Ranking the Junior Welterweights: May 11, 2009

I've said it before, but it truly amazes me that people continue to boast the exceptionally top-heavy welterweight division as the best in boxing when you have a loaded lightweight division and what is becoming a heavy junior welterweight division, too. This is one of the best divisions in boxing if you ask me -- right now, maybe the best. There is a lot of talent here, way more overall than the welters.

760x316-01-em_medium 1. Manny Pacquiao (49-3-2, 37 KO, Ring Magazine World Champion)

It couldn't be anyone else. How long Pacquiao actually stays in the division isn't really the issue. Right now, he is the lineal, true 140-pound champion of the world, the fourth weight class where he's achieved that standing.

He's nothing short of incredible and I don't think there's a single fighter in the division that gives him too big of a test. Almost all the talk of his future fights centers on him having to move back up into the welterweight division, be it Mayweather, Cotto, Mosley, or whomever. The only possibility of Pacquiao defending his championship lies in a potential third clash with current 135-pound champion Juan Manuel Marquez.

One of the interesting (read: absurd, disgusting, etc.) things about sanctioning body rankings comes when you really give it a deep think. The WBC's title in the division is currently vacant, since Tim Bradley unified the WBC strap with the WBO title and that just wasn't sitting well with them. So in their current ratings for the division, among the many laughable standings is Manny Pacquiao as No. 1 and Devon Alexander at No. 2. Can you imagine if anyone actually had the power to force that fight into reality?

Next: TBA

2. Timothy Bradley (24-0, 11 KO, WBO Titleholder)

Bradley was No. 2 when I did this in January, and he holds his ranking thanks to his April 4 decision victory over Kendall Holt. It was a solid fight and a damn fine performance from Bradley, who simply proved out as the better, more well-rounded, and seemingly more disciplined fighter. Tim Bradley is one of those guys who I'm not sure does anything exceptionally well but also appears to have no glaring weaknesses whatsoever. He moves pretty well, has pretty good speed, his chin looks solid, and his power is better than his 46% knockout rate.

I put Bradley over you know who (he's next, hang on to your wigs) because I think he'd beat him if they lined up a fight. Bradley's younger, fresher, and in a better place mentally.

Next: TBA

760x316-19-wh_medium 3. Ricky Hatton (45-2, 31 KO)

I genuinely don't care if history isn't terribly kind to Ricky Hatton, and I don't care who never much cared for his style and who never thought he was all that good.

The fact of the matter is Ricky Hatton ruled this division with an iron fist beginning on June 4, 2005, when in Manchester he forced Kostya Tszyu to quit after 11 rounds. Tszyu never fought again. His first defense came against Carlos Maussa, a fine contender at the time and a titlist coming off of an upset knockout of Vivian Harris, and Hatton knocked him out in nine rounds.

I know I've said pretty much the same thing already recently, but from that point on we got to see who Ricky Hatton really was. He wasn't content to stay at 140, which wasn't exactly loaded up, and he wasn't content to stay in the United Kingdom, either. He went to Boston to fight Luis Collazo at 147 pounds. He went to Vegas for the first time to defend the 140-pound crown against Juan Urango, an unbeaten, rugged fighter. He fought Jose Luis Castillo, who was certainly not at his best anymore, but I don't recall a whole lot of people going, "Ah, yeah, Hatton's got this one in the bag, knockout in the fourth by body shot." Castillo was considered a legitimate contender. A lot of people thought that was going to be Hatton's toughest test ever.

He went back up to challenge the best fighter in the world and lost. He then stepped back to 140 for a comeback fight against Juan Lazcano, then defended against the No. 1 contender in the world, Paulie Malignaggi. He again challenged the best fighter in the world. He lost.

Ricky Hatton has more guts than about 98% of the guys in boxing, many of whom (and this includes top guys) float around the sport picking up trinkets, taking as few risks as they really have to, claiming to be the best but not willing to prove it far too often.

