by Cliff Rold, photo by Chris Farina/Top Rank
A champion is often only as good as his division. A division is only as good as its combination of talent and matchmaking. Middleweight has talent. In 2010, when Sergio Martinez bested Kelly Pavlik for the title and avenged a loss to Paul Williams in his first defense, it had the matchmaking.
Since, while there have been some good fights here and there, the division has wavered. Felix Sturm, the WBA titlist and longtime top contender to the lineal crown, has stayed in Germany fighting fringe contenders, getting paid and rewarded by judges no matter his quality of performance. A crop of good young contenders has come along untested.
And the champ?
The champ has played the waiting game. After blasting out undefeated Jr. Middleweight Sergiy Dzinziruk in his second defense, he’s held off tough Darren Barker and Matthew Macklin if fights that kept him in the ring but added little shine to his championship credentials. In a division where the real champ holds no belts, he’s faced no titleholders and largely focused on just one.
That one goes to scratch Saturday night.
WBC Middleweight titlist Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (45-0-1, 31 KO) gets what could be an interesting challenge from Irishman Andy Lee (28-1, 20 KO). A former Olympian, Lee has some chops but he’s been hurt and beaten by less than Chavez, and that’s before factoring in Chavez’s ability to weigh in at 160 on Friday’s and be a Cruiserweight on Saturday.
Martinez wants a piece of that Cruiserweight in a big way. Since having to give up the WBC belt because when a mandatory against Sebastian Zbik couldn’t be made, Martinez has pined for his old belt back. More specifically, he has pined for the sort of gate and attention a clash with the big drawing Chavez could garner.
Chavez being seen as one of the weaker beltholders in the sport helps too. Big money and a potentially easy night can be tantalizing. While others in the class of quality, like Dmitry Pirog, have called for Martinez, he’s only had eyes for Jr. He might get his wish if Chavez wins this weekend. Allegedly, Martinez-Chavez could come in the fall.
Of course, Pirog has been among many to be guilty of the same sort of navel gazing as Martinez. It’s been a logjam of fighters wanting to fight A but not B.
Too much algebra and not enough ass getting whipped.
Would anyone be surprised if Chavez outgrew the division and an interim WBC belt suddenly grew on a tree at 168 lbs.? No, but don’t let the possibility detract from what this Saturday signifies.
Chavez-Lee is the start of a rocking summer at 160. Between this Saturday and September 1, there will be three excellent matches and from them will come serious chances for Martinez to expand his place as champion.
Chavez-Lee is obvious. If Lee wins, his rebuilding since a shock loss to Brian Vera will be complete. He’ll have proven a place in the Middleweight top ten and likely be rewarded with Martinez. If Chavez wins, and Martinez happens, boxing will have a big event on its hands.
The most intriguing bout of the three is expected to be televised on HBO and has the feel of the best of classic Boxing After Dark. Pirog (20-0, 15 KO) has been off U.S. television, too inactive, and rarely impressive since a starmaking turn against Daniel Jacobs in 2010. The impressions are forgivable. How motivated can one be for someone like Javier Macel?
Challenges bring out the best in athletes and Pirog has former Olympic Silver Medalist Gennady Golovkin (23-0, 20 KO). This could be a fantastic battle and the winner will emerge as the best of the young guns. He may well emerge the best fighter in the division in wait.
Then there is Sturm (37-2-2, 16 KO). Still only 33, Sturm has held some belt or another at 160 since 2003. He takes his first unification bout against Australia’s IBF titlist Daniel Geale (27-1, 15 KO). Geale’s lone loss, to the slicker and quicker Anthony Mundine, might explain why he got the call against Sturm. Sturm somehow has been allowed by the WBA to avoid a mandatory with Golovkin. Geale was no issue.
Maybe this is Sturm’s Sven Ottke-Byron Mitchell moment, a chance to add a second belt without having to test the elite of the class. There is always the chance that it signifies Sturm looking to punctuate a long career, the beginning of a run to make his numbers matter.
Regardless, fight fans have three good fights to breather new life into the division, all without Martinez in the ring. It’s a sign of improving health at Middleweight, a jolt of adrenaline long overdue.
Whether it ends with a Chavez-Martinez event, or with Martinez left to face the daunting challenge sure to emerge in Pirog-Golovkin, Middleweight wins.
So will boxing fans.
But wait, there’s more…
Pavlik Grinding Back: http://www.boxingscene.com/kelly-pavlik-puts-on-bloody-performance-las-vegas--53778
Updated Ratings: http://www.boxingscene.com/forums/view.php?pg=boxing-ratings
Updated P4P: http://www.boxingscene.com/forums/view.php?pg=pound
Cliff’s Notes… If the various ratings aren’t updated the second this article goes up, be patient. Updates are coming…The notion that commentary affects viewers isn’t invalid, but when the ringside press is overwhelmingly in agreement with home viewers, as was the case in Bradley-Pacquiao, what then? No HBO in their ear. Some nights, boxing just gets it wrong…That said, directing anger at Bradley is nonsense. He seems like as good a dude as there is in boxing, he didn’t score the fight, and he has every right to feel he won. He was the one fighting…Anyone think Chavez Jr. will have any problems with judges in Texas? I mean, lightning could always strike two draws in a row, right? Nah…Jhonny Gonzalez versus Daniel Ponce De Leon isn’t as awesome as Gonzalez-Orlando Salido, but why split hairs?...Canelo-Ortiz? Yeah, that works too…Paul Williams might walk again. There is no better news in any sport this week.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]