1) Callum Smith (25-0, 18 KO)
Smith, 28, earned the top spot with a win over George Groves this past Saturday, claiming the WBA title and the Ali Trophy by virtue of winning the World Boxing Super Series. He’s tall, strong, right in his prime, and has lived up to the billing of being the best of the Smith brothers. It’s a reasonable debate between Smith and Zurdo Ramirez right now, but I’ll go with Smith on the strength of the win over Groves. And he’s just the third RING Magazine champion in division history, following Joe Calzaghe and Andre Ward.
2) Gilberto Ramirez (38-0, 25 KO)
Ramirez, 27, is a good boxer-puncher who does nothing exceptionally, really, but he’s a tall, rangy southpaw and knows how to work to his strengths. He’s held the WBO title since thoroughly shutting down Arthur Abraham in April 2016, defending successfully against Max Bursak, Jesse Hart, Habib Ahmed, and Roamer Alexis Angulo. None of those defenses have been eye-popping — Hart was the best one by a good bit, and gave Ramirez a real challenge — but he’s stayed busy with a limited pool of opponents to choose from. Obviously, we’d all like to see Smith-Ramirez, or Ramirez-Smith, however you want to order it, but it’s unlikely. TV/streaming politics are bigger than ever.
3) George Groves (28-4, 20 KO)
I can’t drop Groves, 30, any more than this. He was competitive, then he got caught, and then he got finished. He’d been on the best run of his career prior to the defeat against Smith, and was coming off of a nice win over Chris Eubank Jr in the WBSS semifinal. Groves says he’s not done, that he plans to fight on, and he’s probably still got at least a couple good years left.
4) David Benavidez (20-0, 17 KO)
Benavidez, 21, was really building a nice career for himself. He won the WBC title, which he won last year in a Fight of the Year candidate against Ronald Gavril. He rematched Gavril and dominated in February of this year. Then he got tied up in a nasty promotional dispute. Most recently, he failed a drug test, coming up positive for cocaine. I don’t like to speculate or be all doom-and-gloom, but you have to wonder if maybe we’re looking at a case of too much, too soon for this young would-be star. I hope not — he’s an exciting fighter with legitimate star potential.
5) Jose Uzcategui (28-2, 23 KO)
Uzcategui, 27, came out of obscurity, more or less, to split a pair of controversial fights with Andre Dirrell, and probably should have won both. He was questionably DQ’d against Dirrell the first time around, and led on the cards. He beat Dirrell into submission in the rematch. Before that, he was best known for a loss to Matt Korobov in 2014 and a win over previously-unbeaten Julius Jackson in 2015. All I know right now is this: Uzcategui has the IBF title, and that’s because James DeGale didn’t want to fight him.
6) Chris Eubank Jr (27-2, 21 KO)
Eubank, 29, is an interesting fighter, or at least that’s one way to put it. He’s 0-2 against the most serious opponents in his career, losing to both Billy Joe Saunders and George Groves. But he also beat Arthur Abraham handily, and he’s had some other decent if not huge wins along the way. He may be his own worst enemy. It’s good for a fighter to have supreme confidence in themselves, I think, but Eubank’s may come at the expense of him being a better fighter. He’s got all the physical tools.
7) Jesse Hart (25-1, 21 KO)
Hart, 29, is a second-generation fighter like Eubank, but with a very different story. Hart is a blue collar fighter, I’d say; talented, sure, but also tough and gritty, which he showed against Ramirez, climbing off the canvas in round two and making it a legitimate question by the end of the fight, losing a tight decision. He’s won three straight since then, all showcase-type matchups. If there’s nothing better out there for Ramirez, and there may not be, then a rematch with Hart would not be bad at all.
8) James DeGale (25-2-1, 15 KO)
DeGale, 32, is a talented guy who has always had his major flaws. He almost seems to lose interest in fights while they’re happening, allowing inferior opponents to come too close to beating him, and this goes back years, to when DeGale fought Piort Wilczewski in 2011 and barely got out with a win. Sometimes, he’ll look brilliant, truly top class. Sometimes, he looks average. Sometimes that happens in the same fight. He got bit against Caleb Truax, but did avenge that shocking upset earlier this year, before giving up the IBF belt. He just fought on Sunday, knocking out veteran Fidel Monterrosa in three in a stay-busy bout. I wouldn’t count DeGale out against anyone in the division, but with his inconsistencies, it’s hard to think more of him than this.
9) Rocky Fielding (27-1, 15 KO)
Fielding, 31, first gained some notoriety back in 2011, when he won a Prizefighter tournament very early in his career. He advanced slowly from there, then beat tough vet Bryan Vera in 2015, setting up a fight with Callum Smith. Smith smoked him in 2:45. But since then, Fielding has won six straight fights, and picked up the WBA “world” title in July, stopping Tyron Zeuge in five on the road in Germany. He wants a big fight, and he may get it. That belt, whatever we think of it, is still attractive to other fighters, and I think he’s still seen as very beatable.
10) Anthony Dirrell (32-1-1, 24 KO)
Dirrell, 33, might have peaked a few years ago. He drew with Sakio Bika in December 2013, but beat in him a rematch in August 2014. He then lost to Badou Jack, which there’s no shame in, and he was competitive in that fight, too. He’s won five straight since, most notably stopping Caleb Truax in 1:49. Dirrell is more consistent than his brother Andre, and seems to have more heart for the nastiness inside the ring, even if Andre was/is the more naturally gifted of the two. There’s talk that Dirrell wants to retire by the end of the year. He’s been linked to a fight with Benavidez, but that’s all up in the air now.