Grading The Boxing Divisions, 2011

These are your annual summer grades for all of boxing’s weight classes, because it’s a thing that happens in other sports like when college basketball writers give grades to the various conferences, but it’s not the kind of thing that happens in ours. It is not merely an excuse to run a picture of a sexy teacher.

Divisions are graded on: number of world-class talents; depth; number of big-name stars, primarily in the United States; the degree to which top boxers are facing each other; and number of exciting fights. The “now” grade covers what’s happened in the last year or so and what will likely happen in the next year or so. The “future” grades start at the “one year from now” mark and go about a year or so. These are my grades, not those of the sexy teacher on the upper right, but as always, I invite you to tell me where I’m wrong. I’ve been known to adjust the grades or order of the divisions as listed, if I am persuaded.

To be fully accurate, it’s slightly misleading to suggest that nothing like this divisional grading ever happens in boxing. Once a year, Ring Magazine runs a feature penned by Eric Raskin that reviews the state of each division, but it doesn’t much grade them. It’s a good feature, and I looked at the latest edition in the July 2011 issue to supplement my own views. But since I am a blogger, I am not content with merely examining a division. It’s gotta be RANKED and LISTED, you know?

RingTV’s Doug Fischer produces his own annual lists of prospects to watch, and it’s one of the highlights of boxing journalism each year. I leaned on that heavily for some of the discussions in the “future” sections.

If you wanna see how I did this the year before or the year before that, go ahead. It’ll only make you feel superior to me and my ability to project what a division will be like in the future. If you’re into that kind of thing. But it also will give you a sense of how things have changed over the years in some of these weight classes.

One thing I noticed: Unlike in previous years, there was no division — or even multiple divisions — that knocked my socks off. All of them were flawed in some way. I don’t grade on a curve, so the highest grade this year was an A-.


Now: A-

One twenty six still hosts pound-for-pound level boxers like YURIORKIS GAMBOA! and potentially Juan Manuel Lopez, if he can return to form from his first loss. Both are action stars in a division that has a bunch of them, like Orlando Salido, Daniel Ponce De Leon and Jhonny Gonzalez. It’s not as good a division as it was before Gamboa-Lopez got spoiled by terrible decisions at Top Rank, but it might be the best we have right now, with any number of appealing match-ups and men who, with the exception of Gamboa-Lopez, are actually fighting each other.

Future: A-

Lopez’ fat ass has been talking for a while about leaving soon, and I think he will. Nonito Donaire is really not far away from joining, though; I wouldn’t be surprised if he was here by the end of 2012. And I do think Gamboa sticks around, so if we get Donaire-Gamboa anytime soon, look out. On the prospect front, Gary Russell, Jr. is super talent who could make a move to contender next year. Young Mikey Garcia is already there, and maybe prospect Roberto Marroquin can rebound from a loss.


Now: A-

It’s not overloaded with monster talents. But junior middle gets its points off depth, the semi-inhabitance of a few stars and the potential for exciting fights. Saul Alvarez and Miguel Cotto are the big draws and seem to be staying put for the time being, while middleweight champ Sergio Martinez can voyage downward if he wants. Then check out the rankings from one to eight – is there anybody in there who can’t beat anybody else on any given night? And it sure helps that Pawel Wolak-Delvin Rodriguez, probably the leading Fight of the Year contender, happened here.

Future: B+

There’s nobody worthwhile at welter who could give the division a boost, and no sure thing in the prospect ranks – Omar Henry? Javier Molina? Cotto probably will be retired sooner rather than later. But things should stay fairly constant outside of that.


Now: B+

At first glance 175 is top heavy with champ Bernard Hopkins, Chad Dawson, Jean Pascal and Tavoris Cloud. But it’s also got potential spoilers like Nathan Cleverly, Zsolt Erdei and Ismayl Sillakh. Plus, all of these dudes are fighting each other. Granted, some of the fighters aren’t so action-oriented, but it’s got a nice mix of talents and personalities from all over the damn world, some (Pascal, Erdei) with wonderfuly crazed fan bases.

Future: A-

Outside of Hopkins, the division is still fairly young. And by this time next year, it could be replenished with something of a younger Hopkins clone – Andre Ward could be here. Carl Froch has talked about moving upward, too. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Lucian Bute here, some day.


