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The European Champions

With the recent spate of activity in European title fights, I thought it would be timely to give an overview of the game in the old continent, particularly regarding the EBU title, the oldest and most prestigious belt in Europe.  The old-fashioned route for British boxers wanting to reach the top was British and/or Commonwealth titles, in whichever order, followed by the EBU title, which would hopefully act as a springboard towards world titles.

The EBU European title is most definitely not to be confused with the relatively recently created WBO European belts, which are sold to the winners by way of a sanctioning fee with the reward being a top 10 ranking with that organisation.  This has resulted in some of the most derisory challengers imaginable being put forward, and accepted, by the WBO.  The WBO does not care, so long as it gets its sanctioning fee.  This has given us WBO European champions of the ilk of Matthias Pelk and Tamas Lodi.  Heard of them?  The EBU then is the real deal of European boxing.

Let us take a division by division look at the current situation in Europe, particularly with regard to the EBU and its champions.

Heavyweight:

The champion is Britain’s Dereck Chisora, who won the title last September against German Edmund Gerber.  He makes his first defence of the title in the summer against old rival Tyson Fury, a fight which virtually doubles up as an eliminator for a major championship belt.  This is a high quality fight at world level, which indicates the importance of the EBU belt.  The mandated challenger to Chisora was former EBU champion Kubrat Pulev, but he has stepped aside as he is waiting for his own shot at Wladimir Klitschko, being the mandatory challenger for the latter’s IBF title.  Fury is more than an adequate replacement.

It is highly likely that the winner of Chisora-Fury will vacate the EBU belt soon afterwards, as they seek world honours.  Perhaps by that time David Price will have rehabilitated enough to be contending for the vacant title.  Price currently stands at no.8 in the EBU rankings.

Cruiserweight:

Champion in this division is teak-tough Siberian Grigory Drozd who only last week made his first defence of the title by blowing away hapless French challenger Jeremy Ouanna in the very first round.  Drozd is also a serious contender for world title belts, being ranked in the top four by three of the world governing bodies.  He is unbeaten for almost eight years and will be a dangerous challenger for any of the world champions.

Due to the high world ranking of the champion, and the potential for him getting a world title tilt, this belt may also become vacant later in the year.  Britain’s top fighters at this weight are Nathan Cleverly and Tony Bellew, who have both recently moved up from light-heavyweight.  Both are still rated in their old division by the EBU but the next rankings should reflect the change.  They will be major contenders for this title should they show an interest.  Incidentally, I have not included Ola Afolabi in this piece.  Although considered British, I am uncertain about his eligibility to fight for this title and he is unranked by the EBU.

Light-Heavyweight:

This title is vacant, having been so since late last year when champion Juergen Braehmer vacated in order to challenge for the WBA title.  The EBU initially nominated another Siberian Russian Igor Mikhalkin to fight Frenchman Nadjib Mohammedi to find a new home for their belt.  However, Mohammedi has now taken up an offer for a major fight in the U.S. in June and thereby removed himself from the running.  No new opponent has yet been announced for Mikhalkin, but as he is based in Germany with the EC Boxing promotional group, do not rule out another shot for Sauerland Promotion’s Eduard Gutknecht, the former EBU titleholder.  That would provide us with an excellent 50/50 match.

Of course, Britain’s top light-heavy is Enzo Maccarinelli, who has a date with destiny in April when he challenges the aforementioned Braehmer for his newly won WBA belt.  Next in line for the U.K. is Bob Ajisafe, the new domestic champion.  Although Bob is awkward and hard to deal with, this division is very strong in Europe and Bob would be best advised cleaning up at home before looking towards the continent.

Super-Middleweight:

Just a few days ago, Frenchman Christopher Rebrasse took this title with a smashing away win in Toscana, Italy, over local Mouhamed Ali Ndiaye.  The two had previously fought a draw.  Rebrasse looks some way from world class though and could be quite beatable.  With little local backing he will also probably have to travel again when defending his belt.

Britain’s four top super-middles, Groves, Froch, DeGale and Paul Smith are seeking higher honours, although this still leaves two potential challengers for Rebrasse in Rocky Fielding and Callum Smith.  With Fielding’s future still in doubt due to his weight-making difficulties, Callum Smith might be the best hope of being the U.K.’s next European champion, despite his relative inexperience and also despite being currently unranked by the EBU.  Frank Buglioni holds the WBO equivalent belt and may therefore shy away from this route to the top.

