Seven pounds south of boxing's glory division lie the junior welterweights, a one-star show that will soon get a second big-name attraction when Manny Pacquiao arrives to fight the division's top man.
It's a fairly deep, interesting division, even though it does lack names and gate attractions. What also hurts some of the intrigue at 140 is that no matter how much most of these guys would love to fight The Man in the division, they aren't going to be on his radar any time soon.
Ricky Hatton has been the rightful champion of this division since 2005, when he beat Kostya Tszyu and dethroned a legend. Since then, he's defended his championship against Carlos Maussa, Jose Luis Castillo, Juan Lazcano and Paulie Malignaggi, and also went up to welterweight to win an alphabet title against Luis Collazo and receive a knockout at the hands of Floyd Mayweather Jr.
You can argue that Hatton should still perhaps be dissed a bit for "ducking" Junior Witter for so long. Hatton-Witter would've been a massive fight in the U.K., and now it's more unlikely to ever happen than ever before, and it was never likely. Hatton strongly dislikes Witter, which has been provoked by Witter trash talk. But should Ricky have fought him at some point? Yeah, probably.
His most recent fight was his best performance since he defeated Tszyu, as a refocused Hatton destroyed a game Paulie Malignaggi in what was a meeting of the consensus top two 140-pound fighters in the world. "The Hitman" had no trouble with Malignaggi, as he walked through what little bit of punishment Malignaggi was able to offer up and simply battered a quick, defensively skilled boxer for 10-plus rounds. It was sort of a mini-rebirth of Hatton.
The second-biggest test of his career is coming next. Manny Pacquiao right now is a better fighter than Tszyu was in '05, and only the Mayweather fight was a bigger challenge than Pacquiao will be for Ricky. If Hatton upsets him, it doesn't make Ricky the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world, even though he'll claim it does. But it will firmly solidify his legacy, and probably put him well over the line for the Hall of Fame.
Next: Pacquiao on May 2
2. Timothy Bradley (23-0, 11 KO, WBC Titleholder)
Bradley sort of rises to No. 2 almost by default. Malignaggi was so dominated that 1-2 couldn't stay the same. When No. 1 Ohio State beat No. 2 Michigan by a 42-39 score a few years ago, you could argue those two teams should've just stayed 1-2. I did. They were clearly the two best teams at that moment. But whatever. It's not sour grapes or anything. F-ing Buckeyes...
Anyway, Bradley is No. 2 because his upset win over Junior Witter last year is the most impressive win anyone else has, and also because he's an undefeated titleholder who has real ambition and is still just 25 years old.
I don't think there's anything Tim Bradley does exceptionally well, but he's really well-rounded and doesn't have chin issues that we know about yet. His last four fights have gone the distance and that isn't going to start changing. He's not a puncher. He's not an amazing boxer. He doesn't have great hand speed. His defense is good, but nothing to write home about. But he doesn't have any glaring weaknesses, either. His next fight will tell us more than his win over Edner Cherry did.
Next: Kendall Holt on April 4
3. Kendall Holt (25-2, 13 KO, WBO Titleholder)
Holt deserves credit for fighting Demetrius Hopkins on short notice in December, putting his title on the line against a fighter completely different than the one he was preparing to face. The abandoned rubber match between Holt and Ricardo Torres was a shame, and the fact that Hopkins got a wholly undeserved title shot was bad, too, but the show went on and people got paid, and that's always a good thing.
Holt has bad balance and a shaky chin, but he can be explosive offensively. He's a better puncher than his KO rate suggests, but he has a habit of going into offensive lulls, too. One needs look no further than his stinker performance against Ben Tackie in February '08. Holt was coming off of a controversial loss to Torres and needed to get back in the win column, but he fought like he didn't care at all.
He's got kind of a bizarre record. Holt is 1-1 against Torres, but the win came mostly due to a headbutt after he picked himself up off the canvas twice. He's been down about 412 times in his career. He's got a win over David Diaz (first guy to beat Diaz) and a win over Isaac Hlatshwayo (first and thus far only guy to do that) and the win over Hopkins (only loss for Hopkins, unless you want to count Steve Forbes, who was robbed and then some). But he's also been drilled in the first round by journeyman Thomas Davis and looked shaky in fights he should have won with ease. And even against Hopkins, he let Demetrius stay in the fight.
Like his opponent, we'll learn something about Kendall on April 4.
Next: Bradley on April 4
4. Ricardo Torres (32-2, 28 KO)
Torres is probably the division's hardest puncher, a guy with one-punch knockout power that can turn the lights out on anyone at a moment's notice. Defensively he has some holes, and he's been knocked out by Holt and Miguel Cotto, but those aren't the worst losses in the world.
His win resume is nothing to write home about, either. Torres has the iffy win over Holt in Colombia, and Mike Arnaoutis all but offered him a fruit basket in their fight. Torres has had trouble making weight in the past, and it wouldn't surprise me if he moved up to 147. At 5'8", he'd be kind of small, but not horribly undersized, and he has real sock in both hands.
