Grading all 17 boxing divisions so far this year

Boxing

The first four months of 2024 have been busy for some of boxing’s best divisions. Others haven’t seen much activity from their champions or even top contenders and prospects. Great matchups are still on the horizon, some of which could solidify the structure of the weight classes.

Looking at the best matchups, activity and entertainment so far in 2024, we assess all 17 boxing divisions, grading them from A+ to F.

Heavyweight division:

The heavyweight division is a mix of long-reigning champions, established veterans, resurging contenders and promising up-and-comers positioning for a title shot.

The division’s landscape is split between two reigning champions: Oleksandr Usyk (WBO/IBF/WBA champion), and Tyson Fury (WBC and lineal champion). This split is temporary, as Usyk and Fury will fight for the undisputed heavyweight championship on May 18.

Outside of the champions, there has been a lot of movement and activity in this division. Anthony Joshua‘s activity and destructive second-round knockout victory over Francis Ngannou in March signaled his continued run for the top in the division, especially considering Ngannou’s previous performance against Fury. That win put Joshua in a strong position for a future showdown with the winner or loser of Usyk vs. Fury. However, I don’t see Joshua waiting for them, considering his recent activity.

Joseph Parker, another extremely active heavyweight, fought four times in 2023, closing a spectacular year off with a surprising win over Deontay Wilder. Parker has fought once already in 2024. His most recent victory over Zhilei Zhang to capture the WBO interim title positioned him as a mandatory challenger for Usyk and injected new life into his career.

Dillian Whyte’s comeback, a decisive victory over journeyman Christian Hammer in March, is noteworthy. After a lengthy suspension for banned substances, Whyte is back as a force in the division.

Top upcoming fights:

  • Oleksandr Usyk vs. Tyson Fury

  • Deontay Wilder vs. Zhilei Zhang

  • Filip Hrgovic vs. Daniel Dubois

  • Andy Ruiz Jr. vs. Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller

Grade: B-. Heavyweight remains boxing’s glamor division. With high-profile fights lined up and the possibility of crowning an undisputed champion, the division has the potential to level up.


Cruiserweight division:

The cruiserweight division has often struggled compared to other weight classes, with a few of its champions transitioning to heavyweight for more challenges, fame and better paychecks. It often lacks the “it” factor, though Evander Holyfield, Oleksandr Usyk and David Haye conquered the division and moved up to heavyweight.

Jai Opetaia’s impressive knockout victory over Ellis Zorro in late 2023 was a standout moment for the division, showcasing his skill as a leading dominant figure. However, Opetaia has been inactive so far this year and has a rematch with Mairis Briedis for the IBF cruiserweight title on May 18 after being stripped due to a disagreement with the IBF sanctioning body.

Chris Billam-Smith, the WBO champion, maintained his belt with another successful title defense against Mateusz Masternak in December, but he didn’t contribute to the division’s activity in the first four months of 2024.

Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez’s decision victory over hard-punching Arsen Goulamirian to claim a cruiserweight belt has led to discussion of a unification matchup with Opetaia. His win is an excellent sign for the division’s future. He brings new blood energy and is a notable name many fans recognize. On the other hand, recent victories from Aleksei Papin and Krzysztof Wlodarczyk have done little to advance the division’s standing or showcase any star power.

Top prospects:

Promising fighters such as Richard Riakporhe and Soslan Asbarov hope to become actual threats within the division, adding new energy and competition to the cruiserweight landscape. Getting their feet in the door shouldn’t be hard as both are skillful, but they need more seasoning.

Grade: F. The division’s grade indicates a lack of activity, youth, immense fight potential and talent.


Light heavyweight:

The division is home to two elite fighters, Artur Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol, who dominate this weight class with different styles and hold positions on the pound-for-pound rankings. An upcoming unification bout between these two champions in June will determine an undisputed champion.

