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Of all the British titleholders, Joshua looks to be the most dominant
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has always had a close relationship with the sport of boxing. Through the fabled history of the sport, the small group of countries (England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland) have produced fine champions like Jimmy Wilde, Freddie Welsh, Bob Fitzsimmons, Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis to more modern names like Ken Buchanan, Barry McGuigan, Lennox Lewis and Joe Calzaghe. The rules that boxing operate were originally devised and drafted on these shores under the name The Marquess of Queensberry rules.

It’s no secret that the sport now has more world champions than ever. Four major sanctioning bodies, that recognise their own champion. Below is a look at some of those claimants from the UK.

Anthony Joshua – IBF & WBA ‘Super’ Heavyweight champion

Anthony Joshua, 27, has a perfect record of 19-0, 19 KOs. From Watford, Hertfordshire, England, he turned professional in 2013. As an amateur, he won Gold in the super heavyweight division at the London 2012 Games. In his climb up the rankings, he captured British & Commonwealth titles and despatched of opponents like Kevin Johnson, Gary Cornish and Dillian Whyte. He captured the IBF title, with ease, against American Charles Martin in two rounds. His first two defences came via KO, with Dominic Breazeale and Eric Molina beaten. In his last fight, he took on the former heavyweight ruler, Wladimir Klitschko. The pair fought a memorable battle, with Joshua stopping the Ukrainian in the eleventh round.

While the world waits on Wladimir to see if he will activate a rematch clause, Joshua’s immediate options seem limited. The IBF wants him to take care of his mandatory challenger, Bulgaria’s Kubrat Pulev (25-1, 13 KOs). Pulev, 36, is a decent contender but not the name that boxing fans are clamouring for. Cuban Luis Ortiz (27-0, 23 KOs), is the mandatory contender with the WBA, though hasn’t fought this year and pulled out of a fight in April due to a hand injury.

Joshua is big, powerful and has good technique. He tasted the canvas against Wladimir but got back up. His only weakness appears to be stamina, as he was badly gassed, at points, during the Klitschko fight.

His main rivals in the division appear to be the other belt-holders, Deontay Wilder (WBC) and Joseph Parker (WBO). Both men are undefeated but unification fights seem some distance away. Former champion Tyson Fury has been inactive and is in a battle with UKAD to clear his name and return to boxing.

I see him as the best in the division. Though we are some way off from him being in the fights to prove it.

Nathan Cleverly – WBA Light Heavyweight champion

The 30-year-old Welshman currently holds the WBA light heavyweight title. He won the title by travelling to Germany to dethrone well-establish champion Juergen Braehmer at the end of 2016. A rematch had been mooted but Braehmer has signed up for the World Boxing Super Series, which starts in October.

Cleverly (30-3, 16 KOs), is on his second reign in the division, having held the WBO version for three years until it was brutally removed from his grasp by Sergey Kovalev. A look at Cleverly’s record shows good wins over Karo Murat, Nadjib Mohammedi and Tony Bellew. Since the loss, to Kovalev, he campaigned at cruiserweight but dropped a decision to former foe Tony Bellew. A return to light heavyweight brought an exciting, close battle with Poland’s Andrzej Fonfara, which ended in a points defeat. One fight since then–the stoppage win over Braehmer.

The Welshman has a good engine and chin, a decent left jab and high work rate. His lack of genuine power is his main weakness. Nathan’s name is heavily linked with Badou Jack, the super middleweight champion who is about to test the waters at a higher weight. WBA ‘super’ champion, and Kovalev conqueror, Andre Ward has been mentioned as a potential bout for Cleverly. Ward, also, holds the WBO & IBF straps while ‘Superman’ Adonis Stevenson is the WBC champion. The division’s big fight is between Ward & Stevenson but getting negotiations done between these two is likely to be a nightmare.

The light heavyweight division is becoming strong with emerging contenders like Dmitry Bivol, Artur Beterbiev, Joe Smith Jr, Marcus Browne, Oleksandr Gvozdyk and Eleider Alvarez. Dmitry Bivol (11-0, 9 KOs), is hugely talented and the WBA No.1 contender. He’s already called out Cleverly but is likely to have to wait, if the Badou Jack fight comes off. A fight between Jack and Cleverly is mooted for 26th August, on the undercard of the circus between Mayweather and McGregor. Financially and competitively, it would seem the best option for the Welshman to take.

George Groves – WBA ‘super’ Super Middleweight champion

‘Saint George’ finally won a world title back in May, with a stoppage of Fedor Chudinov. The win in Sheffield, on the Spence vs Brook card, was his fourth attempt. He’d twice been denied by Carl Froch and lost on a split decision to Badou Jack.