To me, he proved his character. No, he was not a naturally or highly-skilled boxer. He didn't even really have the body to fight at 140 with that 65" reach. He made more of himself than a lot of guys with twice his talent would have. There are guys I think Ricky could still beat, but I don't consider him one of the sport's true elites any longer. Still, if he never fights again (I'm guessing he will), I'll never have less than a fond memory of Ricky Hatton, junior welterweight world champion from June 4, 2005 until May 2, 2009.

Next: TBA

4. Junior Witter (37-2-2, 22 KO)

Witter, now 35, kind of refuses to go away. The last time most anyone saw him he was shocked by Timothy Bradley, but I think we now fully understand that Bradley has the goods, and it's also good to remember when evaluating Witter that he barely lost that fight on the scorecards. He won 115-112 on one of them, and lost 114-113 and 115-113 on the other two. One big overhand right won that fight for Bradley, really.

There was a time not so long ago when many felt that if Ricky Hatton would have fought Witter, that was going to be the guy to end his reign. Not so much because Witter's such an amazing fighter, but because the style matchup seemed all wrong for the "Hitman."

I'm almost taken aback by how quiet Witter has been the last week and a half. I'll admit it: I expected him to start calling on Hatton by May 4. But for now, he's left it alone. Economically, Hatton-Witter is now a fight that makes a lot of sense. There's a lot of pride there still, and it's no doubt a big fight in England, especially if marketed as Ricky's final fight or even Hatton coming to shut Witter up once and for all.

Still, Witter has fought just once since losing to Bradley, a welterweight stay-busy fight in November. He knocked Argentina's Victor Hugo Castro (himself a natural 140-pounder) out in the third round.

Next: TBA

Nate-campbell-ali-funeka5_medium 5. Nate Campbell (33-5-1, 25 KO)

Yeah, it's tough to really rank Nate before he's even officially fought at 140 pounds in his move up from 135, but he looked strong against Ali Funeka in February and even at 37, I don't think he's going to lose a lot moving up. Now if he could only actually get a fight in the works.

Part of the reason I don't think Nate will have too many problems in the short-term is the fact that he didn't start fighting professionally until he was 28, and he's really at his peak right now. It's a damned, crying shame that he's been jerked around so much in the last few years, winning eliminators to fight Julio Diaz on two occasions and having to wait to fight Juan Diaz (who beat Julio) before he actually got a title shot. Then he upset Juan, made a fight with Joan Guzman, and Guzman pulled out when he couldn't make weight. Then Nate couldn't make weight months later. It's been a mess. But he's such a sincere, honest guy that I can't help but genuinely feel for Campbell and hope he finds a big fight soon.

Next: TBA

6. Andriy Kotelnik (31-2-1, 13 KO, WBA Titleholder)

Kotelnik is coming off an impressive win in a good fight against slugger Marcos Maidana, which raises his stock somewhat. He now gets a chance to perhaps end the Amir Khan hype when the two fight on June 27.

It's an interesting fight in a lot of ways. Kotelnik is technically sound, doesn't make a lot of mistakes, and isn't a big puncher. These are the guys Warren wants to match Khan against, and it's worked with Willie Limond and Martin Kristjansen and a few others. But none of those guys are as good as Kotelnik, either. The weight (Khan's going up from 135) won't matter, I don't think. Amir was a huge lightweight and at 5'10" will be a damn big junior welter, too.

I also have no doubt that Khan is the more power puncher and also has the much faster hands. This will be a real test of what Freddie Roach has done with Khan. Since they've started working together, Khan got his feet wet again by crushing Oisian Fagan and "stepped up" to wail on Marco Antonio Barrera, a guy he simply towered over. Kotelnik knows his way around the ring. It's a risky proposition on both sides and a really intriguing fight, I think.