Now: B+

Super middle is finally slowing down a little. But we still have the Super Six tournament finale between Ward and Froch, with the winner likely to face Bute. That’s a great start. And the division still has some viable contenders after that, like Mikkel Kessler and the introduction of Kelly Pavlik, potentially. It’s been fun watching the division play out via the Super Six, but for a variety of reasons, I think the ride is about to end.

Future: C-

With Ward and maybe others leaving soon and most of the big fights exhausted, the division is going to take a big dip, even if a youngster like Edwin Rodriguez or George Groves steps up, because I don’t think either of those talents can replace what’s departing on a one-for-one basis. Some of the division’s top young talents, like Marcus Johnson and James DeGale, have already had setbacks and maybe they can rebound, but they will still be rebuilding somewhat this time next year.


Now: B+

The departure of a couple bantam talents and action heroes hurts the division some, but for now, it’s still the home of Donaire and the participants in the Showtime tournament like Joseph Agbeko, Abner Mares and Vic Darchinyan. Throw in a couple other folk like Anselmo Moreno and Koki Kameda, and there’s some talent and sizzle left.

Future: C+

When Donaire departs, the division takes a big hit. I think he’s probably only around for one more fight, truth be told. Junior bantamweight just below is a disaster, and I’m not of the mind that prospects like Chris Avalos or Leo Santa Cruz help that much, either.


Now: B

While not super-deep, 112 does have a couple pound-for-pound players in Pongsaklek Wonjongkam and upward-moving Giovani Segura. And Segura, Hernan Marquez, Luis Concepcion and Brian Viloria have a real knack for worming their ways into exciting, dramatic fights.

Future: B-

I doubt Wonjongkam keeps it up, and there’s no prospect pool or divisional hijacking from which to rob talent, but I also don’t see a massive drop-off anytime soon. The real interesting move would be if Roman Gonzalez chases Segura. He seems to be perpetually a weight class behind Giovani, though.


Now: B

Once the hottest or near-hottest division in the sport, junior welterweight has cooled off. Top-ranked Timothy Bradley is on the shelf, Devon Alexander is departing, Marcos Maidana’s limitations are now fully known and Amir Khan will be gone in only a matter of time. There’s still some potential for a couple more good fights involving Bradley and Khan, and Robert Guerrero-Maidana is a helluva fight, but most of the glamour is gone or on its way out.

Future: B-

On one level, losing Khan imminently hurts and Alexander’s departure is kind of neutral, but Brandon Rios is on his way from lightweight, as is Humberto Soto, and prospects like Danny Garcia and Jessie Vargas could combine with upward-climbing vets to ease the blow. Blue chip prospects Jose Benavidez and Frankie Gomez are probably still too green to make a difference anytime real soon, but they’re also gifted enough that they could be wildcards if one of them decided he was ready to make a move in the near future.


Now: B-

Any division that has Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather in it starts off really well. Problem is, they’re not fighting each other. After that, Victor Ortiz generates excitement, sells tickets and garners ratings, and then there’s little else. I’m not hating on Jan Zaveck, but if he’s the #4 man in your division, your division isn’t deep. The magical three- or four-year run at welter – all the biggest fights, as many as a half-dozen pound-for-pound top 20 men at 147 at a time (some temporarily) is, functionally, over.

Future: B

Khan’s arrival soon will bring some fresh blood. If even a few young boxers like Kell Brook, Mike Jones, Shawn Porter, Antwone Smith and Sadam Ali can get some seasoning and bring their careers to the next level, welterweight has about the deepest bench of up-and-comers out there. But the future of the division’s “oomph” still depends on Pacquiao-Mayweather. I’m hopelessly pessimistic about that fight ever happening.


Now: C+

The current top-10 rankings look great. But look again. Champion Juan Manuel Marquez hardly fights at 135 anymore, Rios is sticking around for one more fight, Soto is gone to 140 and Guerrero is gone to 140 too. Everybody loves Michael Katsidis as an action hero, but he’ll be ranked #1 in the division soon enough and there’s a big drop-off after that. Lightweight fulfilled some of its considerable potential (Soto-Urbano Antillon, Rios-Antillon) but mostly these were some talents that never crossed paths in recent times. Soto-Rios, Soto-Guerrero, anyone versus Miguel Vazquez… nope.

Future: C-

So lightweight loses Marquez, Rios, Guerrero and Soto and gets Jorge Linares before long. Linares is a tease of a talent, but that’s a lopsided trade. There are no blue-chip prospects. And robbing junior lightweight would be like mugging someone for pocket lint. [UPDATED: It didn’t affect the grade, but Katsidis, it was pointed out in the comments, is also contemplating a move up to 140.]


