By Jake Donovan/Cliff Rold
It’s often referred to as the best division in boxing, which begs a question…
How often is Welterweight not the best division in boxing?
Certainly there are always strong periods elsewhere. For much of this decade, fans were treated to magnificent action around Featherweight and Lightweight. Even Light Heavyweight had a hot streak for a few years.
Year in and year out though, Welterweight is boxing’s oasis. It is the place where the legends of Ryan, Walcott, Robinson, Napoles and Leonard were born. There are yet more legends being forged today. The last time Welterweight was this hot, fans got a sort of round robin featuring the likes of Pernell Whitaker, Oscar De La Hoya, Ike Quartey, and Felix Trinidad.
This time around the horn might turn out even better. It will certainly end up being richer. Where do the key players fall?
Let the discussion begin.
World Welterweight Champion: Vacant
Donovan: Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: even with Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr potentially going down as the most lucrative fight in the history of the sport, the welterweight champion of the world will not be crowned. Though one fight is far more historically significant than the other, the fact of the matter is that Pacquiao-Mayweather (should it get made) and Shane Mosley-Andre Berto (slated for January 30) becomes your Welterweight Final Four. Winner faces winner, and a champion is crowned.
Rold: Final four? I can see that, though until Berto really proves he belongs with the top of the class it’s really a Final three plus one. If Mosley beats Berto, he simply reaffirms what should be obvious: no one can be crowned until he has his say. The historical encyclopedia at Cyber Boxing Zone credits Mosley as capturing the lineage when he defeated Antonio Margarito and there’s a case for it. Had Margarito won, with Paul Williams having all but rhetorically left the class, he would have earned the spot. In a period of vacancy, it’s better to leave it that way until everyone is certain the two very best in class are squaring off.
1. Shane Mosley (46-5, 39 KO, WBA Super, 0 Defenses)
Last Contest: January 24, 2009, TKO9 Antonio Margarito (37-6, 27 KO)
Next Contest: January 30, 2010 vs. #6 Andre Berto (25-0, 19 KO, WBC, 3 Defenses)
Rold: Staying on theme, what’s happened to Mosley the last year is a damn shame. How can a 38-year old fighter not be able to find someone ready to test the ‘get old in a day’ theory? He’s finally found someone, though not the opponent who should have allowed for the cash out the Margarito win earned him. Those things aside, Mosley even occupying this spot is amazing (and he still deserves it even after Pacquiao-Cotto). A fighter who can climb to the top of a division ten years after the first time he did it, while rising in weight in between, is rare treat. From the first win over Oscar De La Hoya in June 2000 to the Margarito toppling in January 2009, Mosley has been a roller coaster of big wins, bad losses, BALCO, and redemption. It’s a hell of a story.
Donovan: I’ve tried to sympathize with Shane’s cause, but his own stubbornness proved to be his undoing this year. Better late than never, though. Perhaps more criminal than his failure to land a big fight was HBO viewing him as disposable – giving him a date, convincing Golden Boy to push it back three weeks to benefit another fighter, only to snatch the date altogether. At long last comes a fight with Berto that should’ve happened much earlier this year. Hopefully for Mosley’s sake, it’s a start of a memorable 2010, further adding to his improbably career turnaround.
2. Manny Pacquiao (50-3-2, 38 KO, WBO, 0 Defenses)
Last Contest: November 14, 2009, TKO12 #3 Miguel Cotto (34-2, 27 KO)
Next Contest: TBA
Donovan: As is there wasn’t already enough star power in the welterweight division. A fight with Floyd should keep Pacquiao at this weight for good, although given his diet, he can seemingly drop back to 140 (where he remains for the moment its lineal champion) any time he wants. The question is, what would prompt him to do so, especially in light of the one-sided shellacking he handed Cotto? A third fight with Marquez at this point almost seems anti-climactic, given what Pacquiao has already been able to accomplish at or at least near 147, and the options that lie ahead – particularly the most lucrative fight in boxing history, which many feel will go on to be the case once he and Mayweather sign on the dotted line.
