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Stevenson holds a belt, but not "the" belt.

Boxing traditionally has only eight weight classes. This is my second rating and breakdown of the Original Eight Light Heavyweight Division, which continues to be in the midst of a new Golden Era. The first installment was back in March. I take the lineal championship very seriously because it is decided in the ring, so I take the utmost caution in considering a champion’s linear title claim to be void. In the last installment I noted that the lineal champion was generally recognized as Adonis Stevenson. He is still recognized by Transnational. However The Ring recently made a very reasonable adjustment to its championship policy where the champ has to face a Top Five fighter in ANY division within a certain period of time or be stripped. Stevenson had not faced top opposition and inexplicably added insult to injury by paying the ordinary, but legitimately Top Ten  Eleider Alvarez step aside money. That’s like Katy Perry paying Iggy Azalea step aside money not to compete for a Grammy. Stevenson failed to meet the requirements and was stripped by The Ring. Since that time, The Ring declared that Andre Ward (#1) and Sergey Kovalev’s (#2) second fight would fill the vacant Ring title. Those two fighters were also 1-2 in my ratings of the division in its Original context.

Stevenson had allegedly won the lineal title from Chad Dawson. The problem to me was, Dawson had just been knocked out easily by Andre Ward at a weight under 175 pounds.  Sugar Ray Leonard had picked up the WBC Super Middleweight title and Light Heavyweight title the same way when he knocked out Donny LaLonde. Catchweights have been accepted in recent years. Just because Dawson allegedly “didn’t put his title on the line” shouldn’t matter when the bout is scheduled for the 12-round championship distance. Title “not on the line” should be for over-the-weight bouts, such as if the fight between Dawson and Ward was a ten-rounder at a contract-weight of 180 pounds. The problem with recognizing Ward as lineal champ in my first installment was that after beating Edwin Rodriguez, a solid, then-undefeated fighter on November 16, 2013, Ward did not fight for over eighteen months until taking on Paul Smith on June 20, 2016. While not announced, that was the equivalent to a retirement from which a linear title should’ve been vacated. Stevenson was also recognized as the linear champ at one time as well as The Ring and Transnational champ. However it has been over three years since he had even faced the likes of Tony Bellew and Andrzej Fonfara the first time, and at that time there was a reasonably strong number of fighters at 168. Thus in an Original Eight context especially, Stevenson has gone over three years without fighting top opposition.  Yes, Fonfara had just squeaked into the ten spot in my first ratings, but in the three months since Stevenson proved worthy of being stripped, moving him from Champion into the ratings, bumping Fonfara, and even had I not stripped Stevenson, (Before Stevenson’s KO of Fonfara).

Fonfara would have been replaced in the ratings by either Dmitry Bivol, who had a spectacular KO of the underrated Samuel Clarkson or David Benavidez, who looked almost as spectacular in stopping the durable Porky Medina. Last ratings I had also said  “Let’s continue to observe this situation, watching who Stevenson fights next and if Ward and Kovalev agree on a rematch.” Stevenson signed to fight prior victim Fonfara during the last three months and Ward and Kovalev agreed to rematch. Ward-Kovalev II will determine the Light Heavyweight champion.

Criteria:  Fighters overall record, perceived talent level, quality of opposition, quality wins and level of performance in wins and losses, where the fighter is ranked in the Transnational Boxing Ranking Board’s Light Heavyweight and Super Middleweight Rankings and The Ring’s Light Heavyweight and Super Middleweight Rankings. Also strongly considered would be who would beat who and who and by how much one fighter would be favored over the other by odds makers were the fight to be signed tomorrow. The traditional standard of one year of inactivity will drop a fighter from the rankings will be taken into consideration but the fighter is eligible to re-enter as soon as he fights again. Champions will primarily be the recognized lineal champions, with consideration also given to champions recognized by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board and The Ring.  This is how the traditional  light heavyweight division looks today:

Champion: Vacant

1. Andre Ward (U.S. 31-0 15KO)
2. Sergey Kovalev (Russia 30-1-1 26KO)
3. Adonis Stevenson (Canada 29-1 24KO)
4. Oleksandr Gvozdyk (Ukraine 13-0 11KO)
5. Artur Beterbiev (Russia 11-0 11KO)
6. Joe Smith, Jr. (U.S. 23-1 19KO)
7. Sullivan Barrera (Cuba 19-1 14KO)
8. Eleider Alvarez (Colombia 22–0 11KO)
9. Nathan Cleverly (U.K. 30-3- 16KO)
10. Marcus Browne (U.S. 19-0- 14KO)

