Ranking the Middleweights: October 2008

Early this year, I ranked the middleweights and discussed just how shallow the division truly was. Though very top-heavy with Pavlik, Abraham and Wright, there was little in the way of real threats after that. The song remains the same.

Kelly_pavlik_jermain_taylor_654474_medium 1. Kelly Pavlik (34-1, 30 KO, Middleweight Champion, WBC/WBO Titlist)

Pavlik barely -- and I mean barely -- holds onto his spot as the No. 1 middleweight after his destructive loss to Bernard Hopkins at 170 pounds. If Arthur Abraham had one more big win on his record, I'd probably have to give Abraham the nod. As it stands, Pavlik-Abraham now looks like more of a pick-'em fight than ever to me, and I think there might be a slight majority of those that would pick the defensive-minded but explosive Abraham over Pavlik right now.

Pavlik will be returning to 160 pounds for the forseeable future, which is good news. Again, I did not get the reasoning to jump up in weight at this juncture beyond money, which is looking a little scarce at 160 pounds. But Pavlik can still make a very nice living for himself the next few years breaking his hump to make the middleweight limit, the same as countless other fighters break their humps to make their weight limits. Making weight has never been fun for anyone, and the talk of Pavlik going up to 168 or even 175 while he walks around at, as he says, 175 pounds seemed kind of...lazy? "I don't have to kill myself to make weight," he said before the Hopkins fight. Well, it's probably better that you do "kill yourself" to make weight.

That fight is the first time Pavlik's shown real chinks in his armor past some defensive lapses in the past. He showed that defensive problem against Jermain Taylor in their first meeting and it almost got him knocked out. The second time, Pavlik boxed, and proved he could box with Taylor (although I thought Jermain did well in that fight). His blowout of Gary Lockett proved nothing, which we all knew both going into it and afterward.

Pavlik's got something to prove again, there's no doubt about that. But I'll again say that anyone jumping ship on Kelly will wish they hadn't. Hopefully he bounces back strong, because he's an exciting, good-natured fighter with a lot to give to the sport.

Arthur_abraham_2004_medium 2. Arthur Abraham (27-0, 22 KO, IBF Titlist)

Arthur Abraham, like many before him, is a European fighter that many American fans just aren't sure about, I think. While there's been great headway made into U.S. fans considering Euro fighters to be as legit as anyone on the planet can be, there's still a lingering bias against them in many circles.

King Arthur is legit. Any doubts about his 2006 win over Edison Miranda were put to bed when Abraham destroyed Miranda in the fourth round this past June, and now he's looking forward to a November title bout with Raul Marquez, a tough veteran that probably won't present him with any real difficulties.

What then for Abraham? He's made it very clear that he wants to fight in the States and become a global name, so there's going to be no Calzaghe-like criticism that he stays in his cocoon and accepts the best fringe contenders money doesn't have to pay very much. If Abraham and his promoters push hard enough, they can make a fight happen with Winky Wright, or they can wait a bit and probably press Kelly Pavlik into a summer or autumn 2009 fight. Whether Bob Arum will risk Pavlik in against Abraham remains to be seen, but I don't think Pavlik himself will have any reservations beyond knowing he'll be in for a hell of a fight. Just doesn't seem like that type of guy. Could be wrong, of course.

Abraham, like many European fighters, has a very strong grasp on the fundamentals, and also likes to actually use them to combat sloppy fighters that aren't as disciplined once the bell actually rings. He also has legitimate knockout power that lurks every second of every fight. If you make a big mistake, Abraham makes you pay for it.

3. Felix Sturm (30-2-1, 13 KO, WBA Titlist)

When asked about a potential Pavlik-Sturm fight (prior to Pavlik-Hopkins), Top Rank chief Bob Arum said it wouldn't happen because Sturm's promoters "don't want to get his ass kicked." Make of that what you will, but Sturm has been in semi-obscurity since his 2004 "loss" to Oscar de la Hoya, fighting all but once in Germany, and that lone non-German fight was in Croatia.

Sturm is a good boxer, that we know. But we'll never get to see just how good he could be on the world stage because he's not going to take the leap. Whether or not that's really his doing is up for debate, but the fact is he's staying in Germany. A fight with Abraham could do big numbers over there, but it won't happen. At least he's not fighting another Jamie Pittman next.