A renowned puncher, who is comfortable boxing off the back foot, the affable Londoner has signed up for the World Boxing Super Series (an eight-man tournament). George, 29, entered the competition as the No.1 seed and got to choose his opponent first. He selected fellow Brit Jamie Cox (23-0, 13 KOs). Cox has developed a reputation as a puncher in recent years, but it seems a big jump up in competition. 

I expect Groves (26-3, 19 KOs), to get through the first round of the tournament. He is a favourite to win the Muhammad Ali Trophy and the large sums of money that go with it. It’s a strong field with the likes of Callum Smith (22-0, 17 KOs), Avni Yildirim (16-0, KOs), Juergen Braehmer (48-3, 35 KOS), Erik Skoglund (26-0, 12 KOs), Rob Brant and the winner of Eubank Jr vs Abraham. The competition should keep him busy until the final in May 2018. The British have three strong competitors and it will be interesting to see which one can win it.

James DeGale – IBF Super Middleweight champion

31-year-old James DeGale (23-1-1, 14 KOs) is still the IBF world super middleweight champion. His last fight saw him battle to a draw, in a unification fight, with Sweden’s Badou Jack, in Brooklyn, New York. The fight was close but memorable for the trouble DeGale found himself in, in the final round. He survived but lost his front teeth.

His next step is unclear. The southpaw doesn’t have the strongest field of contenders in the IBF rankings. Eight fighters have signed up for the World Boxing Super Series. Mexican Gilberto Ramirez (35-0, 24 KOs), holder of the WBO strap, is being developed by Top Rank and next faces the tough Jesse Hart. The vacant WBC belt is to be contested between hot prospect David Benavidez and former holder Anthony Dirrell.

A lot depends on how much the Jack fight took out of Londoner DeGale. His skills and agility are his strengths, his ‘engine’ seems a concern. So much going on in this division, while DeGale seems to be sat on the sidelines. To me, David Benavidez looks an exceptional talent and I wouldn’t be surprised if he has taken over the division in a few years time. 

Billy Joe Saunders – WBO Middleweight champion

The talkative southpaw from Hertfordshire, England, has been chasing the big names. A potential fight with Gennady Golvkin fell through and a rematch with Chris Eubank Jr has never really gotten close.

Saunders, 27, dominated the British domestic scene, including outpointing Eubank Jr, and then capturing the WBO crown, by defeating Irish puncher, Andy Lee. Ironically, it was Saunders who dropped his opponent twice, on route to a decision win–Billy Joe is not a noted puncher and relies heavily on his movement and technical ability. He has made one defence, beating Artur Akavov over twelve rounds.

Saunders (24-0, 12 KOs), is unbeaten and a tricky puzzle for anyone to solve, his downside is inactivity–he only fought once in 2016. His next fight, and first of 2017, is in September against American stylist Willie Monroe Jr. I can’t see there being fireworks between the two southpaws but it will be one for the purists, who appreciate the finer skills.

In the scheme of the division, Gennady Golovkin (37-0, 33 KOs) is the main man. He holds three belts (WBC, IBF & WBA ‘super’) and has been a titleholder for seven years. His next fight is a super fight with Mexican Canelo Alvarez (49-1-1, 34 KOs)–the winner will rightly be seen as the best in the division. 

Saunders’ mandatory contender is hard punching Canadian David Lemieux (38-3, 33 KOs). It appears Lemieux decided not to press his claim for a shot just yet. I think the division is waiting to see the outcome of Golovkin vs Alvarez in September. The division is not as strong as it has been historically, but there are some good names there like Daniel Jacobs, Jermall Charlo, Hassan Ndam Njkam and Ryota Murata. Saunders is good enough to mix with these names but unlikely to beat many.

Terry Flanagan – WBO Lightweight champion

‘Turbo’ has five defences under his belt. The Manchester, England, lightweight captured the vacant crown by defeating highly-touted Jose Zepeda, who suffered a dislocated left shoulder and had to retire on his stool after only two rounds. Flanagan followed that up with a blistering quick win over the fancied Diego Magdaleno, again, in two rounds. Since then, wins over the likes of Derry Mathews, Mzonke Fana, Orlando Cruz and Petr Petrov. Only Cruz failed to see the final bell.

The 28-year-old lightweight has a good engine but has not shown the power recently. His next contest, in September, is a mandatory defence against heralded Puerto Rican, Felix Verdejo (23-0, 15 KOs). Flanagan (33-0, 13 KOs), is tough and game but it would be a major surprise if he held onto his title. I feel that Verdejo will have too much of everything for a game Flanagan.

