Saunders makes the biggest jump after his stellar performance against David Lemieux.

Boxing traditionally has only eight weight classes. To evaluate the sport as it was and should be, with maybe the exception of a cruiserweight division, it is critical to evaluate and rank today’s fighters as if there were only eight weight divisions with one worthy champion per weight class. This properly rewards the most deserving fighters and exposes the overrated. For those wishing to do better at predicting and handicapping fights, you will also find it a valuable tool to blow away the smoke and find out who the most dangerous fighters are and who has a puffed-up resume. Despite having rated the division in November, the end of the “Boxing Year” 2017 provides another fantastic opportunity to look at the state of the Middleweight division in its “Original” state as Top Ten middleweights Billy Joe Saunders and David Lemieux recently went at. It is also the same time of the year The Ring used to give us their end of the year ratings in the traditional eight weight classes. Those classic evaluations can still be found online on Box Rec. I will give you the only year-end ratings I know that still exist rating the sport only by the Original Eight weight classes.

Billy Joe Saunders makes the big move in the final ratings of the year, jumping from number 6 to number 3 after his domination of David Lemieux. Saunders showed he can maximize his boxing skills and travel to hostile territory outside of the U.K. and fight well. He also took advantage of an appearance on HBO in the United States, which was critical because HBO already has deals with Gennady Golovkin and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, as well as fresh deals with Daniel Jacobs and Demetrius Andrade. HBO also has Lemieux, who while in tough, reminded us all the limitations he had shown previously in his career, in his loses to Rubio, Alcine and Golovkin. He plummets to number 10, but does not leave the ratings entirely as he deserves credit for facing off with a fellow top ten middleweight.

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 Board’s Middleweight and Junior Middleweight Rankings and The Ring’s Middleweight and Junior 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 Board and The Ring. This is how the traditional middleweight division looks today:

Champion: Saul (Canelo) Alvarez (Mexico 49-1-2 34KO)

1. Gennady Golovkin (Kazakhstan 37-0-1 33KO)
2. Daniel Jacobs (U.S. 33-2 29KO)
3. Billy Joe Saunders (U.K. 26-0 12KO)
4. Jermall Charlo (U.S. 26-0 20KO)
5. Erislandy Lara (Cuba 25-2-2 14KO)
6. Sergiy Derevyanchenko (Ukraine 11-0 9KO)
7. Jarrett Hurd (U.S. 21-0 15KO)
8. Jermell Charlo (U.S. 30-0 15KO)
9. Ryota Murata (Japan 13-1 10KO)
10. David Lemieux (Canada 38-4 33KO)

Ratings Notes: Your average fan and a few others may have an alternate view of the champion but there is a surprising consensus among boxing historians and experts who try to provide some degree of order to this, the most chaotic of sports, that Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is the middleweight champion of the world. He successfully defended against the number 1 contender in Gennady Golovkin when he held him to a draw. Alvarez is the historical lineal champ and is recognized as middleweight champion by The Ring and was stripped by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board but installed as their number 2 contender behind Golovkin. Only the alphabets recognize Golovkin as champion. Seeing David Lemieux flounder against Billy Joe Saunders should remind everyone the only alphabet title he even won in the ring being against Lemieux tells you his legacy needs a win in the Alvarez rematch. Gennady Golovkin has rightfully stayed at middleweight. He rightfully chased a fight with the lineal champion, Canelo Alvarez. Unfortunately for him, he fell agonizingly short. He deserves another shot in May, but I think he took too much head and body punishment from Alvarez and it will be unlikely he captures the lineal middleweight title. Historians will have to forget the alphabet belts and come to a consensus evaluation as to where he stands. Should he gain the lineal title at his age, he will have a solid legacy.

