This annual affair aimed at assessing the prospects for boxing having true champions in each division is getting rather morbid. Each year, it seems the best boxing can muster is six concurrent lineal champions — i.e., the man who beat the man who beat the man all the way back to the origin of the division until the first time a belt was held; or what happens when the top two fighters in a division square off to fill a vacancy. It was that way in 2009. It was that way in 2010. It is that way in 2011. And after this year’s survey, the way things look, it will be that way in 2012.
Why is it morbid? Let’s say you don’t even care about who has what lineal championship. Or maybe you prefer the alphabet gang, however much I disagree with you. I do think that many casual fans truly care about who’s the best in each division — they ask me every time I have a party to watch boxing matches — and a great many hardcore fans do, too. And all the championship vacancies are an indicator that the best fighters in a division aren’t fighting each other to settle the question. As it happens, more often than not, the two best fighters in a division squaring off also is a fight boxing fans of all stripes are going to want to see. Maybe you can observe that phenomenon via other means, but this is one snapshot of it.
Perhaps this trend is enough to convince you of our Scott Kraus’ contention that Ring Magazine should loosen up its lineal championship policy, even if maybe you still worry about the editorial changes at Ring (although early indicators are not bad). Me, I’m still not sure. But even though the trend has been established, that doesn’t mean the contemplation of it should be abandoned.
Champion: Wladimir Klitschko
Prospects: It’s going to take a career-threatening injury or the sudden, light speed advancement of youngsters like Alexander Povetkin or Robert Helenius for Klitschko’s strangehold on this division to slip over the next two years. Either that, or Vitali and Wlad set aside their vow to their mother never to box one another.
#1: Steve Cunningham
#2: Marco Huck
#3: Krzysztof Wlodarczyk
Prospects: You would’ve thought with Cunningham having signed with Sauerland last summer, he could’ve ended up rematching with Sauerland’s Marco Huck by now. Since then, instead, Cunningham has faced Troy Ross and Enad Licina, while Huck has faced Brian Minto, Matt Godfrey, Denis Lebedev, Ran Nakash and Hugo Hernan Garay. What’s the hold up? Under Ring’s policy, a #1 and #3 fighter can sometimes meet for a vacant championship, and here is one instance where I’d favor it, since Cunningham has already beaten Huck. Unfortunately, Wlodarczyk has been busy elsewhere, too, and is facing Danny Green next. As a viewer, I’m interested in Cunningham-Huck II — the first was a pretty decent battle — although given his recent overdose on antidepressants, I’m worried about any fight involving Wlodarczyk.
Champion: Bernard Hopkins
Prospects: The biggest threat to the championship lineage being broken at 175 lbs. is Hopkins retiring, something he doesn’t apparently intend to do anytime soon. No matter whether Hopkins defeats or loses to Chad Dawson last month, I still like the odds on this lineage remaining unbroken for a while because anyone those men face afterward are likely to remain in the division and most of them are youngsters.
#1: Andre Ward
#2: Carl Froch
#3: Lucian Bute
Prospects: Absent a draw between Ward and Froch when they meet next month, this one’s a confirmed kill. The Super Six started as an effort to determine the true champion of the division, and while there was no guarantee it would get there, that’s the precipice at which we presently stand. Problem is, neither Ward nor Froch might stay in the division long thereafter; both have discussed moving up to light heavyweight.
Champion: Sergio Martinez
Prospects: Martinez’ team appears determined to keep him at no higher than 160 lbs., but they’re so desperate for a big fight for him that they’d even going so far as to offer to fight Manny Pacquiao at 150 lbs. I simply don’t see it happening. Martinez doesn’t get a big fight, probably, until he moves up in weight and people perceive him as vulnerable because of it. That might be bad news for Martinez and the crappy-ish middleweight division, but it’s good for the lineage remaining unbroken for a little while.
#1: Miguel Cotto
#2: Alfredo Angulo
#3: Saul Alvarez
Prospects: Anyone who wouldn’t be interested in Cotto-Angulo is mad, mad I tell you. But I fear junior middleweight will remain without a true champion for a good while longer, because I can’t envision a scenario where Cotto fights Angulo, or, if Cotto loses to Antonio Margarito again in December, where Angulo fights Alvarez. Angulo could get knocked down in the rankings by James Kirkland if that fight gets made, and then, maybe, the picture clears up. But I wouldn’t count on it.
#1: Manny Pacquiao
#2: Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
#3: Victor Ortiz
Prospects: Aaaargh. The most frustrating situation in the whole sport — the inability to get the two best fighters in the world to face one another — is made slightly more agonizing by the fact that it would crown a welterweight champion, giving Pacquiao an opportunity to go for a completely unprecedented fifth lineal championship (the four he’s acquired so far being a record already). Probably the only way we get a lineal welter king is if Mayweather drops from the rankings because he takes another year-long plus absence, but even then nobody’s been able to capitalize on that tendency of his to take the welter crown in recent years.
