1. Gennady Golovkin (36-0, 33 KO)
Well, there’s no debate here. Like, absolutely none. With Canelo Alvarez bailing from the division and forfeiting his lineal championship and WBC title to avoid the GGG fight, nobody else has a real argument other than to say, “But, look! I hold a paper belt!” Golovkin has the WBA “super world,” WBC, and IBF belts. He has dominated everyone in his path. And though Canelo said that GGG hasn’t beaten anyone, he’s beaten three of the guys in the rest of this top ten, and is facing the No. 2 guy next. His opposition has been what it’s been, but it’s pretty much been the best available or at least the most willing to face him.
2. Daniel Jacobs (32-1, 29 KO)
Jacobs’ biggest win came in late 2015, when he thrashed Peter Quillin in the first round of their highly anticipated Showtime main event. Then he didn’t capitalize on that momentum at all in 2016, fighting once in September, a somewhat dull win over Sergio Mora in a rematch nobody wanted -- a rematch of a fight nobody wanted in the first place. Sure, it “made sense” in that their first bout ended due to injury and Mora had scored an early flash knockdown, but was the result ever in doubt? Of course not. So kind of a wasted year for the “Miracle Man.” But he’s set to face Golovkin on March 18, and he has the sort of explosive power and hand speed to, if nothing else, land a game-changing bomb. There should be fireworks.
3. David Lemieux (36-3, 32 KO)
4. Billy Joe Saunders (24-0, 12 KO)
5. Chris Eubank Jr (23-1, 18 KO)
I grouped these guys close together because I had trouble deciding how to order them. In the end, I went with Lemieux, who beat Glen Tapia and Cristian Rios in 2016, not exactly much to get excited about, but certainly better than Saunders’ year, which was limited to one lousy performance in a scrappy win over Artur Akavov. And Saunders does have an official and legitimate win over Eubank, who nonetheless has better momentum since their 2014 fight.
In other words, rank these three however you see fit. For now, I think they’re the 3-to-5 fighters in the division, in whatever order. If you favor momentum, maybe Eubank is your No. 3, but let’s not forget that he and his team pissed away some big talk by failing to take the offered Golovkin bout in the fall, too. I could also see a round robin with these three coming out with each of them at 1-1, just based on style matchups.
6. Sergiy Derevyanchenko (9-0, 7 KO)
Derevyanchenko, 31, is rising fast, and he should be, because time is not particularly on his side. In 2016, he trashed a fellow name of Mike Guy on March 15, and then blasted a weathered Sam Soliman on July 21, finishing the Aussie veteran off in just two rounds. Derevyanchenko is nicknamed “The Technician,” which is true, but his power, which comes from his precision, is very real, as well. He’s fought at both 160 and 168, but his most serious bouts have been at 160, which is where he belongs for the time being. He might be the actual toughest matchup for Gennady Golovkin in another year.
7. Willie Monroe Jr (21-2, 6 KO)
Monroe’s probably never going to be a big fan favorite or anything, because he’s a cutie boxer without much power, but he’s a talented fighter. Since his loss to Gennady Golovkin, he’s come back to score clear wins over John Thompson and Gabriel Rosado, in June and September of last year, and he is firmly in the mix at 160. If you put him in with Billy Joe Saunders, he could be a world champion; in fact, I’d no doubt about it pick him to beat the version of Saunders we saw in that Akavov fight.
8. Hassan N’dam (35-2, 21 KO)
Went 4-0 as a pro in 2016, scoring wins over marginal foes Patrick Mendy, Robert Swierzbinski, Tomasz Gargula, and Alfonso Blanco. But his 2016 will probably mostly be remembered for a somewhat embarrassing first round loss in the Olympics, where he was beaten by Brazil’s Michel Borges in the light heavyweight division. But as a pro, he remains someone worth noting in this division.
9. Avtandil Khurtsidze (32-2-2, 21 KO)
Short and squat and a tornado of offense, Khurtsidze is a 5’4” pain in the ass for anyone he faces. Antoine Douglas was a favored prospect going into their March 5 fight in Pennsylvania, but I warned ahead of time to not look past the veteran. Khurtsidze, 37, simply wore Douglas out and stopped him in the 10th round. It was just an attack Douglas was not prepared for, and it’s one you can’t really totally prepare for, either. You just have to be as ready for it as you can be. There’s no shutting down Khurtsidze’s approach. You can’t make him stop throwing punches and charging, other than to knock him out. He’s won nine in a row, dating back to 2011.
10. Curtis Stevens (29-5, 21 KO)
An eternally frustrating fighter, Stevens had an interesting comeback year in 2016, fighting twice, and for the first time since 2014, at least in pro boxing. In 2014, he was listless in a wide 12-round loss to Hassan N’dam. In 2016, he went 2-0, beating Patrick Teixeira (TKO-2) and James de la Rosa (UD-10). With new trainer John David Jackson, the hype is that Stevens is now throwing more punches, and using both hands. We saw his right hand effectively smash Teixeira, a raw and, it turned out, overmatched prospect. But against de la Rosa, a mediocre veteran, we saw him get a little slow again, more like the Curtis Stevens we’ve seen labor through fights in the past. He’s got a great left hook and power in both hands, and on his game, can be dangerous against just about anybody. But he’s not always at his best, and seems easily detoured at times.