Daniel Jacobs got an HBO deal and in his first fight scored an easy but somewhat uninspiring decision over Luis Arias. It was uninspiring because Jacobs worked his way back into the spotlight on the strength of legit KO ability but that was not evident against the survival-minded Arias. A fight against Billy Joe Saunders in 2018 would be interesting. Billy Joe Saunders’ star had been fading since the round he scored two knockdowns against Andy Lee. He finally turned that around with a skillful and dominant performance over what turned out to be an overmatched David Lemieux. Give Saunders credit, he traveled to Quebec and the fight was even-money going in. We are reminded that Saunders also has victories over O’Sullivan, Eubank, Jr. and Lee. The only questions remaining are the failure to finish despite good-looking power in his left hand and that the reality is that Lemieux proved again to be a severely limited fighter. Alvarez or Golovkin can put more effective pressure on Saunders so that his cautious nature may prevent him from letting his hands go like he did against Lemieux. Saunders could get Jacobs or Andrade first on HBO in interesting matchups. Jermall Charlo fought the ultimate alphabet number 1 contender in Jorge Sebastian Heiland and took care of business in a ridiculous mismatch. Charlo was so superior it looked as if he could end the fight any time after the opening bell. Considering U.S. exclusive television deals and that HBO is now collecting top middleweights it will be interesting to see who Charlo, who is with SHO, can get to dance with him. It looks like he may open 2018 with Hugo Centeno, Jr. in a somewhat interesting fight. Billy Joe Saunders moves ahead of him on the strength of his resume and that Charlo was very troubled by the slick-boxing Austin Trout.

Erislandy Lara was again uninspiring in an easy but boring and as usual overly cautious win against former U.S. Olympian Terrell Gausha, who looked happy to go the distance. Lara just isn’t generating enough offense. Lara’s time is probably running out and another big fight does not appear on the horizon except for being forced to take on Jermell Charlo or Jarrett Hurd, two fighters who will be tough for him at this stage. Sergiy Derevyanchenko continued his positive march forward with a stoppage of Tureano Johnson. It will be interesting to see who he gets next. Derevyanchenko is probably a tough opponent for anyone. He again lived up to his great nickname “The Technician”. Jarrett Hurd has looked spectacular and got his most significant win yet when he scored his sixth-straight KO over a motivated Austin Trout in one of the best fights of 2017. Hurd has a bit of everything: size, power, boxing skill, toughness, aggressiveness, chin and heart. He was cut by a butt, and instead of unraveling, he just dug deep and got tougher. He’s a threat to anyone in the middleweight division.

Jermell Charlo continued his surprising and impressive KO streak with his best one yet: a one-punch KO of hot-prospect Erickson Lubin. Adding trainer Derrick James and the power-surge have now fully recaptured his lost momentum and put him right in the top ten. It is the height of idiocy to worry if he can make the “jump” from 154-160, in addition to the usual fact that it’s not enough weight to be a significant factor, his identical twin brother now fights at 160 pounds. Ryota Murata made it clear he is the superior fighter when he beat down Hassan N’Dam in a rematch in Japan. He also has amateur pedigree. It will be interesting to see if Top Rank points him towards legit top ten opponents or if he will make easy alphabet defenses in Japan. David Lemieux was in against a legit top ten guy in Billy Joe Saunders and had the fight in his home province of Quebec. However, the outing turned into a nightmare as Saunders came in ready to maximize his skills while Lemieux looked unprepared and became dispirited early. He took a beating from Saunders and barely went the full twelve. Even though he’s only twenty-eight, he’s been around for a long time and the Saunders fight reminded us of all the limitations he showed against Rubio, Alcine and Golovkin. Because of the risk he took facing fellow top ten opposition, he remains in the top ten at number 10 but it’s hard to picture where he goes from here.

Fighters not in the Top Ten but worthy of mention and watching include:  Hugo Centeno, Jr. got himself back in the mix with a spectacular one-punch KO over the very tough Immanuwel Aleem. Centeno redeemed himself for an underwhelming performance in his only loss against Maciej Sulecki, who has proven to be very good. It seems he may get Jermall Charlo in 2018. Demetrius Andrade has continued to win but has been unimpressive in his last two wins and with the improvement of the division, he has lost his spot in the top ten. Fortunately for him, he has signed an HBO contract and smartly is campaigning at the true middleweight limit, so big fights still appear on the horizon. Andy Lee ended a period of inactivity with a decision win over KeAndre Leatherwood but his performance against Saunders isn’t now looking as good as it was, considering Saunders has not been impressive. Lee simply hasn’t done enough to keep a spot in the top ten.

