Ranking the Most Competitive Weight Divisions in Boxing Today
One of the reasons I've always been drawn to weight-class sports like boxing is because they provide opportunities to great athletes of every size and shape. Boxing and wrestling have always shown a spotlight at the elite level for guys who just wouldn't be big enough to make it in sports like basketball and football.
And throughout the history of boxing, the highest percentage of pound-for-pound stars have competed between welterweight and middleweight. There's simply a bigger pool of talent to draw from in those divisions. The highest percentage of adult men, if they are training with the intensity of a professional fighter, will lean down to the welterweight-middleweight range.
But great fighters come in all sizes. And there are some surprisingly competitive weight classes in the sport right now.
7. Light Heavweight
Both The Ring and Boxrec have WBO champion Sergey Kovalev ranked third at light heavyweight, behind lineal and WBC champion Adonis Stevenson and WBA and IBF champion Bernard Hopkins. But there's no doubt in my mind that Kovalev is the true top fighter at 175 pounds.
But Hopkins and Stevenson are both with Golden Boy and Showtime and are likely headed to a rendezvous in Montreal. Kovalev will have to make do with whomever else is available.
There are plenty of good opponents to pick from. He fights Blake Caparello in August. The undefeated Australian is a talented southpaw, but I don't expect him to see the final bell against Kovalev.
Jurgen Braehmer of Germany is the WBA's "regular" world champion. Former champions Jean Pascal, Tavoris Cloud and Chad Dawson remain in the picture. Eleider Alvarez and Isaac Chilemba are good up-and-coming contenders.
Despite losing to Stevenson earlier this year, Andrzej Fonfara proved he had the heart and skill of a world-class fighter. Cuban Umberto Savigne is still largely off the radar in the division, but he could jump into the picture quickly.
Nonito Donaire won the WBA featherweight title from Simpiwe Vetyeka in May by Round 5 technical decision. Under the circumstance, Vetyeka absolutely deserves an immediate rematch. But Donaire looked more like his old self in the short time the fight lasted.
Tough veteran Jhonny Gonzalez shocked the boxing world last August when he captured the WBC featherweight belt by stunning Abner Mares with a Round 1 KO. Mares remains an extremely talented and experienced three-division world champion.
IBF champion Evgeny Gradovich, aka "The Mexican Russian," remains undefeated and continues to improve. Perhaps the biggest talent in the division is former Olympic star Vasyl Lomachenko, who won the vacant WBO belt by handling Garry Russell Jr. earlier this month. It was the Ukrainian's third professional fight.
WBA "regular" champion Nicholas "Axe Man" Walters improved to 24-0 with 20 KOs when he beat former multidivision champion Vic Darchinyan by TKO in May. Up-and-comers Ronnie Rios and Jesus Marcelo Andres Cuellar are both due for a step up in competition.
Following his brilliant TKO destruction of Sergio Martinez earlier this month, Miguel Cotto is the WBC and lineal middleweight champion. It was a signature performance for a future Hall of Famer, and Cotto's new status could lure fellow pay-per-view stars Floyd Mayweather and Saul "Canelo" Alvarez up to middleweight.
At age 40 Australian Sam Soliman traveled to Germany in May to capture the IBF crown from Felix Sturm. Peter Quillin remains the undefeated WBO champ.
But the class of the division at this point is undefeated knockout artist and WBA champion Gennady Golovkin. He has demolished numerous contenders who won rounds and fought competitive fights against other champs. He's scheduled to face former champion Daniel Geale in July in what could be the toughest test of his career.
As always, there's no shortage of talent at 160 pounds. David Lemieux of Montreal just turned in an impressive stoppage against former title challenger Fernando Guerrero.
Former amateur star Matt Korobov of Russia remains undefeated. Willie Monroe Jr. spent the first half of 2014 making an impressive and surprisingly smooth run through the Friday Night Fights' Boxcino tournament, greatly raising his profile nationally.
