15) Pawel Stepien (12-0, 11 KOs)
A former member of the World Series of Boxing’s Rafako Hussars Poland team, Stepien has made quick inroads in the light-heavyweight division by skipping through solid competition. The Szczecin-resident has proven an adept body puncher, with at least four of his stoppages coming via shots to the breadbasket.
14) Sullivan Barrera (22-2, 14 KOs)
While the Cuban is a fading light, he’s still technically sharp and a well-rounded practitioner of the gloved game. His timing reeks of international amateur experience and Vyacheslav Shabranskyy found that out the hard way, touching the canvas three times before the referee waved it off.
13) Ali Akhmedov (13-0, 10 KOs)
Seemingly the product of earlier scouting efforts where fighters with potential are being weened off the amateur game earlier, the 23-year-old Kazakhstan-borne banger has followed the footsteps of many of his countrymen by planting a stake in the U.S. of A. Akhmedov has scored lovely looking stoppages lately, with Jorge Escalante and Ismat Eynullayev being the most notable.
12) Joshua Buatsi (10-0, 8 KOs)
There are high hopes in Britain for this one. Buatsi is Ghanaian by birth but represented the Union Jack in Rio’s Summer Games, winning a bronze medal in the process. He’s a sharp looking prospect with a lot of natural gifts, power being one of them.
11) “Sir” Marcus Browne (22-0, 16 KOs)
Marcus Recardo Browne has shown top-notch quickness and is an undervalued body puncher. This was apparent when he outscored and slowed down Badou Jack in a dominant 12-round showing. Jack was widely considered one of the most committed rib-smashers in all of Fistiana, but he was outdone. The former Olympian’s blitzing of Thomas Williams Jr. was a highlight on his resume, too.
10) Radivoje “Hot Rod” Kalajdzic (24-1, 17 KOs)
5-1 with 5 knockouts in his last 6, with his sole loss being a disputed spilt decision against Marcus Browne. In that fight Kalajdzic was floored in the first but came back to drop Browne in the sixth and did the greater amount of damage overall. “Hot Rod” is a crafty sleeper in a division that has continually gotten deeper.
9) Dmitry Bivol (15-0, 11 KOs)
Originally from Kyrgyzstan, Bivol took up the Russian flag and pounded out an impressive amateur career. Since the transition to the paid ranks the 28-year-old has turned out to be a quick-handed master of ring generalship who hits with good but not great force. Bivol hasn’t shown one-punch stuff at the highest of levels, but it’s stiff enough wallop that gets respect and he maintains it until the championship rounds.
8) Felix “Mangu” Valera (17-2, 14 KOs)
Not refined by years of international competition in the unpaid ranks like so many others on this list, Mangu’s shots come off rawer than others. But he’s no slouch in the wallop department. He’s been able to earn the respect of two names already named, even dropping one (Barrera) for a count in the first round with well-timed left hook.
7) Ahmed Elbiali (17-1, 14 KOs)
As he was working his way into a contender position Elbiali was knocked off by former Lineal Champ, Jean Pascal. The Egyptian import is trying to get back on the horse, attempting to smooth out his skills around his natural equalizer, the big punch. His right hand is his best weapon and he’s wrecked a few foes with it. The worst of which was an overhand right that sent Dwayne Williams sprawling to the canvass face first.
6) Oleksandr “The Nail” Gvozdyk (16-0, 13 KOs)
He’s not the greatest one-punch threat at 175 but his mixture of speed, execution, timing, and pop make him one of the most dangerous overall. Ukraine’s representative in 2011 World Amateur Championships and now famous 2012 Olympic team is riding a rock-solid streak of 11-0 with 10 KOs. Part of this run includes an utter dismantling of a good Yunieski Gonzalez and the Lineal Light-Heavyweight Champion, Adonis Stevenson. The latter was particularly vicious.
5) Anthony Yarde (17-0, 16 KOs)
He’s big, he’s swift, he can get you out of their with single shots. Yarde is also a quality combination puncher and at 27, he’s also hitting his physical peak. He will need every bit of it to overcome his impending challenge, a shot at the imposing Sergey Kovalev.
4) Callum “The One” Johnson (18-1, 13 KOs)
The Brit made a stunning impact when he downed Frank Buglioni in the first round in defense of his Commonwealth Title. That early result put him in line for a shot at Russia’s Artur Beterbiev, another man among boys in the artillery department. Johnson clipped Beterbiev in the second round during an exchange and the favored man was forced to take the standing-8. Beterbiev rallied to win but it proved that, while Johnson lacks top-level ability, he doesn’t lack a top-level punch.
3) Joe Smith Jr. (24-3, 20 KOs)
New York’s Union 66 worker just may possess the heaviest hands of all. He’s got wrecking balls encased in leather and long arms to boot. His 2016 Ring Magazine “Upset of the Year” was a showcase in just how destructive he can be, as he bulldozed the tough Pole Fonfara in less than three minutes. Smith proceeded that effort with a startling knockout over Bernard Hopkins, punching him through the ropes and onto the floor. Though he’s 1-2 since then, he knocked down Sullivan Barrera and stunned Dmitry Bivol for their efforts.
2) Artur Beterbiev (13-0, 13 KOs)
A fighter a lot of folks would have number one, but someone I’m not willing to crown just yet. Yes, he carries lights out power, and yes, he has some nice-looking kayos on his CV, namely the Gabriel Campillo stoppage, but the Russian hasn’t been devastating the whole way through and appears slightly less balanced and accurate than a few ranked light-heavyweights.
1) Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev (33-3-1, 28 KOs)
To this writer, “Krusher” is a great light-heavyweight puncher and the current cream of the crop in a class filled with them, though he his on his way out. I’m not calling Kovalev Bob Foster or Michael Spinks, but he’s in the ballpark. I don’t think my reasoning is some leap of logic, either—the effect his punches have on guys is clear. Not only has someone died due to the punishment he’s dished out (Simakov), but he’s broken a rib with a jab (Agnew), put someone out cold with one (Sillah), pulverized a poor fella like tender meat (Pascal rematch), and shown at an advanced age that there is so much weight to his shots that he only needs to touch you to keep you honest (Alvarez rematch). On top of all this, the Russian is sharp as a tack with his one-twos and has shown enough nuance to hang with an excellent fighter like Andre Ward.
He’s got a couple 48N6s in his S-400 Triumph.
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