Now: C+

Cruiserweight’s doing better than I realized on the strength of parity. I could see #1 Steve Cunningham losing to #8 Ola Afolabi or #2 Marco Huck losing to #9 Guillermo Jones. The divisional Super Six-style tournament never materialized and most of the action is overseas, but a strong debut from Antonio Tarver helped on that count.

Future: D+

The coming year is not going to be kind to the aging Cunningham or #3 Krzysztof Wlodarczyk – you could argue both are already significantly slowed down – plus there’s no prospect bench and nobody ever really flees up to cruiserweight; people flee up FROM cruiserweight, to heavy.


Now: C

Looking closely at middleweight, I realized things weren’t as bad as they seemed; the real problem with middleweight is the gap between its champ and everyone else. This is a one-headed division, basically, and that head belongs to division king Martinez. There’s nobody viable for him to fight, either. Felix Sturm, maybe? Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. is a big, big star, but the idea of him fighting Martinez is beyond cruel. So it’s two ticketsellers, one transcendent talent and a significant number of low-skilled but fun types like Andy Lee, Brian Vera and Peter Manfredo, Jr. is better than nothin’.

Future: B

What if James Kirkland could get fully back on track? Or Daniel Jacobs? Or David Lemieux? What if Peter Quillin could maintain the consistency he seems to have finally found? What if highly-regarded prospect Brandon Gonzales could make a run? What if Angulo moved up in weight? What if we got Chavez-Alvarez next year? I have to think some of these things will happen. If a few of them do, it’s a much better division all a sudden.


Now: C-

Things start to get pretty ugly around this point. This is the only division that’s bottom-heavy, with Jorge Arce and Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. and their rematch the lone real light. Tishiaki Nishioka-Rafael Marquez might do it for some. Then it’s somewhat indistinguishable, grey-colored fights like Rico Ramos-Guillermo Rigondeaux and the list of worthwhile boxers and noteworthy bouts ends there. [UPDATED: I moved this from a D+ to C- because I forgot until it was pointed out in comments about Fernando Montiel moving to 122. He helps make things more interesting.]

Future: C

Donaire’s arrival would be an instant boon, but it’s not clear who he’d fight or how long he’d stay. Teon Kennedy is probably the premier prospect. Things’ll get better soon, but it’s not clear by how much or how long.


Now: D

Segura’s gone, and so is Ivan Calderon. Roman Gonzalez is poised to take over, but from whom, exactly? Ulises Solis is about the only real name left otherwise. To everyone else here, I say, “Pass.”

Future: F+

It’s the Gonzalez era before long, probably, and I question how long it will last. I bet he chases Segura at flyweight the second he gets comfortable at this weight.


Now: D

There was some excitement about champion Wladimir Klitschko facing David Haye, but after the fight we realized the excitement was unfounded. It’s back to the Klitschko metronome for the heavies. The only thing that stands between the brother pair and a long period of stultifying non-action is Tomasz Adamek’s challenge to Vitali. Don’t count on him halting the march.

Future: D-

So in the fresh blood category there’s Seth Mitchell, Tyson Fury and Robert Helenius. Do any of those men fundamentally change the divisional dynamic of dominant, passionless Klitschko rule? Not a chance. It’s all on Adamek.


Now: D

Ugh. All this division has got is Hugo Cazares.

Future: D

It’s crap now. It’ll be crap later, too, unless I’m totally missing something. No amount of Drian Francisco can change that, because the fellow that Raskin put in as a nice prospect just lost a couple months ago.


Now: D-

The aforementioned Raskin pointed out that the Ring’s list of 100 best fighters included two men from this division, Linares and Mzonke Fana Linares is leaving soon for lightweight. The rest is mostly pure, undistilled suckitude.

Future: C+

Adrien Broner do it for you? Probably not, but he is talented. Lopez would bring some excitement up from featherweight, sure. And there are some other good young prospects in this division: Diego Magdaleno, Ronny Rios, Luis Cruz… Junior lightweight’s time in or near the basement of divisional grading could be finally coming to an end.


Now: F+

I was trying not to be mean with that “+.” There have been some competitive fights in the littlest of divisions of late, but everyone in the weight class is invisible unless you count returning and worn-down Ivan Calderon.

Future: F+

I doubt there’s much of one. It really takes somebody standout to make me pay attention to the strawweights, but I haven’t seen anyone talking about a revolutionary class of prospects or anything.

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.