The Most Competitive Boxing Divisions in 2014
Throughout the history of boxing, welterweight and middleweight have traditionally been the sport's most competitive divisions. It's pure mathematics. When submitted to the extreme rigors of fight training, the largest percentage of adult males will lean up to somewhere between 147 and 160 pounds.
The numbers get skewed even more by the fact that great athletes who are sized out of competition in sports like basketball or football find a level playing field in the weight-class sports like boxing.
Even with the expanding waistlines of the general population, the majority of great athletes in the combat sports still fall within that traditional spectrum. Of the five most competitive division in boxing right now, four of them fall between 147 and 175 pounds.
5. Light Heavyweight
The light heavyweight division rocketed to prominence in 2013, fueled largely by the breakout campaigns of Sergey Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson. Both men wreaked havoc on their opposition, going 4-0 with four KOs.
Stevenson captured the WBC and lineal tiles in June when he blitzed Chad Dawson in Round 1. Kovalev took the WBO belt from Nathan Cleverly in August when he smashed the Welshman by Round 4 TKO. If HBO can get these two together in the ring during 2014 it will be one of the year's most highly anticipated fights.
Meanwhile, the ageless Bernard Hopkins continues to break his own records. He won the IBF belt from Tavoris Cloud in March at age 48 and defended it September against Karo Murat. Look for Golden Boy and Showtime to match him with WBA champion Beibut Shumenov in 2014.
Meanwhile, former champion Jean Pascal turned in a brilliant performance against Lucian Bute last month and Dawson has far too good a resume to be dismissed after getting caught with one monster punch by Stevenson.
Undefeated Andrzej Fonfara of Poland and 11-1 Umberto Savigne of Poland are two prospects just off the radar who could easily make themselves very relevant before the end of the year. Former super middleweight Edwin Rodriguez is another talented puncher who could very likely insert himself into the mix at 175.
Sergio Martinez is the WBC and lineal champion at middleweight, but WBA belt-holder Gennady Golovkin is the truly hot fighter in this division. GGG ran his record to 28-0 with 25 stoppages when he TKOd Osumanu Adama in Monte Carlo last month.
The Olympic silver medalist from Kazakhstan is now riding a 16-fight KO streak. If he can manage to get any of the other belt holders to climb into the ring with him this year, middleweight will be the weight class to watch in 2014.
I have a feeling hard-punching James Kirkland will step up in weight to challenge Golovkin this year. "The Mandingo Warrior" vs. GGG has "fire fight" written all over it.
Elsewhere, middleweight remains stuffed with talent as always. WBO belt-holder Peter Quillin has a perfect record and a growing fanbase in Brooklyn, N.Y. A showdown at the Barclays Center with Curtis Stevens, to establish bragging rights in the borough, would be a potential Fight of the Year.
Longtime German star Felix Sturm inserted himself back into the picture with an exclamation point last December when he took the IBF belt from Darren Barker via Round 2 TKO.
Martin Murray's gritty performance against Sergio Martinez last year will ensure that fans want to see more of him. Daniel Geale and Matthew Macklin remain solid, top-10 fighters.
If not for the schism between Golden Boy and Top Rank, the featherweight division would be hotter than the Arabian Peninsula in July. As it is, the weight class is still stuffed with veteran stars and promising young talent and should provide some of 2014's most exciting matchups.
Abner Mares and Nonito Donaire both spent time in the pound-for-pound, top-10 rankings in 2013, before suffering major setback losses. But both men remain highly skilled, extremely experienced fighters, still in their prime.
By shocking Mares with a Round 1 KO last August, former champion Jhonny Gonzalez propelled himself back to the top of the heap. Daniel Ponce De Leon, the last man to beat Gonzalez, would no doubt love another shot at him.
"The Mexican Russian," Evgeny Gradovich, jumped on the opportunity to challenge for Billy Dib's IBF belt on a month's notice in March 2012 and took the gold with a split decision. The undefeated Gradovich continues to improve, as he demonstrated when he beat Dib by TKO in the rematch last November.
Undefeated prospects Nicholas Walters and Ronny Rios show great potential, as does WBA interim champ Jesus Marcelo Andres Cuellar of Argentina. But the true rising star in this division is likely Ukrainian Vasyl Lomachenko. The two-time Olympic gold medalist will challenge Orlando Salido for the WBO belt in just his second fight this March.
I also predict super bantamweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux will move up to featherweight at some point, in order to get the quality of fight he needs. A showdown between Rigondeaux and Lomachenko would be a boxing purist's dream.
2. Junior MIddleweight
The 154-pound weight class is one of two divisions currently ruled by pound-for-pound kingpin Floyd Mayweather. And while the gap between Mayweather and the rest of the pack might be wide, there are still a lot of exceptional fighters at junior middleweight, lining up to put on great fights.
For my money, the toughest fight out there for Mayweather below 160 pounds would be with Cuban Erislandy Lara, who is coming off from a surprisingly easy unanimous-decision win over Austin Trout. Trout remains an extremely talented young fighter in his own right.
The ever-popular Saul Alvarez is scheduled to face hard-hitting Alfredo Angulo on pay-per-view in March, which should make for an exciting fight. Although Miguel Cotto will likely move up to face middleweight Sergio Martinez in the first part of this year, 154 is a much more natural home for him and I predict he'll face Canelo on Mexican Independence Day Weekend in September.
James Kirkland is another fighter I can imagine moving up to middleweight for a big time bout this year, but if he stays at 154 his devastating power makes him a threat to nearly anybody there. Veterans Ishe Smith and Cornelius Bundrage remain relevant in the division.
Undefeated former amateur standout Demetrius Andrade captured his first world title last November when he claimed the vacant WBO strap by split decision over fellow unbeaten Vanes Martirosyan.
But the true future of the division just might be the Charlo twins, Jermell and Jermall. Jermell looked outstanding last month when dismantling tough journeyman Gabriel Rosado. I thought Jermell handled Rosado in more impressive fashion than middleweight champion Peter Quillin did last year.
Jermall will get his first shot at a world championship in March when he faces the extremely crafty Carlos Molina, who is himself among the most skilled boxers in the weight class.
It seems like welterweight is nearly always the top division in the sport, and that's as true as ever right now. The four top stars at 147, Floyd Mayweather, Timothy Bradley, Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao, all deserve to rank inside the pound-for-pound top 10.
But take those four big stars out of the equation and you still have the most exciting division in the sport. Undefeated rising stars Kell Brook, Shawn Porter and Keith Thurman are all a signature win or two away from pay-per-view status against Mayweather.
WBA champion Marcos Maidana handed brash Adrien Broner his first loss last December, in one of the year's most high-profile fights. Their rematch will be at least as highly anticipated.
If Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado tag a rubber match onto their epic two-fight series, it will occur at full welterweight. Ruslan Provodnikov is the WBO champ at 140, but the Siberian Rocky will be a war for anybody if he decides to step up to 147.
Devon Alexander, Amir Khan and Robert Guerrero are all extremely skilled and experienced fighters. Journeymen Jesus Soto Karass and Josesito Lopez remain formidable gatekeepers within the division. Argentinian Luis Abregu just needs more exposure in North America to become another welterweight star.
Paulie Malignaggi vs. Luis Collazo would be the perfect co-main event for middleweights Peter Quillin and Curtis Stevens in an all-Brooklyn showdown at the Barclays Center.