Beterbiev, 39, continues to defy conventional wisdom when it comes to aging boxers. With a ridiculous record of 20 wins, all by knockout, Beterbiev showcased a more strategic approach in his recent victory over Callum Smith in January, but the result was another KO victory. In contrast, Bivol delivered a dominant performance against Lyndon Arthur in December 2023. However, the fight lacked entertainment value due to Arthur’s mentality to survive from Round 1.

Contenders, rising stars and returns in 2024:

Joshua Buatsi’s epic battle with Dan Azeez showcased his well-rounded fighting style and knockout power. Anthony Yarde is a force. Known for his grit, quick hands, determination and punching power, Yarde remains a presence in the division, as he destroyed low-ranked Marko Nikolic. Oleksandr Gvozdyk, a former champion, is 3-0, with 2 KOs after a three-year hiatus, and his return adds intrigue to the division, especially his clash with rising star David Benavidez, who will move up from super middleweight looking for other options besides Canelo Alvarez. Benavidez’s entry throws a wrench into the division. Additionally, the UK’s Craig Richards made a strong comeback, stopping Boris Crighton in seven rounds after a hiatus following his defeat to Bivol in 2021.

Grade: B. The 175-pound division has a great mix of experienced veterans and up-and-coming stars, setting the stage for exciting matchups and raising the division’s overall competitiveness. However, the B grade is based on the key performances so far this year.


Super middleweight:

The 168-pound division is rich in talent but appears handcuffed by boxing politics, which impacts the trajectory of the division’s growth. Canelo Alvarez is the undisputed champion and undeniably a revenue generator for the sport. Alvarez typically fights twice a year and hasn’t fought yet in 2024. He’s scheduled for a title defense against a young and determined Jaime Munguia on Cinco de Mayo weekend. Alvarez’s defense against Munguia, while not the top choice for fans, is anticipated to be a colossal event due to contrasting styles and mentalities of both fighters.

Munguia will enter the ring with momentum following his January knockout victory over John Ryder. The division includes other contenders, Caleb Plant and Demetrius Andrade, who have yet to fight this year and maintain their positions as skilled veterans. Having returned to his knockout form, Edgar Berlanga could challenge for a title in the future.

Bektemir Melikuziev has remained inactive since his victory over Alantez Fox last year. At the same time, Erik Bazinyan has added two wins to his record with a win over Billi Godoy and, recently, Shakeel Phinn.

The immediate future:

Though inactive so far this year, some contenders such as David Morrell, who’s returning on Aug. 3 against Radivoje Kalajdzic, remain feared after a knockout victory in December 2023. Christian Mbilli has gained traction with fans following a scintillating performance in January, and young contender Diego Pacheco recently fought undefeated Shawn McCalman in a competitive matchup.

For the division to realize its full potential, Alvarez may need to engage with other high-caliber fighters, such as David Benavidez and Morrell, which fans are eager to see. You can’t say you’re the best if you’re not continually fighting the division’s best.

Grade: B. Alvarez’s marketability and title defense strategy keep the division from gaining clarity. But everyone is chasing a showdown with him. This situation has led to this grade, reflecting the excitement generated by the pool of fighters. Key matchups and the development of hungry contenders will be crucial in the division’s overall standing and satisfying fan demand for great matchups.


Middleweight division:

Once overseen by iconic fighters like Alvarez, Gennadiy “GGG” Golovkin, “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, and Sugar Ray Robinson, this division suffers from inactivity among its top fighters, leaving room for contenders to rise. The recent crowning of 40-year-old Erislandy Lara as world champion has reignited discussions about the division’s future and direction.

The perceived leader of the pack, Jermall Charlo, has not stepped into the ring since his November battle against Jose Benavidez. His performance exceeded expectations despite a long period of inactivity, and there are no signs of his return to the ring. Similarly, unified champion Janibek Alimkhanuly has been out of action since last year’s title defense. He is likely struggling to find a real challenger due to his skill set and knockout power.

