By Cliff Rold, photos by Stephanie Trapp
Jr. bantamweight, Jr. middleweight, and cruiserweight have all seen their fortunes rise in the last year or two in conversation about boxing’s best division.
Heavyweight is quickly returning to its perch as the surest road to riches.
One class still combines both a chance for wealth and serious depth. All it takes is for the right fights to be made. Another domino fell in that regard this week.
It so consistently ranges between solid and excellent that shiny new objects can obscure the obvious. When we’re talking about the best division in boxing, welterweight is rarely out of the conversation. Take a hard look and try to find the weak eras in the division’s history. It’s hard to do. Even when it’s down, it rarely lasts long.
Already in 2017 we were looking forward to Keith Thurman (WBA)-Danny Garcia (WBC). The biggest PBC fight yet will bring a unification battle to free network air for the first time since Terry Norris-Paul Vaden at Jr. middleweight in 1995. This week, a showdown between IBF titlist Kell Brook and former US Olympian Errol Spence was announced to further ignite the division.
With Manny Pacquiao still hanging around with a belt (WBO), and veterans Amir Khan, Timothy Bradley, and Shawn Porter all still in play, the depth and dollars are there for the remainder of the year if the schedule stays as strong as the first half of the year is playing out.
That makes every win, and every fringe belt, around welterweight all the more valuable. Enter this Saturday’s chief undercard bout below the Adrien Broner-Adrian Granados bout on Showtime (9 PM EST/6 PM PST).
For the WBA’s not-super version of the welterweight title (Thurman is their sooooooper champ), 28-year old David Avanesyan (22-1-1, 11 KO) will make his first start since last May in defense of his belt. Avanesyan won his piece of the WBA sanctioning fee pie with a unanimous decision over an aged Shane Mosley in what ended up being a decent enough scrap. Avanesyan, on paper, is matched a little tougher this time around.
His challenger, former Jr. welterweight titlist Lamont Peterson (34-3-1, 17 KO), enters off an even longer layoff. The 33-year old is making his first start since winning a questionable decision over Felix Diaz in October 2015. It was the second of a pair of questionable calls Peterson experienced that year. There is a case he was legitimately 1-1 on the year, but in the wrong order.
Along the way to Thurman-Garcia, Garcia picked up a majority decision win over Peterson in April 2015 that many thought should have gone the other way. Peterson may have lost on the cards but in terms of who landed the harder punches, who outfought the other man and did more damage, Peterson had reason to believe the victory should have been his.
It wasn’t, Diaz was, and then nothing for all of 2016. At 33, Peterson is at a point where losses carry even higher risk. Already not at the head of the line for big fights, a defeat Saturday could push him towards the dangerous gatekeeper role. For Avanesyan, a loss would push him even farther back in the pack. Low on name value, Peterson is his best chance to get into the meat of the field.
If this was just a welterweight fight, the winner might not matter much. It isn’t. The WBA belt at stake is worthy of scoffs to everyone but the combatants. For them it is there ticket into bigger opportunity.
Slowly, fitfully, trudging, the WBA has been putting their multiple-titlists-per-division in the ring together in the last couple years. The ‘regular’ WBA champion is in essence the mandatory to the real, or sooooper, champion. They’re supposed to square off eventually but over the last decade what we’ve seen more often is dual track titlists defending in separate universes. That’s not bad for the WBA’s coffers but it’s a silly look for boxing.
In an environment where the WBA is doing something about that, the winner here stands in the way of the winner of Thurman-Garcia. Boxing fans will inevitably start fantasizing about the winners of Garcia-Thurman and Brook-Spence facing each other, or Pacquiao. That’s not what these two will be thinking about.
The winner of Avanesyan-Peterson will have a chance to spoil fantasies and create a few new dreams of their own. This isn’t a fight with a lot of attention heading in but it’s one that will factor in, whether in the ring or in back room dealing, on how the rest of the year at welterweight plays out.
That it might end up a pretty good fight doesn’t hurt either. Peterson is a slow starter but he’s often in fights that heat up as the night wears on. Avanesyan is capable and fan friendly. It’s enough to make a point to tune in early. Another piece of the puzzle will be laid.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]