The Ring ratings reviewed 2023: Cruiserweight
The Ring first introduced its divisional ratings in 1925. Almost a century later, it’s no exaggeration to claim that these independent rankings are the most respected and talked-about in world boxing.
The Ring Ratings Panel is made up of a dozen experts from around the world. Opinions are shared, debate takes place, and the final decision on who should be ranked where is decided democratically every week. It sounds easy, but this can be an arduous and time-consuming process.
During the pandemic, we reviewed and broke down each division in full. In a two-pronged approach, we looked back at the respective achievements of the finest fighters in the world and analyzed what lay ahead.
Last year, we looked back on how each division was doing and have decided after a busy first half of 2023 to compile another divisional breakdown.
Next up is cruiserweight, which has been somewhat stagnant this year. The recent impressive return of Ring champion Jai Opetaia hopefully will help ignite the division again as there are good fights to be made. As always, please enjoy the debate and respect other people’s opinions.
CHAMPION JAI OPETAIA
RECORD: 23-0 (18 KOs)
THE PAST: Opetaia was a top amateur in Australia and represented his country at the 2012 Olympics and the 2014 Commonwealth Games before turning pro in 2015. The 28-year-old southpaw claimed the national and OPBF cruiserweight titles and holds wins over middle-level opposition including Mark Flanagan (TKO 8) and Benjamin Kelleher (TKO 6). However, he got his big break when his team where able to bring The Ring and IBF titlist Mairis Briedis to Australia last July. It was an opportunity Opetaia didn’t let pass. He boxed very well early and held off the Latvian’s late surge to claim a hard-fought 12-round unanimous decision. He suffered a badly broken jaw against Briedis and took 14-months to recover but when he did he looked as good as ever taking out Jordan Thompson (TKO 4).
THE FUTURE: Tabbed to face Mairis Briedis in a rematch next, though a unification would supersede that.
No. 1 MAIRIS BRIEDIS
RECORD: 28-2 (18 KOs)
THE PAST: Briedis became the first Latvian to win a world championship when he outboxed Marco Huck (UD 12) to claim the vacant WBC title. After successfully defending against Mike Perez (UD 12) in the quarter-final of the WBSS, he lost a close encounter against Oleksandr Usyk (MD 12) in a unification bout. Quickly got back to winning ways, signed up for Season 2 of the elimination tournament, and scored wins over Noel Gevor Mikaelyan (UD 12) and Krzysztof Glowacki (TKO 3). He beat Yuniel Dorticos (MD 12) in the final to pick up the prestigious Muhammad Ali trophy as well as the Ring magazine championship. He marked time by easily beating Artur Mann (TKO 3) before dropping his titles to Opetaia (UD 12). He had been due to return in the summer but an injury curtailed those plans.
THE FUTURE: Stepped aside to let Opetaia face Thompson under the proviso that he faces the winner, so you’d imagine they’ll met next in early 2024.
No. 2 YUNIEL DORTICOS
RECORD: 26-2 (24 KOs)
THE PAST: The big-punching Cuban won his first 21 bouts, however, his career lacked direction until he took part in Season 1 of the WBSS. The 37-year-old impressively took out fellow power-puncher Dmitry Kudryashov (TKO 2) and was upgraded to full WBA titleholder before losing a shootout to then-IBF titleholder Murat Gassiev (TKO 12) in a unification bout. He bounced back in Season 2 of the WBSS with a win over Mateusz Masternak (UD 12) and won the vacant IBF title at the expense of Andrew Tabiti (KO 10) but lost in the final to Briedis (MD 12) in September 2020. His career has been blighted by inactivity since, fighting just twice since.
THE FUTURE: The WBA called for Dorticos to get a shot at their champion Arsen Goulamirian earlier this month. They have 30-days to negotiate what looks an intriguing fight.
No. 3 BADOU JACK
RECORD: 28-3-3 (17 KOs)
THE PAST: Jack represented his father’s homeland of Gambia at the 2008 Olympics. He turned professional shortly afterwards. He overcame an early stoppage loss to rebound and claim the WBC super middleweight title, and went on to make three successful defenses. He is never in an easy fight, he likes to test himself and, as a result, is often involved in close fights. He vacated his WBC 168-pound title and got his 175-pound campaign off to a good start by thrashing Nathan Cleverly (TKO 5), but he and then-WBC titleholder Adonis Stevenson fought to a draw. He lost against Marcus Browne (UD 12) and Jean Pascal (SD 12). However, the 39-year-old won five fights and rolled back the years with an impressive performance to stop IIunga Makabu (TKO 12) for the WBC title in February.
THE FUTURE: Vacated his WBC title to step up to bridgerweight and face Lukasz Rozanski. However, that fight has yet to be officially announced.
No. 4 CHRIS BILLAM-SMITH
RECORD: 18-1 (12 KOs)
THE PAST: Billam-Smith won his first nine fights before tasting defeat against compatriot Richard Riakporhe (SD 10). The Englishman rebounded strongly, collecting the Commonwealth title before claiming the British and European titles by beating Tommy McCarthy (SD 12). Due to the closeness of the first fight, they met in a rematch and Billam-Smith left no doubt, stopping McCarthy in eight rounds. He followed that by defeating Isaac Chamberlain (UD 12) and then vacated the EBU title rather than go over old ground against Dylan Bregeon, who he had already defeated via lopsided decision. The 33-year-old vanquished Armend Xhoxhaj (KO 5) before claiming the WBO title by beating Okolie (MD 12) in an ugly fight.
