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Road To Undisputed #16: Cruiserweights

Welcome to “Road To Undisputed,” a series where I look at every weight class in boxing, look at the champions and contenders and map out a road to crowning an undisputed champion and the chances of it happening anytime soon.

This week, we’ll take a look at the cruiserweights, which is undergoing a bit of a makeover in the wake of two World Boxing Super Series tournaments that took up the majority of the last few year.

Here are the divisions covered so far:

Minimumweights
Light flyweights
Flyweights
Super flyweights
Bantamweights
Super Bantamweights
Featherweights
Super Featherweights
Lightweights
Junior Welterweights
Welterweights
Junior Middleweights
Middleweights
Super Middleweights
Light Heavyweights

Titleholders:

  • WBA “Super:” Arsen Goulamirian
  • WBC: Ilunga Makabu
  • WBO: Lawrence Okolie
  • IBF: Mairis Briedis

Contenders:

  • Chris Billam-Smith
  • Thabiso Mchunu
  • Mateusz Masternak
  • Mike Perez
  • Michal Cieslak
  • Aleksei Papin
  • Richard Riakporhe
  • Brandon Glanton
  • Jai Opetaia
  • Badou Jack
  • Ryad Merhy
  • Aleksei Egorov

Current Outlook:

If you take a look at the top 50 rated active cruiserweights on Boxrec, you’ll notice how little of a presence the division has in the western hemisphere. Only five fighters born in the western hemisphere (three from the United States, one from Canada and one from Cuba) are in that top 50.

The division is traditionally a European-heavy one, best exemplified by the fact that two of the four world titleholders are from Europe (Lawrence Okolie and Mairis Briedis), one is from Armenia (Arsen Goulamirian) and the remaining fourth (Ilunga Makabu) is from South Africa.

In the days of the World Boxing Super Series, the 200-pound division got a global spotlight with American boxing fans getting a good look at what the division has to offer. No fighter took advantage of the tournament better than Oleksandr Usyk, who won the inaugural tournament in 2018, becoming the undisputed king of the cruiserweights.

But since then, many of the faces we became familiar with such as Usyk, Murat Gassiev, Marco Huck, Yuniel Dorticos and more have either attempted to move on to heavyweight, not been in many meaningful fights since then or have been somewhat inactive. Only Briedis remains an elite fighter in the division, winning the second WBSS tournament and currently holding the IBF title.

What we are left with is a division that is undergoing some minor changes as far as who is on top and who is climbing up the rankings. Okolie captured the WBO title earlier this year with a tremendous performance over Krzysztof Glowacki and then defended the belt with a third-round victory over Dilan Prasovic.

As far as contenders are concerned, the list is certainly growing, but the quartet of champions is a solid one and hard to beat. Aleksei Egorov and Thabiso Mchunu will be the first ones to have a crack at dethroning a champion as they will face Goulamirian and Makabu in the near future.

One fighter who is quickly climbing up the rankings is Chris Billam-Smith, the current British, Commonwealth and European cruiserweight champion. Ranked in the top 10 in all four major sanctioning bodies, Billam-Smith is knocking on the door of a potential world title eliminator in 2022.

The potential wild card in the division is Badou Jack, the former super middleweight and light heavyweight star and world champion. After a fight against Dervin Colina on the Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Logan Paul undercard, Jack announced his intention at a potential cruiserweight campaign. Although he does not have much experience fighting above 175 lbs., his profile and resume can be attractive for a champion to pursue a fight.

What will it take to get an undisputed champion?

It took the cooperation of several promoters, all four sanctioning bodies and a global tournament to crown an undisputed champion at cruiserweight. A second tournament didn’t produce similar results and it ended with Briedis walking away with the Muhammad Ali Trophy and just the IBF title.

There’s no chance a third tournament (extremely unlikely to happen) would have an undisputed champion. So the way to get that is through the old-fashioned way: unification fights.

Okolie has shown interest in fighting any of the other champions, but he won’t get one with either Goulamirian or Makabu anytime soon due to their upcoming mandatory title defenses.

That just leaves Briedis, who is coming off a title defense against Artur Mann on October 16. Even if Briedis would be open to such a fight, there’s no guarantee that it is going to happen. Briedis has explored the possibility of moving up to heavyweight just like Usyk, (now a holder of three world heavyweight titles) and Gassiev.

That’s been a bit of a problem for the long-term health of the cruiserweight division. Historically, it’s been looked at as a stepping stone to the heavyweight division. Usyk is a perfect example of a cruiserweight elevating himself to the top of the heavyweight division.

Outside of a Briedis vs. Okolie matchup, there’s nothing tangible to hang on to when it comes to looking into the future and seeing a path to an undisputed cruiserweight champion. However, it was done once three years ago and it can be done again. The junior welterweight division was able to accomplish two separate undisputed champions in the span of a few years, so there is a small glimmer of hope.

Chances of there being an undisputed champion in the next 18 months: 5%

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