#1: Amir Khan
#2: Timothy Bradley
#3: Marcos Maidana
Prospects: Ain’t gonna happen, not with these top two men. Khan tried to fight Bradley this year, but Bradley turned down the fight and is in a promotional mess and is targeting Pacquiao. Khan doesn’t care to wait around for Bradley and is targeting Mayweather. When they abandon the division officially along with #4 Devon Alexander, that will leave Maidana and #5 Lucas Matthysse as the #1 and #2 men in the division, and were those two Argentinian sluggers to fight for the division championship, I suspect we’d all forget for a while about the untapped potential of the division never coming to fruition.
Champion: Juan Manuel Marquez
Prospects: Marquez keeps moving up to welterweight for one-offs, where he can make better money but has very little chance of beating anyone. I could see him returning to lightweight again after his November rubber match with Pacquiao. Or he might abandon the division for junior welterweight. If he does, things get ugly: With current #1 Brandon Rios and #2 Robert Guerrero both switching divisions, that would leave Kevin Mitchell and Miguel Acosta as the two top men who could contend for the vacant championship. While not a bad fight, per se, it’s not the kind of match-up that would thrill anyone, but a division without Marquez, Rios and Guerrero wouldn’t thrill anyone anyway.
#1: Mzonke Fana
#2: Ricky Burns
#3: Takashi Uchiyama
Prospects: No big surprise that one of boxing’s serially worst divisions in recent years couldn’t produce much excitement by its #1 and #2 facing off. And Burns is gone to lightweight anyway. So that leaves Fana-Uchiyama for an undesirable championship vacancy-filling bout. Again, it’s not bad, it’s just not going to knock anyone’s socks off. Maybe when and if YURIORKIS GAMBOA! and Juan Manuel Lopez move up and establish themselves at 130, they can clash for a vacant championship the way they should’ve at featherweight.
#1: Yuriorkis Gamboa
#2: Chris John
#3: Orlando Salido
Prospects: Gamboa’s team has tried to lure John into a fight, but John is perfectly content making big money for easier fights in Indonesia. It’s too bad, because it is an interesting fight. With the #2 man separated from the rest of the class, and the #1 man and #4 man (Lopez) scheduled to flee to junior lightweight, I simply can’t envision a scenario where featherweight gets a champion in the next year or more.
#1: Toshiaki Nishioka
#2: Rico Ramos
#3: Akifumi Shimoda
Prospects: Too many nationalities, and too many contingencies, in this division for anything to happen here anytime soon, probably. Nishioka’s fighting Rafael Marquez next. Ramos is fighting Guillermo Rigondeaux next. Both very well could lose, or one could lose but not the other, and you’d need a crystal ball to imagine where the top of this division goes. None of them sound much like fights that would be likely to happen, given all the geographical barriers. Would Nishioka come to America to fight Ramos or Rigondeaux? The best chance might be if Marquez beats Nishioka, because I could see his brave old ass being man enough to try to take on a fresh gun like the Ramos-Rigondeaux winner, and HBO or Showtime being interested in forking over the dollars for it.
#1: Nonito Donaire
#2: Anselmo Moreno
#3: Abner Mares
Prospects: I simply don’t like Moreno being #2 rather than Mares, but it’s academic for the purposes of establishing a champion in the near-term. Donaire wasn’t going to fight the winner of Mares-Joseph Agbeko for the Showtime bantamweight tournament crown, and Donaire won’t fight the winner of their rematch, a fight that could move whichever one of them who wins up to #2, due to contractual obligations for Mares and Donaire and Donaire’s intention to move up to junior feather. That’s too bad, because Donaire vs. the winner of the bantamweight tourney is one of the best fights that can be made in boxing. Mares and Agbeko have both talked about moving up to junior featherweight themselves, but hopefully the winner of that fight sticks around to fight Moreno for all the bantamweight marbles. Even if it’s for just one fight, it would be nice to have a bantam champ.
#1: Omar Narvaez
#2: Tomonobu Shimizu
#3: Hugo Cazares
Prospects: There’s been so much turmoil at the top of this division in the past month or so, it’s hard to figure it out. Narvaez is leaving the division at least temporarily to fight Donaire next month. Shimizu got to #2 by upsetting Cazares and his staying power and next move are difficult to predict. Your guess is as good as mine, really, and it’s such a weak division right now that I hardly care.
Champion: Pongsaklek Wonjongkam
Prospects: Pong keeps showing vulnerability, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he loses to Edgar Sosa in his next fight or someone not nearly as good as Sosa thereafter. Should Sosa get him, I could see him being champ for a good long while because he only recently moved to this division and at junior flyweight, he put together an epic string of weak defenses of his alphabet strap. And whoever has the belt after Wonjongkam-Sosa, best believe that Giovani Segura will be coming after ’em soon.
Champion: Giovani Segura
Prospects: He’s already planning to move up and has been in discussion with Ring about relinquishing his belt, so the vacancy will have to be filled by #1 Adrian Hernandez vs. #2 Gilberto Keb Baas, unless Baas gets knocked off by Roman Gonzalez in his next fight, in which case, yeah, I’d gladly watch Hernandez-Gonzalez. Gonzalez wants it, too.
#1: Nkosinathi Joyi
#2: Kazuto Ioka
#3: Moises Fuentes
Prospects: There’s some sentiment out there that Joyi and Ioka are both overlooked because they’re small. It’s not like there’s a ton more out there for either man than each other, but Joyi’s South African and Ioka’s Japanese and I haven’t seen any chatter about making this fight happen.