|6||Cory Spinks||37-5 (11)||3|
|10||Erislandy Lara||10-0 (6)||NR|
Though there were no fights at 154 pounds this weekend (at least none notable) and only a couple coming up that will make much difference in anything, I looked at junior middleweight this week and decided a shuffle was necessary.
Not everything changes. Sergio Martinez and Sergiy Dzinziruk remain 1-2. Should Martinez beat Kelly Pavlik on April 17, he'll be the legitimate middleweight champion of the world, which would leave the No. 1 spot in this division in the hands of Dzinziruk, the undefeated titlist who is currently in the middle of a contract dispute with Universum. Like many of their other fighters (Felix Sturm, Khoren Gevor, etc.), Dzinziruk wants out.
Moving up a tick each to 3, 4 and 5 are Kermit Cintron, Alfredo Angulo and Yuri Foreman, who all have good fights coming up. Cintron will face Paul Williams on May 8, it appears, either at 154 or down at 147. Most likely, it'll be at 154. Angulo takes on Joel Julio on April 24. And Foreman faces Miguel Cotto at Yankee Stadium on June 5.
Those fights could be huge for the division, obviously. If Cotto comes in and beats Foreman for a title, he's instantly one of the top few guys in the division, but also one with plenty of question marks. Is he really big enough to take on a guy like Sergio Martinez were that to come up? Foreman is as tall as Martinez, but not as strong physically and not as good of a puncher.
Williams-Cintron is interesting at 154, because even if Kermit loses, so what? If Williams had more than one fight at 154 pounds, he'd be No. 1 in this division for my rankings. But even if he does beat Cintron, the ultimate goal for him would obviously still be that shot at Kelly Pavlik (or Martinez, should Martinez win on 4/17). And if it's not that, it'll be getting back to 147 to chase the Mayweathers and Pacquiaos and Mosleys of the world. No matter what happens, Paul Williams is not going to settle in at 154 pounds. There's nothing here for him.
Cory Spinks drops three spots to number six for a few reasons. First off, he was so out of shape when he came to camp for a now-dropped March 6 date with Cornelius Bundrage that his trainer quit. That fight could be moving ahead and rescheduled for March 26, or it might have to wait a bit longer. Spinks is now working with Buddy McGirt. The other reason I dropped him down is he's 32 and has fought just twice since 2007, a loss he didn't deserve to Verno Phillips and a shaky but solid win over Deandre Latimore. In both fights, it appeared his reflexes and skills were slowing down significantly. But for now, with this division so weak, he keeps his spot. But the conditioning thing is a red flag when combined with the natural fading that a fighter his age goes through.
European champion Ryan Rhodes comes back in at No. 7. The divisional weakness again plays a part in that. I don't think Rhodes would stand much of a chance against Martinez or Dzinziruk, for instance, and I think Cintron or Angulo would knock him out. But he's a good fighter, and he's one of those guys who at 33 is fighting like a much younger man. Rhodes' redemption story is pretty good and he's earned his place.
At 8 and 9 are question marks. Deandre Latimore shocked a lot of people when he beat Sechew Powell, but then lost to Spinks. Now he gets Powell again on March 19. If he wins, he shakes some doubt off and solidifies his spot. If he loses, he's out and Powell's in, most likely. And then there's Vanes Martirosyan, who struggled mightily with a rejuvenated Kassim Ouma in January. Martirosyan may next face Pawel Wolak. If the last fight happened the way it did because Kassim Ouma remembered how to fight, then Martirosyan should beat Wolak without much grief. If it happened that way because Martirosyan isn't as good as his hype, Wolak's pressure could really trouble him, and I wouldn't be shocked to see Martirosyan lose his "0" to the workmanlike Wolak.
Erislandy Lara comes in at No. 10. At just 10-0, I realize a lot of people wouldn't want to rank a guy. I have reservations myself. But here's what it came down to:
- Lara is 26 years old and was a spectacular amateur. His skills have translated to the pro game nicely. This isn't your typical 10-0 fighter, the same as Yuriorkis Gamboa is even better than his record, and the same goes for Guillermo Rigondeaux and even Odlanier Solis. The lack of pro fights does not credit them for how advanced they are.
- Lara's wins over Grady Brewer, Jose Varela, Darnell Boone, Edwin Vazquez and Luciano Perez equal or rather easily surpass what any of the other guys I considered have on their sheets in recent time.
- As far as pure talent goes, Lara's among the very best in the division.
Other guys I considered at No. 10:
- Carlos Molina, who fights out of Chicago and is better than his 17-4-1 (5 KO) record. Three of his losses were in short fights, two to Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in six-rounders and a majority decision against Mike Alvarado in eight rounds. All of these fights came at welterweight, too. His last fight was a win over Danny Perez, which netted him a minor trinket at 154. He also has wins over Ed Paredes and Alexis Camacho.
- Pawel Wolak (26-1, 17 KO), whose one loss was to Ishe Smith in '08. He just didn't have the SOS that Lara has. Wolak has more wins, but not as many (relatively) impressive victories.
- Daniel Santos and Joachim Alcine, and I decided that both are unlikely to do anything notable again, so why bother? They have the resumes, but Santos was badly out of shape fighting Yuri Foreman and got dealt with properly for that. Alcine's last good fight was a KO loss to Santos. He's beaten Eric Mitchell and Christophe Canclaux since, but he appears OK with staying in Montreal and headlining mid-tier shows.
- British titleholder Anthony Small. Then I remembered watching him fight.
- Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., and then I remembered that he couldn't dent Troy Rowland, plus he failed a drug test, plus Lara would smash him so hard you'd want to put the kids to bed before the fight started.
Two guys fell out of the rankings. Verno Phillips was dropped for inactivity, and Carlos Quintana is going back down to 147 to fight Andre Berto on April 10, plus Quintana never truly committed to 154 anyway. I figure if he loses to Berto he comes back to 154 if he doesn't get another money fight at 147, but all of Quintana's good fights have been at 147. He's in a no man's land. As for Phillips, I realize I'm dropping him for being inactive while Dzinziruk has been inactive basically the exact same amount of time, but Dzinziruk wants to fight. Phillips might too, but he's not fighting a promoter, he just isn't getting any fights. If Verno were active and winning, he'd still be here, but I kind of get the impression he'd be off either way. He's getting up there in years and I didn't think he looked too hot against Williams or Spinks.
The Wild Card: James Kirkland will be back in the ring this year, hopefully. If Kirkland were not out of action right now, I'd have him No. 3, maybe even No. 2. Hell, there's a chance he'd be the division's flagship guy. He was ready and willing to fight anyone, including Dzinziruk. That fight was really going to happen, it appeared. Then the trouble came. James, get out and stay smart. You've got way too much of a future to give it up over something stupid. Your fans are waiting.
Other Updates: Junior welterweight got a similar shuffle and Kendall Holt fell way, way out of the rankings, and Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. made a jump at 122 pounds.