The division between glory classes welterweight and middleweight often gets ignored, but it has recently become one of the more active and TV-featured classes out there, thanks to some good young fighters, some good rising and not-so-young fighters, and one freak of nature whose closest thing to "home" can be called this division for the time being.
Paul Williams deserves to be ten times the star he is, and that's not an exaggeration. Make him ten times the star he is and he might sneak into the sport's top ten money fighters. Maybe. He has absolutely no star power still, which is a shame but again goes back to the fact that nobody ever built a home base for him. Even Chad Dawson draws in Connecticut. Williams fought Winky Wright in Vegas and the house was awful. The fight belonged in Florida, where Wright has fans, but then that would be giving him "home court," and on and on and on.
They could've fought that one in Winky Wright's living room and let him have His Chair between rounds and it would've made no difference, though. I don't think Wink is shot. He's probably faded some and certainly had to deal with some rust, but Williams was just all wrong for Wright and I'm not sure any era of Winky Wright can deal with a guy this tall, this long, and this active. I'd favor Williams at 160 over Kelly Pavlik and probably over Arthur Abraham (I think Abraham presents the tougher style matchup), I'd favor him over anyone at 154, and frankly I think he probably beats anyone at 147 still if he can make the weight comfortably, save perhaps for Floyd Mayweather Jr.
(As for the 147 matchups, I don't think Mosley can handle his reach anymore, if he ever really could have, and I don't like Cotto or Clottey to be able to bang him out. I think he'd outright dominate Clottey.)
This is a guy who has actually quietly become one of the best fighters in the sport today, a top five pound-for-pounder that makes for a rough night for anybody that fights him. Honestly, he's had one big off night against Carlos Quintana, and we saw what happened in the rematch. He seems to have learned from that fight. Sometime soon, people will be forced to fight Williams. Right now the best we can hope for is probably a bout with Sergei Dzinziruk.
2. Sergio Martinez (44-1-2, 24 KO)
Newly-crowned WBC titleholder Martinez finally got what he deserved since Vernon Forrest never intended to fight him and dragged him along forever. Forrest's ducking of Martinez is one that no one can question. I'm not even sure how Vernon or Gary Shaw would go about defending it. Well this happened, then that happened, then that happened, then that happened... I mean at some point don't you stop and go, "This sounds stupid"?
Martinez was robbed of a win over Kermit Cintron in February, first by terrible officiating and second by terrible ringside judging, but almost everyone just considers that a win, which now looks even better given Cintron's career rejuvenation on Saturday night.
Martinez, a 5'11" lefty with a 76" reach, might really be the toughest matchup for Williams. Tall Paul dominated Winky, but Wright isn't slick -- Martinez is. He's a cutie to the bone, he's quick, he moves somewhat awkwardly, and one of the things he does is almost dare guys to come to him. Williams wouldn't have to move as close in as most do to hit Martinez, but that's a really good fight. Maybe HBO can force that one at some point? They seem really high on both fighters right now, it wouldn't be terribly expensive to make, and it's intriguing as hell.
3. Sergei Dzinziruk (36-0, 22 KO)
German-based Ukrainian Dzinziruk is another lefty, but at 6'0" has a much shorter reach than a lot of guys in the division (68", which is an inch longer than Manny Pacquiao, for instance). He's a good fighter that may sometimes be unfairly tagged with the "just a European fighter" label. He's one of the best in the world at 154 and one of the best of the "European fighters," period.
4. Cory Spinks (37-5, 11 KO)
I have Spinks this high because I think he was robbed against Verno Phillips, which means I don't really think he's lost all that recently besides his journey up to 160 to fight Jermain Taylor. Against Deandre Latimore in April, he looked either like he was trying to make himself more TV-friendly or like he's lost a step. His next fight will give us a better read on that, perhaps. He did wind up winning over a St. Louis crowd that was wildly dumping on him in favor of the younger hometown boy. It's rough when even your home fans are booing your style.
5. Vernon Forrest (41-3, 29 KO)
Forrest is 38 years old and only wants big fights now, which means he should probably take a whack at Kelly Pavlik at 160 pounds, because his definition of "big fight" really doesn't exist at 154 and it's not like he could ever make 147 again. He's had his injury problems, and they're very legit, but I wonder how much he really wants to fight anymore. Still, when he's on these days, he can be very good. He tore through Carlos Baldomir and Michele Piccirillo, and after looking sluggish in his loss to Sergio Mora came back to dominate him in the rematch. I still have a bad taste in my mouth from his decision win over Ike Quartey in 2006, but that's not Vernon's fault.
