Ring magazine’s “The State of the Game” review came out this month, and like this annual feature I do, it examines what’s what in all of boxing’s divisions. But they complement each other, these two columns. Ring is a bit more comprehensive, but it doesn’t rank every division in order of who’s best, like I do. Also, I’m more reliable. Last year I had super middleweight ranked second, and they wrote “the outlook isn’t all that interesting” at 168 pounds. TQBR 1, Ring 0!
I kid, mostly, because I was off about some of the divisions myself. But the rankings must go on. As before, I considered a 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 within the next year. Then, the future of the division — i.e., the year after that stretch — gets a grade. And as before, you should tell me where you think I’ve got it wrong. I modified last year’s list based on your suggestions, and I’m open to doing it again if you convince me.
You can argue whether the top spot should belong to a couple other divisions instead, but I give the edge to super middle because via the Super Six, everyone is fighting each other now and for at least the next year. Well, almost everyone. Lucian Bute is on the outside, but his presence also boosts the division. Bute, Arthur Abraham and Mikkel Kessler are hugely popular in their home countries — maybe some of the Americans, most likely Andre Ward, will get some love after the Showtime tournament ends, too. Up to six men have a case for pound-for-pound top-20 contention, with Ward and Bute getting top-10 plaudits on some lists.
Even after the tournament wraps up next year, there still will likely be some good fights to be made, such as the winner of the tournament against Bute, assuming Bute remains hot. There are also some very nice prospects in the division on the verge of contender status: Edwin Rodriguez, Marcus Johnson, David Lemieux. And Chad Dawson might be around then, too, in a move down from light heavyweight.
Surprised to see bantam at #2? Consider that the division already has Fernando Montiel, Hozumi Hasegawa, Yonnhy Perez, Abner Mares and Joseph Agbeko. Then, consider that Nonito Donaire and Vic Darchinyan have both indicated they want to join the division in the near future, with Donaire chasing Montiel and Darchinyan calling out several names — if he doesn’t go to featherweight, that is. Furthermore, even without Darchinyan, the past two years in the division have produced two Fight of the Year contenders, Perez-Agbeko and Perez-Mares. And the rest of the division isn’t exactly dull — Anselmo Moreno is a talent who hasn’t gotten much exposure, and Jorge Arce always livens up the space he inhabits.
The division has a nice mix of veterans and youngsters than can play out for a while, but most of the people here now — with the exception of prospect Chris Avalos — are all that are going to be here. Also, Donaire’s arrival could potentially be delayed if the past is any indicator; he’s talked about moving up before only to wait a bit.
The rankings don’t say this, because some of these men are new to the division, but the four to watch here are Chris John, Juan Manuel Lopez, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Celestino Caballero. That’s three pound-for-pound top-20 men, maybe four. Then there’s another tier of fighters who could maybe beat some of those men on a good day — Rafael Marquez, Steven Luevano, Elio Rojas, Bernabe Concepcion. Most of these fighters are extremely television-friendly, especially when you throw in Antonio Escalante and Jhonny Gonzalez. One potential knock: Will Gamboa and Lopez ever fight, and will anyone ever fight Caballero?
It’s going to take a long time for all these potential fights to become reality. Then there are a small handful of nice featherweight prospects like Miguel Angel Garcia and Matt Remillard who can extend the life of the division’s talent.
The top four men here — Timothy Bradley, Devon Alexander, Amir Khan and Marcos Maidana — are exciting youngsters with big star potential, and it’s a deep division after that. I’d been calling junior welter one of the two best in the sport, but upon review, it’s a little less interesting than I realized; division champion Manny Pacquiao isn’t returning, Ricky Hatton hasn’t fought in more than a year and may be retiring, and with Paulie Malignaggi leaving, the next best fighter is Juan Urango. I like Urango, but that’s a steep drop off from the top four. Plus, there’s no guarantee the top four fight each other within the next year, the way everyone’s posturing.
Bradley and Khan both have talked about moving up to welter, something that may happen the year after next, but Danny Garcia and Mike Alvarado are among the prospects who appear on the verge of stepping in to the spotlight. Still, that’s not an even trade.
Any division with Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, the two best fighters in the sport, is necessarily one of the top divisions. But after years of being the best weight class, things have slowed down. Shane Mosley may retire. Antonio Margarito got busted cheating. Miguel Cotto is leaving. Joshua Clottey and Andre Berto have showed limitations. Paul Williams may not be coming back. It’s a two-person division — and those two might not ever fight each other, making matters worse.
Pacquiao won’t be staying in boxing much longer, if he lives up to his words. But there’s some nice new blood coming up, like Mike Jones, Antwone Smith and Saul Alvarez, and Timothy Bradley and Amir Khan may be moving here from junior welter by this time next year.
With Sergio Martinez and Williams, the division starts strong with two pound-for-pound top-10 fighters. Then it goes pretty well from there — Cotto’s addition, Sergiy Dzinziruk’s return and James Kirkland’s and Alfredo Angulo’s brawling self being the highlights. Few of these fighters have big followings, though. Yuri Foreman might have some potential there with Jewish fans, and Cotto retains a Puerto Rican fan base, but with those two fighting each other this weekend, one will lose a little luster, likely.
Not only is the current roster of top contenders good, but the bench of prospects/young fighters who could be players by next year is fairly deep — Vanes Martirosyan, Shawn Porter, Erislandy Lara and Omar Henry.
I’ve changed my thinking on the heavyweights this year compared to last, some of that having to do with events. There are four fighters who can claim pound-for-pound top-20 status: the Klitschko brothers, David Haye and Tomasz Adamek, although the latter two in large part because of their work at cruiserweight. All four have major, major fan followings, be it German, British or Polish. And there have been a couple nice fights lately in the division. The biggest drawbacks, and the reason the heavies don’t rank higher, is that both Klitschkos should be banned under the United Nations convention against torture, plus Klitschko(s)-Haye keeps not happening.