Contenders and future:

Carlos Adames, the interim champion, last fought in June 2023. Despite his diversified skills and power, the long layoff raises questions about ring rust affecting his future performance. Chris Eubank Jr. avenged a previous loss to Liam Smith with a decision win in late 2023, positioning himself as a serious contender. Meanwhile, Hamzah Sheeraz has continued to build his reputation with a knockout victory over Liam Williams earlier this year. Meiirim Nursultanov and Elijah Garcia remain undefeated prospects, but still seeking a significant fight in 2024. Like every division, the middleweight division’s future heavily relies on its champions’ actions. But the division is diluted with uncertainty. The rise of young talents such as Sheeraz and Austin Williams inject some excitement. Still, the division will remain trashed without the linkup of titles and more competitive matches between top contenders and champions.

Grade: F. The division’s state reflects the same old issues plaguing boxing — promotional politics, TV network alignment and control that prevents the best from fighting the best. With GGG most likely out of the picture, the current champions must take on meaningful challenges to revitalize the middleweight class. Until then, the division earns a failing grade.


Junior middleweight division:

This division is oozing with talent, including the arrival of pound-for-pound No. 1 king Terence “Bud” Crawford, long-reigning champ Errol Spence Jr. and flame-throwing Vergil Ortiz Jr., all moving up from welterweight. These additions are sharks in murky waters that could provide instant classics reminiscent of the division’s long history of champions.

This division has risen with the remarkable ascent of Tim Tszyu, who was just overtaken by Sebastian Fundora, the newly minted WBC and WBO champion who defeated Tszyu. Despite a broken nose sustained early in the fight, Fundora delivered a masterclass performance. He used his towering, 6-foot-6 frame and 80-inch reach to outbox Tszyu in a grueling bloodbath in late March. This victory placed Fundora among the elite and pushed him to the top of the division.

More ups than downs:

On the other side, the division saw another setback from top contender Brian Mendoza, who was bruised and battered by the relentlessness of Serhii Bohachuk’s offense. Thanks to the sanctioning bodies’ decision to release belts held hostage by Jermell Charlo as he attends to personal matters (Charlo remains the WBC and WBA junior middleweight champion in recess), Israil Madrimov has made a splash by capturing the WBA belt with a spectacular knockout of Magomed Kurbanov, and will fight Crawford in August. The division is also home to under-the-radar talents silently inching and aiming for future title opportunities, such as Jesus Ramos, Josh Kelly, Xander Zayas and Charles Conwell.

Grade: A. The junior middleweight division stands out for its intense activity, strong international talent, surprising newcomers and the presence of superstars willing to take on all comers. The division is ripe for producing epic battles and memorable moments for boxing fans.


Welterweight division:

Four years ago, the division produced incredible talent and skill, led by Crawford, Spence, Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia, Manny Pacquiao, Shawn Porter and Yordenis Ugas. But the division’s king, Crawford, hasn’t competed in almost a year. Same for IBF champion Jaron “Boots” Ennis, the division’s latest champion who has been tangled in contractual disputes but has now signed with Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn. This move should bring him back to action in July against Cody Crowley, ending a period of inactivity that’s wasted some of his prime years. (He’s fought only four times in three years.)

The ones who fought and future matches:

Alexis Rocha returned by defeating Frederick Lawson in a knockout delivery in late March. Conor Benn moved to super welterweight, winning a decision against Peter Dobson in a match lacking fanfare.

Roiman Villa and Giovani Santilla are looking for their next battle. However, Santillian’s record of 32-0, combined with his dominance over Rocha, would suggest he should be pursuing a title shot.

Eimantas Stanionis, the WBA “regular” welterweight champion, is set to fight Gabriel Maestre on May 4, his first fight in two years. WBC interim champion Mario Barrios will face Fabian Andres Maidana on the same day, after a career-best victory over former champion Cuban Yordenis Ugas.

This is what I don’t understand. It’s puzzling why Stanionis and Barrios aren’t fighting each other, and this exemplifies the division’s issues.

