Coming off of Kelly "The Ghost" Pavlik's successful middleweight championship defense against Marco Antonio Rubio last night, it's time to look over one of boxing's glory divisions once more.
Today, honestly, the glory of the division lies mostly in its storied past. There are some good and even a couple fantastic fighters here. But it is a very shallow division with a major lack of "big fights" that can be made.
Notes: Paul Williams isn't ranked because he's a divisional chameleon at this point. Winky Wright isn't ranked because he hasn't fought in almost two years and we have no idea what he'll look like in April.
When I first looked at the Pavlik-Rubio matchup, I thought it was a fine comeback fight, got rid of a mandatory, and that if nothing else Rubio would come out and throw, and make it a little exciting to watch while it lasted.
It both lasted longer than I expected, going nine full rounds, and was nowhere near the fight I hoped it could be. Rubio can bang. He didn't show that. He was awful.
Pavlik is one of my favorite fighters. I have championed this guy as the future of American boxing, as many have, and that did not end for me with his loss to Hopkins. "The Ghost" and Jack Loew got back into the gym, got back into the ring, and defended the middleweight crown.
His reign as middleweight champion has been less than exciting, let's put it that way. Since dethroning Jermain Taylor in an instant classic in September 2007, he's followed it up with a 164-pound rematch with Taylor, a defense against dramatically overmatched Gary Lockett, a 170-pound fight with and loss to 43-year old Hopkins, and a destruction of Rubio in his second defense. He has held the title for about 17 months and made two defenses, one of which was a joke and the other of which turned into an embarrassing rout where the challenger appeared either disinterested or completely incapable.
It's not Kelly's fault, either. He fought the guys put in front of him and he put them away, and frankly outside of the two German titleholders, there are really just not a lot of fitting challengers for him. It's the state of the division. Pavlik could move up, in theory, but the last time he bulked up was a disaster. Maybe better to stay down here, clean some clocks, and wait until they feel comfortable going up to 168 or even 175. It's inevitable with his frame that he has to move up, but he's still just 26.
2. Arthur Abraham (28-0, 23 KO, IBF Titleholder)
King Arthur is probably a more complete fighter than Pavlik, and he doesn't have the loss on his record. A couple things keep him the definite No. 2 for me, though. He's never fought anyone nearly as good as Hopkins, and he's also never fought anyone nearly as good as Jermain Taylor, let alone beat someone that good.
It's not to say Arthur just fights bums, because that's untrue. Raul Marquez earned his title shot by beating Giovanni Lorenzo, and Abraham gave it to him. Abraham smashed him. Abraham also fought and beat Edison Miranda and Sebastien Demers when they were undefeated, and if there were any lingering doubts about his win over Miranda, he went up to a 166-pound catchweight last year and turned Miranda's lights off in the fourth round.
There are a lot of fine wins on Abraham's record, just as many solid wins over fading or B-level opponents as Pavlik has. The difference is Taylor, really. Kelly beat him twice. Abraham just doesn't have that sort of W yet. If Pavlik and Abraham signed to fight -- and they won't any time soon -- then it's a toss-up for me. Abraham is highly skilled and triple tough.
Next: March 14 v. Lajuan Simon
3. Felix Sturm (31-2-1, 13 KO, WBA Titleholder)
I know I bagged on Sturm's God awful opposition choices recently, but I don't deny his boxing talent. Sturm is very technically sound, doesn't get himself in trouble, and still deserves a win over Oscar de la Hoya on his sheet. The fact that he takes on gimme opponents isn't offensive as much as it is frustrating, because he'd stand at least a fair chance at outpointing Abraham or Pavlik if he fought as well as he's capable of doing. He is the distant No. 3, partially because of his love of the "who's that guy?" fights.
