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Who’s hot and who’s not in boxing

Shakur Stevenson is the new Ring Magazine junior lightweight champion. Photo by Mikey Williams/ Top Rank Inc via Getty Images
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Aug

It’s important in all sports to be on good form. When you’re hot, people want to see you do your thing.

In boxing, you’re on your own and you can’t rely on teammates to help you out. A fighter wants to be at their best all the time and that’s not always possible. We see them go from hot to cold and back again throughout their careers. And you’re only as good as your last performance.

If you impress, people want to see you again. If not, then the demand can drop.

Late last year, George Kambosos Jr. was very much in vogue when he upset Teofimo Lopez to win Ring, IBF, WBA and WBO lightweight titles. In the aftermath, he said and did all the right things and had star potential. However a convincing loss to WBC counterpart Devin Haney in their undisputed title fight has changed his career trajectory and he’ll be a huge underdog going into the rematch.



That’s just one example.

Here we look at five active fighters who are hot for various reasons and five who are not. As always, please enjoy the debate and respect other people’s opinions.

HOT

Jai Opetaia. Photo by Chris Hyde/ Getty Images

JAI OPETAIA (22-0, 17 KOs)

RATING: THE RING CRUISERWEIGHT CHAMPION/ WBA TITLEHOLDER

When Jai Opetaia’s team brought Ring and IBF cruiserweight champion Mairis Briedis to Australia it looked like a gamble. As it turned out, the gamble paid off. The 27-year-old used his southpaw style to negate Briedis early on and held off the proud champion’s late charge to win a hard-fought 12-round unanimous decision.

The win did come at a cost, with Opetaia suffering a broken jaw that will probably sideline him for the rest of the year. However, the new champion’s popularity will be through the roof in his native country. You need only recall the throng of Australians that turned out for Kambosos recently. But unlike Kambosos, who was always going to struggle with the lightweight elite, Opetaia may have time to grow into the championship. If that happens, his stock is sure to rise outside of Australia.

 

DMITRY BIVOL (20-0, 11 KOs)

RATINGS: THE RING NO. 1 AT LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT/ WBA TITLEHOLDER

From the first time we saw Dmitry Bivol, we knew he had the potential to reach world level. The 31-year-old Kyrgyzstan-born technician didn’t disappoint, claiming the WBA light heavyweight title in 2017.

Bivol notched up the title defenses, defeating the likes of Sullivan Barrera (TKO 12), Isaac Chilemba (UD 12), Jean Pascal (UD 12) and Joe Smith Jr. (UD 12). However, it wasn’t until he faced Canelo Alvarez that we got to see how special he really is. While his style is more for the purist, Bivol is extremely effective and he secured a comfortable decision win.

Matchroom had looked at Bivol facing unbeaten 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Joshua Buatsi in Saudi Arabia. However, the WBA nixed those plans and h must face mandatory challenger Gilberto Ramirez later this year. If Bivol is still going strong after that, there is always the possibility of a Canelo rematch.

 

​JARON “BOOTS” ENNIS (29-0, 27 KOs)

RATING: THE RING NO. 3 AT WELTERWEIGHT

The uber-talented American might just be the next big star. “Boots” has an elite mix of power and speed that has been a nightmare for anyone he’s faced so far. Indeed, the manner in which he brutally dispatched former junior welterweight titleholder Sergey Lipinets (KO 6), Thomas Dulorme (KO 1) and Custio Clayton (KO 2) tells you all you need to know.

It may take a pound-for-pound player like Terence Crawford or Errol Spence Jr. to provide a stern test. But are they in a rush to face him? Ennis may be one of the reasons these two finally agree to fight each other in an undisputed title fight. In the meantime, like the rest of us, Ennis is waiting to see what happens in the Spence-Crawford negotiations. The 25-year-old boxer-puncher is currently the IBF mandatory challenger.

 

SHAKUR STEVENSON (18-0, 9 KOs)

RATING: THE RING JUNIOR LIGHTWEIGHT CHAMPION/ WBC, WBO TITLEHOLDER

After winning silver at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Shakur Stevenson was anointed as a star for the future. However, early on in the pros, it looked like he may have retained his amateur style, but things quickly clicked into place.

His first world title fight came against the tough Joet Gonzalez at featherweight. It was expected to be a difficult assignment, but Stevenson captured the WBO belt by whitewashing Gonzalez en route to a near shut-out decision.

After moving to 130, Stevenson defeated noted puncher Jeremiah Nakathila over 12 one-sided rounds. He then annexed the WBO 130-pound title in eye-catching fashion by stopping Jamel Herring (TKO 10). His most recent performance was a virtuoso domination of previously unbeaten two-weight titleholder Oscar Valdez to add the vacant Ring championship and WBC title to his collection.

The Newark-born fighter will now defend his titles against the awkward Brazilian Robson Conceicao on September 23. Stevenson looks to be on another planet to every other junior lightweight in the world and may need to move up to lightweight for a significant test.

 

JESSE RODRIGUEZ

RATING: THE RING NO. 3 AT JUNIOR BANTAMWEIGHT/ WBC TITLEHOLDER

Jesse Rodriguez started out the year as a Ring-rated junior flyweight primed for a world title shot.

However, when Srisaket Sor Rungvisai was unable to face Carlos Cuadras for the vacant WBC junior bantamweight title, “Bam” was offered the opportunity to jump two weight classes and face Cuadras for the title. The 22-year-old Texan not only stepped up, he rose to the occasion, dropping and dominating the hardened Mexican on his way to winning a decision.

And when Sor Rungvisai was ready, Rodriguez doled out a frightful beating on the big-punching Thai in his first defense, stopping him in eight rounds.

Rodriguez, who is trained by Robert Garcia, has outstanding footwork and excellent boxing ability.

