The Sopranos is my favorite television show ever. One of the moments, among the many, that stands out is when after the funeral of Livia Soprano, Hesh struggles to come up with something nice to say in rememberance, and finally settles on, "She didn't mince words."
And, really, why mince words? The 154-pound division is one of the very weakest in boxing. There is not a single marketable star in the division now that Mayweather has bolted, and Oscar plans to join him back at 147. Mosley left, too, opting to return to one of the sport's glory weight classes. In short, the division sucks, and it's a toss-up as to who the best really are.
|No. 1: Name your guy among the several potential contenders. I'm going with Sergei Dzinziruk.
Current WBO champion, beat Daniel Santos for the strap in Germany in 2005, and has made three defenses since. The Ukrainian-born "Razor" has beaten Sebastian Lujan (UD), Alisultan Nadirbegov (UD) and Carlos Nascimento (KO-11) since beating Santos via unanimous decision. Not exactly the most breathtaking group. And, yet, somehow, this guy is about as good as it gets. He is a pretty good fighter, has some power, is a southpaw, and is 31 years old, so he's in what should be his prime. He's never going to get a money fight in the States, or anywhere else really, since there are no money fights to be made at 154. If he stepped up to 160, he could fight someone like Felix Sturm in Germany and get a decent payday out of it.
It's hard to say he's one of the sport's most underrated, because the competition in this division just isn't there. He is simply, in my view, the very-arguable best of a weak crop.
2. Cory Spinks (36-4)
He'll almost certainly return to the division after a loss to middleweight champion Jermain Taylor in May. It should be noted that, as usual, Spinks fought a mind-numbingly boring fight when given the opportunity to headline an HBO card. This is a guy who was a world champion, fought a credible guy in Rodney Jones in February on the undercard of Adamek/Dawson, and could not get his fight on Showtime that night. They learned their lesson from his majority decision, title-winning victory over Roman Karmazin in July 2006, apparently.
Spinks is the absolute opposite of a TV fighter. He is talented, he has good footwork, he's smart, and his jab is OK. But if there's a major fighter in the world today that lacks any sort of gusto or killer instinct, it's Spinks. He made his name in the welterweight division with a tight win over Ricardo Mayorga and an upset of Zab Judah, but Judah burst his bubble in their rematch with a ninth-round TKO. I could never see him fight again and be perfectly alright with that. And despite my intense loathing of Cory Spinks, you can make a fantastic case that he's the No. 1 guy in this division, and I readily admit as much.
3. Joel Julio (32-1)
You know what? I don't care that he's only 22. I don't care that his quality wins are few. If he's staying at 154, which it appears he is, he's legitimately one of the best in the world right now. Juan Diaz is 23 and considered arguably the best 135-pounder. The difference is he doesn't have a loss, so no one questions it. Forget Julio's loss to Carlos Quintana, and forget his struggle in his next fight against Cosme Rivera. Rivera is no pushover, especially for a guy sort of deflated from being the can't-miss prospect into boxing's newest form of purgatory, the first career loss.
Julio may have really just needed to move to 154. Since the Rivera fight, that's where he's been, and he's been phenomenal again. His first three wins were nothing to get too excited about, but he beat the hell out of Cornelius Bundrage last week, and Bundrage is a tough guy. Julio has the skill and the power to beat anyone in this division right now. I question only whether or not he is mentally good enough for some of the savvier veterans. Dzinziruk's southpaw style might give Julio real trouble, and Spinks would likely frustrate him to no end. But he's for real, and should be considered a world title contender. If he can make his potential into real results at a world-class level, he could be the flag-bearer in this division before eventually he likely moves to middleweight.
4. Carlos Baldomir (43-10-6)
Dan Rafael recently questioned the WBC ranking Baldomir so highly even though he hasn't fought at 154 since 2003. Why bother questioning it? Sanctioning body rankings are a joke, and we all know that, plus who the hell else are they going to rank? Are you telling me that, even money, you wouldn't bet on Baldomir to beat most of the 154-pounders out there? This is a guy that worked his way up from nowhere into being the welterweight champion of the world. Eight years ago, Carlos Baldomir came into a fight with Walter Saporiti in Argentina, nine losses on his record, a loss in his last bout. He was nobody. He was just another run of the mill pro boxer. He won a unanimous decision that night, and he didn't lose again until the best boxer in the world outclassed him last November.
In his rather unbelievable run, he beat Joshua Clottey (via DQ and he was behind on all three cards, but a win's a win), the unbeaten Alpaslan Aguzum (twice via knockout), the unbeaten Hasan Al, Miguel Rodriguez, Zab Judah and Arturo Gatti. Mayweather beat him easily, but so what? He also earned Mayweather's respect that night, so much so that it was recently leaked from a friend of Floyd's that Mayweather was very happy that his vacating of the WBC junior middleweight title would give Baldomir a title opportunity. Floyd doesn't say many nice things about fellow fighters. Depending on how he looks on July 28, he could have as good a claim as anybody to be No. 1.