The lowest weight classes almost always fly under the radar, but there is lot of talent right now at flyweight and a ton of potential excitement.
Akira Yaegashi is the lineal champ after taking the crown from Toshiyuki Igarashi in April 2013. He's scheduled to face pound-for-pound superstar and two-division world champion Roman Gonzalez in September.
Juan Francisco Estrada captured the WBA and WBO belts from veteran champion Brian Viloria in April 2013 and has made two excellent defenses against top-rated contenders Milan Melindo and Richie Mepranum.
Former pound-for-pound star and light flyweight champion Giovani Segura remains a dangerous threat in the division. Former world champions Moruti Mthalane and Kompayak Porpramook also remain on the scene.
Kazuto Ioka holds a close decision victory over Yaegashi and has lost just once, to undefeated rising star Amnat Ruenroeng. Top Rank is continuing to attempt to develop Zou Shiming into China's first professional star. He has the amateur background to become a factor.
Expect light flyweight sensation Naoya Inoue of Japan to jump up in class before too long.
3. Light Welterweight
A strong indication that a weight class is truly competitive is when a fighter who is relatively unknown to boxing fans comes along and takes the belt from one of the division's top champions. That's exactly what happened earlier this month when Chris Algieri came back from two first-round knockdowns to take control of the fight and win Ruslan Provodnikov's WBO light welterweight belt by split decision.
WBA, WBC and lineal champion Danny Garcia was lucky to leave Puerto Rico with his titles early this year after squeaking by wily veteran Mauricio Herrera via contested decision. Herrera had a win over Provodnikov in 2011 but was handled by Karim Mayfield in October 2012, who was in turn taken apart by impressive up-and-comer Thomas Dulorme last March.
Lucas Matthysse remains one of the sport's most popular fighters. Three-division champion Adrien Broner has the talent and connections that demand he be taken seriously in the title picture, despite his antics. Veteran Lamont Peterson still holds the IBF belt.
Undefeated Jessie Vargas captured the WBA "regular" title on the Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley undercard with a close, gutsy win over previously unbeaten Khabib Allakhverdiev, another talent who will remain relevant in the division in coming years.
2. Light Middleweight
Floyd Mayweather is technically the lineal champion at light middleweight, but he seems more focused on his natural weight class of welterweight, so the top two remaining guys at 154 pounds are Saul Alvarez and Erislandy Lara. Alvarez and Lara will face off on pay-per-view on July 12 in one of the most anticipated fights of the year.
IBF champion Carlos Molina has rarely caught a break in his entire career, but the crafty veteran is a tough night's work for almost anybody. James Kirkland's career has been plagued by out-of-ring distractions, but "The Mandingo Warrior" remains one of the most exciting sluggers in the sport.
WBO champion Demetrius Andrade is a young, undefeated former amateur standout with great physical gifts. The Charlo twins, Jermell and Jermall, look like the second coming of Winky Wright and Terry Norris.
Folks shouldn't forget that former champion Austin Trout holds a decisive win over current middleweight champion Miguel Cotto. Now that he's dropped down to light middleweight, skilled Andy Lee might be ready to step up to the world-class level.
Although he's 41, "K9" Cornelius Bundrage remains a physical beast.
That welterweight is the most competitive division in boxing is hardly news. Pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather is the lineal champion there. Last May Argentine gunslinger Marcos Maidana gave him all he could handle in a majority-decision victory for "Money."
Other pound-for-pound, top-10 stars at 147 pounds are Manny Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez and Timothy Bradley. Undefeated rising stars Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter look like sure-bet future superstars.
Former multiple-division world champions Devon Alexander, Amir Khan and Robert Guerrero are all battling for the spotlight in this packed division. Undefeated Kell Brook is overdue for a significant fight.
Brandon Rios and Diego Chaves could end up putting on a Fight of the Year this August. Rios is due for a rubber match with Mike Alvarado sometime in the next year or two.
One talented welterweight who is floating under the radar is Argentine Luis Carlos Abregu, who has lost only to Bradley.