Grade: F. The welterweight division needs a tournament to revitalize interest and force the best to fight the best. Crawford must also clarify his intentions regarding his fighting weight. The current state of the division is disappointing. Regarding next-in-line contenders, the welterweight division has failed to deliver sensible matchups this year.


Junior welterweight:

We see an exceptional group of fighters at 140 pounds: volume punchers, hard-hitting pressure fighters, explosive counterpunchers and pure boxers. Every fighter is at risk in this division, champions included, and there’s no definitive No. 1, especially after Devin Haney‘s upset loss to Ryan Garcia, who now is one of the top fighters in the division.

Activity:

It’s been a usy start of the year for some of the best fighters at 140. WBO champion Teofimo Lopez just fought in February and is scheduled to meet Steve Claggett on June 29. Isaac “Pitbull” Cruz moved up to the 140-pound division and dominated Rolando “Rolly” Romero. Haney and Garcia just fought in a great bout. Subriel Matias, a feared champion in the division, will take on top contender Liam Paro on June 15. Josh Taylor will have a rematch with his rival Jack Catterall. Farmer champion Jose Ramirez will fight veteran Rances Barthelemy on Saturday. Arnold Barboza and Lindolfo Delgado, who just got his 20th win and continues to climb the ranks, are awaiting his chance at a world title shot.

Grade: B+. The first quadrimester activity among champions in this division has been promising, indicating positive development for the division as a whole. It’s encouraging to see contenders advancing with activity positioning themselves. And the second quadrimester lineup is highly anticipated with heavy hitters.


Lightweight division:

Haney’s move to junior welterweight has left the undisputed title up for grabs, and old, and new contenders have emerged to claim their share of the glory. Vasiliy Lomachenko and former unified champion George Kambosos Jr. fight for the vacant IBF title on May 12, three-division champion Emanuel Navarrete is increasing weight to challenge Ukraine’s promising 2016 silver medalist Denys Berinchyk for the WBO belt and Shakur Stevenson, who secured one of the vacant titles against Edwin Santos late last year, and is slated to return to the ring in July. The biggest star of the division, Gervonta “Tank” Davis, previously an interim champion, was promoted to full WBA champion and will face Frank Martin in June. None of the top fighters in the division have fought in the first four months of 2024.

The ones that fought so far:

Olympic silver medalist Keyshawn Davis continues to shine, defeating and stopping former two-division champion Jose Pedraza in February. William Zepeda also made waves by destroying the always-tough Maxi Hughes. Rising young stars Abdullah Mason and Raymond Muratalla continue to impress and build their undefeated record. Zaur Abdullaev and Mark Chamberlain also continued their dominance.

Grade: C+. The fights have been just good. The division’s future looks promising, with top contenders striving for excellence as new champions slowly emerge over the coming months. However, the presence of Lomachenko continues to add excitement, appreciation and value to this division. This will be fun to witness, although it’s time for the champions to step up their game. There are numerous opportunities ahead for each of them.


Junior lightweight:

The division features champions from the U.S., Great Britain and Mexico, but lacks a dominant figure to drive widespread interest. American title holders O’Shaquie Foster (WBC) and Lamont Roach (WBA) join Britain’s Joe Cordina (IBF) as the current champions. WBO champion Emanuel Navarrete has moved to lightweight to pursue a fourth championship in his fourth division.

Recent matches and contender updates:

  • O’Shaquie Foster defeated Abraham Nova by split decision

  • Oscar Valdez defeated Liam Wilson by TKO7

  • Robson Conceicao defeated Jose Ivan Guardado by TKO7

  • Joe Cordina defeated Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov by split decision

  • Andres Cortes defeated Bryan Chevalier by TKO4

  • Albert Bell defeated Jonathan Romero by TKO1

Cordina is set to face Anthony Cacace on May 18, and Eduardo Hernandez prepares for a battle with Daniel Lugo on May 11. There will not be much action at the start of the second quadrimester, however there is still potential to lock in some solid matchups for the division.

