<
>

Fighters at 154 not a snore anymore

Your weekly random thoughts ...

&#8226; In an April blog, I wrote that I thought the worst division in boxing was junior middleweight. "People always ask me about which division I think is the worst. At the moment, I have to say that it is, without question, junior middleweight," I wrote. "There are four titleholders with no star power in Vernon Forrest, Joachim Alcine, Verno Phillips and Sergei Dzindziruk. None of the possible unification bouts between them is even all that interesting."

But what a difference six months makes. Although Daniel Santos knocked out Alcine to win one of the belts and the potential unification bouts still remain uninteresting, all of a sudden the division is booming with young, exciting talent. And all but one of the rising prospects and contenders are in their 20s.

Last week, we saw the arrival of Sergio Martinez, who is 33 and has been around for awhile, but he's very, very good. You can bet that even though he is Forrest's mandatory challenger, Forrest will never take that fight. On the same card as Martinez's coming out party against Alex Bunema, Alfredo Angulo (26) scored yet another impressive victory as he continues to improve and continues to make it hard to tell him apart from Antonio Margarito. Along with Angulo, the division boasts two other incredibly exciting fighters with outstanding power who are emerging as serious contenders, Joel "Love Child" Julio (23), who is only a few weeks from challenging Dzindziruk for a belt, and the ferocious James Kirkland (24).

Just a notch below them are several other 154-pounders you could mix and match and make a bunch of attractive fights: John Duddy (29), who is dropping down from middleweight; Ronald Hearns (29), the son of Thomas Hearns who will face Duddy on HBO in January in a sweet matchup; 2004 U.S. Olympian Vanes Martirosyan (22), who keeps getting better with every fight; Joe Greene (22), who has as much talent as any of these guys; and Deandre Latimore (23), who scored a big summer upset by knocking out Sechew Powell. And then there is also Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (22), who may not be as talented as the rest of the prospects, but he makes exciting fights, has a strong fan base and generates dinero.

Oh, and don't forget that welterweight titleholder Paul Williams will eventually move into this division. The future is bright at junior middleweight.

&#8226; How come the folks so annoyed that Oscar De La Hoya is fighting a smaller opponent in Manny Pacquiao weren't nearly as vocal when Bernard Hopkins, then a dominant middleweight champion, opted to face the much smaller De La Hoya? (By the way, that fight turned out quite competitive.) De La Hoya could face Israel Vazquez for all I care. De La Hoya has fought everybody during his career -- bigger, smaller and the same size. If you don't like the Pacquiao fight don't buy it.

&#8226; Would Arthur Abraham have gone through with his fight last Saturday against Raul Marquez if his trainer would have been allowed to give him chicken soup instead of water between rounds?

&#8226; Although none of the fights are hugely significant, I think Top Rank's Nov. 1 pay-per-view card is a really good show and one I think is going to be worth the money. It's got five TV fights, each of which is interesting for its own reasons. The main event features Chavez Jr. in a rematch with Matt Vanda. I know it's not a really meaningful fight and a lot of us are tired of seeing Chavez in pay-per-view main events, but if this fight is anything like their first brawl was, it will be excellent. In the co-feature, Nonito Donaire defends his flyweight belt against Moruti Mthalane. I think this is a serious challenge for Donaire and, having seen Mthalane's last fight, he's no joke. I think this could be a highly competitive bout. Also on the card is Jorge Arce, who is never in a bad fight and who figures to fight Donaire next spring if they both win. Arce is fighting former titleholder Isidro Garcia in what ought to be a brawl. What Arce fight isn't? Beyond those three bouts we'll see rising junior welterweight contender Lamont Peterson in a solid matchup with Lanardo Tyner, just the kind of fight Peterson needs as he continues his rise. And to round it out, amateur middleweight star Matvey Korobov, a 2008 Russian Olympian, makes his pro debut. Sure, his fight figures to be a quick knockout, but that's always fun to get a show started. All in all, I'm looking forward to this one.

&#8226; Ricky Hatton turned 30 Monday. Rumor has it that is how many pints he drank to celebrate.

&#8226; Electrifying featherweight Yuriorkis Gamboa is clearly going to be vulnerable when he faces strong a opponent because he's appeared vulnerable in two of his last three bouts against lesser opponents, getting knocked down. If he's not careful, Gamboa is going to be the next Amir Khan, a tremendous talent with shoddy defense and a fragile chin.

&#8226; Anyone want to wager that in the next couple of years you'll see Juan Manuel Lopez on the pound-for-pound list?

&#8226; I watch Telefutura's "Solo Boxeo" every Friday night (or on DVR later in the weekend), but it is rare that I am really interested in the undercard. However, on Golden Boy's Oct. 24 card at the Morongo resort in Cabazon, Calif., junior featherweights Antonio Escalante and Mike Oliver are scheduled to fight in what I think is one of the series' most interesting undercard fights. They're both young fighters who have hit some bumps but still have a lot of potential. It's a must-win for both guys and I'm looking forward to it.

&#8226; I have a funny feeling that whomever wins Saturday's heavyweight title bout between Samuel Peter and Vitali Klitschko, it's going to be an early knockout for somebody.

DVD pick of the week: It's been almost four years since Klitschko last fought, so with his bout against Peter on Saturday, I figured I might as well refresh my memory. Into the archive I went for the DVD from Dec. 11, 2004. It seems like eons ago that the fight took place, so long ago that I was still working for USA TODAY back then. In any case, Klitschko was making his first heavyweight title defense against Danny Williams, who had gained fame from his knockout of Mike Tyson five months earlier. It turned out to be a one-sided drubbing as Klitschko scored knockdowns in the first, third, seventh and eighth rounds before the fight was finally stopped with Williams a bloody mess. Injuries eventually took their toll, leading to Klitschko's retirement, but if he finds the form he had that night as he comes out of retirement, Peter will have his work cut out for him.