By Jake Donovan
In part one, we discussed the three heaviest divisions in the sport – Heavyweight, Cruiserweight and Light Heavyweight ( click HERE for full article ). Part two examines all divisions between 140-168 pounds.
No foreplay necessary, as we cut right to the chase…
Current Lineal Champion: None; title vacated in 2008
Last Lineal Champion: Joe Calzaghe
Length of previous lineage: 3/4/2006 – 9/28/2008
Champions during lineage: One (Calzaghe UD12 Jeff Lacy for vacant World title)
The road to filling the vacancy: This might be the one division where all of the pieces are there to complete the puzzle, yet could potentially go unsolved for years to come.
The problems begin at the top level. Upon Joe Calzaghe’s defection to the light heavyweight division and eventual declaration that he was done with super middleweight, Mikkel Kessler was named top dog by default, and is also number one based on Boxingscene’s ratings formula. A fight with Lucian Bute (#2) or Carl Froch (#3) would easily fill the void at the top.
Given Showtime’s interest in showcasing the division, you’d think it’d be a clear path to crowning a new super middleweight king. A spring match between Froch and former middleweight king Jermain Taylor (#4) figures to land on Showtime, who is also currently committed to a March 13 bout between Lucian Bute and hard-hitting but unranked divisional trial horse Fulgencio Zuniga.
Included among Boxingscene’s Top Ten are a pair of Olympic Andres – Andre Dirrell (#9) and Andre Ward (#10), both of whom have been regularly showcased on Showtime.
All in all, plenty of names to create an intriguing and potentially very rewarding round robin. Only one name is missing from the mix – top contender Mikkel Kessler.
The great Dane was rumored for a showdown with countryman Mads Larsen. Negotiations have gone nowhere, which means Kessler is all but forced to look for a new opponent for his spring return to the ring.
Chances are it won’t be anyone of note, meaning more of the same in the post-Calzaghe era.
Talent-wise in the super middleweight division, it’s Kessler and then everyone else fighting it out for number two. But so long as his handlers elect to screw the pooch, his number one ranking could be in serious trouble so long as everyone else continues to fight each other.
Current Lineal Champion: Kelly Pavlik (KO7 Jermain Taylor 9/29/2007)
Length of current lineage: 9/29/2001 - present
Champions during lineage: Three (Pavlik KO7 Taylor; Taylor SD12 Bernard Hopkins; Hopkins KO12 Felix “Tito” Trinidad 9/29/2001 for vacant World title)
The road to maintaining the title: The rumblings have officially begun.
It really began with Jermain Taylor, whose controversial title reign – no fewer than three fights in which the outcomes were heavily disputed – had many in the industry calling for change a year before the Democratic Party would demand the same in the US Presidential race.
Kelly Pavlik’s off-the-canvas knockout win of Taylor was supposed to mark a new era, a return to glory in a division rich in boxing history and notoriety.
Instead, it’s been a series of broken campaign promises.
Pavlik has been champ for well over a year, but will be making just the second defense of his lineal crown. The first came against no-hoper Gary Lockett, four months before a financially-motivated 170 lb. catchweight bout with Bernard Hopkins resulted in a virtual shutout loss for Youngstown’s finest.
He now returns to the middleweight division, where he takes on Marco Antonio Rubio in his hometown on February 21. Despite the massive odds, there are far worse candidates than Rubio, presently number four in Boxingscene’s middleweight rankings.
One of those candidates would be John Duddy, who is once again being mentioned as a future Pavlik opponent. Promoter Bob Arum hoped to make such a fight late last spring, but Duddy barely escaped a February ’08 tune-up with Walid Smichet, taking a disputed decision and suffering several facial cuts in the process.
Arum brings back Duddy, this time as a ticket seller on the undercard of Miguel Cotto’s comeback fight in Madison Square Garden, scheduled for the same night as Pavlik-Rubio in Youngstown. Duddy takes on Matt Vanda on the Madison Square Garden portion of the pay-per-view telecast, and can bank on a summer showdown with Pavlik should he fare better this time than was the case a year ago.