Middleweight:

The title is vacant and the two fighters nominated to meet for it are Britain’s Billy Joe Saunders and Italian Emanuele Blandamura.  The purse bids for this fight were recently won by Saunders’ promoter Frank Warren, so look for this to headline one of Frank’s Copper Box shows some time in the summer.  It is another good test for Billy Joe, who was given all he could handle by local rival John Ryder last autumn.  Undefeated Blandamura is not quite as good as Ryder but will provide a different set of problems for Saunders to solve.  Blandamura recently knocked off the Sauerlands’ middleweight hope Marcos Nader in Germany and is a very live opponent.

Fans would certainly like to see Billy Joe, should he be successful against Blandamura, defend against Chris Eubank Jr., who already has a high ranking with the EBU.  With Eubank now having links to BoxNation, this fight is looking a lot more possible than it did a few months ago.

Light-middleweight:

Champion at this weight is Sergey Rabchenko from Belarus, who is promoted by Hatton Promotions.  He is due to travel to Italy to face his mandatory challenger Emmanuele Della Rosa on 17 May.  Rabchenko is the WBC’s no.1 rated challenger to Floyd Mayweather, their champion at this weight.  It is believed that Mayweather will relinquish this title that he took from Saul Alvarez, now the no.2 ranked fighter with the WBC.  Rules being rules, Alvarez should fight Rabchenko for the vacant title.  However, Showtime TV is now looking for Alvarez to head up pay per view shows in the U.S. and there seems little chance they will accept the dour Eastern European Rabchenko as Canelo’s next opponent.  Rabchenko could therefore be left in limbo and, in the meantime, has an awkward defence in front of him against the veteran Italian.  He is far better than Della Rosa but this looks like a potential banana-skin for him.

Whilst Brian Rose has eschewed challenging for the European title and now has a shot at WBO champion Demetrius Andrade, the U.K.’s second best light-middle, Liam Smith, is keen to head in this direction.  He has already thrown out several challenges to Rabchenko and would make a great fight with him in about six month’s time, should Rabchenko’s world title ambitions not come to fruition.

Welterweight:

There were nothing but positive comments on Twitter this week when Britain’s Frankie Gavin was announced as the next challenger to excellent champion Leonard Bundu from Italy.  We all copped a lucky break when Gianluca Branco got himself injured a couple of weeks ago and had to remove himself from the mandatory position, letting Gavin in.  British fans know all about Bundu who made his previous defence of the title in the U.K. against Lee Purdy in December.  He boxed beautifully that night, with his slick boxing skills fully in evidence.  However, Gavin is just as skilful.  The purse bids are due by 30 April, and with the backing of Frank Warren and BoxNation, Gavin will be expectant of home advantage.  At 11 years the younger of the two, he looks to be too young and hungry for the Italian and should take the title.

With Kell Brook showing no interest in this title there are no other suitable or qualified challengers in the U.K.

Light-welterweight:

This division is rather weak throughout Europe, which is reflected in the quality of Italian EBU champion Michele Di Rocco.  Di Rocco won the vacant title last June against Britain’s Lenny Daws in a fight full of controversy.  Daws later complained about an illegal substance which was used to close a bad cut suffered by the Italian.  The decision in favour of Di Rocco was very close and was also disputed.  Di Rocco has since made an easy first defence.  His mandatory challenger is undefeated Spaniard Ruben Nieto, who looks useful.  None of these fighters however are anywhere near world class.

With Ashley Theophane pursuing his career in the U.S., Britain still has four potential challengers to Di Rocco, in the form of Daws in a rematch, new British champion Curtis Woodhouse, former British champion Darren Hamilton and speeding prospect Bradley Saunders.  All would have a serious chance of dethroning Di Rocco.

Lightweight:

British fans are also familiar with the champion in this division, Emiliano Marsili.  He is the Italian who came to Liverpool two years ago and duffed up Derry Mathews in seven rounds.  Marsili is a real quality operator who went from that victory to win this title in March 2013.  He has so far made one routine defence and is due to make his second defence against veteran Frenchman Anthony Mezaache in the coming months.  Marsili is ranked no.8 by the WBC but brings nothing to the table and for this reason is unlikely to receive a world title shot.

With this division being the strongest in the U.K., we could put forward several fighters who could feasibly challenge Marsili.  It is a surprise to this writer that no effort has been made to bring him back to this country to face one of these.  Perhaps this would be a nice re-entry fight for Ricky Burns?

