Ring Fantasies: An Elite Eight Dream Tournament for Welterweight Fighters
The Showtime "Super Six" super-middleweight tournament that was completed last December was one of the most successful boxing events in recent years. Viewed with some skepticism when it was originally announced, it ended up making stars out of Andre Ward and Carl Froch, re-vitalized the career of Glen Johnson and introduced European stars like Arthur Abraham and Mikkel Kessler to a larger American audience.
It was a triumph for boxing as a whole and could provide a great model for building future fan interest. In a sport where casual fans are often left wondering why fighter X is even fighting fighter Y instead of Z, a tournament format inserts a certain order and logic.
Boxing needs more tournaments. And what better weight class to focus on than welterweight, the most talent-heavy division in the sport?
But we'll start off by omitting the world's top two ranked welterweights, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Mayweather is already ranked No. 1 at 154, too, and Pacquiao appears to be edging closer to a full-time political career. Neither would gain much from making a two years plus commitment to further cementing their dominance at 147.
In all honesty, the tournament would be extremely difficult to organize even with the fighters I'm going to list. But the rewards for such a risk would be substantial: The winner would emerge as a legitimate superstar in the post-Manny, post-Floyd boxing universe.
For boxing fans, it would be win-win-win all the way.
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Timothy Bradley (29-0, 12 wins by knockout), is the current WBO welterweight champion, a title he took off Manny Pacquiao last June in a fight just about nobody believes Bradley deserved to win.
There might be a rematch between the two in November, but I personally think a rematch with Miguel Cotto or a fourth clash with Juan Manuel Marquez is a more likely option for "Pacman."
Bradley would have to be viewed as a likely favorite in such a tournament. Bradley has a rugged, physically awkward style that is extremely tough to score against.
With only 12 career stoppages, his punching power can be questioned. But putting aside the Pacquiao fight, his undefeated record can't be. He's hitting world-class opponents with more than enough force to keep them off of him.
At 28, Bradley is coming into his prime. He's undefeated and already a top 10 pound-for-pound rated fighter. To emerge from a cauldron like this one would cement his legend.
The Winner of Randall Bailey/Devon Alexander
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In September, Bailey and Alexander will meet for the IBF title, which Bailey won with his thrilling knockout of Mike Jones last June.
My own prediction is that Alexander will win this one going away. But obviously, with a nickname like the "Knockout King," Bailey should never be counted out.
Bailey was able to beat Jones by hanging back and making him impatient, forcing the counter-puncher out of his comfort zone. When Jones felt the need to go on the attack, he was uncharacteristically clumsy and off-balance.
Bailey caught the undefeated prospect with a brutal uppercut when he lunged forward, head down in Round 10. Bailey finished Jones off in the 11th.
I think Alexander is a far more effective offensive fighter, and I can't see him making a similar mistake against Bailey.
As unlikely as my little fantasy tournament is, I do have high hopes for an eventual rematch between Alexander and Bradley, who gave the St. Louis native Alexander his only professional loss. Alexander looked less than spectacular in that fight, and his subsequent bout was a split decision victory over Lucas Matthysse that many felt he didn't deserve to win.
But that was at 140. Alexander claimed the cut was draining him, and his first fight at 147, a trouncing of Marcos Maidana unlike any the rugged Argentinian had ever suffered, convinced me he was telling the truth.
I'd make Alexander another front-runner.
Kell Brook, (28-0, 18 KOs), of Sheffield, England, is one of the most exciting young prospects in the welterweight division. He is scheduled for an IBF title eliminator in October against Hector David Saldivia, (41-2-0). Saldivia has knocked out 32 opponents and has been knocked out in both of his losses. The winner of the Brook/Saldivia bout should get the winner of Bailey and Alexander.
I haven't seen enough of Brook to feel confident handicapping him against this field, and he doesn't really have a resume that is easy to analyze. He's beaten some decent journeymen like Rafal Jackiewicz and Lovemore Ndou.
