This is turning into a fascinating, outstanding division, one that can stand with the best in the sport. Right now, I'd rank the junior welters just behind the super middleweights and welterweights, and the gap is closing.
There's a big reason for that, too. These guys are fighting each other, want to keep fighting each other, and seem to be on a mission to actually prove superiority in the division. That's refreshing.
It's also a young class of fighters, with more youngsters just outside the top ten, or perhaps in your own top ten. Only two men on the BLH top ten are over 30 years of age, and they're Ricky Hatton (31) and Nate Campbell (38). Kaizer Mabuza is also 30, but perhaps a "young" 30.
Staying atop the division is Timothy Bradley, the California fighter who seems to get better with every bout. He came off the canvas twice last year and outboxed Kendall Holt otherwise, then was really starching Campbell in August before a bad eye injury cut that fight short. In December, he took on fellow young gun Lamont Peterson, and though Peterson was spirited and put up a fight, Bradley was just too much for him in nearly every single round.
It was after that fight that I decided keeping Bradley from the perch at 140 was foolish. I tried to imagine Ricky Hatton combating him and just couldn't see a way for Hatton to beat a young, faster, gritty fighter who doesn't have the years and the miles wearing him down.
But there looks to be emerging a serious challenge to Bradley's short-lived stay as the king of the 140-pounders. You might well believe I'm overstating it, but Devon Alexander is the real deal. He dismantled Juan Urango and surprised just about everyone by stopping him in the eighth round on Saturday night. I know going from No. 7 to No. 2 is a huge jump for one win, but truth be told I was trying to hold myself back from gunning Alexander up the ranks before he could put on a dazzling performance on a major stage. He beat Junior Witter, and decisively so, but Witter's aged and not what he used to be. Urango, meanwhile, is hardly the world's most complete fighter, but Alexander shredded him in such a way that I genuinely wonder if Urango will ever be much good again. Every mistake that Urango makes was exploited by Alexander.
Though it appears unlikely given that HBO has set up what amounts to an unofficial tournament at 140 that doesn't include Bradley (who has come up the ranks and reached the top fighting on Showtime), Bradley-Alexander is one of the fights I'd most like to see. Both guys can box and can fight, have a lot of confidence, and put on a show. At 26 and 23, respectively, Bradley and Alexander are two of the major bright spots in the coming class of would-be major fighters.
I keep Ricky Hatton at No. 3 for now, partly, I'll admit, out of respect for "The Hitman." I have no idea how good Ricky Hatton is anymore. No one can convince me (or anyone, I'll wager) that he's the same fighter he was before Floyd Mayweather Jr. got to him, or even the same fighter he was before his controversial win over Luis Collazo in 2006. Since Collazo, Hatton has beaten Urango, an awful-looking Jose Luis Castillo, Juan Lazcano (in a fight that was way too close for comfort at times), and Paulie Malignaggi. The win over Malignaggi was the best Hatton had looked since rolling over Carlos Maussa in 2005, one fight after Hatton retired Kostya Tszyu.
But then in his last fight, he was of course most viciously expunged by Manny Pacquiao. Hatton did nothing right in the five minutes and 59 seconds he lasted with the Filipino. Now he's going to come back, which will happen after a year out of the ring, yet another ballooning in weight, yet another new trainer (Hatton split with Lee Beard in February and is rumored to be likely choosing Bob Shannon to train him for his comeback), and older. Who he fights, where, how much he plans to fight after (if at all), that all remains to be seen. But for now, I'll give Hatton the benefit of the doubt because of his resume, his four-year reign as king of the division, and the fact that the only two men to beat him are the two best boxers on the planet.
Ranked fourth is the power-punching Marcos Maidana, who faces 10th-ranked Victor Cayo on March 27, headlining on Boxing After Dark. Maidana is kind of an interesting case. You can easily argue that he beat Andriy Kotelnik last year (and I feel he deserved the close decision), and then he famously made Victor Ortiz quit. But what are we talking about there? Kotelnik is a solid boxer but hardly special, and Ortiz has really never done anything besides get a lot of hype. Cayo, 25, is unbeaten but also unproven. I like him as a fighter, but Maidana deserves to be favored pretty heavily, and he's probably the best puncher in the division.
Amir Khan and Paulie Malignaggi are set to meet in an intriguing May 15 battle on HBO, and they come in at five and six. Their fight could be one of the year's more interesting chess matches. Khan's chin is awful, but Malignaggi can barely break an egg -- in fact, a hard-boiled egg might break his hand. And while Khan is fast and can punch, Paulie is no slouch in the speed department, and has shown an elite-level chin over his career. What may be overlooked a little bit but I don't think is arguable is that Malignaggi is absolutely the best fighter Khan will have faced to date, and I don't think it's close. I'd pick Malignaggi to rout Kotelnik just like Khan did. What strikes me as most interesting about this fight is Malignaggi's savvy and ring smarts. Paulie isn't afraid to use his elbows when he has to and might be able to rattle Khan mentally. And we all know when Paulie gets on a roll in the ring, he can frustrate his opponents mightily. That's going to be a good one.
The old man of the bunch, Nate Campbell comes in at No. 7. Listen, I really like Nate Campbell. As a pure personality, I don't think there's anyone more real or any funnier in boxing. Nate is never, ever afraid to genuinely call it like he sees it. Most guys spend time coming up with one-liners (or having PR people pitch one-liners to them) and being "quoted" in press releases that make them sound corny as hell, but Nate Campbell is always straight with anyone that asks him a question.