6. Daniel Santos (32-3-1, 23 KO)
Santos beat Joachim Alcine in July 2008 and has seemed content to sit on the belt since then, same as Alcine did after beating Travis Simms. He's a good, strong fighter who can talk a solid game, but right now he's just not backing it up. He could've fought Sergio Martinez earlier this year but it never came off, and everyone's side of that story seems fair enough, really. Since his 2004 technical decision win against Antonio Margarito, he's fought just four times, once per year.
I have bagged on Cintron but I'll admit it when a guy proves me wrong, and Kermit did that on Saturday. I scored the fight a draw but felt there was no way Angulo won it; I did feel Cintron could be awarded a victory, which he was. If anyone won that fight it was Kermit, who did fade late, but showed a discipline, toughness, and brain that he'd just never shown before. He had his moments against Sergio Martinez but I thought he clearly lost.
Still, I said before Angulo-Cintron (though I picked Angulo to break him apart) that Martinez was a terrible matchup for Cintron, and frankly Kermit deserves some props for taking it when you really think about it. Against Angulo he boxed. I don't think this means Kermit is a great or even good pure boxer by any stretch. Angulo has no head movement, tons of defensive holes, and lives and dies on pressure fighting. What made the difference was Cintron moving around the ring, staying off the ropes, and making Angulo work a lot harder than he ever had to before. He went in with the right gameplan and then executed it. He never got bothered by Angulo because he never let Angulo bother him. It was the best I have ever seen Cintron look, and his best win in my view.
8. Alfredo Angulo (15-1, 12 KO)
You could drop Angulo out, but I hesitate to do so. He's a tough-minded kid who will go back to work and try to fix what he did wrong against Cintron. Conveniently, this is where the division starts getting a little iffy.
The real problem is this: His natural ability is not there. He's a Margarito clone, which sounded a lot nicer six months ago than it does now when you take all things into account. Bad fundamentals defensively, doesn't move so well, and has to be able to pressure. A guy like Sergio Martinez would shut Angulo out and maybe hit him so much he could stop him just on volume. I think there's still the chance for a good future in Angulo, but there's also the chance that we have another Joel Julio-type career on our hands.
As for the fantasized-about matchup between Angulo and Kirkland (which is a real fantasy now), I think we all know now who would've won that one, and I don't think it would've been too hard for JK.
9. Verno Phillips (42-11-1, 21 KO)
Good, solid fighter still, decent matchup for anyone, and someone that could yet upset a few more guys he's not supposed to beat. Losing to Williams was expected; his win over Spinks was an upset, and while I think he clearly lost, Spinks isn't easy to fight by any stretch. He'd be a nice opponent for Deandre Latimore right now if Latimore wants to take that risk and really prove himself.
10. Yuri Foreman (27-0, 8 KO)
He is an utter bore most of the time but he's got a good shot against most guys because he has decent size (5'11", 71" reach) and he just doesn't do much wrong. It's really time for him to fight better competition, but who's going to pay for it?
You Coulda Been a Contender...
James Kirkland (25-0, 22 KO) would slot in at No. 4 if I were inclined to keep him on the list right now, but given his legal troubles and the fact that he may lose years of his career (at the least) right now, I think it's best to just factor him out for the time being. It's a damned shame is what it is. He's one of the most exciting young fighters in the sport today and it's probably being thrown down the tubes.
In theory, at least, Ricardo Mayorga (28-7-1, 22 KO) is still around, and could present some trouble for a bunch of guys on the list. He's still tough, can still bang a little, and the way he fights gives him a brawler's chance against all but the best of boxer-punchers, guys that can not just frustrate him technically but also hit with him, too. The last time he won a truly big fight was 2003, his second and debated win over Forrest. Since then he's 3-4, but three of the losses were stoppages against Trinidad, Mosley and a pissed off de la Hoya.
Joachim Alcine (30-1, 19 KO) hasn't fought since losing his WBA strap to Daniel Santos last July, and has nothing on the horizon right now. He's 33 years old and pretty much sat on the belt after winning it from Travis Simms (July 2007), defending it once (December 2007) against a fairly soft challenger.