If the division’s quality is predicated in some measure on the existence of four pound-for-pounders, the departure of Vitali, who’s likely to retire by next year, hurts matters. Much of the division is pretty young, but nobody looks capable of filling Vitali’s giant-sized shoes. Of course, some might say that the Klitschkos exiting could be good for the big boys, since there wouldn’t be two fighters virtually guaranteed to boringly win every fight they take.
Juan Manuel Marquez is the champion, but it’s not clear how much more he has left at his age or whether he’ll soon move to junior welterweight. His rematch with Juan Diaz, the 2009 Fight of the Year in many books, is good for the division in the near future, anyway. Michael Katsidis and Ali Funeka add some excitement, too. And in theory, Humberto Soto and Robert Guerrero add some depth.
Once Marquez is gone, what then? And is Katsidis going to move up to 140? Anthony Peterson is a nice young fighter, and Brandon Rios is probably the standout as far as prospects go, but losing the pound-for-pound top-10 Marquez and/or the division’s most exciting fighter would be quite a hit.
Ivan Calderon’s good, Giovanni Segura’s exciting, Brian Viloria and Ulises Solis might have some more business to do coming off losses, Rodel Mayol can’t help but be in a controversial fight, and all of these men are popular in either the Philippines or Mexico. Unfortunately, it’s always hard for the small guys, and I think the division has lost some quality in the last year.
Ring likes the assortment of “up-and-comers,” but I’m not convinced. It takes longer than usual for some smaller fighters to become big names or amass credentials, and if Calderon and Viloria, for instance, depart the fight game after this coming year, I don’t know if Johnriel Casimero will be enough to replace them. Maybe I’m being pessimistic, though, since I thought Calderon and Viloria might be gone by this time when I did last year’s thing.
Chad Dawson is the preeminent talent, and Jean Pascal (whom he’ll fight next to crown a lineal champion) and Tavoris Cloud are fun youngsters, too. But Glen Johnson and Bernard Hopkins is about it after that, and both those guys are old, old, old. That’s an extra “old” to split between the two of them, because they have more old than one person should have any rights to. Oh, and Hopkins may move to another division up or down anyhow.
I think this division might be on the way up. Ismayl Sillakh and Nathan Cleverly are prospects people are excited about — there could be a youth movement afoot, with Dawson, Pascal and Cloud leading the way and a couple other youngsters ready to fill things out.
Nobody really stands out at cruiser but there’s a fair amount of parity. Steve Cunningham is the #1 man, but he could easily lose to Troy Ross this week. There are a few pretty exciting fighters, too, like Marco Huck, Danny Green and Krzysztof Wlodarczyk. The division would rank lower if some of those fighters weren’t big in their home countries or if it hadn’t produced some Fight of the Year contenders the last couple years, because nobody is really sniffing pound-for-pound contention except perhaps Cunningham.
I can’t say I like it much. There aren’t any really awesome prospects on the way in and who knows how long Green and others stay put.
It depends on how you assess the division: If it’s got Martinez (the division champion), Williams and Kelly Pavlik, it’s top heavy but thin. With Martinez and Williams maybe settling at junior middle and since Pavlik is moving to super middle, it’s freaking terrible. Like, almost an F.
I might have gone higher had a couple of the division’s ballyhooed prospects either not left for different divisions — Lemieux, Rodriguez — or suffered setbacks — Matt Korobov. As it remains, having Daniel Jacobs and Fernando Guerrero around isn’t a bad class of prospects-turned-contenders, something that’s likely sooner than later in a thin division.
Same deal here as with middleweight: If you count Donaire and Darchinyan, it’s good at the top. If you don’t, it’s crap. I think Donaire sticks around for one more fight, but that’s it. Then it’s taken over by… Hugo Cazares, maybe? That doesn’t do it for me.
Drian Francisco is about it, as far as what’s on the horizon of prospects. The division gets worse before it gets better.
Talentwise, flyweight is fairly compelling at the top, with Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, the Kameda boys and Daisuke Naito. It would rank a bit higher than junior bantam or middle if it weren’t for the maybe-presence of some of the bigger stars at junior bantam and middle.
This Cesar Seda kid gets mentioned a ton, as do a few other younger names, plus the Kamedas are quite youthful themselves. I figure Wonjongkam sticks around for a bit longer, too, despite his advanced age for the division.
Roman Gonzalez once had some star potential but what’s he done lately? I bet even most hardcore fans couldn’t name many other men in the division, but at least most of them have been fighting each other lately — four top-10 strawweights fought one another during one weekend in March alone.
Until Gonzalez shows us something to justify his early hype, I don’t see the division getting any better.
There’s not a lot separating #1 from #8, which is damning on one level but about the best thing going for it on another level. That said, it’s not necessarily the worst division the way some think. I mean, it’s really close. All these guys are pretty anonymous, but there’s room for competitive bouts all over the place.
If Jorge Linares (#8) can bounce back fully from his first loss, he still has a lot of potential. Everybody likes this Eloy Perez kid, too. That’s not enough to lift the division significantly, though.
The man listed as #1, Poonsawat Kratingaenggym, is moving to featherweight. Nothing against Poonsawat, a fun fighter, but when that’s the best your division has to offer and he’s leaving, it’s not a good division.
There’s good news for a division I’m maligning here with last place. Among the numerous boxers on the rise: Wilfredo Vazquez, Jr. is proving both popular and capable; Rico Ramos is a talented, hungry prospect; and Guillermo Rigondeaux (pictured — he’s the fella on the left) may be the finest prospect in the whole sport, although he’ll need to clear up his managerial/training mess outside the ring.