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Ranking the Light Heavyweights: Kovalev still on top, but for how long?

The light heavyweight division has been simmering for a while, with a lot of talent spread out.

Sergey Kovalev v Vyacheslav Shabranskyy Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

1. Sergey Kovalev (32-2-1, 28 KO)

Kovalev, 35, stays in the top spot for me, but I’m not sure how long that’ll last, and it’s not the guys I have at Nos. 2 and 3 that I see potentially taking the No. 1 spot for the long haul, but we’ll get to that in a moment. I have Kovalev still up here because he was the No. 1 guy at 175 before he lost twice, both times with some controversy, to Andre Ward, who retired (for now) as the pound-for-pound king.

And he’s bounced back with a pair of wins over Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (TKO-2) and Igor Mikhalkin (TKO-7). While Kovalev wasn’t exactly overwhelming against Mikhalkin, I think that was largely the style matchup — Mikhalkin is a solid boxer who didn’t give Kovalev a ton to shine with, and Sergey still got the stoppage. We’ll know more about where the veteran Russian is at after his next fight. Up next: vs Eleider Alvarez, August 4

2. Adonis Stevenson (29-1-1, 24 KO)
3. Badou Jack (22-1-3, 13 KO)

There was basically nothing separating the two this past Saturday in Toronto, and there’s little separating them in my rankings right now. Stevenson is 40 and faded in the fight, but Jack, 34, gave away some early rounds, too, ultimately leading to the majority draw. If I had to pick a winner between the two, absolutely had to, I’d go with Jack for finishing stronger, but that’s just not how it actually works.

I think Stevenson is probably on borrowed time, which is no stretch given his age, even considering he’s not taken big punishment in his career and he’s fresh for 40. As for Jack, he’s a very good fighter but maybe a bit short of truly great. If they rematch, especially if Stevenson comes back to the States for the first time in years to do it, I favor Jack, because I think he’s the one who can actually improve upon his performance. That said, opening up earlier gives Stevenson and his power more opportunities. I want to see the rematch. Up next: TBA for both

4. Dmitry Bivol (13-0, 11 KO)

It’s the 27-year-old Bivol I see as the real potential threat to the No. 1 spot as the coming years go by. You could start making a case for him now, I guess, given that he’s undefeated and has a good win just behind him. He’s a terrific technician, has really good power, reminds me in many ways of a younger Kovalev. It was all sorta “wait-and-see” when he was trucking through the likes of Robert Berridge, Samuel Clarkson, Cedric Agnew, and Trent Broadhurst. He looked impressive and passed the eye test, but anyone who’s been around for a while knows that you can’t properly judge a fighter until they’ve faced someone of true merit.

Well, Bivol faced Sullivan Barrera, a legit contender whose only loss coming in was against Andre Ward, and he pretty much shut him out for 11 rounds before scoring the 12th round TKO victory. I was thoroughly impressed again with Bivol, and like many, I think he may be the near future of this division. Up next: vs TBA, August 4

5. Artur Beterbiev (12-0, 12 KO)

Remember Artur Beterbiev? He burst onto the scene by smashing former titleholder Tavoris Cloud in 2014, scoring a second round knockout, and then ripped through Jeff Page Jr (KO-2) and Gabriel Campillo (KO-4) and Alexander Johnson (TKO-7), and then, uh, kinda faded from the spotlight.

After beating Johnson, Beterbiev sat out for a year before returning against Ezequiel Maderna (TKO-4) and Isidro Prieto (TKO-1) in 2016. He was then out another 11 months before beating Enrico Koelling (KO-12) last November for the vacant IBF title, which was previously held by Andre Ward. It’s weird that Beterbiev has done nothing but win, and has picked up a recognized world title, but he feels out of the picture anyway. Right now, he’s got nothing scheduled. Up next: TBA

6. Eleider Alvarez (23-0, 11 KO)

Adonis Stevenson v Andrzej Fonfara 2 Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

In one way, Alvarez is older than you might think at 34, but the Colombian-born, Montreal-based contender also feels like he’s been on the doorstep forever, because, well, he kinda has been. He was Adonis Stevenson’s mandatory for a long time, and has finally decided to forget about that and go after Kovalev instead.

