The Most Avoided Fighter List, Updated

It was a terrible weekend for two fighters who had made a legitimate claim that they were being avoided by the top names in the biz. Paul Williams, the tall, gangly welterweight (147 lbs.) with an outrageous punch output, had the “Most Avoided” title coming in to Saturday night — he was the “linear” titlist, if you will, because he took it from Antonio Margarito when he beat him in 2007. Then he ran into counter-punching Carlos Quintana, who pulled out a close victory over Williams that made “The Punisher” look bad. Same for Darnell Wilson, who got counter-punched into a close loss to B.J. Flores Friday night. Before that, Wilson appeared to be getting ducked by all the top cruiserweights (200 lbs.) by virtue of his shocking knockout power. Why do those losses matter so much? It’s a lot harder to claim people are ducking you if you lose. I could claim right now that Oscar De La Hoya is avoiding me, but there’s not a scrap of legitimacy to the claim, because I haven’t been tearing through the best competition in the sport. All the people who saw Williams lose this weekend and had been claiming that he somehow didn’t deserve a big fight can now point to this loss and say: “See? I told you he was all hype.” So how does one become an avoided fighter? It’s usually a combination of things. I’ve narrowed it down to a short list of factors. First, to even qualify, one has to be good, and prove as much against the best available competition. Second, there has to be some evidence somewhere that one is really being avoided. For instance: Kermit Cintron had been signed to fight Williams, then got injured, then pulled out and used the Internet to call out every welterweight except Williams. If one’s a top-ranked fighter and nobody’s pining for a showdown, odds are good they’re being ducked. Some of the factors that lead to a fighter getting avoided are his own fault, some are not. Exceptional Size usually is the kind of thing other boxers want to steer clear of. If someone does something that is just Too Good, like exceptional power, fighters who are not in the same stratosphere may not want to get embarrassed. A Difficult Style, like Williams’ all-out work rate, can make opponents look bad win or lose, besides posing strategic problems. Nobody likes fighting a Southpaw, who stands an equal chance of creating awkward action and unconventional pitfalls. And some boxers just offer No Money — by virtue of the way they fight, they bore viewers to tears even when they keep winning, or they otherwise haven’t developed a big fan base. So here’s the list, updated with the weekend’s action in mind: THE “MOST AVOIDED” LIST 1. Junior Witter, junior welterweight (140 lbs.): The reigning king of the junior welters, Ricky Hatton, blames Witter’s mouth for preventing an all-U.K. battle between the two. Demetrius Hopkins, another top-10 junior welterweight, recently revealed that he wouldn’t be fighting Witter, as previously reported, because of a feud with his promoter. Regardless of the reasons, nobody much seems eager to take on Witter, a defensive wizard who at times has stomped all over his marketable talents by valuing running over fighting. He may be ready to scratch off his perceived fan unfriendliness if he matches his previous performance, a crowd-pleasing knockout of top-10 junior welterweight Vivian Harris last year. But even after that fight, nobody was much demanding a fight with Witter, and even the bragadocious Paul Malignaggi has only tepidly said he would be willing to take on Junior. Avoidable Attributes: No Money, Difficult Style 2. Joan Guzman, junior lightweight (130 lbs.): Once feared for his considerable knockout power, Guzman has climbed the weight ladder over the years and is now more feared for his hand speed and defense. He demonstrated both over the second half of his 2007 win against Humberto Soto in what was to be an intriguing clash of two fighters who had earned the “avoided” label, and stood to shed it with an impressive victory. If only Guzman had displayed a little bit more of his inner brawler, as he had over the first half of his win. By the end of the fight, he was drawing boos for his hit-and-run strategy. Afterwards, promoter Bob Arum said that one of big money-makers, Manny Pacquiao, wouldn’t fight Guzman because he stunk out the place. More than one wag asked, “Or was it because Arum saw that Pacquiao very well could lose to Guzman, who might make him look bad in the process?” He gave anyone watching that night fodder for both views. He’s headed toward a fight with a fellow top-10 junior lightweight in Alex Arthur, but Guzman’s name isn’t on the lips of any of the big-name boxers around his weight. Avoidable Attributes: No Money, Too Good 3. Chad Dawson, light heavyweight (175 lbs.): Check out the wish lists of all the top names around 168 and 175 pounds — the guys all the other top guys want to fight — and Dawson’s not on a single one of them. In another time, maybe things wouldn’t be this way. With the aging Roy Jones, Bernard Hopkins and Joe Calzaghe the top names around the 168-175 vicinity, it’s probably fair to say that the older gentleman want no part of a young, hungry, speedy champ. It’s not as if there’s no money in fighting Dawson, it’s just that there’s more money elsewhere for less risk. Kudos to fellow “Most Avoided” entrant Glen Johnson, who’s fighting Dawson in April. Avoidable Attributes: Too Good, Southpaw 4. Celestino Caballero, junior featherweight (122 lbs.): As weird as a 6’1″ welterweight like Williams looks, a 5’11” junior featherweight looks as strange if not stranger. Caballero is tall and awkward. He hits plenty hard when he sits down on his punches, and can be entertaining as such, but mostly he’s just gangly enough to get tied up as he comes in from peculiar angles and as people struggle to adjust to his size. No one who saw his maulfest with Jorge Lacierva in 2007 really wanted to see him again. It’s too bad, because his 2005 brawl with Daniel Ponce De Leon was exciting stuff, and he’s the third best fighter in his talent-rich division. But De Leon isn’t clamoring to avenge his only loss, nor is hardly anyone else coming around with a begging cup. Avoidable Attributes: Size, No Money, Difficult Style 5. Glen Johnson, light heavyweight: The aforementioned Johnson stays on top of his man all fight long, constantly hitting him and more often than not, playing the spoiler, so his opponents get a long hard night against him and an unhappy ending. Roy Jones got KTFO by Johnson in 2004, when Johnson also upset Antonio Tarver to earn Ring magazine’s “Fighter of the Year” award. Tarver avenged his loss the following year with an unsatisfactory slap-and-move strategy, and Johnson suffered another setback in a close decision loss to Clinton Woods. More definitive losses might have kicked him off this list. He’s clearly a top-10 light heavy, and yet like Dawson, he’s not on anyone’s wish list in the division, even at age 39. It hurts that his name recognition is still low; he was the second person to knock out Jones, not the first, and was anonymous before and after. Avoidable Attributes: Difficult Style BEST OF THE REST Talented Cory Spinks (junior middleweight, 154 lbs.) has had his chances to make the big-time, such as against Zab Judah and Jermain Taylor, but the feather-fisted southpaw is boring and makes every opponent look bad, win or lose… After years of being avoided because of his ugly-but-winning style, Zahir Raheem (lightweight, 135 lbs.) finally got a big fight and won it, against Erik Morales, and after some more avoidance he blew his big chance to capitalize by looking terrible against Acelino Freitas; his recent first-round KO victory is probably too little, too late… Counter-punching, jab-happy defensive pro Winky Wright (middleweight, 160 lbs.) graduated from the “Most Avoided” list, then began pricing himself out of fights, and now he’s dug himself back to getting un-mentioned.. Welterweights Josh Clottey (hard-hitting, tight D) and Luis Collazo (southpaw, quick) may have trouble finding bouts in the division despite being a notch below the upper crust of the loaded division… One suspects Williams and Wilson will retain a little bit of their “Most Avoided” clout… And does Quintana join the list now? (For a list from nearly three years ago, on ESPN/MaxBoxing, go here.)

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.