. in London, and turned pro right after the Olympics in November 2012, and was started slower. He's less of a finished product than the rest, but he's made real strides, and his wins this year over Gabriel Campillo (KO-1) and Cornelius White (UD-10) spoke well of the progress he's made. He went 4-0 on the year, also beating Aaron Pryor Jr and Francisco Sierra.

Gvozdyk, 28, was a bronze medalist for Ukraine at London 2012, turning pro in April 2014 after signing with Top Rank. He's also largely faced guys with plenty of miles on them, but who know what they're doing. He's not an overwhelming prospect, but he's skilled.

The same might be said for Mekhontsev, who won gold at London 2012. The Russian turned pro in late 2013 and has fought a similar level of opposition as Gvozdyk and Bivol. What makes me put him below Gvozdyk as a prospect is simply his age, as Mekhontsev is 31. He was a decorated amateur, though, and is a good fighter. He's also probably as good as he's going to get.

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