Next: April 25 v. Koji Sato
4. Anthony Mundine (35-3, 23 KO)
Mundine has spent his career at super middleweight, where he won a title and defended it against friends and fellow regional stars. His best win was against Danny Green, who I still wish Tarver had fought back in 2007 because I am completely convinced that Green would have beaten him. Green recently unretired to fight Mundine, but Mundine thinks he's busy at middleweight.
Mundine is another guy I've semi-trashed in the past, but another guy whose skills I do not deny. He's not as good as he thinks he is, but that's true of many fighters. Mundine ranking this high is mostly a result of the division's emptiness. He's not exceptional and I think he gets knocked out cold by Pavlik or Abraham and likely routed by Sturm. Shutting out a washed-up Shannan Taylor proves nothing. Still, I'd much rather Mundine be fighting Sturm next than freaking Koji Sato.
5. Khoren Gevor (30-3, 16 KO)
An Armenian living in Germany, who has fought his entire career in that country sans two fights. Gevor challenged Abraham in 2007 and was knocked out in the 11th round, but has gone 3-0 since the loss. His other two defeats came early in his career, both to Lukas Konecny at junior middleweight in 2002. Gevor's first two post-Arthur fights were rather soft touches, but in his last bout he knocked out Amin Asikainen in Finland. Like everyone else on this list from Mundine on down, he's way behind the leaders of the pack.
6. Sebastian Sylvester (29-3, 14 KO)
Hey, another German! Sylvester's last fight was a very wide points loss to Sturm in November, but he's put together a solid career for a guy who was knocked out in the first round of his first pro fight. His other loss was a stoppage against Asikainen, which he avenged in 2007 by taking Asikainen out in 11 rounds. He also beat veteran Javier Castillejo in April 2008 to get the shot at Sturm.
Next: February 28 v. Gaetano Nespro
7. David Lopez (37-12, 23 KO)
Mexican Lopez is nicknamed "The Destroyer," which must have been thought up before he ever entered a pro ring. Lopez was a journeyman with a 24-23 record after Fulgencio Zuniga stopped him in 2005, the ninth knockout loss of his career. He has since won 13 in a row. If I know the WBC, they'll try to stick this guy in a winnable eliminator at some point so he can become a mandatory challenger. Pavlik would knock his block off, but I have a lot of respect for anyone like Lopez, who started his career 5-5 in his first ten bouts and has soldiered on to become a pretty decent scrapper.
8. Daniel Geale (20-0, 12 KO)
27-year old Aussie whose best career win came over then-fellow unbeaten Australian Daniel Dawson in 2007. Though his next opponent is hardly top of the line, there may be something to be learned about his legitimacy from that fight.
Next: March 11 v. James Obede Toney
9. Randy Griffin (24-2-3, 12 KO)
American enigma who appears to have no interest in continuing a career that doesn't involve Felix Sturm. He surprisingly drew Sturm in a tough, competitive fight in October 2007, then waited around for a rematch that came in July 2008. He lost, hasn't fought since, and has nothing lined up. The only people that know who Griffin is are German fans and people that pay a LOT of attention to boxing. Griffin was born in Philly and lives in Louisville. He started his career at Philly's famed Blue Horizon. Still, no one in America knows who he is.
10. Javier Castillejo (62-8, 43 KO)
Castillejo turns 41 on March 22 and the end of his line is near. Still, in a weak division he's ranked because he fights some of the best guys out there still. The Spaniard has fought little in the States, notably losing to both Oscar de la Hoya (2001) and Fernando Vargas (2005) and in recent years has spent all his time in the middleweight hotbed that is Germany. He knocked out Sturm to win the WBA title in 2006, then fought Mariano Carrera and lost by late TKO in 2007. Carrera's win was overturned because of a failed drug test, and the title was returned. Castillejo lost it back to Sturm in '07. He hasn't fought since last April, when he was knocked out by Sylvester.
Next: March 21 v. Pablo Navascues
You Coulda Been a Contender...