Rold: I agree that Floyd should keep him here…for now. If he wins, he’s staying. If he were to lose that fight in a competitive fashion then, hey, it’s a rematch. A bad loss though could send him back to 140, which wouldn’t be all bad, or retirement, which would be bad for a sport basking in the glow of having two mega-draws at the same time. There has been some case made for having Pacquiao in the top spot. Ring elevated him to number one. However, it seems hasty. The De La Hoya win, circa 2008 Oscar, doesn’t really mean much in terms of the Welterweight division. The Cotto win was magnificent but the top Welterweight should never have to ask for a catch weight inside the division. When he beats a Welterweight who comes in wherever they want below 147, reconsideration can happen. The catch didn’t seem to affect the outcome of the Cotto, but the principle matters.
3. Miguel Cotto (34-2, 27 KO)
Last Contest: November 14, 2009, TKO by12 #2 Manny Pacquiao (50-3-2, 38 KO)
Next Contest: TBA
Rold: There is every reason to think Cotto should have dropped below Mayweather in the ratings. He was stopped badly for the second time in a little over a year. However, the first loss is mired under a cloud of ‘did Margarito juice his gloves.’ There is also the overall body of work. From late-2006 to Pacquiao, Cotto has faced most of the monsters at Welterweight. He’s only one fight removed from a gut check win over the tough Joshua Clottey. He holds a win over the number one guy. The man below him? We’ll get to that.
Donovan: How ironic that both of Cotto’s losses come against opponents who have subsequently been accused of cheating. The Mosley debacle had people retroactively discrediting Margarito’s career-best win over Cotto, assuming that he’s been loading his gloves all along. Now comes the suggestion that Pacquiao’s incredible run has been aided by illegal substance. The question is, does Cotto invest any stock in either rumor (or both), if only to perhaps mentally recover from either loss. Both nights were of the stuff that normally ruins careers. Many wonder where Cotto goes from here; up seems to be the least likely direction.
4. Floyd Mayweather Jr. (40-0, 25 KO)
Last Contest: September 19, 2009, UD12 World Lightweight Champion Juan Manuel Marquez (50-5-1, 37 KO)
Next Contest: TBA
Donovan: Ah, boxing’s most disrespected superstar. As was the case heading into his 2001 clash with Diego Corrales, Mayweather now has the chance to once again reload the bandwagon. All it will take is signing to a fight with and eventually beating Manny Pacquiao. Quite ironic, considering the chief criticism of Floyd’s recent career – in addition to his never pursuing the biggest challenges – is that he hasn’t fought a true welterweight in three years. But making the one fight that nearly every boxing fan most wants to see will go a long way towards forgiveness, even if he’s once again (and perhaps forever) stuck in the roll of villain.
Rold: Mayweather is a villain only in the Ric Flair sense. Back in the 1980s, pro wrestling fans booed Flair with a wink. The man they love to hate is secretly the one everyone really wants to love…if not be. Like most villains, Mayweather is likely to receive lots of applause when his hair turns gray. In the meantime, beating a credible Welterweight is the concern. He left the game on a high note with a 2007 win over Jr. Welterweight champion Ricky Hatton. He appeared masterful in his September 2009 return against Lightweight king Juan Manuel Marquez. The problem was that Marquez had no business at Welterweight. His status as the last lineal champion, and the “0” on his record, gets Mayweather a lot of credit but not more than the men in front of him who have done big things, in class, in more recent vintage.
5. Joshua Clottey (35-3, 20 KO)
Last Contest: June 13, 2009, L12 Miguel Cotto (34-2, 27 KO)
Next Contest: TBA
Rold: What’s not to love about Clottey? Sure, he fades a little late in fights and he’s not likely to ever be the king of the Welters. But Clottey brings it. No matter who he fights, he’s a handful and there is something to respect about a fighter like that. Maybe this scribe is just a sucker for Ghanaians; Azumah Nelson and Ike Quartey rate as contemporary favorites after all. There is more than that. Clottey’s losses say a lot about him. He was beating future champion Carlos Baldomir easily before a disqualification in 1999 and gave both Margarito and Cotto hell in defeat while proving too much for Zab Judah. A fight with IBF titlist Isaac Hlatshawyo would be worth a ticket for anyone.
