Boxing Analysis: Making Sense of the Light Heavyweight Division


I don’t need to tell you that the boxing landscape is as polluted now as it’s ever been. 

With various champions in numerous divisions, the public is at a loss as to who is saying what, in what division (there are exceptions Wladimir is undoubtedly king of the heavyweights etc) but fighters can do their best to clear up the picture and this weekend this is exactly what happened at light heavyweight.

The 175 pound weight class has seen better days, but with certain arrivals and departures the division looks like it is on its way to a mini revival. Earlier this year we saw Gabriel Campillo box the ears off Tavoris Cloud in an IBF title bout only to be stuck up and robbed in broad daylight by the judges. Beibut Shumenov hasn’t defended his WBA title since last year but notably picked up a win over Campillo to avenge an earlier defeat, whilst Nathan Cleverly pounded away at punchbag Tommy Karpency in February to retain his WBO title (Cleverley was due to fight another nondescript opponent yesterday but pulled out due to illness).

It’s not just the titlists, former belt holder Jean Pascal is still floating about somewhere and there are up and comers waiting to break into the reckoning like Ismayl Sillakh and Tony Bellew.

The aptly named Liverpudlian Tony ‘Bomber’ Bellew fought and lost a close fight to Nathan Cleverly last October and showed he belonged in that class by giving the WBO champion as much trouble as he could handle despite coming up just short.

Stepping back into the ring in an attempt to get back on the road to another title shot, Bellew took on former European light heavyweight champion Danny McIntosh and impressed so much enroute to a 5th round TKO win, that Nathan Cleverly tweeted:

I thought Bellew was exceptional tonight, the re-match is inevitable! Whether its the next fight or not, its gonna happen . . . .

Bellew has always had a little something about him, his domestic dust up with Ovill McKenzie was highly entertaining as both fighters touched the canvas before Bellew stopped his opponent in the 8th. Whilst the rematch was nowhere near as exciting, the fact he can punch but is equally vulnerable means that people will tune into and turn up to see him fight.

Against McIntosh he was near perfect, showing boxing skills as well as punching power. After wobbling his opponent in the second Bellew was clearly in control and proceeded to trouble his man at will. In the fourth round he had McIntosh sprawled against the ropes and whilst the end of the round saved him, there would be no respite in the 5th where a punishing right from Bellew prompted referee Terry O’Connor to call a halt to the bout.

Bellew continues to impress, he himself says he hasn’t found his level and that there is more to come from him and this, plus his performance, only strengthens his case for another title shot. At 29 he isn’t young but he isn’t old either and a return bout against Cleverly looms large.

Following this we got a chance to view another highly touted 175 pounder in Ismayl Sillakh.

Having seen Bellew operate at world level, we had as many of the answers that we needed as to whether he deserved to be included in such discussion, but the same couldn’t be said for Sillakh. And on ESPN’s Friday Night Fightsthe wheels come off Sillakh’s wagon as Russian Denis Grachev unexpectedly stopped him.

Sillakh had been working up a name for himself, especially in beating Cuban Yordanis Despaigne last year. Having claimed that the division’s best, Pascal, Dawson and Hopkins, were avoiding him it was expected that he would overcome former kick boxer Grachev with ease, and then go on and fight the winner of the Hopkins/Dawson fight.

But Grachev had other plans.

All night Teddy Atlas claimed that Sillakh was open for a right hand and that at some point he would be caught by someone who was able to take advantage of his defensive shortcoming. He jus didn’t think it would be Grachev.

Sillakh started off the fight well, acting as the matador to Grachev’s bull and was able to counter punch and use lateral movement to avoid Grachev’s lunging, lumbering attacks. In the third round, Sillakh dropped his opponent with a cute right hand as the clear difference in class began to tell.

Sillakh was on the road to shutting out his opponent over the 10 round distance but late in the 7th Grachev rolled the dice. The right hand that Atlas warned would test out Sillakh arrived like a bolt from the blue and instantly the Ukrainian was in trouble. Catching him clean, Grachev rushed at his opponent and began to unload as Sillakh fought to get off the ropes and out of trouble. The bell signalled the end of the round, allowing Sillakh some time to compose himself but Grachev knew he had his man in trouble.

Knowing he could hurt his man, Grachev was patient looking for another chance to land his right hand whilst Sillakh remained content to try and outbox and out manoeuvre his opponent until the final bell sounded but this was the calm before the storm.

After landing a good right and left Sillakh tried to press his advantage, bad move as he walked onto a right from Grachev that sent him reeling back onto the ropes. Grachev had found his opening and was quick to press his advantage, chasing his man and began to unload until he toppled his opponent and the referee Rocky Burke called it off.

Apparently a step away from a title bout, Sillakh came undone against a kick boxer and will now have to go back to the drawing board. His hopes of a title bout against the new 175 pound kingpin Chad Dawson have been dashed for now. He will undoubtedly see himself tumble down the rankings for the various governing bodies and out of The Ring Magazine’s top 10 but there is still time for the 27 year old to come again, with improvements to his defence of course.

Whilst Bellew was able to answer the questions asked of him, Sillakh came up just short, and when The Ring Magazine reshuffle their deck don’t be surprised if Bellew breaks into their rankings at the Ukrainian’s expense.

This weekend there were ripples throughout the 175 pound pond, reputations were bolstered whilst others were somewhat tarnished and with Hopkins’ loss to Dawson we may have finally seen the end of a legend (We’ve all learned by now, never bet against the old man but where does he go from here?).

The division is definitely heating up as the major players begin to lay their cards on the table whilst the veterans are cleared out (Tarver has moved up, Johnson gone down) and with the additions of Mikkel Kessler and potentially Andre Ward, who Dawson called out post fight last night, the light heavyweights may be ready to step back into the spotlight.

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