Ratings Notes: Andre Ward takes on Kovalev for a second time. This time it will be for both The Ring and the Original Eight Light Heavyweight title. Ward had a strong argument he should have been recognized as the lineal light heavyweight champion when he easily stopped Chad Dawson, but he followed it with a lengthy layoff. He showed his usual skill and some heart in getting the decision over Kovalev, in a fight where he was dropped, but was very fortunate to get the nod. However his win over Barrera looks real good right now. Sergey Kovalev has pretty much done it all at light heavyweight; he easily could’ve gotten the decision against Ward, but his flaw seems to be spurts of inactivity when facing boxers like Hopkins, Chilemba and Ward. Can he adjust in the rematch? Adonis Stevenson is still a legitimate threat to knockout anyone with his cannon of a straight left hand but his lineal title claim is no longer legitimate. He got Fonfara out in two rounds. The problem is it was one round more than Joe Smith just did it in. He can beat Eleider Alvarez though, who may be next. He’s done enough to remain at Number 3. Oleksandr Gvozdyk was absolutely flawless in annihilating Yuneski Gonzalez. He may be able to beat anyone. Artur Beterbiev wanted Sullivan Barrera but Barrera didn’t want him, however, Barrera’s proposed purse was so low I can’t really blame him, especially since Beterbiev is now understandably looking to get out of his managerial deal. I love Beterbiev’s ability but he needs to get active against better opposition. Ad some injury-induced inactivity, but does some things in the ring that remind me of Mike Tyson; they are both about the same height and were 205 in the amateurs with strong amateur pedigree and obviously both punchers. A fight against Barrera should tell us all we need to know.

Joe Smith, Jr. didn’t get to fight Stevenson, Monaghan or Cleverly and somehow ended up on an undercard on HBO against Sulllivan Barrera on July 15. Gutsy? Yes. Good business? Not so much. Sullivan Barrera made a good business move in KOing tricky spoiler Paul Parker on HBO Latino and then getting a fight on regular HBO against fellow Top Ten Joe Smith. Eleider Alvarez took step aside money to face Jean Pascal on June 3 instead of Adonis Stevenson. In reality, Pascal came in having lost three straight, since he got a gift against Yuneski Gonzalez. Alvarez easily won though the performance was unimpressive. Somehow, Pascal remained a friend of at least one judge, who inexplicably scored it a draw. Alvarez does not match up well with almost any one else in the Top Ten and a couple of others just outside the Top Ten. Nathan Cleverly wasn’t competitive against Kovalev but fought to an exciting close loss in a brawl with Fonfara and mercifully ended Juergen Braehmer’s European run. Marcus Browne has an all-New York showdown coming up on FOX on July 15 at the re-born Nassau Coliseum against Seanie Monaghan, who is undefeated against weak opposition. Browne should get a nice showcase here. He got right back on track against Thomas Williams, Jr. after a tough fight with Kalajdzic which he didn’t look good in but I thought he won.

Fighters not in the Top Ten but worthy of mention and watching include. Dmitry Bivol is barely on the edge of this Top Ten after his extremely impressive blowout of the underrated Samuel Clarkson. He’s undefeated with a high KO percentage. He just looks slightly mechanical. David Benavidez lived up to his promise in his spectacular highlight-reel stoppage of the durable Porky Medina. I still think he’s’ better off weighting more than 168, but he’s in the passing lane moving by anyone at that weight. Badou Jack is close to cracking the Top Ten but not quite. He fought well in his draw with DeGale, a fight I though he won, and the fight was wildly entertaining, but neither guy looked talented enough to beat most of this very tough Top Ten. James DeGale has been out recovering from the Jack beating but may be looking at a rematch against the fading Andre Dirrell. Their first fight was entertaining but these guys look too flawed at this point to make a big mark. 

Vyachseslav Shabranskyy stayed busy fighting and was one of Canelo Alvarez’ chief sparring partners for Chavez. His profile has dropped, Canelo probably gave him more work than some of his recent opponents. Juergen Braehmer has had a long Top Ten-type run, but never stepped up his competition, is 38 years old and lost to Nate Cleverly who was already a loser to Kovalev and Fonfara. I don’t see how he beats anyone in the Top Ten. Radivoje Kalajdzic gave Marcus Browne hell in his close loss, he’s certainly a threat to crack this Top Ten. Thomas Williams, Jr. is coming off two knockout losses: one to Browne in which he did not look good, but his competition has been tough lately, and he has a spectacular KO over tough Edwin Rodriguez. I think the guy at least still deserves mention. Gilberto Ramirez sniffs the ratings but Top Rank wasted ours’ and Ramirez’ time by having him layoff and comeback on PPV against a no-hoper who he beat but without doing anything notable. He’s going to regress. Callum Smith like Ramirez, has a lot of size and hits hard. I think he’ll eventually make some kind of mark here. It looks like he will get Anthony Dirrell in an interesting test. I think Smith wins. Yunieski Gonzalez is a tough, aggressive, brawler who ended up being fodder for Gvozdyk, who annihilated him. But losses to the guys are nothing to be ashamed of. He’s still worthy of some decent fights. Andrzej  Fonfara has lost to good fighters and punchers over the last three years, but with all due respect, his punch resistance looks like wet tissue. He does not have a future in this Golden Era of Light Heavyweights.

Added Championship Criteria to Note Which Was Applied to Adonis Stevenson:

If champion does not fight sufficient opposition within a three-year period and there are questions to the validity of his initial championship Original Eight title claim, the title will be vacated. The champion vacating the title is eligible to remain in the rankings and again fight for the vacated championship.