Ranking the Most Vulnerable Belt-Holders in Boxing Today
Six months before Kiko Martinez won the IBF super bantamweight title, he was stopped in nine rounds by Carl Frampton. Martinez is a strong fighter who makes bouts entertaining, but he's limited.
He's got a belt, but he's arguably not even top-five in his division.
There are so many "world championship" belts floating around in this era of alphabet soup, it shouldn't be surprising that a lot of the title holders are vulnerable.
Incidentally, I haven't even tried to evaluate the various interim champions in this article. They are recognized and withdrawn without rhyme or reason and barely worth taking note of, most of the time.
10. Jhonny Gonzalez
Jhonny Gonzalez is a tough veteran who captured the WBC featherweight title in dramatic fashion last year, knocking out pound-for-pound star Abner Mares in Round 1 last August. He's clearly the top fighter in the world in the 126-pound division.
Gonzalez has over 60 professional fights and has been active since last century. He's the king for now and deserves to be.
But there are a lot of young lions circling outside the gates.
9. Carlos Molina
IBF junior middleweight champion Carlos Molina is a very underrated boxing talent. He's not flashy or explosive, but he excels at controlling tempo and range. He's a ring general, and generals win fights.
His inclusion here is more about the overwhelming amount of talent in his division and his history of receiving unfair decisions from judges and referees. I can't think of a single world champion who has been handed more raw deals than Molina.
But 154 is a division where superstars are often made. And despite my respect for Molina and what he's accomplished, I see him as a guy whom the superstars step over on their way to the top.
8. Felix Sturm
German star Felix Sturm shot back to the top of the middleweight rankings last year by capturing the IBF championship with a stunning Round 2 TKO of Darren Barker in December. At 35, Sturm proved he was far from done.
Still, he has to be viewed as the weak link among 160-pound titlists.
I'd actually rank him higher on this list, if not for the fact that I think he'll be able to make a comfortable living simply fighting second-tier competition in Germany, where the judging is notoriously friendly to local fighters.
7. Demetrius Andrade
As was the case with Carlos Molina, Demetrius Andrade's inclusion here says as much about the strength of his division as it does about the talent and potential of the 2008 Olympian. The 6'1" southpaw has the tools to become and remain a star at 154 and 160 for years to come.
But the WBO junior middleweight champion is now at the point where the next group of fights he takes should be against opponents who are levels better than almost everybody he's faced to date. I don't expect him to have a great deal of trouble with Brian Rose this June, but after that he should face a legitimate threat.
Andrade has reached the level of competition where even staying at .500 can be tough. It's not inconceivable that he'll end up making a nice long run as the 154-pound champion.
But it will be a tough goal to accomplish.
6. Arthur Abraham
Arthur Abraham reclaimed the WBO super middleweight title last month with a hard-fought split-decision victory over Robert Stieglitz. It was a great accomplishment for the veteran, who had looked downright sluggish against Stieglitz a year ago when he dropped the belt on a TKO.
The WBO has really made a mockery of this belt in the last year, matching Stieglitz with laughably unqualified challengers. They've already got Abraham scheduled for what should be a relatively easy defense in May against Nikola Sjekloca.
So Abraham's reign could last awhile, just based on the opponents he is faced with. But his best days are definitely in the past, and he very much fits the definition of a vulnerable champion.
5. Lamont Peterson
IBF light welterweight belt-holder Lamont Peterson is a champion in name only. He captured the IBF trinket, along with the WBA belt, in December 2011 when he beat Amir Khan by controversial split decision.
Peterson benefited in that fight from two bizarre point deductions issued against Khan by referee Joseph Cooper. Even with the point deductions, I still had Khan winning 113-112 based on his Round 1 knockdown of Peterson.
Peterson subsequently tested positive for PEDs and the WBA returned the belt to Khan. The IBF continued to recognize Peterson and refused to treat his fight last May with Lucas Matthysse as a title bout.
So even though Peterson got thoroughly starched by Matthysse and lost by Round 3 TKO, he remains the IBF "world champion" at 140.
Peterson is a tough and talented fighter. But there's not a world title in the sport that I have less respect for right now than his.
4. Beibut Shumenov
Last year, light heavyweight suddenly became one of the sport's hottest divisions, and WBA champion Beibut Shumenov contributed to that, knocking out unbeaten Tamas Kovacs in December. Shumenov is a physically powerful 175-pounder who can punch.
But later this month he faces aging legend and IBF champion Bernard Hopkins in a unification bout. It's almost hard to believe that the 49-year-old Hopkins should be the favorite in this fight, but based on the performance he turned in against Karo Murat last December, "The Alien" should have a relatively easy night of work against the far less experienced Shumenov.
Even if Shumenov can pull off the upset against Hopkins, I'd give him little chance against either of the division's other two belt-holders, Sergey Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson.
3. Argenis Mendez
Argenis Mendez won the IBF super featherweight title in sensational fashion in March 2013, knocking out Juan Carlos Salgado in Round 4. But since that night, he's been lucky to keep the title around his waist.
Last August Mendez retained his title via majority draw against Arash Usmanee, losing on one judges' card. I was in press row for that fight, and while I'm fine with a draw, if I had to pick a winner, it would be Usmanee.
Mendez temporarily lost his title this past January, when Rances Barthelemy jumped all over him, knocking him down twice in Round 2 and out cold as the bell for the round rang. But, amazingly, the Minnesota authorities decided to overturn the knockout, claiming Barthlemy's knockout came after the bell.
It's true Barthelemy connected with a punch a split second after the bell, but he had started throwing the punch prior to the bell and had Mendez completely beaten either way. It's one of the most outrageous boxing decisions of the year.
In boxing, when a fighter benefits from an amazing string of good luck, it's usually a matter of time before things start to swing back the other way.
2. Kiko Martinez
It's not common for a fighter to get TKO'd and still win a world title six months later. But that's the kind of 2013 that Spain's Kiko Martinez had.
In February he was stopped in nine rounds by Frampton. After stopping journeyman Damian David Marchiano in April, the IBF green-lighted him into a title shot against Jhonatan Romero in August.
Martinez looked great in that fight, stopping the champ in six rounds. He also looked good in December, knocking out Jeffrey Mathebula in nine.
Martinez is a rugged pressure fighter with power. But he's limited, and his time as a belt-holder will be, too.
1. Marcos Maidana
I don't think it's possible to be a boxing fan and not be a fan of Argentina's Marcos Maidana as well. The WBA welterweight champion is the embodiment of a ring warrior.
Maidana's beatdown of Adrien Broner last December was one of the most celebrated boxing performances of the year. Maidana is a brawler who has improved as a boxer in recent years.
But in May he faces Floyd Mayweather on pay-per-view. Fighting the pound-for-pound king is the opportunity of a lifetime for Maidana.
But realistically, it makes his belt the most vulnerable one in the entire sport.