Donovan: Somewhere along the way, Clottey will have to find a way to win a big fight. That aside, he deserves much better than the hand he’s been dealt. First, he was supposed to fight Shane Mosley, only for HBO to yank the date. Then came the proposed crossroads bout with Carlos Quintana, only for Top Rank to lose the date after Kelly Pavlik was once again forced to withdraw from a fight with Paul Williams. What’s worse is that it’s business as usual for Top Rank, who has already announced plans for dates over the next three months, though never once mentioning Clottey’s name.
6. Andre Berto (25-0, 19 KO, WBC, 3 Defenses)
Last Contest: May 30, 2009, UD12 Juan Urango (22-2-1, 17 KO, IBF Jr. Welterweight)
Next Contest: January 30, 2010 vs. #1 Shane Mosley (46-5, 39 KO, WBA Super, 0 Defenses)
Donovan: The free ride is over, though to ‘Dre’s credit, the Shane Mosley fight he gets next January is one he’s pursued for more than a year. Most seem to forget that Berto was set to face Mosley until the three-division world champion instead opted for the greater payday – and perceived risk – against Margarito. How ironic that Mosley went on to post a career-best performance, while Berto struggled mightily with Collazo, in a fight many felt the 2004 Haitian Olympian was lucky to have his hand raised at night’s end. Between a disputed win and a stinker over Juan Urango, ’09 hasn’t exactly been the best year for Berto. Starting off 2010 against the best welterweight in the world isn’t exactly a confidence builder, although he could be catching Mosley at the perfect time, at age 38 and coming off a 53-week layoff.
Rold: I don’t think Berto needs a confidence builder and I don’t see much of a free ride. Sure, HBO dates for some of the fights he’s had were questionable, but his first 25 fights have been fairly typical of a young star being groomed. Fight number twenty-six is the test to see if the build was orchestrated correctly and if he’s good enough to round the learning curve. Berto has lingering questions about his chin, and his head movement is a problem because he doesn’t have much, but has Mosley ever faced a fighter with the speed advantage Berto will have over him? This is make-or-break time for Berto and he just might surprise the doubters. Despite his struggles, he’s shown tremendous heart and resilience on his way up the ranks.
7. Luis Collazo (30-4, 15 KO)
Last Contest: June 20, 2009, TKO6 David Gogichaishvili (9-17, 4 KO)
Next Contest: TBA
Rold: Doesn’t it feel like Luis Collazo has been around forever? He hasn’t of course but he’s been such a steady presence in the middle of the Welterweight pack it can feel like it. The only other face who has been so consistent during the same time period is Margarito, but Collazo never quite hit the same level of respect. Collazo-types are the lifeblood of a strong weight division, the gateway between the upper echelons and journeyman status. Where does he have to go right now though? If Berto can beat Mosley, there is always a rematch. Mosley already beat him badly. Pacquiao and Mayweather? Not likely. He’s just good enough to be stuck right now.
Donovan: It’s odd that Collazo’s best moments have come in near misses with Hatton and Berto, both fights in which many felt the Nuyorican did enough to win, particularly the latter. Any hope for a Hatton rematch has long been dissolved; a return go with Berto is most likely contingent on the Floridian surviving next year’s collision with Mosley. As Cliff mentioned, a Mosley win puts Collazo right back at square one, since their Feb. ’07 bout was far too lopsided (and disinteresting) to warrant a return match. Much like Clottey, Luis is in a spot where he can take tune-ups against no-hopers while holding out for bigger fights to materialize, but with little room for any fights that fall in between the two categories due to the risk-reward factor he carries.
8. Isaac Hlatshawyo (29-1-1, 10 KO, IBF, 0 Defenses)
Last Contest: August 1, 2009, SD12 Delvin Rodriguez (24-3-2, 14 KO)
Next Contest: TBA
Donovan: Hlatshwayo has flown way under the radar since losing to Kendall Holt in a stinker televised on Showtime. The Holt fight suggested his being a man without a country – too big for lightweight but perhaps too small for 140. Yet moving up seven more pounds has actually proven to be the remedy, going 4-0-1 since then, including a draw and a win over the very capable Delvin Rodriguez. The problem, however, is that it’s impossible to envision him going any further. Of the seven rated above him, Collazo is the only one against whom I’d give Hlatshwayo a decent chance, nor am I even convinced he beats Senchenko or Quintana.
