By Lyle Fitzsimmons
I’m just a humble boxing writer.
I periodically hop airplanes, frequently gas up cars and periodically camp out alongside a big-screen TV in order to stay on top of news from the ring.
But it’s high time for a midlife career change.
Forget the keyboard-toting and deadline-taunting. I want to be a promoter.
More specifically, I want to promote fights in the 154-pound division.
And if you don’t understand why, then you clearly weren’t in Brooklyn – or tuned into Showtime – on Saturday night and into Sunday morning.
Across three hours that sandwiched midnight on the East Coast, the junior middleweights (or super welterweights, if you prefer) took center stage and provided myriad evidence as to why they are the sport’s most interesting – if not yet the most star-studded – weight class.
Long gone are the days when 154 was merely a brief pit stop on the welterweight/middleweight expressway for legends like Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns and Ray Leonard, or, more recently, even slightly lesser-wattage lights like Canelo Alvarez, Miguel Cotto and Sergio Martinez.
These days, in fact, it appears as if the belted likes of Erislandy Lara, Jermell Charlo and Jarrett Hurd plan to stay awhile, and they seem pretty eager to knock each other around on the way to doing so.
The raw, powerful Hurd racked up the biggest win of a five-year pro career when he overcame a gutty last stand from ex-claimant Austin Trout to open the show, then staked out the competitive high ground by claiming, “We don’t run from anybody. We’re ready to unify.”
Charlo followed up with a shockingly sudden one-punch erasure of elite prospect Erickson Lubin, held his own amid a brief post-fight melee between the two contentious camps and immediately suggested Hurd had become his most coveted quarry.
“The other champions want to fight me and I'll take any of them,” he said. “Give me another title. I want Hurd. Hurd just won. Give me Hurd.”
And while it’s true the Barclays Center house didn’t come down in the afterglow of Lara’s tactical smothering of Terrell Gausha, the one-sided victory should do nothing to smudge the championship portrait the Cuban has been painting since a narrow loss to Alvarez three summers ago in Las Vegas.
He upped the ante, too, when he said he’d be willing to face Charlo, a fellow resident of Houston and a former teammate with trainer Ronnie Shields at the city’s Plex gym.
“I’m ready to box anyone that comes my way. I’m the best boxer at 154 pounds and I won’t shy away from anyone that wants to fight me,” he said. “I’ll box whoever, just line them up. I’m not afraid. I have proven that I’m a true champion. I’ll fight Charlo if I have to. We are friends, but business is business.”
The best thing about my new vocation is that the possibilities don’t end with the trio.
A glance at the latest Independent World Boxing Rankings shows the depth of the 154-pound field and, therefore, the number of interesting, compelling and violent matchups that could be in the cards.
Lara, Charlo and Hurd entered the weekend at Nos. 1, 3 and 5, respectively, sandwiching ex- and reigning WBO champions Demetrius Andrade and Cotto at places 2 and 4.
Recent Hurd and Charlo victims – Tony Harrison and Lubin – stand sixth and seventh, while the either reprehensible or intriguing specter of Antonio Margarito (unbeaten in a three-fight comeback that followed a beating from Cotto in 2011) hovers ominously and within matchmaking distance at No. 12.
Stay tuned for the fight posters and the rematch clauses.
“Today’s junior middleweight class isn’t as strong as the division was in the 1980s, when you had the four kings (Leonard, Duran, Hagler and Hearns) hovering around 152,” said Showtime’s Steve Farhood told Premier Boxing Champions. “But is growing and has something to aspire to. I break down the division today into three categories. You have the veterans, which is obviously Lara and Trout, the other is the young stars, which is Jermell and Demetrius Andrade, who could move to middleweight, and then the younger guys, like Lubin, who could be a future champion.
“It’s a good mix of today, tomorrow and yesterday.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Weekly title-fight schedule:
IBF cruiserweight title – Newark, New Jersey
Murat Gassiev (champion/No. 5 IWBR) vs. Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (No. 1 IBF/No. 7 IWBR)
Gassiev (24-0, 17 KO): First title defense; Sixth fight scheduled for 12 rounds (5-0, 3 KO, 1 NC)
Wlodarczyk (53-3-1, 37 KO): Twelfth title fight (8-2-1); Fourth fight in the United States (3-0, 2 KO)
Fitzbitz says: The champion hasn’t filled out his resume to the same extent as Wlodarczyk, but he’s younger and on a roll these days. Big wheel keeps on rolling. Gassiev in 10
IBF/WBA bantamweight titles – Belfast, Northern Ireland
Ryan Burnett (IBF champ/No. 11 IWBR) vs. Zhanat Zhakiyanov (WBA champ/No. 9 IWBR)
Burnett (17-0, 9 KO): First title defense; Fifth fight in Belfast (4-0, 3 KO)
Zhakiyanov (27-1, 18 KO): First title defense; Two split-decision wins after KO streak reached 12
Fitzbitz says: Zhakiyanov seems like the one with the chance to end the fight early, but Burnett gives the impression he’s got the skill to avoid such a decisive sequence. Burnett by decision
WBA super featherweight title – Verona, New York
Jezreel Corrales (champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Alberto Machado (No. 4 WBA/No. 16 IWBR)
Corrales (22-1, 18 KO): Third title defense; Fourth fight outside of Panama (3-0, 1 KO)
Machado (18-0, 15 KO): First title fight; KOs in all four fights outside Puerto Rico
Fitzbitz says: Could be a pretty interesting fight at the Turning Stone, for as long as it lasts, that is. Corrales has proven a worthy champ, though, and figures to get the job done first. Corrales by decision
WBC light flyweight title – Tokyo, Japan
Ken Shiro (champion/No. 3 IWBR) vs. Pedro Guevara (No. 1 WBC/No. 1 IWBR)
Shiro (10-0, 5 KO): First title fight; Has averaged 6.7 rounds in 10 career fights
Guevara (30-2-1, 17 KO): Sixth title fight (3-2); Held WBC belt in 2012-13 (two defenses)
Fitzbitz says: All logical signs point to Guevara, a former champion, winning back his belt. But Shiro’s rapid ascendance to championship level leads one to believe he’ll remain there. Shiro by decision
WBC flyweight title – Tokyo, Japan
Daigo Higa (champion/No. 3 IWBR) vs. Thomas Masson (No. 5 WBC/No. 25 IWBR)
Higa (13-0, 13 KO): First title defense; Has averaged 3.69 rounds per fight in pro career
Masson (17-3-1, 5 KO): First title fight; Lost lone career fight outside of France (0-1, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: The 22-year-old champion is a 112-pound KO phenom and there’s precisely zero reason to believe the traveling Frenchman will be the one to bring the run to an end. Higa in 6
Last week's picks: 5-0 (WIN: Hurd, Lara, Groves, Cruz, Charlo)
2017 picks record: 75-25 (75.0 percent)
Overall picks record: 897-299 (75.0 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.