The Increasingly Sad State of 160 Pounds

The ever handy (but often too relied upon) fight history database has 1072 middleweights in its enormous archives. The worst of these fighters in their view would be 0-17 Mexican middleweight Raymundo Verdugo. Of those seventeen losses, ten of them have been stoppages. Personally, however, if I had to pick a worst just based on these numbers alone I'd have to go with Australian middlewight Aaron "Baby Face" Ryan. Ryan boasts a "better" record at 0-11, but he has been stopped inside the distance in every fight.


In a way, in recent times, the entire middleweight division has gone 0-11 with 11 stoppage losses. Even a few years ago, in a time we thought of as a down era even then, the division was in a much stronger state. Jermain Taylor ruled the division with the undisputed championship....


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Winky Wright was still on top of his game. Hopkins had moved out of the division, but he was still viable as a fighter in the division if the opportunity were to have arisen. Kelly Pavlik and Edison Miranda had not yet collided and there were two feared power punchers to show for it, Miranda even moreso. Overseas Javier Castillejo and Felix Sturm were making waves while a younger Arthur Abraham was ascending to the throne. Was this an elite division in the sport, worthy of its storied history? No. Taylor's less than stellar, star killing fights with Spinks and Ouma illustrate that fact. Yet, even with the division's shortcomings, had you asked me if things were getting worse I would have told you that they were not. I would have been very wrong.


Taylor, Hopkins, Miranda, and Abraham now campaign at 168 or 175 with various degrees of success. Wright and Castillejo are no longer top level fighters. Kelly Pavlik rose to the peak in a star is born performance against Taylor, but has since lost all momentum in one of the oddest fall from grace stories of our time. Sturm has managed to sink back even further into the shadows and is probably past his prime anyway. In my estimation the storied division of 160 pounds has gone from a bad division to the worst division in the entire sport. What is left?


Despite the aforementioned and well documented bizarre nature of his reign, Pavlik remains the legitimate champion at the weight. Even the indisputable champion of 160 cannot escape scrutiny, however. Did Hopkins ruin Pavlik mentally in that 12 round beat down? The stories coming out of Pavlik's world and the appearance of his handling of the Paul Williams fight have certainly, and justifiably, called his mental state into question. I don't think we'll be able to answer until Pavlik gets in the ring with a legit challenger.


The other "champion" of the division, Germany's Felix Sturm, can only still be called so thanks to some awful judging. Former Abraham knock out victim Khoren Gevor defeated him soundly according to every man who has seen the fight save for the three judges at ringside. Gevor had previously found some minor success before being stopped by Abraham in his previous title try, but he by no means revealed himself to be a world class fighter in that bout. Given Sturm's struggles with such a fighter, it may be safe to call his prime into question. There is another titlist in the division, Sebastian Sylvester, who only a year prior to winning the belt Sturm had soundly outpointed. Sylvester eeked out a narrow split decision over Giovanni Lorenzo, a fighter that was unable to defeat old, shot-worn, and out of his weight class Raul Marquez a year before, to "earn" the belt. Sylvester's title is a farce and in any other division we wouldn't feel the need to discuss a fighter of his caliber. Yet, here we are at 160.


In May, Australians Anthony Mundine and Daniel Geale waged war in a huge domestic battle that Mundine narrowly edged out. Given the level of skill, heart, and passion of the fanbase displayed, this fight would have been more worthy of a title fight than Sylvester/Lorenzo. Geale is a study, technical sound fighter, but he isn't the athlete that Mundine, for all his flaws, legitimately is. Mundine, however, claims to be dropping straight out of the division to 154. Few fighters will be willing to travel to Australia, however, as it is such a non-traditional fight location. Even if Mundine remains at the weight, it is hard to envision him or Geale making many waves internationally due to the money they can make in Australia against less risk.


