1. Badou Jack (20-1-2, 12 KO)
2. James DeGale (23-1, 14 KO)
3. Gilberto Ramirez (34-0, 24 KO)
A tough call for the No. 1 spot. I went with Jack because his recent streak is, in my view, the best of these three. Ramirez’s shutout win over Arthur Abraham may have been the best single performance, however. And Jack did officially draw with Lucian Bute, although I thought he deserved the win in that fight pretty clearly.
Highest upside: DeGale, who has the most ability of the three, I think. But then you have Ramirez, whose dimensions give him an edge the other two don’t have. And Jack has proven to simply be a good, consistent fighter in his recent outings.
I’m looking at the January 14 fight between Jack and DeGale as the real eliminator, with Ramirez lurking.
4. George Groves (25-3, 18 KO)
Right now, I see Saint George as the best of the rest, and it’s not a particularly inspiring field, though it doesn’t lack for talent, and there are good young fighters on the way up, too. It’s just that there is no one on this list — the entire top ten, in my view -- with, like, true elite ability or potential for that. Groves is 0-3 in world title fights, but had a strong 2016, beating Andrea di Luisa and David Brophy handily, and then overcoming tougher tests against Martin Murray and Eduard Gutknecht. He’s in prime position for another world title shot.
5. Anthony Dirrell (29-1-1, 23 KO)
Fought just once in 2016, but smashed the capable Caleb Truax in just 1:49 on April 29. Dirrell is a former titleholder who didn’t pass the belt to Jack easily, and at 32 should still have some time left. But does he want it? That’s always been the question with both Dirrell brothers. Anthony has shown more fire than Andre, but we’ll see what his direction is this year.
6. Arthur Abraham (45-5, 30 KO)
At 36, Abraham is past his prime, but not out of the race at 168. Ramirez was a terrible stylistic matchup for him, and expertly exploited all of Abraham’s weaknesses, including a tendency to wait around for one big shot. But King Arthur did rebound on July 16, just three months later, with a win over Tim Robin Lihaug. I don’t think outside of a perfect shot or a perfect night he’ll ever beat Ramirez -- it’s just the wrong matchup for him. But his win over Lihaug did give him the WBO international title, and that puts him in line for another shot at the WBO belt.
7. Callum Smith (22-0, 17 KO)
A very good talent, and at 26 is just entering his prime. He’s got the British and European super middleweight titles, as well as the WBC’s silver belt. So he’s pushing to a world title shot quickly. The only trouble with Smith this year was that in his four fights, he took no big steps up. Hadillah Mohoumadi was his best opponent, and Smith bashed him in 1:41, but he looked almost bored in fights with Cesar Reynoso and Norbert Nemesapati, dominant but kind of indifferent. Is he going to be someone who fights up and down to opponents? That can bite you as you move up. Someone might be more up than down.
8. Fedor Chudinov (14-1, 10 KO)
Usually I at least tip my hat to official outcomes, but Chudinov’s loss to Felix Sturm was a robbery decision, first of all, and Sturm failed a drug test, too, and vacated the WBA “super world” title that he won, due to injury later in the year. Chudinov, 29, is a technically sound fighter, his power isn’t what his KO% might lead you to believe, but he’s active and solid. The Russian would be a tough, tough test for Callum Smith, or a great matchup for Groves, Abraham, or one of the Dirrells. But he’ll look to get his belt back, probably, though he’s not fought since February.
9. Andre Dirrell (25-2, 16 KO)
Talent, questionable drive, etc. It’s the same story in 2017 for Andre Dirrell that it always has been. The 33-year-old southpaw beat Blake Caparello on April 29 and was otherwise inactive. His start-and-stop career over the last five years has done him no favors. The clock is ticking.
10. Lucian Bute (32-3-1, 25 KO)
Failed a drug test after what should have been a loss to Badou Jack but was ruled a draw, but I’ve frankly got no one better to put here. Others you might have instead: Jose Uzcategui, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, Martin Murray, Renold Quinlan, Avni Yildirim, Tyron Zeuge.