Super-Featherweight:

The new champion at this weight is Frenchman Romain Jacob, who is the son of former WBC featherweight champion Thierry Jacob and is undefeated in 21 fights.  He recently took the title from long-standing Italian champion Devis Boschiero on a very close split decision.  Boschiero was proven at world level having lost a split decision in Japan in November 2011 to then WBC champion Takahiro Ao.  Boschiero never got his rematch with Ao, and has now lost his European title after three successful defences, which goes to show how important it is to have home advantage in this sport.  The new champion is due to make his first defence against former champion Ermano Fegatilli of Belgium.  The purse bids are due by 10 April.

Britain has three potential challengers for this title in Stephen Smith, Gary Sykes and Liam Walsh.  All would stand a chance against Jacob, dependant on who had home advantage.

Featherweight:

Britain’s Lee Selby holds the honours in this division, having won the belt last month againts Rendall Munroe.  Italian Davide Dieli has recently been nominated as his first challenger.  Selby is a world-class fighter and is leagues ahead of the Italian.  Obviously, the Welshman has his eyes set on world honours and if he does decide to take this match then it will merely act as a marking-time warm up for bigger things to come.

Selby has already defeated his closest domestic rival in Ryan Walsh and there are currently no other local threats to him.

Super-bantamweight:

Another title which has just been decided, when Kid Galahad won an easy unanimous decision over Spaniard Sergio Prado this past weekend.  There is a real paucity of good European fighters from this weight downwards and in this particular category only experienced Jeremy Parodi of France is a potential challenger to Galahad.  Parodi of course was thrashed by Carl Frampton in his previous visit to the U.K. last October.  He would be lucky to win a round from the new champion.

The three top Europeans at this weight are the aforementioned Frampton, Scott Quigg and Spaniard Kiko Martinez.  All three have long since left behind European standard fights and are competing at world level.  There is of course Jazza Dickens, who gave Galahad the hardest fight of his career last year.  I would imagine that Galahad’s team will steer well clear of Dickens for the foreseeable future.  Dickens is easily good enough to win this title at some point in the future.

Bantamweight:

Frenchman Karim Guerfi shocked the boxing world last September when he travelled the short distance to Belgium to take this title from Stephane Jamoye on a majority decision.  Especially so, as he had lost a vacant French title fight in his prevous fight to a 10-fight novice.  Guerfi seems to be an up and down fighter, boxing creditably in a points defeat in Argentina against Juan Carlos Reveco for the interim WBA flyweight title in May 2012, but also losing a French bantamweight title fight to Yoann Boyeaux, although this was later changed to a no decision due to Boyeaux failing a drugs test.  Guerfi’s first challenger is to be Hatton Promotions fighter Zhanat Zhakiyanov from Kazakhstan.  The fight is to take place in Marrakech, Morroco, the land of Guerfi’s forebears, on 18 April.  This is a good quality match.  Incidentally, I am not sure how long Kazakhstan has been part of Europe – I must have missed that.

Britain’s top four bantamweights are all looking at higher honours, with Jamie McDonnell and Lee Haskins already having held this title and Stuart Hall currently holding the IBF title.  With Paul Butler looking likely to miss out on a fight with Hall (McDonnell looks in pole position to get that one), perhaps he should make a run for this title.  He would be favourite to defeat either Guerfi or Zhakiyanov.

Flyweight:

The belt in this weight class is currently vacant but is to be fought for by former champion Andrea Sarritzu of Italy and Valery Yanchi, of Belarus but based in Spain.  This will be Yanchi’s fifth attempt at an EBU title (one at bantamweight), and once again he has to travel to Italy for his rematch with Sarritzu.  They drew in their first fight, also in Italy, in October of last year.  These two fighters, along with Silvio Olteanu of Romania, but also based in Spain, have played pass the parcel with this belt over the past three years, once again due to the lack of quality small men in Europe.  Look for 37-year-old Sarritzu to win the title again on 12 April.

Britain has two ready-made challengers in this division in Scouser Kevin Satchell and Scot Iain Butcher.  Either one of these would have a great chance of winning this belt should they decide to go down that route.  However, as Butcher already holds the WBO version, he may not be looking at the EBU title.

As an overview, Britain, France and Italy all have three current champions, Russia and Belarus have one each and three belts are currently vacant.

The EBU has an affiliation with the WBC and the European champion receives an automatic top-15 ranking with that organisation.  Invariably, the EBU champion is worthy of such a ranking.  The quality of the fighters highlighted in this article speaks volumes for the integrity of the EBU.  This is still a prestigious title to hold and fans should know that if they are preparing to watch a fight for this title, it will more than likely be highly competitive and, far more often than not, both fighters will be of a high standard.

Twitter: @RachelAylett1