Breaking Down the Future of Boxing's Light Heavyweight Division
One of my favorite boxing stories this year has been the re-emergence of the light heavyweight division. The 175-pound weight class has been home to some of boxing's all-time greats over the years, but it rarely draws the same attention as the heavyweights, welterweights and middleweights.
But this year, two of the sport's biggest breakout stars have been at light heavyweight. Explosive puncher Adonis Stevenson shocked the boxing world in July when he knocked out Chad Dawson in Round 1 to collect the WBC and lineal titles.
Sergey Kovalev has meanwhile spent the year relentlessly walking down opponents with his rugged, puncher-boxer style. In August, he steamrolled previously unbeaten Nathan Cleverly in Wales by Round 4 TKO to capture the WBO belt.
Both Stevenson and Kovalev will return to action in Montreal this Saturday, defending their belts. Both fights will be broadcast on HBO.
With light heavyweight front and center for Thanksgiving weekend, I offer this look at the division's immediate future.
It seems a bit strange to start any boxing discussion of the future by mentioning a 48-year-old fighter, but Bernard Hopkins has made a habit of breaking the rules during his fifth decade on the planet.
In May 2011, Hopkins broke George Foreman's record by becoming the oldest man to win a major world title, when he beat Jean Pascal for the WBC strap at 46. Last March, he broke his own record when he captured the IBF light heavyweight title from Tavoris Cloud at age 48.
Hopkins followed up with a one-sided decision over Karo Murat in October. He feels he has at least one or two more fights left in his ageless body, so he remains relevant at light heavyweight.
Network conflicts would seem to prevent a unification bout between him and either WBO champ Sergey Kovalev or WBC champ Adonis Stevenson. I doubt there would be a ton of interest in seeing Hopkins against the winner of Juergen Braehmer vs. Marcus Oliveira, who fight later this year in Germany for the vacant WBA belt.
Lately, Hopkins has been talking up a superfight between him and Floyd Mayweather at 160 pounds. This seems an unlikely prospect to me, but if Hopkins can make it down to his former middleweight limit, I think that might end up being his farewell performance.
I was frankly shocked when Adonis Stevenson knocked out Chad Dawson in the first round last June to capture the WBC light heavyweight title. To me, he looked like a limited boxer with a big punch.
But Stevenson isn't a big puncher; he's an explosive puncher. And he has at least enough boxing skill to get himself into position to deliver.
Still, I'm not sold on him as the future of the division. Despite his dangerous power, I would not be shocked to see Hopkins seek him out as an opponent. A wizard like B-Hop would be able to walk a tightrope and expose him.
I also think he'd lose against Kovalev, who is a more likely next opponent.
Then again, Stevenson has already made me more wrong than any other fighter this year. With his kind of power, you can never write him off. He might even have the pop to add 35 pounds to his frame and challenge the big boys.
More and more boxing fans and writers are beginning to view Sergey Kovalev as the Gennady Golovkin of the light heavyweight division.
Like GGG, Kovalev is a punching machine. He has world-class boxing skills that he uses to walk down opponents and smother them with heavy, thudding punches to the body and head.
I'd pick him to beat any fighter currently campaigning at light heavyweight. Off the top of my head, I think I'd pick him to beat any cruiserweight in the world as well.
The future of the light heavyweight division will include super middleweight kingpin Andre Ward. He has cleaned out his weight class and is almost universally ranked No. 2 pound-for-pound behind Floyd Mayweather.
I think Ward will stick around 168 long enough for a superfight with Gennady Golovkin. But after that, he'll have nobody left to fight below 175.
He returned to action earlier this month after a layoff of more than a year. He showed zero signs of rust against the big, bruising Edwin Rodriguez.
Ward vs. Kovalev would be an extremely compelling fight.
Edwin Rodriguez demonstrated that he had outgrown the super middleweight division earlier this month, when he failed to make weight for his title shot with Andre Ward. It cost him $200,000 and a hit to his reputation in his first true dose of national exposure.
In the ring, he received his first professional defeat, as Ward completely outclassed him. Two of the judges gave Rodriguez courtesy rounds, but I couldn't even guess which rounds they gifted to him.
Still, getting shutout by Ward doesn't put a fighter in the worst company. Rodriguez will be a handful for nearly anybody at 175 when he moves up. Last summer, he starched light heavyweight contender Denis Grachev in the first round.
Tony Bellew is meeting Adonis Sevenson in Quebec City this weekend, but it is a mistake to write off the Brit in this fight. The Liverpool native has a respectable resume and has shown enough skill to finesse the monster-punching Stevenson.
Bellew had a split-decision draw against Isaac Chilemba last March and then won the rematch by unanimous decision two months later. Last year, he beat Edison Miranda by Round 9 TKO.
He lost a very close fight to Nathan Cleverly in 2011. I'm not picking him to win Saturday night, but he's in position to insert himself into the conversation in a hurry.
Andrzej Fonfara is a Polish native now living in Chicago. He has built up an enthusiastic following among the Windy City's Polish community and should be a relevant fighter in the 175-pound division for the rest of this decade.
At 26, he is already an experienced professional. He hasn't lost since 2008.
In July 2012, he turned in an impressive performance against Glen Johnson, winning a one-sided unanimous decision. Earlier this summer, he recorded an exciting Round 9 KO of former world champion Gabriel Campillo in front of his hometown Chicago crowd on Friday Night Fights.