British Boxing Explosion
By Matthew J. Hunter: Is the recent explosion of elite or at least championship quality British Boxing a trend that will continue? With the number of champions at 12 it looks to be better than ever. Looking at the breakdown of champions by region, it becomes clear that Europe, with the help of the rise of British boxing, has skyrocketed.
Central America and the Caribbean, which includes historic boxing hotbeds Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, have the second most champions at 25. Several questions arise at this, is this trend purely a trend? Will the fact that big money boxing is usually in America hinder the progression of European champions? Is the connotation that boxing in America is the highest level put doubt on the credibility of these British and European champions?
Tyson Fury, James Degale, Liam Smith, Kell Brook, Anthony Crolla, Terry Flanagan, Lee Selby, Scott Quigg, Carl Frampton, Lee Haskins, Jamie McDonnell, and Andy Lee all represent the UK and Ireland going forward.
WBA, IBF, and WBO Heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, recently won a unanimous decision against the reigning undisputed champion in Vladimir Klitschko in a ho-hum affair. Though it wasn’t the most entertaining, it did prove Fury’s status as elite. Expect to see him win a rematch that is sure to happen. The only threats to his title are undefeated KO kings Deontay Wilder and fellow countryman Anthony Joshua. Cuban prospect Luis Ortiz and recently returned David Haye could be voluntary defenses.
Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder is the biggest fight to make at that weight class right now. Both are large heavyweights standing north of 6’6. Fury seems to have a technical edge at the moment and has a better resume. Beating the greatest heavyweight of this generation does that for a career. However Wilder has the physical tools to hang with Fury, and he obviously has more power than the Brit. Whenever that fight happens, and it should happen sooner rather than later, it will be a competitive fight between two prime elite heavyweights. Anthony Joshua is coming along at a rate that illustrates a showdown with fellow countrymen is a couple years down the road. As he is only 14-0 I expect him to get more rounds in before going after a Fury and Wilder.
South America 5
Central America/Caribbean 25
Fury has options and the crucial ability in boxing to dictate terms. With the three championships around his waist now, he is the top player at heavyweight until proven in the ring wrong. With Tyson Fury’s ability to do just enough to win rounds, he has the chance to hold the belt for a while unless he gets that suspect chin tested by the current crop of power punchers in the heavyweight division. Whatever happens to Fury’s reign in the next couple years, the fact that another top 5 heavyweight is British and they are both young, foreshadows British boxing at heavyweight will be a part of some of the biggest fights in boxing.
James Degale, IBF Super Middleweight champion, is the only British boxer to win both a gold medal and a world championship. That has star potential all over it. With his only loss to George Groves fading into memory, and recent exciting fights over Andre Dirrell and Lucian Bute, he looks posed for stardom. He has the rare ability to smoothly switch between orthodox and southpaw similar to a Terence Crawford. He may not have the raw power but his punches have pop. He is looking for a winnable unification fight against Badou Jack. What is after that is unknown. Perhaps fighting the other Dirrell brother, Arthur Abraham, George Groves, or Fedor Chudinov could be next after that depending who else presents the most reward. He has Al Haymon backing, which in today’s boxing world means his career is not necessarily up to him. However if GGG ever decides to move up, a showdown at Wembly against the gold medalist would be the biggest fight Degale could take.
Andy Lee, WBO Middleweight champion, is set to face Billy Joe Saunders in his next defense. He is the deserved favorite as he has rare KO power in his lead left hook. He is a big middleweight and could possibly face a GGG or Canelo next. Andy Lee is not a perfect boxer, in fact, far from it. His footwork is not anything to write home about, and he has been knocked down and stopped before. On the other hand, Lee is an awkward southpaw who has good timing on his punches. His lethal left hook and straight are complimented by decent right check hook when opponents try to rush in on him. Andy Lee has a rough road, Golovkin, Lemieux, Canelo, and Daniel Jacobs. If he wishes to continue to face elite middleweights and continue holding a belt for Ireland, he has a tall order in front of him.
Liam Smith is the WBO light middleweight champion. He is undefeated in 21 bouts and recently won the vacate title from Josh Thompson via 7th round TKO. He’s a sizable light middleweight with decent power having (T)KO’ed his last 6 opponents. Smith is scheduled to face fellow countryman ‘Jimmy’ Kilrain Kelly. Potential opponents are quite endless but lacking in star power. Career light middleweights Canelo and Miguel Cotto are the most elite and illustrious names in the division, but have recently been plying their trade at catchweight bouts versus middleweights. The Charlo brothers and Demetrious Andrade across the pond are names within the division and credible opponents. Since Liam Smith is a new champion with some dangerous possible opponents, he will have to overachieve to become a dominant champion.
