By Cliff Rold
It was only a matter of time.
No matter how deep, no matter how exciting, being the best at Jr. Welterweight has rarely carried the cache that comes with owning the scale seven pounds up. When one thinks of Jr. Welterweight, the mind might wander to Nicolino Locche, Aaron Pryor, Julio Cesar Chavez, or Kostya Tszyu. When one ponders the history of Welterweight, the mind lusts for Mickey Walker, Henry Armstrong, Ray Robinson, Emile Griffith, and Ray Leonard.
And who wants to be a “Jr.” anyways?
It’s true even when the field at 140 lbs. is tougher and deeper than its larger counterpart. In recent years, 140 lbs. has been on par with Bantamweight and Super Middleweight in the race for ‘best division in boxing.’ It remains today the rare division with a top ten actually housing ten fighters worth rating.
Welterweight has been as top heavy as any class in the game. Lineal World Welterweight Champion Floyd Mayweather (42-0, 26 KO) and titlist Manny Pacquiao (54-3-2, 38 KO) reside there, giving it more cache than any other spot on the scale. The drop from them to Andre Berto (28-1, 22 KO) and Victor Ortiz (29-3-2, 22 KO) is steep. There’s little to get anyone beyond the most devout interested from there.
Hardcore fans have had a fulfilling ride at 140 but it’s been a grooming period for the inevitable rise. Heat rises. In boxing, so does talent. A lot of what has made Jr. Welterweight a hot spot is coming to Welterweight.
This Saturday night on HBO, two of the best at Jr. Welterweight during its recent run, Marcos Maidana (31-2, 28 KO) and Devon Alexander (22-1, 13 KO), make their serious debuts at Welterweight. Maidana has left the door open for a return to 140. Alexander appears set to stay.
They are part of what is becoming a wave. Welterweight is more than prestige. It’s where the money is.
The chase for dollars is on.
Recent history says it can be caught. The first to rise was Ortiz. He came up the scale after coming of age in battles with Maidana and then-future unified Jr. Welterweight titlist Lamont Peterson. Berto put his WBC belt on the line against Ortiz in April 2011 and left without it in a memorable brawl.
Both men hit the deck. Ortiz pulled away after scoring the last of his knockdowns. The difference between what each had to handle in their respective classes could have played a part. Ortiz was criticized for the way he surrendered in his loss to Maidana, but it was the sort of fight, the sort of competition, that can make a fighter better. Berto had received a debated call in a war with Luis Collazo, a solid learning engagement, and gotten off the floor against veteran Cosme Rivera, but for the most part he’d led a charmed life in a division that offered less.
Ortiz fell short against Mayweather. He still got the fight off the Berto win, the increase in public acknowledgement, and a career high payday.
Timothy Bradley (28-0, 12 KO) partially unified at Jr. Welterweight and his reward is coming in June. Whether he wins or loses remains to be seen. He’s got Pacquiao on June 9th. He’s arrived. Bradley was roundly booed for not taking a unification fight with Amir Khan (26-2, 18 KO) last year. The bout would have crowned an undisputable king at 140 and set a definition on their ‘era.’
Pacquiao certainly makes the grief, from Bradley’s perspective, worth it.
Alexander and Maidana both undoubtedly want to be where Ortiz has been and where Bradley is going. They are likely soon to be joined by Khan. Upset by Peterson last December, Khan has a rematch on tap in May. Win or lose, does anyone doubt Khan is a Welterweight by year’s end?
Peterson (30-1-1, 15 KO) was rumored to be a potential choice for Pacquiao in June if Bradley didn’t get the call. He’s sure to remember that.
Given his debated decision loss to Alexander last year, a fight many had him winning after scoring a knockdown in the fourth, and the allure could be too much to ignore for Lucas Matthysse (30-2, 28 KO) as well.
Mix all of these fresh entrants at Welterweight with Berto and Ortiz, with veteran Jan Zaveck (31-2, 18 KO), with rising contenders Mike Jones (26-0, 19 KO) and Kell Brook (26-0, 18 KO), and…
…just like that, Welterweight once again possesses a depth worthy of its significance. It makes Welterweight more than “when are Manny and Floyd gonna’ fight?” and adds already established rivalries with it. The location shifts; the round robin can continue.
Maidana-Alexander is a good fight. It’s also a clear sign the floodgates are open.
Jr. Welter Soldiers On
By no means is the fun over at Jr. Welterweight even as key players rise. It’s the beauty of depth. Guys like Matthysse are likely to still want to win a title before testing waters higher and new names are set to explode at 140 as well. The gritty Mike Alvarado (32-0, 23 KO) has a chance to emerge. Erik Morales (52-7, 36 KO), though aged, could still set up a long overdue clash with Juan Manuel Marquez (53-6-1, 39 KO) if he gets by undefeated Danny Garcia (22-0, 14 KO).
Whether he gets by Yuriorkis Gamboa (21-0, 16 KO) or not, Lightweight banger Brandon Rios (29-0-1, 22 KO) will be on his way to 140 with an inevitable eye on 147 in the future.
There is talent to go around.
The Weekly Ledger
But wait, there’s more…
Klitschko Wins Tough: http://www.boxingscene.com/40-loving-it-klitschko-still-reigns-with-tough-win--49725
Campillo Gets Robbed: http://www.boxingscene.com/williams-cruises-campillo-heisted-corpus-christi--49741
Updated Division Ratings: http://www.boxingscene.com/forums/view.php?pg=boxing-ratings
Picks of the Week: http://www.boxingscene.com/boxingscenecoms-television-picks-week--49814
Cliff’s Notes… C M Punk and Chris Brown have gone all pugilist on each other on Twitter. Pop culture throwaway entertainment is always a plus…Speaking of, if Jim cheats on Pam on “The Office,” they ruin what’s left of the show. There are good husbands out there. So far, NBC hasn’t ruined one of the obvious fictional ones…Golden Boy’s Richard Schaefer said at the Wednesday presser for Hopkins-Dawson II that it has the ‘recipe for an unforgettable night.’ So did the first one, and it was. Let’s hope this time the prophecy is fulfilled for the right reasons…David Haye says he won’t come out of retirement for a Dereck Chisora fight. Good. Let’s skip straight to Chisora-Wladimir Klitschko and strike while the match is still hot…Has Texas suspended the judges who screwed Gabriel Campillo yet?...Jeremy Lin limits his turnovers and the Knicks lose to the Nets. This world is wild. Getting shut down by the Heat showed even the best rookies (and for all intents, Lin is one) have to learn at the hands of the veterans.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]