The two names everyone keeps mentioning both hail out of Deutschland – Arthur Abraham and Felix Sturm. Arum likes both fighters and wants to match them up with Pavlik. The problem, of course, is money: both make a good living fighting in Europe, and would of course want a considerable pay bump to leave their comfort zone and travel to the states. Ditto for Pavlik if he were to travel to Germany, though such a trip would kill any chance of a fight with either going the pay-per-view route.
It might take for a long-discussed Abraham-Sturm alphabet unification match to finally sway the US networks to pony up for the winner to challenge Pavlik. Until that happens, expect more of the same at the top level. Pavlik should remain champion, though his popularity doesn’t figure to improve any in the process (at least not outside of the Rust Belt).
Current Lineal Champion:
Last Lineal Champion: Winky Wright
Length of previous lineage: 12/16/1995 – circa May 2005
Champions during lineage: Six (Wright UD12 Shane Mosley; Mosley UD12 Oscar de la Hoya; de la Hoya UD12 Javier Castillejo; Castillejo MD12 Keith Mullings; Mullings KO9 Terry Norris; Norris UD12 Paul Vaden for vacant World title)
Do we burn it down and just start all over? There’s plenty of talent to be found in the junior middleweight division. The trick is to get them to face each other, which simply hasn’t been the case in recent years.
A glance at the top ten shows that there simply aren’t enough money-generating bouts to convince the fighters to face one another, or for the networks to even express any kind of interest. Case in point, Paul Williams faces Winky Wright in April for no other reason than HBO owed both fighters a TV date. Neither fighter stands to gain much with a win, especially Williams since the fight will take place outside of the junior middleweight division.
Top-rated Vernon Forrest is rumored for an April return against Charles Whittaker. The alphabet title he presently holds comes with the obligation of next facing Sergio Martinez, fresh off of his double-win disguised as a highly controversial draw against Kermit Cintron on Valentine’s Day. Failure to do so could result in his being stripped, though should do little to affect his number one B-Scene 154 lb. ranking.
Rated in between Forrest and Williams are Daniel Santos and Sergiy Dzinziruk, who already faced each other once before (Dzinziruk taking a 12 round decision in December 2005). Neither party seems to be in a hurry for a rematch, nor will any stateside network likely ever express any interest.
Cory Spinks was in line to fight for his old alphabet title in an all St. Louis grudge match with crosstown rival Deandre Latimore. The bout, once slated for March 28, is now in serious jeopardy of not happening at all, certainly not anytime soon.
Undefeated prospects-turned-contenders James Kirkland and Alfredo Angulo have already caught the eye of industry leader HBO. Angulo is fresh off of a fifth round stoppage of Cosme Rivera, while Kirkland is scheduled for a far more dangerous test against Joel Julio on March 7.
The common thread in their opposition to date is that, while respectable, none have been particularly tough to track down in the ring. Exciting, balls to the wall styles are what helped Kirkland and Angulo unofficially make it to HBO’s stable, which only means that both will be kept away from any pure boxing style for as long as possible.
Martinez remains a dark horse, but needs fights against the division’s best in order to propel up the rankings. Vernon Forrest fulfilling his mandatory would be a great start, though it looks for the moment like he’s content to give up a belt if it meant continuing to call his own shots.
Even if Forrest fights and defeats Martinez, and say Paul Williams continues to win out against anyone at the weight – a meet between the two will never happen so long as they are both advised by Al Haymon.
It will take for a Santos or Dzinziruk to step in at that point, and for a network to show any sort of interest. Either that, or openly root for a series of losses among the top four or five spots, and hope that the next generation can clean up the lifeless mess that has become the junior middleweight division.