That said, I'm almost as unsure about Campbell as I am Ricky Hatton. I've never made any secret I'm not a huge Victor Ortiz fan, but Ortiz is far from untalented, and he can punch. When he lets loose, he can be a devastating fighter. Let's not forget he put Maidana on the canvas three times, too. Campbell and Ortiz's co-feature May 15 fight is going to say a lot about both of them. A lot of people really think that the old dog will flat-out school Ortiz. I really think Ortiz might blow through Campbell in the early rounds. Either way, it's always worth pointing out that Nate Campbell has (1) always been ready to fight anybody and (2) deserved better than he's gotten in his career. Even though it's come at what should be the tail-end of his run in boxing, it's good to see Campbell's career being properly handled finally.
Lamont Peterson checks in at No. 8. Right now, the rumor is that Lamont could face Edwin Valero this summer, after Valero's nasty cut suffered on February 6 has sufficiently healed. I have been more and more impressed with Valero over the last two years or so, but if Edwin loses that "0" to Peterson, I won't be shocked. I think the weight is too high for Valero. He's not Manny Pacquiao. That's not meant to be a knock on him, either. He's just not Manny Pacquiao. Even at 135 against Antonio DeMarco, Valero's power didn't look nearly as nasty as it used to, and while Valero showed marked improvements in his overall game, Peterson's a better boxer than DeMarco. Peterson-Valero isn't a fight I'd bet on, let me put it that way.
I didn't rank South African Kaizer Mabuza last week following his destruction of Kendall Holt because I wanted to wait until I got to see the fight from the opening bell. Now that I have, I'm totally comfortable putting Mabuza into the top ten at 140. Holt feels he was drained and is planning to move to 147, and he might well have been drained. But even still, Kendall Holt has never looked even close to that bad, and Mabuza's beating was bordering on merciless. Holt just had no answers for him whatsoever.
You Coulda Been a Contender...
Juan Urango was ranked No. 8 last time, and is now out, obviously. Anyone that can box him can beat him, and it looks like his durability is fading. ... Andriy Kotelnik could be easily argued into the back end of the top ten. ... A win over Nate Campbell could put Victor Ortiz right back into the mix. ... Top Rank's Mike Alvarado returns on April 3. The Ring has him ranked No. 10, but I just don't see it yet. ... Former lightweight world champion Joel Casamayor came back at 140 when he co-headlined with Zab Judah at The Palms in November, and he did not look very good at all. Facing a club fighter (Jason Davis) who had lost three in a row and was stopped in two by Steve Forbes, Casamayor struggled more than the unanimous 79-73 cards might lead one to believe. After the fight, his team talked about going back to 135 if there was a fight there, but that's about the last we've heard from Joel. ... The UK's Paul McCloskey has turned a few heads domestically, but I really don't see him being a player on the world stage. For one thing, he's already 30. For another thing, I just don't think he's that kind of talent. ... Lucas Matthysse and Vivian Harris were putting on a brutal fight in February when the referee inexplicably stopped the contest. They'll rematch, and both deserve it. ... Herman Ngoudjo might well have peaked against Malignaggi in January '08, because he hasn't looked too great since then, and doesn't ring up as a real contender at this point.
I Know I Shouldn't, But...
(Photo by Al Bello / Getty Images)
If Zab Judah ever follows through on his threats to return to the 140-pound ranks, that could be very interesting. At 32, Judah still has a pair of the fastest hands in boxing, can sting with his punches, and when he's on his game, is still a wonderful talent and a hell of a fighter to watch operate.
The problems are well-worn territory. He's been called a six-round fighter by sometimes-friend Floyd Mayweather Jr., and he's shown a willingness to give up at times. He has never really recovered mentally, I don't think, from losing to Carlos Baldomir. After that, he gave Mayweather and Miguel Cotto some early trouble, as well as Joshua Clottey, but he got worn down and out-fought.
He does not have a single credible win on his resume since beating Cory Spinks in 2005. He's also prone to erratic behavior, pulling out of a fight last year with Matthew Hatton on the Mayweather-Marquez show, then finding himself so completely not in demand that he wound up fighting a disgusting mismatch against Ubaldo Hernandez on a rinky dink PPV in November, a fight that frankly never should have been allowed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Hernandez had not fought in two years, came in with a 22-19-2 record, and made it clear as soon as the bell rang that he had absolutely no interest in being there.
In a lot of ways, I felt that showed Judah's true colors. Don't forget he also ducked out of a fight with Shane Mosley in 2008, reportedly because he had an argument with his father, Yoel, and punched a shower door, injuring his hand. And then when offered a fight with Mosley last year, he laughed it off by saying it wasn't enough money, and that Mosley wasn't a star.
Shane Mosley's now going to make several million dollars to fight Floyd Mayweather Jr., and Zab Judah is trying to crash parties on Boxing After Dark in desperate attempts to get some publicity.
In my life as a boxing fan, Zab Judah has been the single most frustrating guy for me to watch. He is an awesome talent. He's also about as obnoxious and inconsistent as they come. As talented as he is, if Zab were to never fight again, history is going to remember him for three things:
- The chicken dance against Tszyu. "Don't ever play with matches!"
- The stunning loss to Baldomir.
- The riot in his fight against Mayweather.
Maybe that's unfair, but what isn't?
Anyway, to get back to my original topic here before I started rambling about Judah's career and his impact on my boxing fandom, don't expect him to ever fight at 140 again. He's been going on and on about it for a couple years now, and has never done it. It's also been seven years since he made 140. People seem to assume often that it'd be easy because he hasn't always fought at the full welterweight limit, but 143 is not 140. Those three pounds can make a big difference, especially going down rather than going up.
But if he can make it comfortably and actually starts taking his career seriously again, there's no reason he can't be a player in the division, except for all those reasons he likely won't be a player in this or any division ever again.