Grade: C. Despite the division’s activity and the champions’ overall skill and styles, the recent matchups did not generate excitement. The division is still undervalued without box office marquee names, contributing to a mediocre satisfaction grade.


Featherweight division:

The lower the weight class, the more punches thrown and landed. The featherweight division has become one of my favorites.This division gained increased attraction due to three champions of Mexican descent known for their characteristic fighting style, heart and all-action warfare. This division is marked by intense competition and showcases a variety of fighting styles and strategies.

Recent matchups:

  • Luis Alberto Lopez defeated Reiya Abe by TKO8

  • Raymond Ford defeated Otabek Kholmatov by TKO12

  • Rey Vargas defeated Nick Ball by split decision

  • Bruce “Shu Shu” Carrington defeated Bernardo Angelo Torres by KO4

  • Tomoki Kameda defeated Kevin Villanueva by TKO5

And don’t forget Raphael Espinoza, the WBO champion, with a spectacular performance against Cuban sensation Robeisy Ramirez in late December. He has yet to fight this year, but I look forward to his return.

Grade: A. The featherweight division has character with a high level of competition and a diversity of fighting styles. Activity in the first part of the year has been great. Both champions and top contenders have shown grit and possess the heart and skill necessary to continue elevating this division.


Junior featherweight:

This division was recently overtaken by “The Monster” Naoya Inoue, the four-division world champion, two-time undisputed champion and ESPN’s No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter. Inoue is a superstar in Japan but is half a star in the American market. Boxing fans know Inoue and appreciate his greatness, but the general public does not know him as much. This has nothing to do with my grade in the division; it’s more of just food for thought.

Inoue currently stands alone in the division, with a significant talent gap between him and other contenders. His next fight is against experienced veteran Luis Nery on May 6.

Contenders, prospects and future fights:

Despite Inoue’s dominance, there are still highly skilled contenders and prospects within the division, including Murodjon Akhmadaliev, John Riel Casimero, Marlon Tapales, Sam Goodman, Elijah Pierce, TJ Doheny, Bryan Mercado, Liam Davis, Jose Tito Sanchez and Ra’eese Aleem. Goodman, Pierce, Mercado and Davis fought this year in KO wins.

Grade: C+. The division has the meat but is without the potatoes, which have already been devoured by Inoue.


Bantamweight:

The bantamweight division has shown remarkable growth and activity while producing competitive, inspiring matches among top contenders and champions. Under the current landscape, the 118-pound division has a full talent pipeline and a high frequency of championship bouts.

Recent activity:

  • Takuma Inoue defeated Jerwin Ancajas by KO9

  • Junto Nakatani defeated Alexandro Santiago by TKO6

  • Jason Moloney defeted Saul Sanchez by majority decision

  • Srisaket Sor Rungvisai defeated Guangheng Luan by unanimous decision

  • Reymart Gaballo defeated Phai Pharob by KO1

Grade: A+. The bantamweight division is hot! Recent activity has been top-notch, and the emerging talent and seasoned veterans show the division has depth for an exciting future. The frequency of championship battles and the movement of contenders through the ranks contribute to the ultra-competitive weight class.


Junior bantamweight:

The division has seen a notable decline in activity among its top-tier fighters and it severely lacks talent. However, the landscape may shift with Juan Francisco Estrada’s return as he prepares to face the highly talented Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez, momentarily bringing light to the division.

Recent (non) activity:

The first quadrimester has witnessed minimal activity from reigning champions, with WBO champion Kosei Tanaka being the only titleholder stepping into the ring. Top contender KJ Cataraja fought an eight-round match against Jun Blazo in February, revealing a training wheels approach in his career progression. Cristofer Rosales’ March match with Francisco Gomez did little to elevate the competitive level of the division.