Next: June 27 v. Amir Khan

7. Juan Urango (21-1-1, 16 KO, IBF Titleholder)

He's a power puncher and nothing more, built like the proverbial brick s***house, and he comes at you with relentless pressure. Strong as Hatton was at 140 pounds, he didn't put a dent in Urango. I'd actually love to hear Hatton's thoughts on that fight in depth, because as clearly and fairly easily as he won it, Urango was in his face all night and at some point Hatton must've thought to himself, "Jesus, can you hurt this guy?"

Urango is moving up to 147 to take on Andre Berto in a couple weeks, which is a really good fight. Urango is 5'7" with a 71" reach, but Berto is no monster at 147, either, at 5'8 1/2" and not much for reach, either. Size has been one of the things people have talked about someday failing Berto. Urango is not as good as Luis Collazo in the technical aspects of the game (or close to it), but he will give Andre Berto something to think about every second of the fight. I have no doubt Urango will come out swinging for the fences and looking to shake Berto up.

Next: May 30 v. Andre Berto

8. Kendall Holt (25-3, 13 KO)

I think Holt -- who has his own personal problems right now -- is "doomed" to be an enigma sort of fighter, a guy that might come out of the shadows and have a late prime. He gets knocked down on his way to Foot Locker, but he recovers very well and rarely seems like he's actually hurt. Physically, he's got a reach advantage (at 74") on just about anyone in the division and has a ton of athletic ability.

Almost all of Holt's big fights have been puzzling in one way or another, past his wins over then-unbeaten David Diaz and then-unbeaten Isaac Hlatshwayo. His win over Mike Arnaoutis was easy, but a lot of that was Arnaoutis being dreadful and basically handing the fight to Holt as "Mighty Mike" received near nonsense advice from his corner the entire night. His loss in Colombia to Ricardo Torres was fustercluck of 2007 in almost every way. He came back to beat Ben Tackie, looking pretty bad in the process. Then he knocked Torres out in one round after going down twice himself. And then he beat Demetrius Hopkins easily but didn't show much killer instinct (also a shining performance from judge Julie Lederman, who scored it for Hopkins somehow).

His best performance in a while really might've been the loss to Bradley, but right now I simply have no idea who the "real" Kendall Holt is. I do know he's basically the division's ultimate wild card. I'd never count him out against anyone but Pacquiao.

Next: TBA

9. Ricardo Torres (32-2, 28 KO)

Torres is one of the sport's most brutal punchers. He has nasty, nasty power. He's also still a bit crude and hasn't fought since losing the one-round thriller to Holt. He returns on May 15 in Colombia in what should be an easy comeback fight.

Next: May 15 v. Raul Pinzon

10. Marcos Maidana (25-1, 24 KO)

Some of the Argentinians with the eye-popping KO rates (think Walter Matthysse) turn into pumpkins against good competition. With one fight against a top opponent, Maidana proved he could be the real deal in his loss to Kotelnik. Earning a split decision against Kotelnik in Germany is no easy feat. He's got a great fight coming up in June that could say a lot about both of the fighters.

Next: June 27 v. Victor Ortiz

You Coulda Been a Contender...

I almost hate bumping Paulie Malignaggi (26-2, 5 KO) off the top ten, and certainly you can argue him in at the back end. But watching him against both Hatton and Cotto taught us something, and even his rematch with Lovemore N'dou: If Paulie can't get the other guy to back down, he has to be 100% at his very best as a "cutie," and he hasn't been there since the first win over N'dou. The current talk is that he will indeed face Mike Alvarado (26-0, 18 KO) on Top Rank's reshuffled June 27 PPV. You really couldn't ask for two more different fighters. Alvarado is still a bit crude and often relies too heavily on his power. Malignaggi is a pure technician when he's on his game. A win puts that guy in the mix, a loss hurts the other guy, particularly if it's Paulie.

Victor Ortiz (24-1-1, 19 KO) is Golden Boy's hopeful next Golden Boy, a Mexican-American who's all smiles and glib quotes. Just like Oscar, there's something about him that rubs me the wrong way as a fan, but there's no doubt the kid's a hell of a fighter and he fights like one of the hungriest guys in the sport. He's there to finish his opponent. If only they could get him to stop acting like Bill and Ted...

Veteran Randall Bailey (39-6, 35 KO) still has one of the biggest punches in the division, maybe even in the sport. He put Frankie Figueroa to sleep in April, and now he's in line for a shot at the IBF title currently held by Juan Urango. What a slugfest that could be.

Top Rank's Lamont Peterson (27-0, 13 KO) is coming off of a pretty routine win over decorated French amateur Willy Blain. He's still thought of as the lesser of the Peterson brothers, and he doesn't even go "FWAH!"

Herman Ngoudjo (17-3, 9 KO) hasn't ever lost to a bad fighter, going down against Jose Luis Castillo in a tight one, Paulie Malignaggi in a tight one, and recently Juan Urango in a not-so-tight one. He might be able to snag an alphabet at some point, but I still say he looks like a "never gets over the hump" fighter.

29-year old Paul McCloskey (19-0, 9 KO) of Northern Ireland currently holds the BBBofC 140-pound title, which was vacant when he took it in a fight against Colin Lynes last year. He defended in March, stopping Dean Harrison in the fourth. He also holds a win over Cesar Bazan, but I haven't seen Bazan look terribly interested in fighting in a while.

Has Fight Night Round 3's indestructible Juan Lazcano (37-5-1, 27 KO) retired? He fought once in 2007, pushing Vivian Harris in a loss, and gave Ricky Hatton more than enough of a scare in their 2008 fight. Lazcano is one of my favorite fighters for a multitude of reasons -- he comes to fight, he has a great nickname, and again, he's the man in FNR3.

St. Louis' Devon Alexander (18-0, 11 KO) didn't look so amazing against Chuy Rodriguez in April, but he stopped him in the ninth and was more than easily in control the whole way. You would've liked something more spectacular, but he remains a damn good prospect. His hand speed is sick.

Mike Arnaoutis (21-3-2, 10 KO) sealed his fate as an opponent with his two-round loss to Victor Ortiz in March. Personally, I still can't get over almost wanting to scream at him from my couch when he was giving away rounds against Ricardo Torres in 2006, which was the first loss of his career.

Speaking of opponents, Edner Cherry (24-6-2, 12 KO) is always a good one. Not a bad gatekeeper at all at 135 or 140. Every time he's fought a good opponent in his prime, he's lost.

I still don't think Demetrius Hopkins (28-1-1, 11 KO) wants to be a pro fighter. I have rarely seen anyone with genuine natural ability and 30 career fights look so little like he cares about fighting when he's in the ring.

Souleymane M'baye (37-3-1, 21 KO) is said to be fighting for the European title sometime soon. He's fought once since his June 2008 loss to Ngoudjo, which he somehow thought he won.

Vivian Harris (29-3-1, 19 KO) last fought at a Medieval Times in New Jersey and priced himself out of an HBO fight with Victor Ortiz in March. It's so amazing that I can't help but repeat it. He has nothing on the horizon. Consider him a non-entity for now.

Remember when Dmitriy Salita's (29-0-1, 16 KO) rout of club fighter Derrick Campos stole the show on the Calzaghe-Jones pay-per-view? Oh we all had a good time that night, didn't we?

Everbody loves ol' DeMarcus "Chop Chop" Corley (34-11-1, 20 KO). Corley was flat robbed in Arizona in April, so he went to Kazakhstan a month later to get back on the winning end of things. Corley came into his 2003 fight with Zab Judah a 28-1-1 fighter. Since that night he's gone 6-10, including a six-fight losing streak from 2006 to 2008. He still talks about fighting for a world title again. Good luck, Chop Chop.

There's another pug from Manchester who's moved down to 140: Southpaw David Barnes (24-1-1, 11 KO). There's only one Ricky Hatton.

32-year old Sirimongkol Singwancha (60-2, 34 KO) spends a lot of time beating up guys making their pro debuts and guys with 2-6 records, so like most of the Thai fighters (most, not all), I admit to having a hard time taking him too seriously.

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