Current Lineal Champion: None; title vacated 06/06/2008
Last Lineal Champion: Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Length of previous lineage: 06/17/2000 – 06/06/2008
Champions during lineage: Seven (Mayweather UD12 Carlos Baldomir; Baldomir SD12 Zab Judah; Judah KO9 Cory Spinks; Spinks SD12 Ricardo Mayorga; Mayorga KO3 Vernon Forrest; Forrest UD12 Shane Mosley; Mosley SD12 Oscar de la Hoya for vacant World title)
The road to filling the vacancy: Thanks to a major upset and a subsequent suspension to start off the year, the road is clearer than ever. Only one fight matters in restoring order atop the welterweight mountain: a rematch between Miguel Cotto and Shane Mosley.
So long as he wins his February 21 (mis)match with Michael Jennings, Cotto was already penciled in for a rematch to determine welterweight supremacy. Only it wasn’t Mosley’s name that was being sized up for marquee space, but that of Antonio Margarito, Cotto’s lone conqueror to date. All Margarito had to do was win his January 24 battle with 37-year old Mosley and plans could be made for a potential June 13 rematch with Cotto in New York City.
Easier said than done.
The most disastrous night of Margarito’s boxing career began in the locker room with the suspect handwraps, and ended with the most damaging defeat of his career, in every conceivable way.
Less than three weeks after being battered for eight-plus rounds by Mosley, Margarito suffered another knockout loss when his license was revoked for a period of one year by the California State Athletic Commission. The ruling bars him from fighting in the U.S., though promoter Bob Arum has since insisted he will do what he can to keep his fighter busy in Mexico.
Fighting outside of the US is a loophole many a suspended fighter has exploited. Since Arum promotes both Margarito and Cotto, a rematch could easily be made in Mexico or Cotto’s homeland of Puerto Rico, right?
Not so fast.
Cotto, whose most common answer in regards to future plans is “I fight who my promoter puts in front of me, has been more than vocal in his disagreement over how Arum plans to handle Margarito’s suspension. For the moment, the Puerto Rican is adamant about continuing his own career as if Margarito doesn’t exist, meaning he’s not the least bit interested in a rematch anytime before January 24, 2010.
That, coupled with Arum’s unwillingness to do business with any fighters connected to the ubiquitous yet invisible Al Haymon (Andre Berto the most significant name amongst welterweights, unless you also include division-jumping Paul Williams), leaves Cotto with few lucrative options for the rest of 2009.
Of course, he could always look south, specifically the winner of the May 2 lineal junior welterweight showdown between incumbent champ Ricky Hatton and 2008 Fighter of the Year and present pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao. Such a fight would go a long way in lining everyone’s bank account, but still leave a gaping hole atop the welterweight division.
The only sticking point in a Cotto-Mosley rematch is location. Money might also be an issue, but chances are if the logistics can be worked out, the necessary funds will be raised to make the rematch a reality.
Between then and now, a location must be found. Mosley is on record to say that a return to Madison Square Garden won’t happen. An odd statement, considering his lightweight reign and first tour as a major welterweight player saw him become a crowd favorite on the East Coast, becoming the first to sell out the Theatre at Madison Square Garden, and his first fight with Vernon Forrest producing the arena’s best ever boxing gate.
His issue these days stems from the belief that another close fight with Cotto will result in his not getting the benefit of the doubt in Boricua-friendly NYC. He insists that they travel to the Left Coast for the potential rematch. Arum could use geography as an excuse to make 2009 a water-treading period for Cotto while waiting out Margarito’s 2010 stateside return.
If Cotto-Mosley II doesn’t occur by the time Margarito returns, a three-way round robin could be in order. Cotto-Margarito II shouldn’t decide welterweight supremacy at that point, unless of course Mosley loses between now and then – entirely possible considering that he can’t sip out of the Fountain of Youth forever.