Avtandil Khurtsidze had an impressive win over unbeaten Brit Tommy Langford by KO and was set to face fellow top ten middle Billy Joe Saunders in an intriguing matchup. But the fight was cancelled when Khurtsidze was charged with very serious federal crimes in the United States. While he fought recently and Transnational and Ring understandably chose to leave him in the rankings, since he was forced to postpone a significant top ten fight due to the charges, despite the fact he’s innocent until proven guilty under U.S. law, the fact he apparently can’t fight while facing the charges and that the legal process could be long, he may never fight again. Considering those factors, I think it makes more sense to drop him from the ratings now and allow him to reenter if he can fight again. If he’s done, the gritty scrapper from Georgia finishes at 33-2-2 22KO. Immanuwel Aleem lost momentum from his spectacular against Khytrov when he was simply caught and KOed by one bomb against Hugo Centeno, Jr. However, he always comes to fight, has skills and heart and he will be back. Peter Quillin came back but had a dreadful performance against a no-hoper opponent. His career has really gone off-track.

Maciej Sulecki of Poland is skilled, undefeated and made a puzzling move down to 154 pounds, yet continued to win again, this time beating former Andrade opponent Jack Culcay in Newark, N.J. He looked spectacular against Hugo Centeno, Jr. and the performance looks great with what Centeno did to Aleem. Sulecki should fight at 160 and target the best. Austin Trout has only lost to the best: Alvarez, Charlo in a razor-close fight, Lara and now the very tough Jarrett Hurd in a great fight. He has a win over former lineal middleweight champ Cotto. Should he choose to fight on, he has still earned mention here. It appears he may get another brutal test against Jarrett Hurd next. Nate Gallimore has fought at 154 and 160 and looked spectacular with an absolute demolition of the red-hot Justin DeLoach. Gallimore showed the ferocity of a Marvin Hagler in that performance and only has a loss by split decision, and has knocked out seven-straight opponents since including two unbeaten fighters. When one of the top fighters says they need an opponent, fans should beat the drum for Gallimore rather than be subjected to a no-hoper. He continued his roll November 17 with a first round KO against Esau Herrera. Gallimore is ready for legit top ten opposition.

Brian Castano of Argentina remained undefeated with a split decision win over the streaking Michel Soro of France, who probably was one of the most underrated fighters in boxing and had a draw with Antoine Douglas and a KO over Glen Tapia, and was on the fringe of this top ten in his own right. Jamie Munguia is a 21-year-old undefeated Mexican up-and-comer who is trained by his father. He showed a left hook that contained dynamite in a second-round stoppage of a Paul Valenzuela who came to fight on an HBO Latino broadcast in the U.S. Gary “Spike” O’ Sullivan looked good and did his job in stopping an Antione Douglas who was almost surely shot from the punishment he took in his gallant loss to Khurtsidze even though he is only 25 years-old. Still, O’Sullivan did his part and with losses only to the now-hot Billy Joe Saunders and Chris Eubank, Jr., a case can be made that he can still be a threat to at least crack the top ten. Sadam Ali was impressive in making sure it truly was the end of the road in an impressive decision over former lineal middleweight champion Miguel Cotto in Madison Square Garden. Ali showed boxing skill, speed and surprising power in beating Cotto in a fight that didn’t feel as close as it actually was on the scorecards. If he can show the failure of his chin against Jesse Vargas was an aberration, he has the skill and amateur pedigree to make some noise. I’m guessing he gets the U.K.’s Liam Smith next in a winnable fight. In an Original Eight context, Smith got a shot at the middleweight title but was stopped by Canelo Alvarez.