Junior middles set to explode
It features youngsters and veterans. It boasts the proven and the hungry. And the junior middleweight division is the only one in boxing that could possibly hold, with a bit of jerry-rigging, the three best fighters in the world today.
Any division that counts Floyd Mayweather Jr. among its current champions deserves special consideration, and the addition of a young star who oozes box-office appeal (Canelo Alvarez) adds to the attraction. That's just the beginning. Consider that the two fighters who follow Mayweather on most every pound-for-pound list -- Manny Pacquiao and Sergio Martinez -- also have had success in this division. Both have won championships at 154 and claim to be open to returning there (or to a catchweight, at which Martinez's middleweight title might be at stake, putting a new milestone within reach for both Floyd and Manny).
And beyond the top echelon of great fights and fighters, the second tier of junior middleweights appears equally attractive: young undefeated challengers on the rise (Vanes Martirosyan, Austin Trout); second-rate champs looking for respect and looking to make the best possible money off their modest achievement (Cornelius Bundrage, Carlos Quintana); serious contenders with wounded pride trying to regain respect at any cost (James Kirkland, Erislandy Lara, Alfredo Angulo); trial horses and journeymen with more than enough power and skills to put anyone in trouble (Carlos Molina, Delvin Rodriguez); and battle-hardened veterans who can bring in the audiences and revenue to make lucrative fights (Miguel Cotto).
The 154-pound division has everything to become boxing's elite class, putting it far above the troubled welterweight group, in which drug violations and last-minute cancellations are suddenly becoming the norm. Additionally, there are the stumbles of its best fighters, with some welters coming off less-than-stellar victories or performances (Timothy Bradley Jr., Devon Alexander) or inexcusable defeats (Victor Ortiz, Amir Khan). The young stars of the division have either faltered or simply stalled (Mike Jones, Jessie Vargas, Kell Brook). The rebirth of a few left-for-dead veterans (Randall Bailey, Paulie Malignaggi) tells the story of a division lacking a solid farm system.
Conversely, the talent is there at 154. The money is there, too. Expectations are high, participants are anxious to settle scores and climb over one another up the ladder, and the stylistic diversity guarantees a compelling variety of possible matchups. The stage is set at junior middleweight, and the sure bet is that no one will be disappointed with the results.
Welterweights stand tall
The 147-pound class stands head and shoulders above the rest, grabbing the title with ease. It's there that we can expect to see the best fights, or even just some of boxing's most amazing action (see: Victor Ortiz-Josesito Lopez).
The 154-pound division, on the other hand, is in turmoil today -- and it's easy to understand why. Floyd Mayweather Jr. remains in jail until Friday, and when released, he's expected to return to the welter ranks. Paul Williams was sidelined by tragedy (a motorcycle accident that left him paralyzed). Alfredo Angulo is being held in a prison for illegal immigrants. Antonio Margarito is out of the picture. Canelo Alvarez is overprotected, his latest outgunned opponent being Lopez, an unproven challenger who built his record two divisions below junior middleweight.
So who's left? Vanes Martirosyan is being held hostage by his promoter, without any chance of facing a fighter aligned with a rival company, and Erislandy Lara is in the same situation on the other side of the street. Moreover, he continues to be denied a fight against Canelo, a stablemate, despite being wholly deserving of the shot.
That puts it to Carlos Molina, an awkward and much-avoided fighter, or James Kirkland, who is now being sold as the Eighth Wonder of the World despite the fact that he's coming off an unconvincing disqualification win over Molina and hasn't yet recovered from a shoulder injury. Anyone else? Cornelius Bundrage is almost 40, and poor Austin Trout is so boring that his market value has stalled.
The welterweight division, meanwhile, has plenty going for it. Start with its historic value: The undisputed championship at 147 has been frequently held by greats operating in their primes, including Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad, Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosley, Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Sugar Ray Robinson, Wilfredo Benitez, Manny Pacquiao and Mayweather.
And although the division has lost some momentum recently, consider these heavy hitters: Pacquiao, Mayweather and Juan Manuel Marquez. Timothy Bradley Jr. represents the new guard, and contemporaries Amir Khan, Andre Berto, Victor Ortiz and Devon Alexander are far too talented to be dismissed despite recent missteps. Paulie Malignaggi is a respected veteran who recently won a belt at 147. Robert Guerrero recently made a splash in his first welter bout. England's undefeated Kell Brook has expressed his intention to fight the division's best on American soil. Two-time champ Danny Garcia will make the jump to 147 soon, and it likely won't be long before current lightweight Adrien Broner will join him. Also on the horizon is little-known but undefeated prospect Keith Thurman, who made his TV debut last weekend.
Even in one of its lowest moments in recent memory, the welterweight division stacks up better than any in boxing and it promises to overshadow any other for a very long time.
Play Podcast Kieran Mulvaney looks back at the year in boxing for 2013 and sorts out the year-end awards.
Play Podcast Kieran Mulvaney reflects on Adrien Broner's loss in the final big fight of a packed 2013.
Play Podcast Kieran Mulvaney looks at the potential of a Stevenson-Kovalev fight and previews Malignaggi-Judah and Rigondeaux-Agbeko.
Play Podcast Kieran Mulvaney looks back on a fight week in Macau and a controversial night in Manchester, England.
Play Podcast Kieran Mulvaney reports from Macau on the altercation between the Pacquiao and Rios camps, and predicts the outcome of the main event itself.
Play Podcast Kieran Mulvaney looks back at a fight-of-the-year candidate, and considers the state of the careers of Gennady Golovkin, Nonito Donaire and Mikey Garcia.
Play Podcast Kieran Mulvaney mulls boxing's inherent dangers and says more should be done to protect fighters such as Frankie Leal and Magomed Abdusalamov.
Play Podcast Kieran Mulvaney looks back on last Saturday's ferocious battle between Ruslan Provodnikov and Mike Alvarado.
A brand fans can trust
In an era where unsatisfying PPV fights have taxed the patience (and wallets) of fans, Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez have been a perfect pairing.
The Stars Align
Sergio Martinez's middleweight title defense against Miguel Cotto on June 7 in New York is the right fight at the right time.