5. Junior Witter (37-2-2, 22 KO)
34-year old Witter will never get the fight he'd still love to have, which is Hatton. I always thought we might see it after both were washed up and ready to make a quick buck in Manchester or London, but now I doubt that ever happens. Hatton is a global megastar while Witter remains a regional fighter.
Witter's loss to Bradley was unexpected, but it's not like he tanked out there. He just got out-fought by a younger guy he may have been looking past. He returned in November to knock out Victor Castro, and now there's a lot of talk that he'll face young St. Louis prospect Devon Alexander. I think it's maybe too soon for Alexander, but I thought the same about Bradley.
6. Paulie Malignaggi (25-2, 5 KO)
The Hatton loss really hurt Malignaggi. It was his big chance to shine against a superstar fighter. Paulie has real skills, but that fight probably proved he can only go so far while not being able to punch. At all.
Here's hoping his fragile hands hold up and he can keep his career going for a while longer, because even if you aren't a fan of his, you have to admit that the guy genuinely loves boxing. But the two best fighters he's faced (Hatton and Cotto) have both beaten the hell out of him. Had he beaten Hatton, it would have been amazing, because he would've had to have done something pretty damn special. But he couldn't do it. There's talk of him facing fellow NYC star Zab Judah, which is a fight that could be pretty entertaining.
7. Andriy Kotelnik (30-2-1, 13 KO, WBA Titleholder)
WBA titlist Kotelnik will be back in action on the Chagaev-Drumond undercard on February 7 in Germany, facing Argentinian knockout artist Marcos Rene Maidana (25-0, 24 KO). Kotelnik's two losses came to Souleymane M'baye and Junior Witter, and he's never been stopped. Not to generalize, but if you're familiar with boxing records and global styles but have never seen Kotelnik fight, you can pretty much imagine it without much effort. He's exactly what you'd expect.
Next: Maidana on February 7
8. Juan Urango (21-1-1, 16 KO, IBF Titleholder)
Turn-ons: Bulldozers, sledgehammers, Mack trucks, Best of Tyson DVD collections
Turn-offs: Finesse, art exhibits
9. Victor Ortiz (23-1-1, 18 KO)
Of all the young guns coming up at 140, Ortiz is the most promising, because he's the most exciting. Victor to me seems like the kind of guy that's going to lose a couple fights because he fights in such a style that it'll happen. He's a gunslinger, man. He's got a ton of ability, he's got good power, and he loves to throw. Eventually he'll meet someone that can match him. Great fighters lose. Ortiz is kind of lucky that he already has the one loss (a DQ against Corey Alcaron) because he'll never feel that overwhelming pressure to stay perfect, something boxing promoters and some media put way too much emphasis on.
Next: Mike Arnaoutis on March 7
10. Herman Ngoudjo (17-3, 9 KO)
Ngoudjo barely stays on the list after his performance against Urango, which had its good moments but for the most part struck me as Ngoudjo being a guy that won't ever really get over the hump.
You Coulda Been a Contender...
Frenchman Willy Blain (20-0, 3 KO) has been mentioned as a possible opponent for Top Rank prospect Lamont Peterson (26-0, 12 KO). Blain may seem like your typical European boxer set up to lose his pretty record against a better American pro, and frankly he probably is, but Blain does have some real amateur accomplishments in his back pocket, including the 2003 World Amateur Championships gold medal. At the 2004 Olympic Games in Sydney, Blain lost to eventual gold medalist Manus Boonjumnong of Thailand, who also won the silver in 2008. Blain is almost certainly a non-factor, but hey, now you know who he is. I'm really no more excited by Lamont than I am Anthony as far as the Petersons go, and Anthony doesn't exactly get my engine running.
Vivian Harris (29-3-1, 19 KO) might be fighting at another Medieval Times after his team blew the negotiations to face Ortiz on HBO.
Another unbeaten Top Rank kid, Mike Alvarado (24-0, 17 KO), was involved in talks to fight Malignaggi on February 21, but those fell through. Alvarado wants to step up in competition, which is admirable.
Square Ring's Frankie Figueroa (20-2, 13 KO) isn't going to be a star, no matter how much Roy Jones might like him. He doesn't make for bad TV fights, though.
Demetrius Hopkins (28-1-1, 11 KO) doesn't really seem like he cares about boxing, and doesn't seem especially like he wants to fight for a living. That is pure observation and speculation on my part, but doesn't anyone else notice that about him? He has natural talents and doesn't seem to have any real desire to get much better or put in that extra effort during a fight.
Former WBA titlist Gavin Rees (27-1, 13 KO) hasn't fought since losing his title to Kotelnik last March. The man he upset for the title, Souleymane M'baye (37-3-1, 21 KO), rebounded from his summer 2008 loss to Ngoudjo to narrowly hand Welshman Barrie Jones his third straight defeat (77-76).
Edgar Santana (24-3, 15 KO) has probably been shot down for HBO fights more times than he's notched credible wins. Maybe it's time to make that fight between Santana and fellow New Yorker Dmitriy Salita (29-0-1, 16 KO) that has been mentioned so many times.