Anthony Crolla and Terry Flanagan are the WBA and WBO lightweight champions respectively. Anthony Crolla recently won his title in a rematch against Darleys Perez by 5th round knockout. With a record of 30-4-3 and a knockout ratio of 32%, he doesn’t exactly instill a sense of confidence of a dominant reign. He is however only 29 years old, so we may have not seen the best of him yet. Flanagan is an undefeated boxer with a record of 29-0 with 12 knockouts. He won the vacate title against Jose Zepeda after Zepeda injured his shoulder. He then knocked out Diego Magdaleno during the 2nd round. He’s an awkward aggressive southpaw who is large for the division. At only 26 years old, his best days in the sport are ahead of him. Both boxers will most likely take some voluntary defenses against Europeans in the UK to build their respective brands before looking for fights against a Jorge Linares, Kevin Mitchell, or Felix Verdejo.
Lee Selby is the IBF featherweight champion and self-proclaimed “Welsh Mayweather.” With a record of 22-1, and that lone loss happening in 2009, and a 18 fight winning streak since then, he looks poised to take the featherweight division by a technical storm. Staying true to his nickname, Selby likes to be on his back foot looking for counters. He doesn’t have knockout power, even though his punches do have some power behind them. His technical superiority is what will lead him to win the big fights. Having won his title against respected boxer Evgeny Gradovich, his resume received some much-needed weight. Though being tied to Al Haymon may limit the whole field of opponents to choice from, fights with Nicholas Walters, Vasyl Lomachenko, Leo Santa Cruz, Jesus Cuellar, or Abner Mares is the direction he needs to head towards. Those are the big money fights in the division and if Selby wants to be the next Mayweather, a resume with a few of those names on it would help his claim.
Super Bantamweight champions Scott Quigg and Carl Frampton, both representing the UK and Ireland, seem to be on a collision course for each other next year. Both seem elite, are young, and undefeated. Frampton is a combination puncher with decent KO power who needs to be on the outside. His offense is predicated on him being able to explode in and out of range with combinations. Quigg is similar but more of a counter-puncher. He likes to be on his back foot and let his opponents make a mistake before capitalizing on a hard counter-combination. Whoever wins could look to dominate that division for a long time.
Lee Haskins and Jaime McDonnell are the IBF interim and WBA bantamweight champions respectively. Both boxers won their belts in their most recent bouts. Lee Haskins has been undefeated since his last loss in 2013, and McDonnell has been undefeated since his last loss in 2008 against Haskins. McDonnell loss the fight on points, but has been streaking ever since then. Lee Haskins at 32 years old is nearing the end of his prime and could see a decline. McDonnell is 29 and just in the middle of his prime. A rematch to unify titles between these two in the UK would be a great next move for both boxers.
Finally, Kell Brook the undefeated IBF welterweight champion looks to possibly be the best British boxer at the moment. With a traditional European style of a high guard and a subtle but murderous straight right, he has boxed his way to a status of possibly ruling the famed welterweight division post-Mayweather. He has already beat a top 5 welterweight in Shawn Porter, and the odds of him faring well against a Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia, or the delirious Amir Khan are high.
British boxing is not only here but it is here to stay. This generation could be the greatest overall crop of British boxers. Look for them to all start following fellow countrymen, James Degale and Carl Frampton, and start crossing the pond for bigger fights in the states. If they win those big money fights in Vegas, New York, Boston, Canada, or LA they could become mega stars. While most pundits and critics will claim this explosion out of the UK area is a trend, it is anything but that. Some things to think about: boxing has a rich historic history in the UK, and with a younger generation watching boxers that carry the torch for their country on the world stage at such an elite level we will only see more young solid prospects out of the UK. Also in recent years high level fights in the UK have been selling out massive stadiums. It can be argued that the mega fight at Wembly Stadium with Carl Froch and George Groves showed the rest of the sports and boxing world that the UK is ready for big time boxing events.
Out of the 12 champions who wave the flags of UK and Ireland it is obvious that they all can’t become dominant champions. The prejudice in boxing leaning towards British fighters can be used to diminish the credibility of these champions and British boxing as a whole. Boxing is a sport that is unpredictable in nature. Nonetheless, with elite fighters such as Tyson Fury, Carl Frampton, Scott Quigg, James Degale, and Kell Brook being some of the best in their respective weight class, at least a couple of those names will carry that flag for quite some time. With two or three dominant British boxers, the next generation in the UK will grow up watching Brook, Fury, and Degale and wanting to follow in those footsteps.