Boxing without super middleweight for most of what are now two generations of fans would be hard to imagine.
This weekend will provide the latest example.
Despite there being no titles on the line, the momentum is picking up for this Saturday’s super middleweight clash in Las Vegas (Showtime PPV, 9 PM EST). Saul Alvarez remains the lineal and undisputed king. A pair of former titlists will go head-to-head for what should be a mandate to challenge for the throne.
30-year old Caleb Plant (22-1, 13 KO) already had a crack at Alvarez. He was the last domino Alvarez toppled to assemble all the alphabet titles in the class in 2021. When that fight ended, the idea of a rematch wasn’t on anyone’s mind. That could change this weekend. Alvarez-Plant was a big success on pay-per-view and Plant’s stock with a win this weekend would be higher than it was before the Alvarez fight.
26-year old David Benavidez (26-0, 23 KO) has never had his shot at Alvarez. He might have, in the pursuit of an undisputed title, but Benavidez lost titles twice outside the ring, once via drug test and another time by missing weight. This weekend, he has arguably the best opponent of his career. A win elevates Benavidez.
Alvarez still might not fight him, but the mandate for Benavidez to challenge would be the strongest it’s ever been.
It’s a hell of a fight set against the big picture featuring one of the sport’s biggest stars.
It’s a hell of a fight in a vacuum.
Not bad for an excess weight class.
There are often complaints, still, about boxing’s excess weight classes. Despite a rich (if interrupted for a time) history for classes like Jr. lightweight and Jr. welterweight that extends back to the 1920s, and a consistent history for others like Jr. middleweight going back to the 60s, some rose colored glasses remain turned to the relatively brief days of the original eight.
In the mid-1980s, there were plenty of voices decrying the modern birth of super middleweight. Sandwiched between classic middleweight (160 pounds) and light heavyweight (175 pounds), the 168 pound class developed quickly into a destination.
Here were are forty years later and Plant-Benavidez folds seamlessly into a division that has given boxing some of its most indispensable memories since launch.
No, it hasn’t always been good. It took a few years for stars to arrive and legitimize the class and there have been valleys between peaks. Fans of a certain age will remember ESPN2 Friday Night Fights cards featuring names like Glenn Catley, Davey Hilton, and Dingaan Thobela in a sort of round robin. Some of the fights were fun but it was hard to feel like we were seeing elite championship level boxing.
Every weight class goes through its down times.
Look at the highs.
Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns II gave the division its first superfight and dovetailed into a run of talent in the first half of the nineties that included Roy Jones, James Toney, Nigel Benn, Chis Eubank, Steve Collins, and more. Benn’s win over Gerald McClellan remains the strongest argument for best fight in super middleweight history.
Since the mid-2000s, it’s been more up then down. Joe Calzaghe won all the titles in the class, winning major fights with Jeff Lacy and Mikkel Kessler. Kessler went on to join Carl Froch, Andre Ward and others in the Super Six tournament. Ward moved on to light heavyweight but Froch stuck around making big fights and ultimately drawing 80,000 for his farewell in a rematch against George Groves.
He might have mentioned it once or twice since.
Weight classes are as necessary as the casts they acquire and while middleweight is currently floundering for an identity, and light heavyweight can’t seem to get any momentum on its most meaningful fight (Artur Beterbiev-Dmitry Bivol), super middleweight feels like it’s really heating up again.
Alvarez, Plant, and Benavidez are joined by Demtrius Andrade and could ultimately count Jermall Charlo in their ranks if and when Charlo resumes his career this year. There is also the phenomenally talented David Morrell developing in the wings. There is a round robin here to explore if the pieces come together.
Two critical pieces will come together on Saturday.
It will be one more memorable night in a weight class that proves an old adage about the success of excess.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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