With seventeen weight divisions in boxing, it stands to reason there will always be pockets of hit or miss in most of them.
Even welterweight, if less often than seemingly any other class.
It’s not that there is ever a time when the top ten of any weight class isn’t full of really good fighters. Various laments might make it feel that way but it’s never true. The best of the paid ranks in any weight class is full of former amateur champions, experienced veterans, tacticians, punchers; in a word, class.
What isn’t always present is the feeling for many that they might be watching something special or potentially great. It’s the viewing reaction, the eye test, defining the difference between ordinary world class and that little bit more.
Since it took its lasting form in the mid-1980s, super middleweight has been one of boxing’s roller coaster rides in this regard. When it’s been hot, few classes could compete with its depth and variety of matches.
As the abundance of riches at middleweight in the early 1990s eked north to 168 lbs., the world witnessed some of the best of Roy Jones, James Toney, Nigel Benn, Steve Collins, Chris Eubank and others, delivering multiple classics including the tragic Eubank-Michael Watson II and Benn-Gerald McLellan.
What followed in their wake? It was less memorable. There were plenty of good fights but only a the most hardcore fans tend to vividly recall of the years of Bruno Girard, Markus Beyer, or Glenn Catley. The years between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s are marked more by a fight that never happened (Joe Calzaghe-Sven Ottke) than most of what occurred.
Calzaghe ultimately would contribute to the next hot period. His late career unification immediately preceded the era that gave boxing the Super Six. Andre Ward’s coronation, the two matches between Calzaghe rival Mikkel Kessler and Carl Froch, and Froch’s one-man round robin against the top ten was a hell of a time.
Since the peak of those years, we haven’t quite gone back to the late 1990s but the division hasn’t genuinely exploded again yet. This Saturday (Fox, 8 PM EST), one of the players who might help it get there steps to scratch.
27-year old IBF titlist Caleb Plant (19-0, 11 KO) of Nashville, Tennessee turned heads even before he turned out Jose Uzcategui in January 2019 for the strap. Plant attempts his second defense this weekend against 24-year old German Vincent Feigenbutz (31-2, 28 KO). Feigenbutz has won nine of his last ten by stoppage after suffering the second of two stoppage losses in 2016.
A win would keep Plant unblemished. That’s not the same as standing out from the crowd. At super middleweight in 2020, being a major titlist without a loss is par for the course. Plant joins the UK’s Callum Smith (27-0, 19 KO, WBA/Ring) and Billy Joe Saunders (29-0, 14 KO, WBO), and American David Benavidez (22-0, 19 KO, WBC) as a perfect foursome.
Perfection in this case is reflection, and not a positive reflection for the moment. All those 0’s mean the same number of fights against each other. That’s not to say none have encountered risk or turbulence. Smith won his belt in the World Boxing Super Series, capping it with a win over tested veteran George Groves and was lucky to escape a title defense against John Ryder. Benavidez was the first man to stop multiple time titlist Anthony Dirrell.
It’s more than enough stage setting. The top of the class has all the ingredients with only Saunders having blown out the candles on thirtieth-birthday cake. In Plant and Smith, the division skilled boxer/punchers of different types, Benavidez provides explosive offense, and Saunders plays the part of more pure tactician. Mix them together and who knows what results we could see.
Part of a special time, if there is one to be had, is in seeing how it all plays out. There are, as always, business impediments but the easier fights to make on paper are an interesting start. Plant and Benavidez both operate under the PBC umbrella and is an intriguing clash of young fighters only at the edge of their prime. Fighters with connections to the DAZN streaming service may have more ready access to the one piece of the recipe that could push the division into its next plateau.
Middleweight king Saul Alvarez has already fought once at super middleweight and may return to the class sooner than later. Smith and Saunders are both aligned with promoter Eddie Hearn and could be potential Alvarez foes. Alvarez could also force Gennady Golovkin up the scale after a career at 160 lbs. while middleweight beltholder Demetrius Andrade has stated his willingness to chase big fights up the scale as well. Also in the class is former middleweight titlist Daniel Jacobs who can play the role of dangerous challenger to anyone who needs the work.
There are too many possibilities to think we aren’t close to the sort of real red meat that gets fight fans pulses up. It makes Plant’s fight this weekend likely part of a time in between the times we remember at super middleweight.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]