In late 2016, Britain could boast to being the nation sat at the top of professional boxing: 13 world champions was more than any other country at that time. Since then, champions have fallen, contenders have risen; we are down to seven, with the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO straps considered world champion-worthy.
Anthony Joshua (22–0, 21 KO)
The longest reigning of the British world champions, Anthony Joshua lays claim to three of the four heavyweight marbles. The WBA, IBF and WBO champion has become the face of boxing in the United Kingdom following his rise after the 2012 Olympics, nevertheless, Joshua’s legacy in the sport will be dependant on fighting the other stars of the division: Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury.
Will they, won’t they; can they, should they: the last two years have seen opportunity after opportunity slip through the hands of the baying public as we await the news of a superfight at heavyweight. Wilder and Fury put it on the line last December, with Joshua left in the cold. It’s pivotal that conversations begin once again for Joshua vs. Wilder once this round of heavyweight fights has concluded. We are running out of cannon-fodder for the big three to bulldoze through.
Next: June 1 vs Andy Ruiz Jr
Callum Smith (25–0, 18 KO)
Callum Smith was in danger of slipping into obscurity until the World Boxing Super Series came along. The WBA and Ring Magazine super middleweight titlist was ticking along at domestic level, with wins over the who’s who of the 168-pound D-graders the only way of keeping him relevant under the banner of a busy Matchroom stable.
After growing impatient in waiting for a crack at the WBC crown having forced himself into a mandatory position, Smith joined the WBSS at super-middle where he eased into the finals after wins over Erik Skoglund (despite a few hairy rounds) and kickboxer Nieky Holzken. The final in Saudi Arabia against compatriot George Groves was Smith’s coming out party: a dominant display over “Saint George” saw the 29-year-old retire the former WBA champion and leave Jeddah as a world champion and the maiden winner of the Muhammad Ali Trophy.
Smith has since spent time away from the ring following the birth of his first child earlier this year. The first defence of his world title will come on the undercard of Anthony Joshua vs. Andy Ruiz inside Madison Square Garden. Plenty of opportunities at 168 pounds will enable Smith to consolidate his standing as the man to beat at super middleweight. He has also welcomed the challenge of Saul Alvarez if Canelo decides to yo-yo between weights.
Next: June 1 vs Hassan N’Dam
Billy Joe Saunders (28–0, 13 KO)
The newly crowned WBO super middleweight champion took his chance last weekend at becoming a two-weight world champion, having won a wide decision over Shefat Isufi in front of a home crowd in Stevenage. Having held the same title at middleweight, Saunders was handed the opportunity through his promoter Frank Warren, who once again proved his ability in crafting a WBO title shot for one of his stable.
The move up in weight was born out of frustration as well as opportunity. Saunders has claimed to have been frozen out of the big fights at 160 pounds, with Gennadiy Golovkin and Saul Alvarez apparently avoiding the southpaw at all costs. Two fights with current WBO middleweight titlist Demetrius Andrade fell through, with Saunders opting for Isufi while he reconsiders his standing between weights.
Trainer Ben Davison has been vocal in stating that Saunders is a natural middleweight, but with the lure of a unification fight with Callum Smith at super middle, Saunders’ next step will be interesting.
Josh Taylor (15–0, 12 KO)
“The Tartan Tornado” has risen through the pro ranks at an impressive speed. His partnership with trainer Shane McGuigan has proved fruitful since turning over, with the Scot scooping the IBF junior welterweight title in just his 15th fight.
A high-profile domestic win over Ohara Davies was punctuated by wins over Miguel Vazquez and Viktor Postol, with last weekend World Boxing Super Series semi-final win over Ivan Baranchyk announcing Taylor onto the world stage.
The final awaits, with a shot at the Muhammad Ali Trophy and Regis Prograis’ WBA junior welterweight title up for grabs in a location that is yet to be confirmed. Taylor is a slight underdog for the final, but with a southpaw stance well suited to the paid ranks, the Scot is sure to give anyone problems at 140 pounds.
Next: TBA vs Regis Prograis
Josh Warrington (28–0, 6 KO)
Josh Warrington enjoyed an unrivalled 2018 in British boxing. Wins over Lee Selby and Carl Frampton in world title fights secured the “Leeds Warrior” as one of the world’s best at featherweight: his IBF title will open up a plethora of opportunities over the next 18 months.
His come-forward, all-action style lends himself to entertaining fights, despite the lack of KOs on his record. Albeit not holding that concussive one-punch shot, Warrington wears down his opponents throughout the 36 minutes, taking their soul before the final bell. His December war with Carl Frampton was one of the fights of the year on British soil, with a rematch cited for further down the line.
First up is his mandatory, and the resurfacing of a domestic feud that has seemingly rumbled under the surface for years.
Next: June 15 vs Kid Galahad
Kal Yafai (25–0, 15 KO)
Kal Yafai has had the second longest reign as world champion on this list, having held the WBA super flyweight title since December 2016. Since stepping up to defeat Luis Concepcion for the vacant title, Yafai has struggled to land that marquee fight that will underline his position as one of the men to beat at 115 pounds.
Super flyweight is flooded with talent, with Juan Francisco Estrada and Jerwin Ancajas holding other titles at the weight, hungry for the chance to unify with Yafai on British soil. Promotor Eddie Hearn has used Yafai to pad the undercards of pay-per-view fights in recent years, however, Yafai deserves a step-up and a chance to add another title to his collection.
Yafai is expected to fight his mandatory next (Norbelto Jimenez), despite rumours that Matchroom were trying to make a defence against former pound-for-pound star Roman Gonzalez.
Next: TBA vs Norbelto Jimenez
Charlie Edwards (15–1, 6KO)
Edwards is the only British world champion with a defeat on his record. His 2016 world championship loss to John Riel Casimero allowed Edwards to learn his craft at flyweight, having been fast-tracked into the spotlight on the Golovkin vs Brook undercard.
His second opportunity came last December where the 26-year-old dethroned Cristofer Rosales for the WBC strap, with a successful defence inside London’s Copper Box following in March earlier this year.
A potential unification bout with IBF titlist Moruti Mthalane was turned down earlier this week, with Edwards on a quest to clean out the flyweight division: “I turned down the date because it is too soon. Moruti has just fought; he needs time to recover. It would have meant going straight back into another camp, so I felt it is not good for Moruti,” said Colin Nathan, trainer and manager of Mthalane.
With 13 wins and an unblemished record, Japanese star Kosei Tanaka is widely considered as the man to beat at flyweight.