Are U.K. Boxers Struggling at the Elite Level?

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Anthony Joshua

In the past few years, U.K. boxing has rapidly grown in both status and accolades. Last December I did an article on the explosion of British boxing and how it may be a trend that will persist in this new generation. With the likes of trainers and promoters such as Joe Gallagher and Eddie Hearn respectively seemingly being in the most advantageous positions coming into 2016. However in the past three weekends, each having a major U.K. champion fighting in those respective main events, each U.K. champion lost to more elite competition. Is there a ceiling on U.K. boxing that pundits and fans alike haven’t accounted for?

 

Kell Brook
Kell Brook

Kell Brook was the first U.K. champion to step up in the past three weekends, and the first to lose as well. Though his championship belt was not on the line against pound-for-pound elite Gennady Golovkin, the beating and injury he sustained may not damage his career from a branding standpoint, due to the context of the bout, but it may actually have done permanent damage physically that he may never come back from. Also with his only elite win being Shawn Porter going on three years now, plus the implication of Brook vacating his welterweight strap to move up to junior middleweight, quite a few questions have arisen post-Golovkin for Brook that until he does indeed comeback can not be answered.

 

Liam Smith faced returning superstar of junior middleweight, Canelo Alvarez, at Cowboy Stadium in Texas against a hostile crowd. Smith being perhaps the most untested out of the three that fought, showed as much. Other than periods of Canelo doing his best Floyd Mayweather impersonation against the ropes to catch his breath, Canelo took Smith to a boxing seminar. It was a mismatch. Now while Canelo is one of the better boxers today, it may not have hurt his stock as much as people may think, similar to Brook’s situation. Most expected them to lose and they did.

Anthony Crolla though, was actually the true hope of the people of the U.K. to prove their elite status. Crolla was facing three-weight division champion Jorge Linares in a title unification bout that would determine who the number one lightweight in the world was. Crolla from the early rounds clearly just wasn’t at the level of Linares. It was glaring and obvious. Crolla did give a good account of him and made the fight exciting, but in the game of boxing, he was just outmatched in every category by Linares.

As mentioned above, last December featured U.K. champions: Tyson Fury, James Degale, Liam Smith, Kell Brook, Anthony Crolla, Terry Flanagan, Lee Selby, Scott Quigg, Carl Frampton, Lee Haskins, and Jamie McDonnell. In that past 10 months, some have lost while other titles have been won. Now the U.K. has Tyson Fury, James Degale, Kell Brook, Terry Flanagan, Lee Selby, Carl Frampton, Lee Haskins, Jamie McDonnell, Billy Joe Saunders, Ricky Burns, Toney Bellew, and Anthony Joshua. At first glance, it looks like more so why should fans in the U.K be worried?

Ricky Burns
Ricky Burns

First off the new additions to that list come with certain asterisks. Toney Bellew and Ricky Burns won their respective titles after they were vacant and against subpar competition. Ricky Burns and Toney Bellew have yet to go against fellow elites in their respective divisions so until then, we do not know if they are truly elite again. Burns hasn’t beaten a credible opponent since his controversial loss to Omar Figueroa. Yes, Burns has proven to be an elite boxer, but he has also proven he isn’t in his prime anymore. Bellew’s last credible win was against Nathan Cleverly two years ago.

Also, Terry Flanagan and Lee Haskins won vacant titles as well and have only faced middling competition. Jamie McDonnell has yet to unify his own WBA Regular bantamweight title with Rau’shee Warren and is in the same division as Haskins.

Anthony Joshua, the biggest star in the U.K. won his title after the IBF stripped Tyson Fury of it, and Charles Martin won the vacant title after Vyacheslav Glazkov injured himself. Until Joshua faces someone better than Kevin Johnson or Dominic Breazeale we can’t say he will be the long-running champion at heavyweight most people want him to be.

With the Tyson Fury pulling out of his scheduled rematch with Wladimir Klitschko due to mental health issues and rumored to soon have his belts stripped by the sanctioning bodies, Fury may not be a champion soon and never defended his belt. Though he is obviously elite, there were many questions on whether he could clean out a rejuvenated heavyweight division that will remain unanswered. Thus, unfortunately, hurting his legacy and claim to heavyweight unless he comes back.

Scott Quigg(right) Carl Frampton(left)
Scott Quigg(right) Carl Frampton(left)

Carl Frampton, arguably the most proven boxer out of the U.K. at this point, did unify his title against fellow U.K representative Scott Quigg before moving up and beating Leo Santa Cruz, so while the U.K. technically lost a champion there, they gained a unified champion in return. Although in the new weight class Frampton is in, another U.K champion resides in Lee Selby. A unification bout would actually help the counterpoint of U.K. still being elite even with one of them losing.

James Degale, another proven elite boxer such as Carl Frampton, is rumored to be facing Badou Jack in a unification bout later this year. If he is able to pull it off, it will certainly help prove U.K. is still elite.

Billy Joe Saunders, the WBO middleweight champion, has yet to defend his title after to beating Irishman Andy Lee almost a year ago. He is rumored to be fighting in October against someone yet to be named. His best wins are against Eubanks Jr. and Lee, but possible unification matchups with Daniel Jacobs or the boogeyman Golovkin seem not to favor Saunders.

Obviously U.K. is turning into one of the most financially lucrative places for boxing; however, there are questions about the longevity of most of these champions. Many are still unproven talents, even superstar Anthony Joshua has yet to face top 10 competition arguably. With many of these champions having clever promoters getting them shots at vacant titles against subpar competition. Men like Degale and Frampton, each coming over to the US to prove their elite status, are the only true high-level active U. K. boxers. Tyson Fury beat an all time great in a historically bad fight. If he had defended it, his legacy would be intact already. Many of these champions are in deep or notable divisions with plenty of high-level talent to prove they and their country is the new Mecca of boxing, but until they do show us it’s hard to look past this three devastating losses as nothing more than a fluke for the U.K.