Given the way 2009 has played out so far, chances are we won’t have to wait that long for the next welterweight era to begin. HBO has so far lived up to its promise this year of producing better fights without taxing our wallets. A Cotto-Mosley rematch would undoubtedly go the pay-per-view route, but would be well worth the price of admission given what’s at stake.
Current Lineal Champion: Ricky Hatton (KO11 Kostya Tszyu 06/05/2005)
Length of current lineage: 11/03/2001 - present
Champions during lineage: Two (Hatton KO11 Tszyu; Tszyu KO2 Zab Judah for vacant World title)
The road to maintaining the title: On paper, you couldn’t ask for more. Between Ricky Hatton and Kostya Tszyu exists a reign that extends more than seven years. The next lineal junior welterweight title fight to take place just so happens to be the sport’s biggest event of 2009 to date, when Hatton meets Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas on May 2.
How Hatton-Pacquiao plays out could greatly affect the future of the division, at least at the very top. While not an overwhelming favorite, more than a few experts have Pacquiao winning his fourth career lineal title, adding the 140 lb. crown to a collection that includes top prizes at flyweight, featherweight and junior lightweight.
That could lead to the division’s lone problem for the foreseeable future.
Certainly there’s no shame in a division’s best fighter also being the sport’s top dog. Only it will then become a matter of just how long junior welterweight will get to house Pacquiao, who’s never met a division he didn’t want to bolt from after a few minutes.
Pacquiao’s constant division jumping in fact strengthens his pound-for-pound claim, if not redefines the term altogether. Notable wins from 122-147 in this decade alone takes matters from a mythical argument to a one-man wrecking crew of boxing’s best, regardless of weight.
Should he emerge victorious against Hatton, the question then becomes, where does he go from there?
Promoter Bob Arum recently enlisted the services of undefeated Venezuelan puncher Edwin Valero, with the intention of grooming him as a future candidate for the Pacquiao sweepstakes. Does that mean Pac would drop back down to 135, or does Valero go the way of Humberto Soto, where his name becomes bait in planning Pacquiao’s next move?
There’s also the possibility of having Pacquiao face Cotto. Arum promotes both and has already openly mentioned that, should it make the most financial sense (and how could it not), he’d have every intention of encouraging his two fighters to meet one another. Whether or not the fighters would ultimately accept would be up to them.
Should Hatton win and defend his crown, he potentially becomes the sport’s biggest star, already boasting major appeal on both sides of the pond. Fans have been clamoring for a Hatton-Cotto matchup as long as both were still campaigning at 140. No time like the present, if it means the best available payday for both sides.
Whatever transpires, names like Tim Bradley, Kendall Holt, Andreas Kotelnik or Junior Witter won’t figure into the mix anytime soon. Luckily, none are of the type to sit on their leads while waiting for opportunity to come knocking.
Bradley and Holt are scheduled to square off in April, while Kotelnik, for years one of the most underrated and hard-luck fighters in the division, if not all of boxing, just came off of a tough alphabet title defense against Marcos Maidana.
Witter is being groomed for a showdown with undefeated rising contender Devon Alexander. Whoever comes out on top of that proposed match would be in line for a shot at the Bradley-Holt winner. Somewhere out there is Holt’s old rival, Ricardo Torres, who pulled out of their scheduled rubber match last December but remains in the hunt.
Also not to be left out is Nate Campbell, who declared after missing weight for his eventual hard-fought majority decision win over Ali Funeka on February 14 that he was defecting to junior welterweight. Where he winds up in the thick of things remains to be seen, but his arrival and willingness to fight anyone, anywhere, anytime certainly can’t hurt things.
Of all of the divisions in boxing, junior welterweight has the potential to remain the healthiest. A king will remain at least through May, and the rest of the division is not only staying active, but against one another for the most part. That’s what you call covering all of the bases.
Part III, which details the continued road map at lightweight, along with looks at junior lightweight, featherweight and junior featherweight.
Jake Donovan is a voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Comments/questions can be submitted to [email protected] .