I strongly considered bumping John Duddy (26-0, 17 KO) into the top ten after his showing against Matt Vanda last night. A few things stopped me. (1) Vanda's a gatekeeper, and even though Duddy has struggled with gatekeepers in the past, a gatekeeper's a gatekeeper. (2) Duddy's game, while improved, still begs for him to get pounded on by a big puncher. (3) He just hasn't quite earned it yet. Duddy's a great guy and makes for good fights, and with Pat Burns in his corner, he is going to get better. The defense still has holes, but Pat's a guy that won't just pat John on the back. He's going to tell him what he still did wrong, and they'll work on it. Duddy looked completely willing last night to change his style. Very good sign. Sadly he may get an offer to fight Pavlik next that he simply cannot refuse. It's not sad for John, who will make a nice payday, but I think he's going to get smashed, if not have his head taken off as I thought was likely when the idea came up last year.
Marco Antonio Rubio (43-5-1, 37 KO) would have a fine chance against most guys in the top ten, but he was no match for Pavlik. Watching the two of them fight side-by-side, the massive difference in frame was very obvious. Rubio looked tiny next to Pavlik. Maybe Rubio should take a trip to Germany and see what happens.
Enrique Ornelas (28-5, 18 KO) fought Rubio tooth-and-nail last October, and I thought he won a close fight, but the judges gave it to Rubio. There were so many nailbiter rounds in that one that I legitimately cannot argue. Hell of a fight. Ornelas has hinted that he may join his brother, Librado Andrade, at 168 pounds.
Guy to maybe watch: Russian Dmitry Pirog (13-0, 11 KO). The 28-year old currently holds both the WBC Asian Boxing Council and WBO Asia Pacific titles, which means about as much as holding a ranking in the Bad Left Hook Top Ten, but that's a nice KO rate and he's fought some experienced guys already.
Remember last year when I foolishly ranked Andy Lee (16-1, 13 KO) in the back end of the top ten? Hey, I admit my mistakes. Hell, I picked Vanda over Duddy, Oscar over Manny, and thought Pavlik would stop Hopkins. I just thought I'd bring those things up again in case anyone ever thinks I have an ego. I still like Lee, still think the stoppage against Vera was premature, but still note that neither Lee nor Manny Steward exactly raised hell about it, either. Andy lost a fight -- it happens. If he fights Vera ten times he beats him nine times. There's still a ton of promise there.
Former junior middleweight titlist Roman Karmazin (37-3-1, 23 KO) has moved up to 160 pounds. You wouldn't think much of that given that Alex Bunema stunned him on the Jones-Trinidad undercard and stopped him inside of ten rounds, but again, no depth = lots of opportunities for guys like this. He beat veteran Bronco McKart in December and has a fight coming up with "Contender" season one participant Miguel Espino in March.
Sebastian Zbik is unbeaten (25-0, 9 KO), and he's German, which means he'll probably be in the title picture by mid-2010.
25-year old Hassan N'Dam N'Jikan (17-0, 11 KO) was born in Cameroon and now lives in France. He won Le Grand Tournoi last year. It's worth a quick shout-out.
Giovanni Lorenzo (26-1, 18 KO) and Dionisio Miranda (19-3-2, 17 KO) will fight an IBF eliminator on February 27, the featured undercard bout before Tomasz Adamek's first defense of the cruiserweight championship on Showtime. The last time we saw Lorenzo was June, when he lost his "0" to veteran Raul Marquez, who outfoxed him and made him look stiff and immobile.
Amin Asikainen (25-2, 17 KO) has been mentioned a couple times, and now he's being mentioned again. The former European champion has been stopped twice in his last six fights, and the four wins haven't exactly been anything to write home about, the best over the absolutely crazy 37-year old Yori Boy Campas (92-13, 74 KO), who I'm convinced would fight a lion.
America's next hope might be 25-year old Peter Quillin (20-0, 15 KO), a solid prospect on his way up the ladder. He's been out of the ring since last September.