Andrew Moloney’s path to redemption continues against Pedro Guevara, but he hasn’t fought this year. IBF champion Fernando Martinez has not fought since June 2023, and veteran Kazuto Ioka’s last match was in December 2023, with no significant bouts on the schedule. This shows the lack of talented bodies in this division.

Grade: F. Dormancy is a real thing. Its divisional champions and legends showing limited activity warrant a low grade. Estrada’s return and Rodriguez’s rise offer a little hope for divisional rejuvenation.


Flyweight division:

The flyweight division has had a remarkable start to the year, with a flurry of activity among its champions, contenders and prospects. It can be described as a melting pot of action, a mixture of title defenses, a vacant title acquisition, and standout performances from potential rising stars, all contributing to the division’s lively and competitive nature. With two of the three champions successfully defending their titles and electrifying knockout victories from top contenders, the division’s first quadrimester was poppin’.

New and defending champions and top contenders:

  • Seigo Yuri Akui defeated Artem Dalakian by unanimous decision

  • Julio Cesar Martinez defeated Angelino Cordova by majority decision

  • David Jimenez defeated Ganoigan Lopez by unanimous decision

  • David Jimenez defeated John “Scrappy” Ramirez by unanimous decision

  • Ricardo Sandoval defeated Carlos Buitrago by KO8

  • Felix Alvarado defeated Jose Ramirez Armenta by TKO5

  • Galai Yafai defeated Agustin Gauto by TKO8

  • Dave Apolinario defeated Tanes Ongjunta by KO4

Grade: A+. The first four months have been thrilling, with champions defending, contenders rising, and prospects making a name for themselves. The high level of competition and the potential for future matchups give this division a bright outlook and a top grade thus far.


Junior flyweight:

The division often resembles a closely-knit community where familiarity breeds an overwhelming competitive edge. The division operates like a round-robin where everyone knows everyone else’s strengths and weaknesses. However, it remains sidelined in the American market, with international competitors predominantly shaping its landscape. Despite the lesser financial incentive, the spirit of the division’s fighters, undeterred by pay disparities, continue to exhibit valor inside the ring.

Notable fights:

  • Kenjiro Teraji defeated Carlos Canizales by majority decision

  • Sivenathi Nontshinga defeated Adrian Curiel by TKO10

  • Jonathan Gonzalez defeated Rene Santiago bu unanimous decision

  • Masamichi Yabuki defeated Kevin Vivas by TKO4

  • Christian Araneta defeated Arvin Magramo by TKO1

Grade: B. In evaluating the tenacity and fearlessness within junior flyweight a grade of B for balance is warranted. The division is not popular in the states but is marked by a willingness to compete. This first four months have, once again, lived up to the old boxing adage: “Styles make fights,” reinforcing the division’s attitude.


Strawweight division:

Despite being the lowest weight division in boxing, its competitive nature and the generation of standout fighters hint at its developments and a bright future. The strawweight division is rebuilding and positioning, featuring some undefeated champions who are slowly but effectively making their mark. This weight class, being lighter with fewer fighters than heavier divisions, sees more confrontations among its champions due to limited competition options. Sooner than later, they will all battle.

Lack of activity:

Recognized by many experts as the division’s top fighter, IBF champ Gingiro Shigeoka’s continued success and undefeated record make him a significant figure in Japan. He defeated Jake Amapro by a second-round KO in March. A potential unification with WBO champion Oscar Collazo could be a game-changer in a major event, potentially drawing international attention. Melvin Jerusalem’s victory over top contender Yudai Shigeoka to win the WBC belt positions him as a critical player in the division. His progress and future matchups will be crucial in shaping the competitive landscape.

Knockout CP Freshmart, the WBA champion, has not competed in nearly two years, which raises questions about his future involvement. His return and potential defenses of his title are highly anticipated, and I wonder if he will be stripped.

Grade: A. Overall, the strawweight division earns a positive assessment due to its activity, foreseeable competition and the presence of unbeaten champions. As these fighters continue to engage, the potential for high-stakes matchups increases.

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