Rold: It doesn’t say much when a Welterweight’s best win is a bout while still a Lightweight contender. Rodriguez was nice because it snared him a belt but is that really an impressive win? The one bright spot for Hlatshawyo could come because of his belt. Mosley and Berto are likely without an immediate dance partner, whoever wins that one. Could they see holding three belts, to the potential Pacquiao-Mayweather winner’s one, as leverage for a super payday late in 2010? If the answer is yes, Hlatshawyo could cash in. Maybe he’ll even shock the world.
9. Vyacheslav Senchenko (30-0, 20 KO, WBA Regular, 1 Defense)
Last Contest: October 3, 2009, UD12 Motoki Sasaki (32-8-1, 20 KO)
Next Contest: TBA
Rold: There will be some who see this as the latest overseas name to hold down the “Thomas Daamgard” slot. For those unfamiliar, Daamgard battled overseas for years, always at the fringe of Welterweight contention, and no one could have picked him out of a crowd without help. Don’t’ let the foreign-ness fool. Senchenko has a good jab, fluid combinations, and excellent feet. His title win over Yuriy Nuzhnenko was a solid boxing effort and with opportunities he could be a dark horse for a major upset somewhere down the road.
Donovan: Senchenko is everything that I find amazing about this division. It’s deep enough to where a fighter of his ilk can only man the number nine spot. Yet despite it being the most lucrative in the sport, Senchenko represents one of several high-risk/low reward talents. The Ukrainian was one of several Plan B options that existed while Shane spent the remaining 49 weeks of 2009 on the sidelines, the regular champion to Mosley’s “super champ” status among the WBA. Don’t count on that fight, or any other against notable talent on this side of the Atlantic, to exist until Golden Boy or Top Rank find it profitable enough to obtain the stateside rights to his career.
10. Carlos Quintana (26-2, 20 KO)
Last Contest: October 25, 2008, TKO4 Joshua Onyango (14-17-1, 11 KO)
Next Contest: TBA
Donovan: As loaded as is the welterweight division, Quintana is a name at which you have to do a double take and wonder, “How did he sneak into the top 10?” There’s only so much mileage he should be afforded from his win over P-Dub in their first fight, especially considering the way he was blitzed in the return go less than four months later. A showdown with Clottey would’ve went a long way towards determining whether or not he remains Top 10; he gets to keep the December 5 date, albeit way off camera and against much lighter competition (Jesse Feliciano, who honestly has no business fighting on). Quintana’s been his own worst enemy, twice pulling out of televised fights this year due to injury, but until other welterweights below him begin to step up, his spot is secure.
Rold: While agreeing on Jake’s general thesis, Quintana is also evidence of a problem in every class when there are seventeen to go around. Once one gets to the ten spot, the picking get slim. This is one of the best weight classes in the game so imagine what’s going on elsewhere. Quintana sticks around largely on past work but some young gun could easily take this slot in 2010 if something doesn’t break, in the ring, for Quintana.
Rold: It’s hard to say anyone is missing but there are certainly candidates for contention rising in the ranks. Selcuk Aydin (19-0, 15 KO) is a blast to watch and could easily be tenth now. Former champion Zab Judah (38-6, 26 KO) is flirting back at Jr. Welterweight but that could always change and he could sneak back in. And of course there is Mexico’s Saul Alvarez (29-0, 22 KO). Only 19, he could be a breakout star sooner than later.
Donovan: At some point next year, Antonio Margarito will have his license renewed. His year or so away from the ring certainly warrants his no longer being ranked; the question is where to place him once he returns. Cotto’s at #3 based on strength of schedule; Margarito will have to warrant similar consideration regardless of who’s in the opposite corner for his first fight back. There’s also the winner of this weekend’s title eliminator between Rafa Jackiewicz and Delvin Rodriguez, which will have occurred by the time this is published.
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Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com and an award-winning member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Contact Jake at JakeNDaBox@gmail.com; Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org