WBC super middleweight world titleholder Anthony Dirrell faces former titlist David Benavidez on Sept. 28 at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The winner will join the other three belt-holders in the division: Callum Smith (WBA), Billy Joe Saunders (WBO) and Caleb Plant (IBF).
Benavidez never lost his title in the ring. He was suspended by the WBC and stripped of the belt last year after testing positive for cocaine. He has since returned and stopped J’Leon Love back in March.
So, who’s the best at 168? We went directly to the source and asked them.
Anthony Dirrell, 34 — Record: 33-1-1, 24 KOs — WBC champion
On his fight with Benavidez: It’s just competition — it’s nothing personal. I respect him as a man, but it’s business at the end of the day. You’ve got to go in there and you’ve got to have some anger — but at the end of the day, it’s just business. I have nothing but respect for him.
His thoughts on Plant: He’s a good fighter — he’s a boxer. He does what he needs to do to win. He’s the fastest person I’ve faced at 168. Plant is good at what he does, but I still think I’m the best fighter.
His thoughts on Saunders: His first fight up here [at super middleweight] and he fought for a championship. I don’t know who does that, how they do it. But he did it. He’s a great boxer, but when you come up to 168 pounds from 160, it’s a little bit different. There’s a bit more snap in your punches. He might be naturally big, but we are too. We’re coming from 168 pounds, he’s coming from 160, so it’ll be a little bit different.
His thoughts on Smith: He’s a good fighter, too. He won the World Boxing Super Series, so he’s definitely relevant.
Are you the best in the division? World champion — I’m No. 1.
David Benavidez, 22 — Record: 21-0, 18 KOs
On his fight with Dirrell: Anthony Dirrell is a tough and rugged veteran. He’s been there for a while. I remember watching him when he was 13 years old. So he has a lot of experience, definitely. He’s fought Badou Jack — he’s basically a gatekeeper that has a title right now. He’s fought the best of them, so I’m expecting nothing but greatness from him. I’m expecting the best Anthony Dirrell ever.
I’m preparing myself accordingly, I don’t want to be surprised by anything.
His thoughts on Plant: A very good technical fighter. I feel like I can beat him, though. I feel like I can knock him out. He moves around the ring a lot. He’s a good fighter. I’m not going to take anything away from him, but I feel like I’m a better fighter. He’s a quick boxer, not too much power, but he [throws random punches] really good. I feel like he hasn’t really faced a guy that has as many weapons as me, like he fought [Jose] Uzcategui, who was basically throwing one shot [at a time] the whole fight and Uzcategui hurt him the last round. I feel like Uzcategui won five of the last six rounds. So I want to see how he does with a guy that gives him a lot of pressure, shoots from a lot of different angles, not just one shot.
His thoughts on Saunders: I think maybe he’s more decorated than anyone else. He’s beaten a lot of fighters, he’s beat big punching fighters, he’s been in there with the best of them. He’s more of a boxer, a very talented boxer [who] knows how to use the ring. It will be interesting to see how he deals with the weight and taller guys. I’d love to see him and Callum Smith. Since they’re in the same promotion company that might be easier to make. But I’d love to fight Billy Joe Saunders, too.
His thoughts on Smith: He’s also a great fighter. I feel like he’s [the most] accomplished fighter out of all the champions, right now, because he beat George Groves, but Groves was a little old. Smith has a good left hook — he’s a good boxer. He’s tall, lanky, so he has a lot of weapons himself.
Are you the best in the division? I’m not going to say I’m the best until I can win my title back. So basically all those [other fighters] are ahead of me. I feel like I’m in contention to be the best, but I won’t say I’m the best until I beat everybody. That’s really what I want to prove to myself.
Caleb Plant, 27 — Record: 19-0, 11 KOs — IBF champion
His thoughts on Dirrell: I think he’s a little more multidimensional [than Benavidez]. I think fundamentally he’s better, but l think he’s getting a little bit older and he’s been in a couple of tough ones and he’s going to try to fight fire with fire [against Benavidez], and I don’t think he’s going to stand up to it.
His thoughts on Benavidez: He’s a decent fighter. I think he’s got a lot of holes in his game, but he’s got a couple of things going for him. He’s fast, he’s a big dude. I don’t think he’s got that good of footwork. There’s a handful of things that he lacks that aren’t in his game. I don’t think he’s very well rounded.
His thoughts on Saunders: Seems like a slick guy. He’s got good defense and he can move, put his punches together. But is his biggest test David Lemieux? So I mean, he hasn’t been tested too much at a really high level. Thing is, all these guys are decent, but nothing really sticks out too spectacular.
