The inaugural World Boxing Series 2017-2018 has been hugely popular, and rightly so. The Cruiserweight tournament, which commenced in September 2017, featured a very high-quality line-up – and significantly, included the division’s consensus #1, Oleksandr Usyk. The man generally considered to be #2, Murat Gassiev, also participated. In the space of just 10 months, seven good calibre fights had taken place, the last of which, perhaps unsurprisingly, was a final between Usyk and Gassiev – #1 Vs #2, undeniably crowning a new Lineal Cruiserweight Champion: Oleksandr Usyk.
It’s tempting to assume that this brilliant formula was being replicated for the Super Middleweight tournament. This has not been the case. Although, once again, the standard was high, it was not equal to that of the Cruiserweights. The 168lbs show, which also began in September 2017, did not include the leading two Super Middleweights in the world (according to both The Ring and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board) - #1 James DeGale, and #2 Gilberto Ramirez. DeGale was #1 based on recently beating Andre Dirrell, Lucian Bute, and drawing with the talented Badou Jack. Ramirez had recently won a shutout, 12 round, 120/108 decision over Arthur Abraham – it’s easy to dismiss this victory now, but Abraham entered it on the back of an 8-fight unbeaten streak, which included wins over Martin Murray and Robert Sieglitz.
The highest rated World Boxing Series participant was #3, George Groves. After that, Chris Eubank Jr, #6 with the TBRB, who’d had just two fights at Super Middleweight, and Callum Smith (#7), were the highest ranked fighters.
Outside of the tournament, division #1, DeGale lost to Caleb Truax, but then comfortably defeated him in the rematch. #2 rated 168 pounder, Ramirez, is now 38-0, won three fights against a trio of unbeaten but unremarkable fighters - the best was probably Philadelphia’s Jesse Hart.
Within the World Boxing Series, George Groves’ knockout of Jamie Cox, followed by a decisive points victory over Chris Eubank Jr, has elevated him to a #1 rating. Smith has won both of his bouts, against Erik Skoglund and Nieky Holzken (13-0), the latter of which was a mediocre last-minute replacement for Juergen Braehmer- resulting in Smith actually being now rated lower in the TBRB ratings (#8), than he was prior to the start of the tournament (#7). The Ring have Smith at #3, as do Boxing Monthly, but BoxRec have him lower, at #4, with Boxing News rating him at #6.
The Super Middleweight final is being contested on September 28th, between George Groves and Callum Smith. This is a terrific match-up, between two exciting, British, hard punching competitors. It’s hard not to admire George Groves, a man who remained dedicated to the sport, even after three gruelling losing efforts against world title belt holders, Carl Froch x2, and Badou Jack, finally winning a sanctioning body title, by stopping Fedor Chudinov in the 6th round of their May 2017 bout.
Groves has won seven straight bouts since the Badou Jack set-back. He’s is the favourite against Smith, but the Liverpudlian represents an intriguing challenge – rangy, 6’3”, 24-0, and his 1 round blow out of Rocky Fielding is looking all the more impressive, in light of Fielding’s recent success.
Make no mistake, however, this contest is not for the vacant Lineal Championship.
The TBRB, Boxing News, Boxing Monthly, BoxRec and The Ring all have George Groves at #1, and all five have Gilberto Ramirez at #2. Mexican, Ramirez, is unanimously the #2 in the division.
While it’s true that in rare instances a fight between #1 and #3 does crown a new Lineal Champion, in the case of Groves/Ramirez, this argument is not valid.
Smith is rated at #3 at a stretch – most independent websites/magazines have him lower. The TBRB and Boxing News have James DeGale and Anthony Dirrell, as well as Ramirez ahead of him. The tournament didn’t include the division’s top two fighters at the start, so it’s no surprise that the final isn’t between the very best at 168lbs.
When #1, Joe Calzaghe, outclassed #3 Jeff Lacy, for the vacant Lineal title in 2006, there was a case for rating Jeff above #2, Mikkel Kessler. And when #1, Andre Ward, defeated #2, Carl Froch for the vacant Lineal title in 2011, many still considered Lucian Bute to be rated above Froch. One thing is certain though, no independent ranking organisation had Lacy or Froch way down at #6 or #8, as is the case with Callum Smith.
If the final’s British victor from the World Boxing Series Super Middleweight tournament wants to follow in the footsteps of the UK’s greatest ever Super Middleweight, Joe Calzaghe, and become Lineal Champion, he must fight his highest rated rival. Right now, that means fighting Gilberto Ramirez.
Click here to see the full list of Super Middleweight World Champions