He will now face the battle-hardened Israel Gonzalez on the Canelo-Golovkin 3 undercard in Las Vegas. With the opposition available at 112 and 115 pounds, “Bam” has the potential to be a pound for pound star.

 

NOT

Callum Smith brutally stopped Lenin Castillo in two rounds. Photo by EDDIE KEOGH / Matchroom Boxing

CALLUM SMITH (28-1, 20 KOS)

RATING: THE RING No. 4 AT LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT

Callum Smith was a standout amateur who breezed through the embryonic stages of his pro career. The World Boxing Super Series tournament created the platform for “Mundo” to claim The Ring and WBA titles by impressively stopping George Groves in seven rounds. That win should have made him a big star, however, the Groves triumph took place in Saudi Arabia and didn’t resonate like it would have on U.K. shores. Smith was then unable to secure big-money domestic clashes with James DeGale, Billy Joe Saunders and Chris Eubank Jr.

When Smith did reappear, nine months later, he easily halted Hassan N’dam in three rounds at Madison Square Garden. But when he fought at home, against John Ryder, the Liverpool man required charity from the judges to retain his championship.

As was the case with many fighters, Covid slowed him further. And when a big fight finally came along, it was against an improving Canelo Alvarez. It turned out to be bridge too far with Smith losing a lopsided decision.

At long last, Smith decided to take his large frame up to light heavyweight and looked sensational in a second-round knockout win over Lenin Castillo. However, inactivity again became the enemy and he’s been off for 11 months.

Thankfully, the 32-year-old Smith faces Mathieu Bauderlique on the Oleksandr Usyk-Anthony Joshua 2 undercard this Saturday. A win will see him anointed as the WBC’s mandatory challenger and he’ll be one step close to becoming a two-weight world champion.

 

DEMETRIUS ANDRADE (31-0, 19 KOs)

RATING: THE RING NO. 3 AT MIDDLEWEIGHT/ WBO TITLEHOLDER

There can be no doubting the American’s ability. However, the 34-year-old Andrade has been a professional for almost 14 years, and despite having held WBO titles at 154 and 160, he’s been unable to secure a unification bout or a defining win.

For large swathes of his career, Andrade, who won gold at the 2007 World Championships and represented the U.S at the 2008 Olympics, has been without a big-name promoter. But even after hooking up with Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn, who also promoted Canelo Alvarez, he was unable to secure a fight with the then-pound-for-pound king.

After battering Jason Quigley (TKO 2) last November, Andrade was scheduled to face Englishman Zach Parker up at super middleweight in May. However, a shoulder injury curtailed those plans.

Unfortunately for Andrade, he no longer has Hearn on his team and has returned to Salita Promotions. The crafty technician is now under pressure to go back to middleweight to face the dangerous Zhanibek Alimkhanuly in a WBO title defense.

 

MAURICIO LARA (24-2-1, 17 KOs)

RATING: THE RING No. 4 AT FEATHERWEIGHT

Lara was largely unknown when he was hand-picked to face the then-unbeaten Josh Warrington in February 2021. But while Warrington was snapping 16-months of  inactivity due to Covid, Lara was fighting for the fifth time in a year. The Brit tried to warm himself into the fight, but the Mexican swung for the fences and caused damage. After dropping Warrington in the fourth round, he poured on the aggression and ultimately produced a ninth-round knockout.

The pair met in a rematch seven months later and just as things started to get interesting, there was a brutal clash of heads in Round 2. Lara suffered a terrible cut and could not continue, which led to a no-contest result.

With his wound healed, Lara returned to action in March of this year, stopping Emilio Sanchez in three rounds. There was then talk of a bout against Leigh Wood, but it looks like the British pressure fighter will be facing Lara’s countryman Leo Santa Cruz in the fall instead. At time of writing, there is nothing on the horizon for Lara.

 

JOHN RIEL CASIMERO (31-4, 21 KOs)

RATING: NONE

While some fighters on this list are a victim of circumstances, that can’t be said for Casimero. He was hot when he stopped WBO bantamweight titlist Zolani Tete in three rounds to become a three-weight world champion in November 2019. He was supposed to face Naoya Inoue in a unification match up the following April in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, when Covid hit, Inoue was unable to leave Japan and the fight was cancelled. None of that was Casimero’s fault.

However, after blitzing Duke Micah and edging past the reluctant Guillermo Rigondeaux last summer, things changed dramatically. Casimero was due to face mandatory challenger Paul Butler in Dubai, but succumbed to a mysterious stomach ailment at the 11th hour.  The bout was rescheduled for April, but Casimero broke BBBofC rules when he used a sauna during fight week and got himself pulled from the card. The WBO decided enough was enough and stripped the Filipino. He has also been accused of sexual assault in his homeland.

 

JUAN FRANCISCO ESTRADA (42-3, 28 KOs)

RATING: THE RING CHAMPION AT JUNIOR BANTAMWEIGHT

Estrada’s coming out party came a decade ago when he lost to the outstanding Roman Gonzalez. His strong performance earned him a fight with WBA/ WBO flyweight titleholder Brian Viloria. This time “El Gallo” wouldn’t be denied, claiming a hard-fought but deserved 12-round split decision. Estrada secured his reputation as one of the best fighters in the lower weights and made five title defenses.

The Mexican star then moved up to 115 pounds and beat Srisaket Sor Rungvisai at the second time of asking to become Ring and WBC champion.

Estrada is coming off a controversial 12-round split decision over Gonzalez in a rematch. That was 19 months ago and counting. He has lost his position in The Ring pound-for-pound ratings and vacated the WBA title in lieu of facing mandatory challenger Joshua Franco. It appears his team are angling for a lesser fight for his ring return.

 

Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him on Twitter @AnsonWainwright

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