4. Sebastian Sylvester (29-2, 14 KO)

Sylvester, 28, lost his pro debut via first round knockout. It must be hard to start your career that way and soldier on, but here we are, six years later, and Sylvester has lost just once since, to Amin Asikainen, a loss he avenged. He'll face Sturm in Oberhausen on November 1, and he's got a perfectly good chance at becoming the new WBA titleholder.

5. Marco Antonio Rubio (43-4-1, 37 KO)

Rubio is the WBC mandatory challenger, so it's likely his next fight will be against a comeback trailing Kelly Pavlik in the first quarter of 2009. Coming off of a highly entertaining slugfest with Enrique Ornelas, it's a welcome TV fight and a chance for him to shock the world and make a nice payday, the latter at the very least.

Rubio has been toiling since 2000, and is currently riding a nine-fight win streak. The WBC, of course, favors him because he's Mexican, which is just the way the WBC works. But Rubio is no joke challenger like Gary Lockett was; he should at least be able to put up something of a fight against Pavlik. He's sturdy, he's tough, and he comes to fight. You can't ask much more than that out of a mandatory challenge.

6. Daniel Geale (19-0, 12 KO)

Geale holds the IBO title, winning that vacant strap from fellow Aussie Daniel Dawson last December. Dawson has since returned to 154, while Geale has defended once, against Geard Ajetovic. Geale might be good, or he might be a hometown creation. We'll find out if he ever fights someone, but for now, a semi-relevant title and an unbeaten record give him a high ranking. It's the state of the middleweight union.

7. Raul Marquez (41-3-1, 29 KO)

Marquez's three career losses have come against Jermain Taylor, Fernando Vargas and Yori Boy Campas. His June upset of previously-unbeaten Giovanni Lorenzo wasn't really all that shocking; he took a raw fighter to school, and the scores (114-113 across the board) were closer than Lorenzo deserved.

Marquez, 37, likely has no real shot against Abraham in November, but he's no bum. Expect him to play it safe and try to score points but slowing Abraham down, something King Arthur could be susceptible to. Still, Abraham also knows how to turn it up at the end of a round to "steal" 10 points, and if they start exchanging, Marquez just does not have the firepower.

8. Enrique Ornelas (28-5, 18 KO)

I thought Ornelas slightly outpointed Rubio, winning enough rounds early to overcome a late charge, but the judges saw it a split decision for Marco Antonio, and it's hard to argue. Most of the fight's rounds were very close. Ornelas is welcome back on my TV any time. How he stayed standing in the final few rounds of that fight, I still can't figure. Plans are reportedly for him to move to 168 pounds, where his brother, Librado Andrade, plies his trade.

9. Amin Asikainen (25-1, 17 KO)

Like most in the division, nothing much on his record really leaps out. He split two fights with Sylvester, and recently beat an old Yori Boy Campas, but there's little else to really talk about or point at as a sign of his true worth. He's a solid fighter.

10. Randy Griffin (24-2-3, 12 KO)

The highlight of Randy Griffin's career will probably be an entertaining draw against Felix Sturm in 2007. He lost the rematch. The Philly-born, Louisville resident Griffin has zero name recognition in the States and only a slight amount in Germany, all thanks to those two fights. He's good enough that it'll be hard to find opponents to match him against, and he doesn't have a pretty enough record to carry an A-side of anything. Matched against the best in the division, he'd get creamed, but that's what? Two fighters at the moment?

You Coulda Been a Contender...

Winky Wright (51-4-1, 25 KO) will likely return at middleweight, and if he wins upon his return, he jumps back into the No. 3 spot, probably. Unless he beat Abraham, then he's got a case to even go to No. 1. But Winky's been inactive for 15 months and hasn't fought at middleweight since December 2006. For now, he's off the list on a technicality more than anything. Given that he ballooned up to 198 pounds during his break, he may not even come back to the division immediately.

John Duddy (25-0, 17 KO) would be a borderline candidate for the list anyway, but his move down to 154 pounds takes him out of consideration. Just in case you were wondering about everyone's favorite Irish bleeder.

Journeyman David Lopez (37-12, 23 KO) hasn't lost a fight since a 2005 TKO loss to Fulgencio Zuniga, which has him riding a 13-fight win streak. He also hasn't really beaten anyone of worth in that timeframe. Still, there exists the possibility of a Carlos Baldomir-like rise from obscurity.

