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Boxing Year in Review 2015: The Super Middleweights

Just a few years back, the super middleweight division was one of the deepest in boxing. Now, it's in a state of transition.

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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. James DeGale (22-1, 14 KO)
  2. Arthur Abraham (44-4, 29 KO)
  3. Badou Jack (20-1-1, 12 KO)
  4. Andre Dirrell (24-2, 16 KO)
  5. Anthony Dirrell (28-1-1, 22 KO)
  6. Fedor Chudinov (14-0, 10 KO)
  7. Lucian Bute (32-3, 25 KO)
  8. Martin Murray (32-3-1, 15 KO)
  9. George Groves (21-3, 16 KO)
  10. Callum Smith (18-0, 13 KO)

DeGale, 29, and Abraham, 35, both have a strong argument for the top spot, but it's DeGale whose career is on the rise. The 2008 Olympic gold medalist found the top of the division this year, beating Andre Dirrell for the vacant IBF belt in May, and then outfighting a rejuvenated looking Lucian Bute in November. Veteran Abraham went 3-0 on the year, outpointing Paul Smith in a February rematch, stopping Robert Stieglitz in their fourth fight in July, and scraping past Martin Murray in November. Abraham still has at least a couple of more good years to go, probably, but he tempts fate on the cards pretty frequently, too.

Jack, 32, also lived up to his prior potential in 2015. 14 months after his stunning loss to Derek Edwards, he beat Anthony Dirrell to win the WBC title, and made a successful defense against George Groves in September.

The Dirrell brothers are still in the mix, but the top three of the division is set right now. Andre, 32, and Anthony, 31, both had setbacks this year, but against quality opposition. Andre fought just the once, losing to DeGale, while Anthony came back from his loss to Jack to beat Marco Antonio Rubio in September.

Chudinov, 28, is an interesting case. He's unbeaten and just entering his prime, and his wins over Felix Sturm and Frank Buglioni were solid if not exactly elite level stuff. He's a good fighter and pretty fun to watch, but he's also kind of small for the division at 5'9" with a 72-inch reach, which puts him about on par with Abraham, but he fights nothing like Abraham, either. Can Chudinov step up and continue his success? That's a big question for him.

Bute, 35, is another veteran who still looked pretty good this year. He returned after 19 months off to beat Andrea Di Luisa in August, then was spirited in his loss to DeGale, and looked like he had a lot left in the tank.

Murray, 33, and Groves, 27, are fighters at different career stages with some similarities. For starters, they're both British, and that is very interesting. But more significantly, they both continue to come up short in world title shots. Murray ended his run at 160 pounds with a February loss to Gennady Golovkin, then won three fights over marginal opponents before his close loss to Abraham. That put Murray at 0-3-1 in world title fights for his career. Groves fought just once this year, losing to Jack, which put him at 0-3 in world title fights.

Smith, 25, looks ready to take his chances at the next level soon. More on him in a moment.

On the Cusp

Another for the "more on him in a moment" file: Top Rank prospect Gilberto Ramirez of Mexico.

Veteran Felix Sturm (39-5-3, 18 KO) is 0-2-1 in his last three fights, he's 36 years old, he's fighting above his best weight now, and he'll probably get a rematch with Chudinov next year if he wants one. We've thought he was about done before and he proved us wrong.

Venezuela's Jose Uzcategui (24-1, 20 KO) is probably best-known for a 2014 loss to Matt Korobov at 160, but this year went 2-0, notably including an October thrashing of then-unbeaten prospect Julius Jackson.

Mexico's Marco Antonio Periban (23-3-1, 15 KO) went 3-0 this year, albeit against limited opponents, ending a stretch where he went 0-3-1 against Sakio Bika, Badou Jack (the draw), J'Leon Love, and James DeGale in 2013-14.

Speaking of Love (21-1, 11 KO), he's still around. The Mayweather Promotions fighter went 3-0 this year, also against limited foes, beating Scott Sigmon, Jason Escalera, and Marcus Upshaw.

The Titleholders

WBC: Badou Jack

  • def. Anthony Dirrell (MD-12, 4/24 - TITLE CHANGE)
  • def. George Groves (SD-12, 9/12)

WBA: Fedor Chudinov

  • def. Felix Sturm (SD-12, 5/9 - WON VACANT TITLE)
  • def. Frank Buglioni (UD-12, 9/26)

IBF: James DeGale

  • def. Andre Dirrell (UD-12, 5/23 - WON VACANT TITLE)
  • def. Lucian Bute (UD-12, 11/28)

WBO: Arthur Abraham

  • def. Paul Smith (UD-12, 2/21)
  • def. Robert Stieglitz (TKO-6, 7/18)
  • def. Martin Murray (SD-12, 11/21)

Top 5 Prospects

Boxing at Echo Arena Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images
  1. Callum Smith (18-0, 13 KO)
  2. Gilberto Ramirez (33-0, 24 KO)
  3. Tyron Zeuge (17-0, 15 KO)
  4. Jesse Hart (19-0, 16 KO)
  5. D'Mitrius Ballard (11-0, 7 KO)

The 25-year-old Smith went 3-0 in 2015, with a pair of nice developmental wins over Christopher Rebrasse in June and Rocky Fielding in November. Smith won the British title with the win over Fielding, and is also the WBC "Silver" "champion," for whatever that's worth. (It's worth plenty in terms of ranking positioning.) At 6'3", he's a big super middleweight, he's got power, he's got skills, and he's clearly the most purely talented of the fighting Smiths, and is believed to have by far the highest ceiling of the group.

Ramirez, 24, was being pushed past the prospect stage to start this year, but a not-so-hot performance on HBO against Maxim Vlasov resulted in Top Rank yanking on the reins a little bit. That said, the win over Vlasov was legitimate, and a very solid victory for the big southpaw. Wins over Derek Edwards and Gevorg Khatchikian followed in June and November. 2016 could be his year to really break through.

Zeuge, 23, doesn't really stand out when you watch him fight, at least not to a huge degree. He's not a blue chipper or anything. But he's a nice young fighter. This year, he beat Stjepan Bozic and Nikola Sjekloca, the latter a former world title challenger.

Hart, 26, is another Top Rank fighter, a second generation fighter. The son of Eugene "Cyclone" Hart, Jesse is a Philadelphia fighter who turned pro in mid-2012 and has developed pretty nicely since then. This year, he beat fellow unbeaten prospect Mike Jimenez handily on May 2, and followed that with a stoppage of Aaron Pryor Jr in September. He won another stay-busy fight in December.

Ballard, 22, is a Golden Boy prospect who has been on the undercard of a lot of notable shows over the last couple of years. He went 4-0 this year, fighting in March, June, October, and December. He was a very good amateur, but also lost to the top guys he fought at that level, including Hart (twice), Terrell Gausha, and Antoine Douglas. He did beat Jarrett Hurd, another current pro prospect.

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