Grading The Boxing Divisions, 2009

teacher.jpgA couple years ago, I did something fans and writers in nearly every other sport do: I graded boxing’s divisions. NCAA basketball features constant comparisons and contrasts of power conferences, but nobody ever really does the same for pugilism. I intended to make an annual affair of it, but in 2008, I failed to do so, letting myself down and letting everyone down who’s a fan of subjective, largely meaningless and constant list-making.

Fret no more, myself and fans of subjective, largely meaningless and constant list-making! As of now, I revive the “annual” tradition of grading boxing’s divisions.
I examined the divisions as they stand now and projected how they are likely to look one year from now. I considered the division’s number of quality fighters and big names, now and later, as well as its recent record and future potential for good, exciting fights being made.
Tell me how wrong I am, will you? When I published this piece at East Side Boxing in 2007, I got called all KINDS of mean names. More than I usually do here. [NOW MODIFIED: Thanks to everyone telling me how wrong I am, I’ve improved the listings considerably, in my opinion. Most appreciated, gang.]


Now: A+
Floyd Mayweather is back, and for the time being, Juan Manuel Marquez is with him. Manny Pacquiao is sure to return soon, even if it’s just a catchweight fight. Miguel Cotto and Shane Mosley remain. Paul Williams wants to return. That’s six members of the pound-for-pound top 20. Andre Berto, Joshua Clottey and a number of other quality fighters round out the top 10. This division is loaded, although a number of its best fighters are tourists.
Future: A
It’s a legit worry whether some of these guys will face off with one another or not. There are a lot of egos and a lot of money for those egos to fight over. And some of the division’s best may be headed for retirement soon. But one year from now, if even half these guys are still around, it’s still very likely the best division in the sport.
Now: A
Super middleweight is probably the deepest division in the sport right now, from veteran to prospect. The only thing holding it back from a higher grade is that few of its best are worldwide stars. Mikkel Kessler, Carl Froch and Lucian Bute are the top three, and they’re popular in Denmark, Great Britain and Canada, respectively, but not elsewhere.
Future: A+
With Kelly Pavlik and Arthur Abraham likely to join the division by 2010, and the possibility that Chad Dawson could follow, there will be a little injection of star power, and with ultra-talented youngsters like Andre Ward, Andre Dirrell and Danny Jacobs still working their way up, the future is very bright indeed. Best of all, with Showtime investing heavily in the division, there’s incentive for everyone to fight each other.
Now: B+
Any division where Pacquiao is the champion automatically gets a good grade. Nice talents with moderate star potential Tim Bradley, Nate Campbell and Joan Guzman, not to mention division megastar Ricky Hatton, round out a very nice core of arguably the second deepest division in the sport.
Future: B
Pacquiao, as mentioned above, probably will be fighting as a welterweight next, and Hatton may retire or just have a farewell fight. But two of the most promising young fighters around — Victor Ortiz and Amir Khan (flawed though the latter may be, he’s very popular and talented) — are going to blossom along with some of the other youngsters, and a few lightweights like Edwin Valero look like they’ll be moving up soon.
Now: B+
Because Lopez, Marquez and Caballero remain here officially, the division is nice and top-heavy. There have been some wonderful action fights here of late, from Vaquez-Marquez to Bernard Dunne-Richard Cordoba.
Future: D+
When Lopez, Marquez and Caballero make their inevitable departure, there are still some decent fighters who remain, like a Steve Molitor, but it gets below average in talent and what it offers in return is parity.
Now: B
Two years ago, junior middleweight was one of the worst divisions around. But now it’s got a nice mix of holdover veterans — Vernon Forrest, Cory Spinks, Daniel Santos — plus talents on the rise — Williams is probably making a home base here, as is Kermit Cintron, and then there are types like Sergio Martinez and Alfredo Angulo.
Future: B+
James Kirkland’s return is uncertain and Forrest is nearing the end of his career. But prospects like Erislandy Lara and Vanes Martirosyan could very well fill the void soon, and 2008 Demetrius Andrade has the kind of talent that suggests he won’t be too far behind.
Now: B
Israel Vazquez’ move boosts what was already a pretty strong division, headlined by the talented likes of Chris John, Steve Luevano and Yuriorkis Gamboa. The division goes pretty deep, too.
Future: A
Rafael Marquez. Juan Manuel Lopez. Celestino Caballero. All are likely to move to featherweight this calendar year or next and add to the current players. That right there, friends, is a helluva jam-packed division.
Now: B
Bantamweight will soon host the salivation-worthy Vic Darchinyan-Joseph Agbeko bout; Hozumi Hasegawa is getting some pound-for-pound props; folk like Fernando Montiel and Gerry Penalosa are roaming the weight class too.