Back to Europe to the UK, Cello Rendo and Paul Samuels engaged last month in probably the most interesting event of the recent months at 160 in an all out war. Too bad they are such low level fighters. The division needs that kind of action. Matthew Macklin headlines the UK middleweight scene with name value and a few decent domestic level wins recently, but I am more interested in prospects/fringe contenders in Darren Baker and Scottish Freddie Roach fighter Matthew McEwan. Baker is the more talented of the two, but one can never dismiss a Wild Card fighter. Irish fighters John Duddy and Andy Lee continue to recover from career altering losses to fighters that weren't even supposed to be competitive with them. For what my opinion is worth, Duddy has no shot at ever being relevant. I'm not ready to write of Lee yet, however. He fights too well from the outside to never work his way back to where he was and beyond. Darren Baker could be a world titlist before too long with hands as quick as those.


I'd be remiss if I did not return to mainland Europe for acknowledgment of a few fine prospects before crossing the Atlantic. Top Russian amateur and lead Top Rank prospect Matt Korobov is the best known of these fighters having been gifted a few key undercard slots in the US due to his Top Rank status, but he is not alone. German Sebastian Zbik needs to be mentioned as he has twenty seven fights without a loss and a ludicrous interim title thanks to the WBC, but I will be surprised if he turns out to ever be more than what he is now. Kazakhstan's Gennady Golovkin has been impressing overseas over the course of the last year with a string of KOs and has shown some real power in his unbeaten rise. More pressingly, however, we must turn out attention to unbeaten Russian middleweight Dimitry Pirog as he has a February date with the aforementioned Matthew Macklin for the European title at 160 in only his fifteenth pro bout. Certainly this fight will lend us tremendous insight into just how far Pirog will be able to go in the sport.


The immediate neighbors to the US cannot be forgotten in this discussion either, mainly for two reasons. North to Canada, twenty one year old prospect David Lemieux not only remains unbeaten in the face of ever so slowly increased levels of competition, but retains his perfect KO record as well. Is Lemieux a legit incoming threat to the division, or is he Tyrone Brunson redux? Time will tell. South to Mexico, veteran David Lopez has been riding high despite his twelve losses with a four year, fifteen fight win streak. I would be surprised if there was not a title eliminator in his future, much like the one fellow Mexican fringe contenders Marco Antonio Rubio and recent Hopkins tune up opponent Enrique Ornelas fought a bit over a year ago. None of these four are yet world class fighters, though Lopez may be close to breaking through finally and Lemieux is at least worthy of keeping an eye on. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. is now campaigning at middleweight as well, but, in total honesty, he is completely irrelevant.


Kelly Pavlik and Paul Williams should have been headlining the US scene on December 3rd against one another, but Pavlik's hand problems kept pushing the fight back. Williams felt he was simply being ducked and moved on, giving us the new classic that he fought with Martinez. Instead Pavlik takes a weak opponent in Miguel Espino on the 19th. We'll learn nothing from Pavlik in this fight, barring a disaster anyway. Beyond the two the cupboard stands bare. Winky Wright is far too inactive and has been handled easily in his last two fights. His failure to capitalize on his entertaining and controversial draw in 06 with Taylor for the real middleweight title has haunted his career and the division alike. After Winky we find two prospects, the slick Danny Jacobs and the aggressive Fernando Guerrero, emerging on contender status, but they have not arrived yet. I cannot even begin to make the claim that anyone beyond those five are even remotely relevant out of the states.


Sergio Martinez fought on even ground with Paul Williams at 160, but he seems more likely to continue at 154. Without Martinez the division remains extremely weak, but with him there are some fights to be made. A rematch with Williams or a shot at Pavlik would be highly interesting. Even then, however, everything sort of stops there. What does the future hold for 160? It doesn't really seem like much. We'd need too many prospects to come through for the division to be big again. With the lure of all the money to be made eight pounds north, I'm fully expecting to wave goodbye to even Pavlik and Williams out of the division. What then? Nothing.


Goodbye, 160.


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