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (39-0-1, 29 KO) really does have to lose to someone sometime, and like John Duddy, I don't think it'll come when he gets his crack at the big time. It's going to come against a Billy Lyell-level opponent, who gets this C+ fighter on the right night and beats him. Hell, Matt Vanda already almost did just that.
Salford, Lancashire's Jamie Moore (32-3, 23 KO) is one of a few potential U.K. challengers out there, and probably the best of the lot. His last loss came via DQ in 2004, and since then he's gone 12-0 with 10 knockous. 24-year old Matthew Hall (22-1, 15 KO) looked ferocious beating Bradley Pryce in his last bout, and 32-year old Ryan Rhodes (42-4, 28 KO) tried to earn a title shot while Vernon Forrest still had the WBC strap, though he likely would have been ripped to shreds.
Saul Roman (30-5, 25 KO) is working on a two-fight win streak at the moment, beating the walking corpse of Yori Boy Campas and Jose Varela in his last two outings.
A win over journeyman Martinus Clay gave some hope that Kassim Ouma (26-6-1, 16 KO) might breathe some life back into his dying career, but then a split decision loss to Philly's Gabriel Rosado pretty much put that to rest. Ouma has lost four of his last five, and his great story won't have a Hollywood ending from this point on, but the man made a lot of himself by sheer hard work and determination, and he won a recognized world title. I'd say he didn't do so bad, wouldn't you?
36-year old Cornelius Bundrage (29-4, 17 KO) looked like he'd floated into Opponent Mode when he lost a total stinker to fellow Contender alum Grady Brewer (25-11, 14 KO), but then he went to Germany exactly one month after that bout and knocked off then-unbeaten Zaurbek Baysangurov (21-1, 16 KO). Bundrage hasn't fought since because the guys that might've fought him before are probably back to wanting nothing to do with him (decent risk, no real reward), but Brewer and Baysangurov are scheduled to match up on August 22 in California.
France's Hussein Bayram (31-3, 17 KO) just won Le Grand Tournoi in Paris, winning fights in February, April and May. He's a 33-year old righty not likely to be more than a short-term player in the European scene, but his losses are nothing to be ashamed of, either: Dzinziruk stopped him in 11, Baysangurov edged him in a decision, and the respectable Jimmy Colas beat him early in his career, a loss that Bayram avenged.
Brooklyn's Joe Greene (20-0, 14 KO) is in the middle of a crucial lost year at the moment. This really means nothing, I don't suppose, but Greene always struck me as one of those guys who would really need the slow build, the tomato cans, the rounds, and all the confidence boosting he could get. Some guys are really ready to go up the ladder quickly in their careers, but Greene is one of those guys with good natural abilities that seemed like he might just get picked apart by a guy with a strong amateur background from a place where amateur boxing still matters, but maybe bringing him along slowly would allow him to REALLY get past his flaws. On another note: I like watching Joe fight, but one of the last things he is is "Mean."
Joel Julio (34-3, 31 KO) just isn't good enough to be a top guy. Outside of power he just doesn't have the tools to be a top-flight fighter. He's perfectly good enough to pick up an alphabet trinket sometime, but it'll have to be the right circumstances. He's had three chances against guys I would've considered top fighters at the time (Kirkland, Dzinziruk, and even Quintana) and gone 0-3.
Vanes Martirosyan (24-0, 15 KO) is staying busy again this year. He already fought in February and May, and he has a fight lined up for June 27 against tough veteran Andrey Tsurkan (26-4, 17 KO). There is basically just the right amount of danger in that fight: Martirosyan is about 98% likely to win, but Tsurkan is a solid opponent anyway.
Sechew Powell (25-2, 15 KO) is 2-0 since getting baked and losing to Deandre Latimore (19-2, 16 KO) last summer. Given how comfortable Latimore was sitting around for a year and waiting on a title shot instead of fighting or anything like that, I don't think we'll see him break through onto the big stages, either. In fact I think there's a really good chance his loss to Spinks was the biggest fight he'll ever have.
Alex Bunema (31-6-2, 17 KO) rebounded from the whipping Sergio Martinez gave him with a win over the awesomely-named Mike McFail (12-36-2, 4 KO).
Ishe Smith (21-3, 9 KO) has won two fights in a row, so I expect him to wonder where his gold-plated Ferrari and world title shots are.
Alexander Abraham (25-0-1, 17 KO) is no Arthur.