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Who's next for PBF? A Look at the Welterweight Division

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Pretty Boy Floyd has been left stranded at the altar. In the wake of Oscar De La Hoya's recent annoucement, what was expected to be one of the largest-grossing non-heavyweight fights in history will have to wait. However, even though Floyd won't be getting his 10-million-dollar-plus payday with Oscar anytime soon, we fight fans shouldn't have reason to fret.

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The fact is, the welterweight division is the strongest it has been since 1997, when the major belts were held by a handful of household boxing names: Sweet Pea, Tito, Ike "Bazooka" Quartey and the Golden Boy himself. Still, considering the current crop of champions, prospects and contenders fighting at 147 today, the division might be even deeper now than it was then.

With the recent arrivals of Ricky Hatton and (soon-to-be) Miguel Cotto, and the coming out parties of contenders such as Luis Collazo, Paul Williams and Carlos Quintana---not to mention title-holders Antonio Margarito and Carlos Baldomir---this has become the division to watch. Throw in perennial contenders Arturo Gatti, Zab Judah, Kermit Cintron and Oktay Urtal, and up-and-comers such as Delvin Rodriguez, Joel Julio (yeah, still) and Oscar Diaz, and there's no doubt that there is more talent at welterweight than in any other division in boxing. (Let's also keep in mind that 147 is also the weight at which both Jose Luis Castillo and Shane Mosley will probably be fighting at in the near future).

And, oh yeah, this also happens to be the same division in which Floyd Mayweather Jr, the so-called Pound-for-Pound Picasso, is currently fighting. Before I say anything else about Floyd, let me just admit that I, like most people with vision in both eyes, believe him to be the best P4P fighter in the world. Save for perhaps Winky Wright at a catch-weight of 154 (which would be a pick `em fight), I wouldn't bet on anyone to beat Floyd right now. His convincing victories against the likes of Castillo, Corrales, Jesus Chavez, Goyo Vargas, Famoso Hernandez and Genaro Hernandez have shown that he is the complete package. Or, at least, that he can be the complete package when he chooses to face top-level opposition.

No one can take anything away from the run that Floyd had from 1998 to 2002. But since his second fight with Castillo, the level of his opposition has dropped significantly. In his first fight at 140, he got rocked with some good shots by Chop Chop Corley, and, in my opinion, he hasn't taken too many risks since. His following fight was against the unknown Henry Bruseles (in what was perhaps HBO's lowest point--Bruseles was so outclassed that PBF was actually able to maintain a conversation with announcer Jim Lampley while boxing in the middle of the ring), and then he went on to outclass an old Arturo Gatti and an even older Sharmba Mitchell. And then came a so-called title-fight with Zab Judah, who was coming off a loss to Baldomir.

Now, despite all of his classless and desperate displays in the ring, I considered Judah a game opponent, and a definite step-up from Mitchell, Gatti, Corley and, well, Bruseles. I still think Judah didn't show up against Baldomir, and if they fought again, I'd put my money on Judah. Nonetheless, the fact is he didn't show up; he lost the fight and hence was not the champion when he fought Mayweather. So in my view, PBF never won a welterweight title and should not be called a four-division champ (just like Oscar, in my opinion, should not be called a six-division champ because there's no way in hell he won that middleweight title from Felix Sturm).

What characterized Floyd as a Super Featherweight and a Lightweight, and what got him to the top of the P4P ranks was his willingness to face the true champions and the best boxers at those weight classes. He did not face the best at 140, and so far, he has not faced the best at 147. If De La Hoya's decision to take yet another hiatus from the sport does anything, it gives Floyd the opportunity to do such a thing.

Bob Arum has reportedly offered Floyd a guaranteed purse of 8 million to fight Antonio Margarito. This offer has been on the table ever since the Judah fight took place. Yet the Pretty Boy is yet to make an announcement about his next fight. In a recent interview with ESPN, Floyd's adviser said that there were a number of opponents being considered, in addition to Margarito. These fighters are: the winner of Vargas/Mosley, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto and Carlos Baldomir (if he beats Gatti next month).