THE FUTURE: He will be attempting to make the maiden defense of his title against experienced veteran Mateusz Masternak on December 10.
No. 5 ILUNGA MAKABU
RECORD: 29-3 (25 KOs)
THE PAST: The Congo-born lefty worked his way up, scoring impressive wins over Eric Fields (KO 5), Glen Johnson (TKO 9) and Thabiso Mchunu (KO 11) to earn a shot at the vacant WBC title in May 2016. But although he dropped Tony Bellew in the opening round, Makabu let things slip and was stopped in three rounds. The 35-year-old responded by winning seven fights, including two in Russia over Kudryashov (TKO 5) and Alexsei Papin (MD 12). Those triumphs saw him rewarded with a second title opportunity, and this time Makabu edged past Michal Cieslak (UD 12) to capture the WBC title. The power-puncher has defended against Olanrewaju Durodola (TKO 7) before controversially outpointing Mchunu (SD 12) in their rematch but lost his title to Badou Jack (TKO 12) earlier this year.
THE FUTURE: Makabu will look to regain his old WBC title when he meets Noel Gevor Mikaelyan for the vacant belt in Miami on November 4.
No. 6 LAWRENCE OKOLIE
RECORD: 19-1 (14 KOs)
THE PAST: The 2016 U.K. Olympic representative turned professional in early 2017. “The Sauce” quickly claimed the British, Commonwealth and European championships with wins over Luke Watkins (TKO 3), Matty Askin (UD 12) and Yves Ngabu (TKO 7). The 30-year-old power-puncher stepped up to world-class, successfully capturing the vacant WBO title by stopping seasoned former titlist Krzysztof Glowacki (KO 6). He has since made three defenses, blowing away unbeaten mandatory Dilan Prasovic (KO 3), labored in an ugly fight against Michal Cieslak (UD 12) and took David Light’s unbeaten record by 12-round unanimous decision before losing his title in an ugly affair against Billam-Smith (MD 12).
THE FUTURE: It appears that Okolie hasn’t invoked his rematch clause to face Billam-Smith. It will be interesting to see in what direction he goes next.
No. 7 RICHARD RIAKPORHE
RECORD: 16-0 (12 KOs)
THE PAST: The big-punching Englishman showed his vaunted power stopping unbeaten Sam Hyde (TKO 8) and future European champion Tommy McCarthy (TKO 4). He edged domestic rival Billam-Smith (SD 12) and then beat Jack Massey (UD 12). After a near two-hiatus returned on Boxxer with four wins in less than a year, notably beating Deion Jumah (KO 8) and, most recently, Fabio Turchi (TKO 2). The 33-year-old stopped former titlist Krzysztof Glowacki (TKO 4) in January but decided for reasons unknown pulled out of a purse bid to face Ring and IBF titleholder Opetaia.
THE FUTURE: Will likely look to face former opponent Billam-Smith, who is also with Boxxer, next year.
No. 8 ALEKSEI PAPIN
RECORD: 15-1 (14 KOs)
THE PAST: The former kickboxing champion switched to professional boxing in 2015. Papin impressively beat Ismail Sillakh (KO 1) and Alexandru Jur (KO 1). He was dropped in last round, which cost the Russian his unbeaten record against future WBC titlist Makabu (MD 12). The 36-year-old has since won four consecutive fights inside the distance.
THE FUTURE: He will end a year of inactivity when he faces fellow Russian Soslan Asbarov in Moscow on Saturday.
No. 9 ARSEN GOULAMIRIAN
RECORD: 27-0 (18 KOs)
THE PAST: The France-based Armenian made his bones in Europe early on in his career. He won the French national title and then stopped Ryad Merhy (TKO 11) for the WBA “interim” title. He was subsequently upgraded to full champion but his career has been plagued by inactivity with just one fight since 2019. That came when he beat Aleksei Egorov (UD 12) last November.
THE FUTURE: The WBA called for him to face Dorticos next.
No. 10 MATEUSZ MASTERNAK
RECORD: 47-5 (31 KOs)
THE PAST: Masternak turned professional in 2006. The Polish fighter won the European title over a decade ago. He lost when he stepped up against future WBC titlist Grigory Drozd (TKO 11), Youri Kalenga (SD 12) and Tony Bellew (UD 12). However, the veteran does have wins over former unified cruiserweight kingpin Jean-Marc Mormeck (SD 10) and stopped Kalenga (TKO 6) in a rematch. He lost a close fight to former WBA titlist Yuniel Dorticos (UD 12) in the opening round of The World Boxing Series. The 36-year-old has since won six fights, including besting previously unbeaten Jason Whateley (UD 12) in an IBF title eliminator. He passed up a shot at Ring and IBF ruler Jai Opetaia in favor of this shot at Billam-Smith.
THE FUTURE: The Pole is scheduled to face Chris Billam-Smith on Dec. 10.
On the Cusp: Marcus Browne, Michal Cieslak, Brandon Glanton, Gilberto Ramirez and Soslan Asbarov
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Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected].