Promotional veteran Kathy Duva recently said “I think light-heavyweights are the future.”
The current CEO at Main Events, founded in 1978 by her late husband Dan Duva, certainly has a vested interest in the 175lb division thanks largely to the ring exploits of Sergey Kovalev. The WBO/WBA/IBF world light-heavyweight champion signed with the New Jersey agency in 2012 and has never looked back since.
Gabriel Campillo, Nathan Cleverly, Ismayl Sillakh and most recently Bernard Hopkins have been taken care of by the Russian thanks to ring intelligence, accuracy and, above all else, relentlessness.
In the division’s 112 year history the likes of Bob Fitzsimmons, Freddie Mills, Archie Moore, Dick Tiger, Bob Foster, Michael Spinks, Roy Jones Jr and “The Alien” Hopkins have all at one time justifiably held the top spot at light-heavy. In 2015, whether the Canadians like it or not, Kovalev has to be considered top dog with WBC champion Adonis Stevenson a close number two.
37-year-old Stevenson, who sooner or later is going to cash out, returns next month in the fifth defence of his title against long time super-middleweight veteran Sakio Bika. Meanwhile Kovalev will make his presence known this Saturday night when he walks into something of a lion’s den to take on seasoned campaigner Jean Pascal at the Bell Centre, Montreal.
But what about the rest of the division? For a few years boxing fans looked around for excitement at 175 lb. only to be told that men like Tavoris Cloud, Nathan Cleverly and Chad Dawson were the future. Look how that turned out. Yet something is now happening in the light-heavyweight ranks. Records and reputations are being built by skilled men, some who possess the kind of talent and power to cause rumblings which Kovalev and Stevenson will feel sooner or later.
Vasily Lepikhin (17-0, 9 KOs) has found himself a slot on this Saturday night’s Kovalev-Pascal bill against the unpredictable, quick-witted and dangerous Isaac Chilemba. Lepikhin, who had three years out of the sport from 2009-2012 due to injury is a 6ft 3ins, 29-year-old boxer-puncher with size, reach and power at his disposal. Nicknamed “The Professor”, the Russian is managed by Egil Klimas who also represents Kovalev. Lepikhin has sparred Kovalev in the past and a win over Chilemba will undoubtedly boost the WBO No.5’s credentials and put him on the first steps to a showdown with Kovalev or, at the very least, an encounter with stablemate Nadjib Mohamedi.
Colombia’s Eleider Alvarez (16-0, 9 KOs) is certainly one of the more skilled pugilists from our quintet of contenders. The 30-year-old had something to spare when outclassing the previously unbeaten Ryno Liebenberg last October. The Tito Trinidad lookalike is most famed for his 2007 Pan-American Games Gold Medal win, knocking out Cuba’s Yusiel Napoles in the final, a victory that avenged his 2006 loss at the Central America and Caribbean Games. Alvarez has his flaws; he can be backed up, caught square and likes to carry his hands low. The jury is out, but the undefeated GYM fighter, who also trains with Jean Pascal, will be in the mix sooner or later.
Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (12-0, 10 KOs) is one of the sleeping giants of the division. Like some of his counterparts from Eastern Europe, “Lion Heart” looks to relentless aggression and thudding combinations to get the job done. The Ukranian, who fights tonight in Texas, has an eerie knack of laying Golovkin-style traps which have inspired some to label him the new “GGG”. As with Golovkin, once you’re on the ropes against Shabranskyy, his power takes over. So far the opposition hasn’t been stiff enough to ask Shabranskyy for a plan B, but we’re reaching a stage when riskier matches will test him. The former WSB boxer has something of the monster about him…
“I’m an optimist. We shall make a new (Mike) Tyson of Artur.” Those were the words of Mark Ramsey in 2013, trainer to the Canadian-based, Russian-born Artur Beterbiev (7-0, 7 KOs). Before signing with Yvon Michel and the GYM Promotional Group, Beterbiev was very much a man in demand with offers rumoured to have come in from Sauerland and Top Rank. The 30-year-old (who beat Kovalev twice during a stellar amateur career) was one of the most wanted fighters from his homeland and after just 15 rounds of boxing in 18 months it’s easy to see why. Last September, Tavoris Cloud – a former world champion – was made to look like nothing more than an overpaid journeyman after being battered and stopped in five minutes. Gabriel Campillo is next for the fearsome Beterbiev next month on the undercard of Stevenson vs Bika.
Egor Mekhontsev (7-0, 6 KOs) began his amateur career as a light-heavyweight before stepping up to heavyweight to win the 2008 Russian National Championships. Moves up and down in weight followed over the next four years, as did more medals, which culminated in light-heavyweight gold at the 2012 Olympics. Signed to Top Rank in 2013, the southpaw is not as crude as some of the others and appears to have every shot in the book. A mix of power and finesse, and comfortable throwing accurate combinations on either the front or back foot, he may just be the best of the bunch.
— Shaun Brown