Andre Berto is a top welterweight -- but what does that really say? (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Today in Donetsk, Ukraine, Vyacheslav Senchenko successfully defended the WBA welterweight title against unqualified challenger Charlie Jose Navarro. Senchenko kept his undefeated record (31-0, 20 KO) and his paper trinket on scores of 116-113 and 115-113 (twice). Given that Navarro was not a top 20 welterweight on anyone's rankings except the WBA's coming in, a close, troublesome bout with the Venezuelan doesn't speak wonderfully of Senchenko, a top 10 guy at 147 pounds.
If you are a consistent viewer of HBO boxing telecasts, you will have heard a thousand times in the past couple of years that the welterweights have become boxing's best division -- or, at the least, one of the best divisions. This is an exaggeration to say the least. The division is hanging on to relevance by a thread in some ways. Yes, it's where the sport's two glory fighters, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, currently reside. But it's become a two-fighter division, and those two guys won't fight each other.
Here's a look at the BLH top ten at 147 pounds.
- Floyd Mayweather Jr.
- Manny Pacquiao
- Shane Mosley
- Andre Berto
- Joshua Clottey
- Kell Brook
- Mike Jones
- Vyacheslav Senchenko
- Jan Zaveck
- Rafal Jackiewicz
Floyd and Manny
Before we have another thrilling "Floyd or Manny?" debate, let me say that 1-2 are interchangeable to me. Either way works in my view. They are the obvious Nos. 1 and 2 fighters in this division. Nobody else is remotely close to them. Pacquiao is about to fight for a vacant 154-pound paper title against Antonio Margarito on November 13, and if he were to stay there (a next fight could be a rematch with Miguel Cotto to unify 154-pound belts with the Puerto Rican), then even though he's really not a junior middle, Pacquiao would be ranked at 154 instead of 147 (or both, if you're willing to rank guys in two different divisions).
Recent and Coming Exits
Part of what has happened has been the division emptying out, and that isn't over. Antonio Margarito is out of the division, as is Miguel Cotto. Paul Williams, Kermit Cintron and Luis Collazo, who were perennial, quality contenders, have left for 154 and beyond.
Pacquiao, as mentioned, is taking at least one fight above welterweight. Shane Mosley, at 38, is going back to 154 pounds for a fight with Sergio Mora on September 18. Given his age and the lack of options at 147, plus some talk that Mosley might even be willing to fight middleweight champ Sergio Martinez down the line, it's a serious possibility that Sugar Shane's welterweight career is over. Joshua Clottey is another possibility, though there's no talk of him moving up just yet, but he's a guy who has dabbled at 154 before and might find more potential fights there than he will at 147. Clottey, though, has been silent since March.
Two Coming Contenders, and the Andre Berto Dilemma
24-year-old Kell Brook is already the best welterweight in the U.K. (and I'd say in all of Europe), and 27-year-old Mike Jones is finally getting an overdue push now that Top Rank has joined Russell Peltz in helping Jones' career advance. Top Rank obviously must see at least some dollar signs in Jones, who has Philly connections and is starting to develop a following in Atlantic City.
Both Brook and Jones are facing the same issue that Andre Berto is facing. Over the last year, Berto and promoter Lou DiBella have started taking some serious lumps from some portions of the media, and as much as I think Andre Berto seems like a good guy and all that jive, it's not undeserved. After a tough January 2009 fight with Luis Collazo, DiBella reportedly bickered with HBO about Berto's next opponent, feeling that Berto deserved something "softer." Meanwhile, Berto is marketed as "welterweight champion" because the WBC saw fit to all but hand over their title to Berto in 2008. After Floyd Mayweather vacated his strap to "retire," the WBC put Berto in the ring with Miguel Angel "Miki" Rodriguez, a woeful non-contender.
When you look over Berto's title reign, what good can you really say? He only gets full credit for the Collazo defense, really, and some felt he lost (it was a very close fight, and Berto laid it all out in the 12th round to win). Other than Collazo, he's defended against Steve Forbes, Juan Urango and Carlos Quintana, so two non-welterweights and a guy whose reputation is mostly built on one great night against Paul Williams, and an upset of Joel Julio, who in hindsight was overrated to begin with.
Now, I am not blaming all of this on Andre Berto or anything. He was going to fight Shane Mosley, and that wound up not happening for understandable reasons. Now, Berto is stuck. He can't draw live, as his last fight sold less than 1,000 tickets in Florida. He's become the poster boy for undeserved HBO pushes, and because of the HBO push, he expects more money than his fights really call for, because HBO has overpaid for so many of his build-a-record fights in order to secure him as a future star.
But with Mosley possibly leaving 147, who the hell is Berto going to fight? Things right now are so bleak that it does appear that Berto will finally make a mandatory defense of his belt, against Selcuk Aydin. There's just nobody else to fight who is any more attractive. Brook and Jones are also going to run into this problem, if they haven't already. Promoters are all about "building" fights to make them worth the maximum money, and that's obviously the way to do thing in a promoter's shoes, in theory. But theory isn't working anymore. Berto is no bigger a star now than he was before he won his worthless belt. He doesn't sell tickets and without Mosley, he probably has no marquee potential opponents. It's a bad spot to be in right now.
Similarly, Brook and Jones have no "next step" guys to face. Brook is fighting Michael Jennings on Sept. 18. Everyone already knows Brook is better than Jennings. Mike Jones is probably facing Jesus Soto Karass on Nov. 13, but he's already beaten guys as good as Soto Karass, and the fight will prove nothing that we don't already know. Soto Karass isn't a next step, he's a side step, same as Jennings for Brook, or Aydin for Berto.
In other words, these three guys, who are probably the actual future of the division (for now, at least) really have no chance to take a step forward right now, unless Shane Mosley returns to 147 to fight Berto next year. (And Mosley would have to beat Mora, or that would be worth little, too.) They're stuck in a holding pattern, and while it's understandable that Berto takes knocks, I don't think you can place the blame on his shoulders alone.
The Back End
Senchenko, Zaveck and Jackiewicz could be switched out for any number of guys of similar value. Hell, Luis Carlos Abregu might beat all three of them. Aydin, Jo Jo Dan, Said Ouali, Alfonso Gomez, Matthew Hatton, Sebastian Lujan, Mike Alvarado, Lanardo Tyner, Lovemore N'dou and others are right on the same level. The division is so shoddy that move-up guys like Randall Bailey and Antonio Pitalua, with their one-punch power, are possible back-end contenders for the protected belts that Senchenko and Zaveck use to call themselves "world champion."
For the time being, this division is in a holding pattern, much like the heavyweights. All things considered, Mayweather and Pacquiao are essentially in their own division. They are well beyond anyone else. The quality really falls off after them, and then once you get past Brook and Jones (who are potential and talent more than major results so far), you're into territory where the next 20 guys are about the same level, and none of them are special.
Of course, one division down you have some very good young fighters at 140, who will eventually make their way up. Some of the good young lightweights will be here in time, too. There is a future in the welterweight division, but it's mostly at 140 and 135.