Whoever is in charge of handling the career of 26-year old Brian Vera (16-1, 10 KO) needs to get their head checked. Since his massive March upset of blue chipper Andy Lee (16-1, 13 KO), Vera has done nothing. His name was batted around as a super middleweight opponent for Jermain Taylor, but that didn't pan out. Lee has since come back to beat Willie Gibbs (20-4, 16 KO) via tenth round TKO, giving Gibbs his third loss in as many fights. Gibbs may be best remembered as a stunning first-round knockout loser to Edison Miranda on Boxing After Dark. A Vera-Lee rematch would be nice to see. Clearly, the win didn't make Vera dramatically more marketable than he was before, so why not?

37-year old southpaw Bronco McKart (51-8-1, 31 KO), the pride of Monroe, Mich., just keeps on truckin'. Well, sort of -- Bronco hasn't fought since a March draw against Raul Marquez, and prior to that, he lost a rematch to Enrique Ornelas. McKart has had a career that I'd like to read about someday, with losses to Winky Wright (three times), Kelly Pavlik, Verno Phillips, Ornelas, and Travis Simms, as well as a few nice wins scattered along the way.

Travis Simms (26-1, 19 KO) also continues to fight, sort of. After a butt ugly loss to Joachim Alcine at 154 in July '07, Simms was out of the ring for 13 months before coming back at 160 to beat Mike McFail (12-35-2, 4 KO as of this writing). McFail, indeed.

Heavy-handed Giovanni Lorenzo (26-1, 18 KO) has been out of the ring since losing to Raul Marquez, and there's nothing on the horizon right now.

James "Buddy" McGirt, Jr., (19-1, 9 KO) came back from his April loss to Carlos de Leon, Jr., to beat fight at middleweight and beat Raymond Joval (37-5, 16 KO) in July. McGirt could have taken an easy comeback fight to get back on the winning track, but instead he took on a solid veteran and won. He's now on the easy fight track again, as he'll face Marcus Upshaw (8-3, 3 KO) on November 11 at the excellent Seminole Hard Rock in Hollywood, Fla.

Abraham victims Khoren Gevor (29-3, 15 KO), Wayne Elcock (19-3, 9 KO) and Elvin Ayala (18-3-1, 8 KO) hang around as very fringe contenders.

Isn't it weird that Howard Eastman is "only" 37 years old? Eastman (43-6, 35 KO) has been a pro since 1994, and has lost to all sorts of name fighters over the years. It started with a 2001 loss to William Joppy, which was followed by a 2005-06 three-fight losing streak against Bernard Hopkins, Abraham, and Edison Miranda, and most recently he's been felled by Elcock and Duddy. Eastman will take to the ring again on October 25 against Andrew "Six Heads" Lewis (23-3-2, 20 KO), the former welterweight that never exactly recovered from batterings at the hands of Ricardo Mayorga and Antonio Margarito.

"Deadly" Denny Dalton (16-8-1, 11 KO) is not at all a contender, and he's not even a middleweight, but Dalton plays into the Eastman-Lewis scrap. The Guyanan scrapper fought countryman Lewis three times (1-1-1) and was last in the ring against Eastman. Eastman, also born in Guyana, won a majority decision.

Even as a fan, I'll say that Peter Quillin (20-0, 15 KO) has not been what people have wanted to see in his last three fights. The 25-year old, born in Grand Rapids, Mich., and now based in Brooklyn, seemed like he couldn't -- perhaps wouldn't -- finish Antwun Echols, then went a full 10 with Dionisio Miranda, and then took 10 rounds to polish off tomato can Sam Hill.

I don't think I could properly put into words how little respect I have for the career of Hector Camacho, Jr. (46-3-1, 26 KO). To say he's not his father is a vast understatement. Frankly, I'd still rather see his 46-year old dad fight.

22-year old Fernando Guerrero (10-0, 9 KO) is budding into a personal favorite of mine. Obviously, he still has a lot of work to do, but so far, so good. Any kid of his age that can pack a venue in a place like Salisbury, Maryland, is on the track to being good for boxing, and he's already shown a nice, raw skillset. Guerrero is rumored to be part of the non-televised undercard to Taylor-Lacy on November 15.

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