Future: B+
Nonito Donaire is almost sure to chase a big money fight here sooner than later, and Abner Mares is one of the brightest young boxers in any division. No current inhabitants appear to be eyeing a move up in weight.
Now: B-
Surprised to see such little men here? I kinda was surprised to put them there. But the division has already hosted two of the year’s most exciting slugfests — Giovanni Segura-Cesar Canchila II and Brian Viloria-Ulises Solis — and the division’s top dog, champion and top-10 pound-for-pounder Ivan Calderon, hasn’t even fought yet. Edgar Sosa is one of several of those remaining men making a play for top-20 pound-for-pound status. From there, the division drops off a bit, but that’s a very strong top six.
Future: C-
Calderon’s career could be reaching its end in 2010, and Viloria and maybe some others may not stay in the division much longer. Since the division is more dependent than some others on its top six, that bodes poorly for its near future.
Now: B-
Lightweight is deep, and everyone is fighting each other, showing how much a division can enhance itself merely by making the best match-ups. Juan Diaz, Valero, Michael Katsidis and others are exciting action stars, too.
Future: B-
If Valero and one or two others leave — Joel Casamayor can’t keep fighting forever, right? — it’s still a deep division and they’re likely to be replaced by folk one division lower, such as Humberto Soto, Jorge Barrios and the like. 
Now: C
The division doesn’t have a lot happening right now in terms of fights being made, but some of its untapped talent, like Soto, Roman Martinez, Jorge Linares and Robert Guerrero boosts it to a “C” grade.
Future: B-
Sooner or later, some of these dudes are going to have to start fighting one another. Soto-Guerrero has been talked about since forever, and the moment Linares gets healthy and stays there, watch out.
Now: C-
It’s a three-man division — Pavlik, Abraham and Felix Sturm — unless you count Williams, and I don’t, and Winky Wright, who doesn’t crack Ring magazine’s top-10 rankings because he hasn’t won a fight in going on two years. The rest of the division, frankly, is booty.
Future: F+
Once Pavlik and Abraham visit more northerly climes, the division is a wasteland. Imagine a division where Sturm is the best and most popular fighter. Best hope is if a prospect like, say, Peter Quillin or Andy Lee materializes into a huge force, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Now: C-
The division’s best fighter, Hopkins, is half-retired. If not for the rematch between Dawson and Johnson reportedly being imminent, it would rate much lower, although its relative (albeit mediocre) depth bails it out a little, too.
Future: F+
Hopkins clearly has little intention of staying, Johnson and a number of the division’s other fighters are getting very old, and Dawson has flirted with moving down to super middleweight. Unless some super middleweights unexpectedly migrate upward, it’s going to get dark out.
Now: C-
The division has a grand total of one star, Tomasz Adamek, but it’s got a nice stock of good fighters who have been producing exciting battles, like Adamek-Cunningham and the more recent Krzysztof Wlodarczyk-Giacobbe Fragomeni scrap.
Future: C
Unlike usual, very few cruisers are talking about heavyweight leaps, and excellent fighters like Bernard Hopkins and Glen Johnson are flirting with making one-time stops here. Even if they don’t, the division does have some upwardly mobile youngsters like Johnathon Banks.
Now: D+
Really, only Donaire’s presence prevents a lower grade for what last year was one of the two or three best divisions. Everyone’s switched neighborhoods to bantamweight. The best remaining fighter after Donaire with a ratio of stardom to quality is a shopworn Jorge Arce.
Future: D-
Once Donaire’s gone, what’s left? Arce will probably retire fairly soon, but unless you live in Asia, the division offers next to nothing after that, because those are the only places where the other top-10ers are fighting each other.
Now: D
Because of the difficulty of obtaining fight tapes of bouts in Asia, perhaps I’m underrating flyweight and strawweight. But the divisions are dominated by fighters from that region of the world. I like the stray Omar Narvaez or Roman Gonzalez, though.
Future: D
On the bright side, it’s not as if anyone here now won’t be here in the near future, and Gonzalez has as much star potential as you can pack into a 105-pound body, and the more he shows it, the better the division gets. But otherwise, staying the same means a “D.”
Now: F
The Klitschko brothers are good, it’s true. But they’re boring. The next best fighter is (allegedly) a chronic hepatitis sufferer. The division is largely a collection of terrifically unexciting guys who weigh more than they should.
Future: D+
If exciting-but-flawed younger heavyweights like David Haye, Chris Arreola and Alexander Povetkin somehow unseat the lumbering giants of their division, maybe we get a little bit of value out of the weight class. But it’s a long shot, thus the low grade.

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.