Brook's most impressive win would probably be over fellow Brit, Matthew Hatton. I watched that one on YouTube, and Brook was impressive, beating Ricky Hatton's younger brother by a unanimous decision. Saul Alvarez also beat Matthew Hatton by a unanimous decision.
If a tournament like this did come to pass, clearly Brook would belong in it. It could be a golden opportunity for him to raise his profile on this side of the pond in a manner similar to what Carl Froch did in the Super Six.
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Last June, Josesito Lopez (30-4, 18 KOs) got the opportunity of his career when he stepped in to face Victor Ortiz as a last minute replacement for Andre Berto. Lopez made good on it, breaking the former world champion Ortiz's jaw and forcing him to quit in his corner after nine hard fought rounds.
Lopez is now scheduled to face junior middleweight Saul Alvarez on September 15, this time stepping in to replace Ortiz, who had already been informally scheduled to move up in weight and meet "Canelo" Alvarez.
I'm not prepared to completely write Lopez off in this bout, but he only came in for the Ortiz fight at 144.5 and has fought almost his entire career at junior welterweight. So the most likely scenario for Alvarez is that he makes a tough showing in defeat against Ortiz, collects the biggest payday of his career and then moves back down to welterweight with renewed star power.
At 140 or 147, Lopez is a handful for anybody in the world, and he would be a factor in this dream tournament. At 28, he has been fighting professionally since 2003. His only loss in the last four years was a tough split decision against undefeated Jessie Vargas in 2011.
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The 23-year-old undefeated Jessie Vargas, (19-0, nine KOs) is the least experienced fighter I've included in this hypothetical field. But these are the kind of fights he will need to start taking to make the next move in what looks like it could be a very exciting career.
Vargas is an interesting story in terms of the business of the sport. He started his career fighting with Mayweather promotions and got a lot of early exposure fighting on Floyd Mayweather undercards. He was trained by Roger Mayweather.
But last June he jumped ship and signed with arch enemy Top Rank.
Clearly, the kid is hungry for stardom. A tournament like this one could very well be his golden ticket.
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The "Magic Man" inserted his name back into the conversation with an exclamation point last April when he went to the Ukraine and captured the WBA welterweight title by a TKO over Vyacheslav Senchenko in nine rounds in front of Senchenko's hometown crowd.
So now Malignaggi (31-4, seven KOs, knocked out twice) is back on top. He scheduled to meet Pablo Cano in October. That will be no gimme, but I think Malignaggi will have the skill to prevail.
He'd be a long shot in a tournament like this one, but the type of boxer a lot of fans would want to see included. Paulie Mags has been in the sport since 2001, and fight fans have seen him transform from flashy prospect to wily vet, always a satisfying career trajectory to watch.
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Andre Berto (28-1, 22 KOs) failed a test for PEDs last May, knocking him out of his highly anticipated rematch with Victor Ortiz. Like most athletes who fail such tests, he has continued to maintain his innocence.
But there's no doubt Berto will get a chance to fight again and redeem himself. A tournament like this would be a perfect opportunity.
While I would not make him a favorite against this field, he is too physically gifted to count out. Either way, he would be sure to do his part to make for some very exciting fights.
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Two weeks ago, Robert Guerrero (30-1-1, 18 KOs) returned from a 13 month layoff to jump two weight classes and win the WBC interim welterweight title by taking a unanimous decision from previously unbeaten Selcuk Aydin. In theory, this makes Guerrero, Floyd Mayweather's mandatory challenger.
"The Ghost" has been one of the most overlooked and underrated fighters for years. With his victory last month, he now has won world titles in three of the original eight divisions: featherweight, lightweight and welterweight.
Against Aydin, Guerrero showed he could take a welterweight punch and hit hard enough to keep a welterweight contender at bay. Some have looked at his failure to put away Aydin as a sign that he lacks true welterweight power.
Maybe, but you've also got to give some credit to Aydin for being a rugged dude.
Out of this eight fighter field, I'd rank Guerrero as among the most talented. Ranked in order of favorites, I'd have him behind only Bradley and Alexander and just ahead of Lopez or Brook.