The oft-ridiculed cruiserweights got a big boost in April when Jean-Marc Mormeck defeated Wayne Braithwaite in an exciting fight the division's first unification bout since 1988.
On the heels of that fight comes another notable bout in the 200-pound division just below heavyweight.
O'Neil Bell (23-1, 22 KOs), a longtime contender who has waited for years for a title shot, will face perennial contender Dale Brown (33-3-1, 21 KOs), for a vacant belt at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, Fla., on Friday Night Fights (ESPN2, 8 ET).
They'll be vying for the belt that was stripped from Kelvin Davis, who had been inactive because of promotional conflicts with Don King. However, Davis and King apparently have worked out their issues because Davis returns to action on the undercard of Saturday's Lamon Brewster-Andrew Golota heavyweight title bout.
So while Davis needs to win Saturday to have a shot at his old belt, Bell and Brown just know they are fighting for a world title belt, regardless of the reason it is vacant.
"I've had a great camp, and I'm just itching to get into the ring and show the world what a true cruiserweight champion looks like," Bell said. "I've got a lot of respect for Dale Brown, but that will all go out the window once the bell rings."
Bell has been waiting patiently for a title shot since knocking out Davis in the 11th round of a title eliminator in May 2003.
For Brown, this could be his last chance. His three career losses have come by knockout in championship fights against Mormeck, Braithwaite and Vassiliy Jirov.
"O'Neil Bell is a very good fighter, but my experience and determination to win will be too much for him to handle," Brown said. "I've waited too long to be champion, and I will not let this title slip out of my hands."
Brewster-Golota card: Although HBO will televise only the Brewster-Golota main event, along with a taped replay of last week's Winky Wright-Felix Trinidad fight, on Saturday night (9:45 ET), King has packed the undercard with several notable matches.
Among the fights of consequence on this weekend's card in Chicago:
• Paul Briggs (23-1, 17 KOs) of Australia meets Tomasz Adamek (28-0, 20 KOs) of Poland for the light heavyweight belt Antonio Tarver vacated in order to fight Glen Johnson last December.
• Alex Terra Garcia (28-1, 20 KOs) faces Rhoshii Wells (18-1-2, 11 KOs) in a rematch. Garcia held a junior middleweight title when he defended it via 10th-round TKO against Wells in September 2003. This time, they meet in an elimination bout for the right to face titleholder Travis Simms, who handed Garcia his only defeat.
• Davis (21-2, 16 KOs), having patched things up with King, faces former title challenger Guillermo Jones (31-3-2, 24 KOs) of Panama in a 10-round cruiserweight match.
• Miguel Rodriguez (26-1, 21 KOs) of Mexico faces Carlos Baldomir (40-9-6, 12 KOs) of Argentina in an elimination bout to determine one of undisputed welterweight champ Zab Judah's mandatory challengers. Baldomir is a late replacement for injured Miguel Angel Gonzalez.
King loses twice: It has been a rough week for King. As if seeing his biggest star, Trinidad, get wiped out by Wright on Saturday wasn't bad enough, that loss paled in comparison with what happened to King on Friday.
King lost a judgment for $5,358,657 when a Las Vegas district judge ruled in favor of promoter Artie Pelullo of Banner Promotions. Pelullo sued King several years ago, claiming King interfered with his promotional agreement with heavyweight John Ruiz.
King also was ordered to pay interest on the judgment, which will boost the total to about $7.5 million.
"I couldn't believe I won after all these years," Pelullo said. "It felt good to be finally done. One way or the other, it was over."
According to Pelullo, he signed Ruiz to an exclusive promotional agreement in December 1996. Pelullo agreed to bring King in as a co-promoter in 1998. Shortly afterward, King signed Ruiz to an exclusive deal and cut Pelullo out. The judge ruled that Pelullo was owed profits from all of Ruiz's fights through his victory against Andrew Golota this past November.
King, interviewed on HBO PPV's Wright-Trinidad telecast, said he planned to appeal.
"We've got the greatest legal system in the world. That's what the court of appeals are for, so we'll deal with that," King said.
Million Dollar undercard: Top Rank made official the undercard for the "Million Dollar Lady" card headlined by the Lucia Rijker-Christy Martin women's showdown on July 30 (Showtime PPV) at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Rijker (17-0, 14 KOs) and Martin (45-3-2, 31) are guaranteed $250,000 apiece, with the winner to get an additional $750,000, thus making her the first female boxer to earn a $1 million purse.
Even if women's boxing isn't your thing, the undercard has some potentially exciting fights.
• Former junior flyweight champ Jorge Arce (39-3-1, 29 KOs), who waged a memorable battle with Hussein Hussein in a flyweight title eliminator on the Erik Morales-Manny Pacquiao undercard in March, challenges long-reigning champion Pongsaklek Wonjongkam (56-2, 31 KOs) of Thailand.
• Junior flyweight titleholder Eric Ortiz (24-4-1, 16 KOs), who won the belt that Arce vacated, makes his first defense against 2000 U.S. Olympian Brian Viloria (16-0, 10 KOs). Viloria will become the fourth member of that Olympic team to fight for a world title.
Jeff Lacy won a super middleweight belt in October; Jose Navarro lost a controversial decision for a junior bantamweight title in January; and middleweight Jermain Taylor challenges Bernard Hopkins on July 16. Featherweight Rocky Juarez, another team member, has a title fight coming this summer against Injin Chi.
• Rising middleweight Kelly Pavlik (24-0, 21 KOs), an outstanding puncher, will fight a 10-rounder against an opponent to be named.
• Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (18-0, 13 KOs), son of the Mexican legend, will be in a six-rounder, provided he wins a May 28 bout.
Morales-Pacquiao II: Junior lightweights Morales and Pacquiao, who put on a spectacular fight in March, are in the early stages of planning a rematch. If everything works out as is being discussed by both camps and HBO, Morales would headline an HBO card Sept. 10, possibly in a rematch with the May 28 Jesus Chavez-Carlos Hernandez winner. Pacquiao would appear on the undercard, possibly against titleholder Robbie Peden. If Morales and Pacquiao win their bouts, they would meet in a December rematch on HBO PPV.
Pacquiao is not wasting any time moving on with his career since splitting with promoter Murad Muhammad after the March fight with Morales. Pacquiao claims Muhammad stole money from his purses and put him in a tax bind by pocketing money withheld from his purses instead of paying the IRS. Muhammad denies the allegations.
Pacquiao attorney Judd Burstein released the text of a letter Pacquiao sent to Muhammad this week that makes his position clear.
"I am writing to ask you to stop claiming to other people that M&M Sports is still my promoter," Pacquiao wrote. "I have fired you and M&M Sports from that position because of, among other things, your participation in a fraud against me. As I sit here today with so much of my money being missing and having to pay a huge tax bill because you violated the law in not withholding my taxes. I still cannot believe how dishonest you were and how you violated my trust in you. I want you to hear this loud and clear. I am moving on with my career. My new management team has reached an oral agreement for my next two bouts, and I expect to sign a written agreement within the next two weeks. As of that time, not only will you remain fired, but there will be a different promoter formally representing me."
Golden Gloves on Classic: For the first time, ESPN Classic will carry live coverage of the 2005 National Golden Gloves championships from Little Rock, Ark. The network will air eight hours of the semifinal and championship rounds this Friday and Saturday (8-midnight each night). Veteran broadcasters Al Bernstein and Barry Tompkins will have the call.
The Golden Gloves, which began in 1927, is one of the most storied amateur boxing competitions in the world, and although boxers wear headgear and fight four two-minute rounds, the judging is done by ringside judges not by computer scoring as in the Olympics.
Among former Golden Gloves winners to go on to pro stardom are Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Sonny Liston, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, Roy Jones, Floyd Mayweather and Antonio Tarver.
Khan to debut: British amateur sensation Amir Khan, 18, is set to turn professional July 16 in London under the banner of promoter Frank Warren's Sports Network.
Khan won the lightweight silver medal in the 2004 Olympics, losing to Cuban legend Mario Kindelan a three-time world amateur champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist in the championship bout in Athens. Despite the loss, Khan soared to popularity in England as his country's only Olympic representative. Last week, he met Kindelan again for one final amateur bout. Khan won 19-13, then announced his pro intentions.
"I'm looking forward to making my debut and can't wait to check out what is in store for me in the pros," Khan said. "As an amateur, I've beaten everyone in the world, and following my win over Kindelan, there is nothing else I can do in the sport. Turning professionals offers me new and exciting tests, and I aim to become the best out there."
Said Warren, "Amir's debut will be the start of a journey that will hopefully lead to him becoming Britain's youngest-ever world champion. I am really excited and looking forward to working with him to achieve this."
Quick hits: HBO is holding Aug. 20 for Fernando Vargas' next fight. The bout against an opponent to be determined probably will be in Chicago. The former two-time junior middleweight titlist is coming off a decision win against Raymond Joval that followed 15 months off because of injury. The undercard probably will feature featherweight titlist Chi defending against mandatory Juarez, the 2000 U.S. Olympic silver medalist. That fight should be an all-action affair given their brawling styles. It appeared headed to an ESPN PPV show in August until ESPN decided to hold off on its second foray into pay-per-view until the fall. … King and HBO are in quiet talks for King to shift a proposed July 23 PPV card to Aug. 13. The card is expected to include Hasim Rahman vs. Monte Barrett for an interim heavyweight belt and Chris Byrd defending his piece of the title against Sergei Liakhovich. King recently bought Liakhovich's contract from promoter Lou DiBella. DiBella and Liakhovich had been at odds for months. … Vivian Harris (25-1-1, 17 KOs) has officially been added to the undercard of Arturo Gatti's junior welterweight title defense against Floyd Mayweather Jr. on June 25 (HBO PPV) in Atlantic City. Harris will defend his version of the 140-pound title against Carlos Maussa (17-2, 15 KOs) in the card's co-feature. … Junior welterweight prospect Mike Arnaoutis suffered a pulled muscle in his upper back while training, forcing him to withdraw from Friday's ShoBox card against Marco Angel Perez. But the show goes on in Miami, Okla., with a pair of undefeated junior welterweight prospects in the main event (11 p.m. ET/PT): Americo Santos (20-0, 17 KOs) vs. Isaac Mendoza (13-0, 5 KOs). In the co-feature, light heavyweight prospect Allan Green (15-0, 11 KOs) faces Rocky Smith (11-2, 9 KOs). … While Brewster defends his heavyweight belt against Golota on Saturday night in Chicago, Luan Krasniqi (27-1-1, 13 KOs) meets Lance Whitaker (29-2-1, 24 KOs) in Germany on May 28 for the right to earn a shot at the Brewster-Golota winner. … Heavyweight David Tua (43-3-1, 38 KOs), who ended a two-year layoff in March, was scheduled to fight again on ESPN2's June 10 show in Verona, N.Y., on a show coinciding with the annual Hall of Fame weekend in nearby Canastota. However, Tua has withdrawn from the card because of a hand injury.
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.