Only two of these five guys are realistic possibilities for Mayweather's next fight. Hatton, Cotto and Baldomir are all out of the picture. Hatton himself has said publically that he's not ready for Mayweather, and that he wouldn't be interested in the fight until at least a year from now. Cotto (who is also promoted and protected by Arum) is slated to face the winner of Baldomir/Gatti in December. That fight seems to be a sure thing, but even if, for some reason, it doesn't happen, Bob Arum has also said he has no intention of putting Cotto in with Mayweather until 2007. And as for Baldomir? Even if he gets by Gatti (and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if he did), it wouldn't make financial sense for Floyd to fight him when he's got 8 million on the table. I mean, when was the last time you saw an HBO PPV main event in which one of the fighters had 9 losses under his belt? Right.

Floyd seems to be toying with two possibilities: Margarito or Mosley. I don't think PBF has any intentions of facing Vargas, regardless of what happens in the Mosley fight. Given the financial success of Vargas/Mosley I, if Fernando is able to pull off the W this time around, it wouldn't surprise me if we got a Vargas/Mosley III rubbermatch. And even if Vargas does win and the third Mosley fight doesn't come to be, Floyd has never been in the ring with anyone who's had half the punching power of Vargas. Something tells me he wouldn't take that chance.

So will it be a past-his-prime Sugar Shane Mosley, or the now extremely-hyped-up Antonio Margarito? Bob Arum and the people at Top Rank, with the aid of some members of the boxing media, have done a hell of a job making Margarito out to be one of the most feared opponents in boxing. There seems to be a cloud of mystery hovering over him, much like there was with Ike "Bazooka" Quartey before he fought Oba Carr in the States. To this day, I know many boxing fans who have only seen Margarito fight only once or twice on TV. It doesn't really help that the fight that garnered him the most exposure was probably his Technical Decision loss to Daniel Santos, which was televised on HBO as the co-feature to Miguel Cotto's first title shot against Kelson Pinto. That was his time to shine, and he didn't. Styles make fights, and Margarito-Santos was a disaster of epic proportions (they actually fought twice: both fights were stopped due to a clash of heads). Margarito's last two fights have been on non-HBO or Showtime Pay-Per-View cards, and he has only fought one round in the last year and a half (a 1st round TKO of Manuel Gomez, a fighter who had no reason to be in with Margarito in the first place). Is the Tijuana Tornado any good? Definitely. Is he good enough to beat Mayweather? I wouldn't bet on it.

Personally, I think the Pretty Boy would keep the fight in the middle of the ring and outmaneuver Antonio all night. But then again, we've yet to see whether or not Floyd can take a punch from a hard-hitting welterweight like Margarito. At 140, Gatti was never able to catch him. At 147, neither could Michell, who's not even considered to be a puncher. Judah, on the other hand, seemed to rock Floyd in the early rounds, before the Pretty Boy found a comfort zone and cruised to an easy victory.

As good as Mayweather is, no one is invincible. I've heard many people question Miguel Cotto's chin (he did get dropped by Ricardo Torres), and I've heard many people question Ricky Hatton's resilience as well (he almost didn't get out of the 12th round against Collazo), yet both of these guys have faced their share hard-hitting 140-pounders. Ricardo Torres had 26 KOs in 28 fights, after all, and Ricky Hatton did outhustle the legendary hard-hitting Kosta Tszyu. Mayweather, on the other hand, has not faced a welterweight, or even a junior welterweight, who possessed that kind of one-punch-power.

Whatever the reason may be, Mayweather hasn't moved forward with the fight. He mantains that he's not ducking Margarito, but given the amount of money that's on the table, it's hard to see why he hasn't accepted it. Not only is it a good money fight, it's also a fight which would silence his critics, and which could make him a legitimate four-division-champion. It's a fight with a top-level, in-his-prime opponent that the old Pretty Boy would have probably taken in a heartbeat. Two out of his last three fights, after all, have been against past-their-prime mid-thirties fighters. If he waits for Mosley, that would become three out of his last four. A true champion would take on Margarito.

In the meantime, Margarito reminds me of the dude who asks the hottest girl at school to the prom, and sits by the phone waiting for her answer. If PBF doesn't make up his mind soon, Margarito and Bob Arum should move on and look for any other big fight (Ricky Hatton, perhaps Winky Wright at a catch-weight). Here's a guy in the prime of his career who hasn't even fought one complete round in the last year and a half. He's been welterweight champion longer than anyone else, and he deserves the big payday. He should not wait for the outcome of Vargas/Mosley, because if he does, there's a big chance that the prettiest girl in school (AKA Floyd) might end up choosing Sugar over him.