5. Joachim Alcine (29-0)
He's good. But he couldn't make that yawner against Travis Simms any better than it was. Lucky for Alcine, he won in Simms' home state, and seemed to leave with more fan support than Mr. Connecticut did. Alcine is 31 and not getting any younger, and is just now reaching a big point in his career with the WBA title win. The Haitian-born Canadian should have a decent run as champion in him if all goes according to plan, although let's pray we don't have to endure Alcine/Simms II. The first one was more than bad enough. Really, his recent record is as good as anyone else's. But with Simms being Travis Simms -- a fighter I don't hold in the highest regard, let's say -- I still feel like Alcine hasn't quite proven much. I don't blame him for it, really.
6. Fernando Vargas (26-4)
And here's about where I decide to abandon every bit of logic. But here's the deal: Vargas is 29 years old. He has four career losses: two to Shane Mosley, one to Oscar de la Hoya, one to Felix Trinidad. And I thought he lost to Winky Wright, so let's even go ahead and say five. I have long been anti-Vargas, and I still am in that I think he's generally annoying for the most part, but let's not ignore the facts. Vargas' career has proven two things: (1) Hype can hurt way more than it helps, and (2) He's not a great fighter. Well, neither is anyone else listed here. Would you give Vargas no chance against these guys? Having your mouth shut decisively by Shane Mosley is one thing. It's really too bad that El Feroz is considering the Mayorga fight (at the 162-pound catchweight) his farewell. This division is ripe for a career rebirth.
7. Michele Piccirillo (47-3)
He's 37 years old, never fights outside of Italy, and hasn't really been heard from since Ricardo Mayorga bombed him for 12 full rounds in Chicago in 2005. And that's how bad this division is. I really think that Piccirillo could beat most of these guys. Currently he holds the EBU junior middleweight title, which means basically nothing. Although he has at least fought guys with nice-looking records since the Mayorga loss.
8. Javier Mamani (33-5-1)
He's won five straight since being dominated by Joachim Alcine in Montreal last year. Probably nobody to get too excited about, but, again, shallow division. He knocked out Crazy Kim in the 10th round in Japan, and will fight there again in October against Nobuhiro Ishida.
9. Jamie Moore (27-3)
He's won his last seven fights, all in England. Never fought outside of England. Probably has no real intention of doing so.
10. Vernon Forrest (38-2)
I think Forrest could beat anyone else in the top ten. But he's inconsistent, injury-prone, and his highway robbery win over Ike Quartey last August is still leaving a bad taste in my mouth. Plain and simple, he lost that fight, but again, I guess a win's a win. Baldomir/Forrest is the most publicity this division's going to get for a while. Let's hope they both look good. When he's 100%, Forrest can fight. He's one of two guys that have been able to solve Shane Mosley, and there's nothing bad about sharing exclusive company with Winky Wright. But that was five years and two losses to Ricardo Mayorga ago. We'll see what, if anything, he really has left on July 28th.
Jose Antonio Rivera may well be on his last legs. He suffered a TKO to Travis Simms in his last fight, and was being dominated beforehand. He is rumored to be facing Daniel Santos on the undercard of Mayorga/Vargas. Santos is another guy that could easily be in the top ten in this division. But it's been three years since he beat Margarito, which is really his last win, since it's hard to count a 52 second knockout of Will Evans in Missouri last year.
I'm just not as big on Verno Phillips as some people seem to be. He's 37, he's lost 10 fights, and he doesn't have the type of victories that Baldomir does on his record. Phillips is a pretty good fighter. That's about it.
I have no idea if Sergio Martinez is any damn good or not, because even though he's 39-1-1, he still fights guys with 1-7-2 records, and takes five rounds to knock them out. His fourth round knockout of Saul Roman in April is a nice step in the right direction, but I'm still waiting to see something substantial out of Martinez before I start heralding him as some overlooked fighter.
Ricardo Mayorga...nevermind. I don't even want to get started trying to figure Mayorga out. I love the guy, he's a movie villain come to life. But trying to class him as a fighter is nigh impossible. If he beats Vargas, he says he plans a return to welterweight. Why in God's name would he venture into those waters when there are champions in this division he could probably give trouble?
Sechew Powell is still a wait-and-see case. Kassim Ouma dominated him and he didn't look good against Ishe Smith, either. I thought he beat Smith, but it was not impressive.
Travis Simms got a chance to headline a Showtime card and shit the bed. Not much more to it than that. He fought a good fighter and he lost. Yeah, it happens, but Simms is 36 years old and has one win of any substance to his credit.
Attila Kovács, Christophe Canclaux, and Lukas Konecny go into the same class as Sergio Martinez and Jamie Moore. How do we really know? They're all what I call "Wonjongkam Fighters" -- in theory, yes, but in reality? I can't be too certain.
It is not a division without talent, or even without plenty of it. What it lacks is the potential for dynamic matchups. 168 isn't a packed division right now, either, but you have that Calzaghe/Kessler matchup that keeps it all very interesting. What do you have here, even throwing out money, location, politics, etc.? Dzinziruk/Spinks? Alcine/Spinks? Julio against the winner of Baldomir/Forrest? There's no clear number one. Hell, there's no clear top ten. In some ways, it makes the division interesting. But really, it's just a big jumble right now.