It’s a bold move. Stevenson-Alvarez could have been a big fight in Canada, and instead Alvarez will go to Atlantic City to face Sergey on the road on HBO. There have been fights where Alvarez didn’t really impress me so much, but he got the wins. He doesn’t have big power, but he’s a solid all-around fighter. I liked the style he showed against Lucian Bute in February 2017, where he fought more aggressively and scored a fifth round KO win. But that’s not really who he is, and we saw that in his next outing, a majority decision victory over Jean Pascal. Kovalev may still be too much for him, but it’s good he’s finally going to take his cuts against one of the division’s true best. Up next: vs Sergey Kovalev, August 4

7. Oleksandr Gvozdyk (15-0, 12 KO)

The 31-year-old Ukrainian Gvozdyk has sort of been treading water at the same level for the last couple of years. He beat Nadjib Mohammedi (KO-2), Tommy Karpency (TKO-6), and Isaac Chilemba (RTD-8) in 2016, and looked headed for the bright lights.

But since then, it’s been sorta the same stuff. He beat Yunieski Gonzalez (TKO-3) and Craig Baker (TKO-6) last year. This year, he’s fought once, going the distance with the tough Mehdi Amar (UD-12) on March 17. Top Rank doesn’t have a ton going on in this division, which doesn’t help him much at the moment, but it would be great to see him step up in his next outing, whenever that is. Up next: TBA

8. Sullivan Barrera (21-2, 14 KO)

Barrera, 36, is still a legit contender in this division, but we’ve probably learned his true level from his two losses. He’s good, but wasn’t good enough to beat either Andre Ward or Dmitry Bivol, and neither of those guys had a mess of trouble with the Cuban, though he fought hard and wasn’t completely steamrolled by either man.

Between those losses, Barrera picked up wins over Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (KO-7), Paul Parker (TKO-5), Joe Smith Jr (UD-10), and Felix Valera (UD-10). There’s plenty of value in being a guy like Barrera, who may not be good enough for the true elite level but is just that one notch below it. He’d be a strong opponent on paper for guys like Beterbiev, Gvozdyk, or the next man on the list. Up next: TBA

9. Marcus Browne (21-0, 16 KO)

I know some people are still a little sour on Browne, the 27-year-old former U.S. Olympian, because of his 2016 fight with Radivoje Kalajdzic, a fight that went to an eight-round split decision, controversially in Browne’s favor. But I felt then and feel now that even if he didn’t convincingly win that fight, it wasn’t the worst thing for him, and Browne has shown what you hope a prospect will show after something like that: improvement.

Taking the Kalajdzic fight as a learning experience is all Browne could really do. I mean, OK, he could rematch him, and that’s still on the table, but Kalajdzic also hasn’t fought since September 2016. Browne has moved on, scoring highlight reel wins over Thomas Williams Jr (KO-6), Seanie Monaghan (TKO-2), and Francy Ntetu (TKO-1). He was slated to face Kovalev this summer, but a pair of domestic violence arrests put the kibosh on that. His career is on hold for the time being, understandably. Up next: TBA

10. Joe Smith Jr (23-2, 19 KO)

Smith, 28, is a blue collar fighter looking to bounce back after a loss to Sullivan Barrera in July 2017, a fight in which Smith had his jaw broken in the second round but went the 10-round distance anyway. He’s had the surgery, he’s ready to come back, and we’ll see what he can do.

But no matter what happens with Smith going forward, he will always be the man who knocked Bernard Hopkins out of the ring, literally, and ended a legend’s carer. I don’t know how much upside Smith has, but he’s tough, determined, and can punch. If he can get back on track, he stays an interesting wild card in the division. Up next: vs TBA, June 30

But this is all just one man’s opinion. Who do you have in the top spot? Where do you see the rest of the division?

Poll

Who’s your No. 1 at 175 right now?

This poll is closed

  • 69%
    Sergey Kovalev
    (555 votes)
  • 4%
    Adonis Stevenson
    (38 votes)
  • 4%
    Badou Jack
    (35 votes)
  • 18%
    Dmitry Bivol
    (145 votes)
  • 3%
    Other
    (31 votes)
804 votes total Vote Now