The division sees Jorge Linares holding the WBC & WBA titles, while American Robert Easter Jr., holds the IBF. Linares is immensely skillful but also a bit vulnerable, while Easter struggled, last time out, against good competition in Dennis Shafikov. Britain is well-represented in the division with former world titleholder Anthony Crolla and up and coming Luke Campbell. These fights would make sense for Flanagan but will be tricky to make. Both boxers are with Matchroom promotions, while Flanagan is with promoter Frank Warren.

Lee Selby – IBF Featherweight champion

From Barry, Wales, ‘Lightning’ Lee Selby, 30, has held his title since 2015. He dethroned Russian Evgeny Gradovich via technical decision after eight rounds. He followed that up with successful defences against Fernando Montiel and Eric Hunter. Selby fights out of the orthodox stance but is comfortable switch hitting. He’s tall, for a featherweight, and uses his long jab, movement and highly rated skills to box and control his opponents.

His next defence is against mandatory challenger Jonathan Victor Barros (41-4-1, 22 KOs). The two were meant to meet in Las Vegas in January, but the fight was called off at the weigh-in when Barros failed a medical. He appealed and is deemed fit. After many months, the rematch is on at Wembley Arena, London, this Saturday.

Selby (24-1, 9 KOs), is probably the most technically gifted Brit on this list. His problem is that he is in one of the toughest divisions in the sport. The fellow champions are: Gary Russell Jr. (WBC), Leo Santa Cruz (WBA ‘super’), Abner Mares (WBA) and Oscar Valdez (WBO). Domestically, there are several big fights with the likes of Carl Frampton, Scott Quigg and Josh Warrington. Selby is promotionally a free agent, so any fight should be easy to make. The Welshman is backed by Al Haymon in the US and he regularly trains there when not at Tony Borg’s gym in Newport, South Wales. A US fight will, no doubt, be in the plans.

Jamie McDonnell – WBA Bantamweight champion

Yorkshireman Jamie McDonnell has grown into the role of champion. He won the belt in 2014 and has since defended it in the US (twice) and Monte Carlo. He’s beaten good opposition in Tomoki Kameda and Fernando Vargas. Last time out he scraped a controversial points win over Liborio Solis.

The 31-year-old orthodox fighter is promoted by Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom. A fight with newly crowned Ryan Burnett should be easy enough to make, as they share the same promoter. The other champions are Shinsuke Yamanaka (WBC), Zhanat Zhakiyanov (WBA ‘super) and Zolani Tete (WBO). Any match-up would be compelling and competitive.

There’s unfinished business with Liborio Solis and that is an intriguing rematch. We will see what McDonnell can do differently.

Ryan Burnett – IBF Bantamweight champion

From Belfast, Northern Ireland, the 25-year-old recently won the IBF version with a solid display against England’s Lee Haskins. Burnett had Haskins down twice en route to a points victory.
Trained by Adam Booth, he looks to pick his shots while moving in and out of range. Good footwork and accuracy. He’s long been seen as having huge potential.
 
The IBF rankings don’t appear to be the most threatening and they are often hard to figure out. The IBF has a tendency to not rate anyone in the No.1 and No.2 spots. I think orthodox Burnett (17-0, 9 KOs) is still developing and won’t be rushed. Plenty of time for him to defend the belt a few times before seeking a unification bout. A fight with McDonnell is a possibility but I don’t see it happening soon. The other champions are Shinsuke Yamanaka (WBC), Zhanat Zhakiyanov (WBA ‘super) and Zolani Tete (WBO) and aren’t likely to be in the plans just yet.

Khalid Yafai – WBA Super Flyweight champion

Birmingham, England’s talented Yafai, 28, became a champion in 2016, beating hugely experienced Luis Concepcion over twelve rounds. He followed that up with a defence against Suguru Muranaka in May.

He possesses an impressive arsenal of left hooks and powerful body shots, quick hands and good movement. Promoted by Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom, he has a strong following in Britain’s second largest city.

Khalid Yafai (22-0, 14 KOs) has the talent and ability to shine. His major problem is that he is in a division with two of the true pound for pound stars in the sport: Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez and Naoya ‘Monster’ Inoue. Gonzalez is headed for a rematch with Thailand’s Srisaket Sor Runvisai, who took his WBC belt in a close-fought battle. The lesser of the belt-holders is IBF champion Jerwin Ancajas, who looked good in defeating Teiru Kinoshita on the Horn vs Pacquiao card in Australia. The division features top contenders like Carlos Cuadras and Juan Francisco Estrada, as well. It will be a tough, long journey to try and prove he is the best in the division.