His thoughts on Smith: I know he’s a good fighter. He’s a champion for a reason. He’s undefeated for a reason. He is a long, big-framed guy, seems to have decent fundamentals. I don’t think he does too many things spectacular — I think he’s just good at the basics, just kind of well rounded but nothing special. … He doesn’t have great power, amazing defense or super fast hands or feet. The only thing that really stands out is probably his frame and his size.
Are you the best in the division? In my God’s honest opinion, I don’t think there’s a super middleweight who can beat me. I mean that with my heart and soul. I think I’ve got better defense than anyone in my weight division. I don’t care which sport you play — defense wins championships. I think I’ve got the fastest feet. I think I’ve got the fastest hands. I think I’ve got the best ring IQ. You can’t tell me David Benavidez has a better ring IQ than me — you can’t say that. That’s not true.
Callum Smith, 29 — Record: 26-0, 19 KOs — WBA champion
His thoughts on Dirrell: I’ve studied him. I was supposed to fight him for the vacant WBC title a few years ago, and he’s a good experienced fighter. He’s been around a long time. He’s got some good names on his record, but maybe [he is] coming towards the end of his career. I think it’s a good fight with him and Benavidez, but Benavidez will be a little too young and fresh for him and probably have too much of a punch output for him and set too good of a pace. But it’s an interesting fight.
His thoughts on Benavidez: He’s good, he’s growing, he’s talented, and I think he’s getting better and better. I do classify him as a big puncher, I think he’s probably the hardest puncher out there. But he’s still got a lot of flaws, I don’t think his boxing abilities are as good as Saunders and Plant, but he’s a bit more spiteful and his offense is a little better.
His thoughts on Plant: A good fighter, obviously undefeated, a bit similar to Saunders in that he has good moves, got good skills, decent power but more of a slick boxer, a good back-foot mover. He hits hard enough, but he’s more of a boxer than a one-punch KO artist.
His thoughts on Saunders: I think he’s a good fighter, he’s talented, he’s skillful, he’s a good mover, he’s a southpaw. But I believe he’s a 160[-pounder]; I don’t think he’s a full-fledged 168. I think that’s what might let him down against some of the other champions, but he’s definitely a good fighter. I don’t think he’s the biggest puncher, but I think he’s got good skills, an amateur pedigree, obviously being an Olympian. I think he’s quite elusive, but I think his better chances and better performances will come at 160.
Are you the best in the division? No. 1. Listen, it’s a good division, there’s a lot of good champions, and there’s a lot of good fights to be made, and I believe I’m ranked No. 1 in the division. I would like to prove it, and the main goal for me is to start cleaning up the division and prove that I’m the best. I can only do that by beating the other champions and claim more of the belts. I want to prove how good I am. When the big fights come, I think that’s when people will see the best of me.
Billy Joe Saunders, 30 — Record: 28-0, 13 KOs — WBO champion
His thoughts on Dirrell: I remember watching the Dirrell brothers coming through as pros and watching them, the Carl Froch fight with Andre and watching them all the way through. I think he’s a very seasoned pro. I think he is maybe just a bit past his best now. But he’s still at the top of the tree, so you’ve got to give the man that respect. I really think he’s got ring generalship, and obviously he’s got more ring time than all of the other super middleweight champions. So he’s a real threat and a real danger to the division. He’s obviously one of the guys I’d love to fight. I’d love to fight for the WBC [belt].
His thoughts on Benavidez: I haven’t really seen much from him. He’s sort of like Caleb Plant — I haven’t seen him fight seasoned names, and by that I mean a world-class name, yet. He’s a good fighter, he’s good at what he does. He’s tall, he’s rangy. It will be an interesting fight Saturday.
His thoughts on Smith: He’s very, very good, one of the best at the weight — big, strong, gangly. I think he’s a very, very good fighter. He finds distance very well, and he’s got good ring generalship. He’s got good ring craft, he knows how to cut the ring off and he knows how to cut down and take space away.
His thoughts on Plant: I think Caleb Plant is a good fighter, but I think we need to see him step up and fight a decent name. I think he can do a bit of both [box and punch] — he’s got that in him. But I know when you step up, it’s very hard. Now, if he can do this at the world-elite level, then I’d be very impressed. But at the moment, who’s the best guy on his record?
Are you ready for the transition to 168? I feel most effective at 160, but I also very effective at 168 because I have extra weight to play with. I feel with the right training, the right building and foundation, I can be a handful at this weight.