With the recent falling apart of the Pavlik-Williams fight, plus Arthur Abraham moving up to 168 to participate in the Super Six, the middleweight division might be the weakest it's been in years, and possibly even in the long and storied history of the weight class.
Its champion, Kelly Pavlik, hasn't fought much of anyone lately, and is still trying to shake the lasting memory of being absolutely dismantled by former middleweight star Bernard Hopkins. Number two in the weight class isn't even a middleweight, but a junior middleweight. Number three, Felix Sturm, was blown out in his last fight, and got back the favor he lost in the De La Hoya fight.
After those three, there just aren't a whole lot of recognizable names, and those that there are either have quite a few losses, haven't faced anyone significant, or are already on the backslide of their careers.
Fortunately, there is hope. Right now, middleweight may well have the best crop of prospects of any weight class out there. Some of these names may already be familiar, but hopefully you can get acquainted with some of the names that may help lead to a renaissance in the weight class. Here they are, in no particular order.
Matt Korobov - The 26 year old Russian southpaw was a decorated amateur who was the odds on favorite to win gold at Beijing, until being upset in the early rounds. More recently, people will remember him for stealing the show of the Pacquiao-Hatton undercard. As Top Rank's most prized prospect, we'll be seeing a lot of him. Korobov's a built southpaw who's very technically sound. He doesn't have blazing handspeed, but his hands are quick enough to get done what he needs to get done. Preferring to box from the outside, Korobov tends to be economical with his punches, throwing a few lighter punches to create openings and then firing away with power shots. He also has great balance. One question that has yet to be answered is how he'll take a punch and how he'll handle adversity, as he has yet to really be tested in a fight, but if anyone knows how to bring up a fighter in a way that prepares him for that incrementally, it's Bob Arum. He'll be fighting former British prospect Kerry Hope on the untelevised undercard of Pacquiao-Cotto, after a five month layoff for unspecified reasons.
Gennady Golovkin - Golovkin was a decorated amateur who won an Olympic silver for Kazakhstan in 2004 and won an amateur world championship in 2003. At 17-0 with 14 knockouts, he's quickly working his way up to becoming the WBO mandatory. As one might imagine with his credentials, Golovkin fights with a tricky and awkward stlye that almost seems more suited to the amateurs, but that hasn't hindered his development so far. And while he doesn't have tremendous handspeed or power, he might have the quickest reflexes of anyone on this list, easily finding opportunities to counter and usually getting his head out of the way with a "now you see it, now you don't" defensive style. Next up, he'll be facing Ishe Smith, which will be a good measuring stick to compare where he stands versus Daniel Jacobs.
Daniel Jacobs - The 22 year-old has run up a record of 17-0, becoming Golden Boy's most prized prospect. I know I'm going out on somewhat of a limb here, but of everyone on this list, Jacobs is the guy I think is most likely to become a pound for pound fighter. He has absolutely dazzling handspeed and footspeed, and he seems to be improving technically from fight to fight. I'm not sure he'll ever become a major star though. He seems to have a little Chad Dawson in him, and I mean that in both a good way and a bad way. His talent and skills means he'll be a tough out for anyone, and that he could very well beat some of the best fighters out there. On the other hand, his hesitancy to take risks means that he'll never be viewed in a fan friendly manner, and his getting overhyped by Golden Boy will lead a lot of people to jump to the conclusion that he's overrated. In the meantime, he's been consistently stepping up his competition, and has already soundly beaten tricky veteran Ishe Smith. A more in-depth analysis of Jacobs is here.
Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam - 21-0 N'Jikam (pictured right) might be the most exciting fighter on this list, and has a good chance to be the best French middleweight since Marcel Cerdan. The 2004 Olympian, who represented Cameroon, is a vicious body puncher who can box from the outside or brawl on the inside. While he hasn't been overly hyped outside of France, he's a guy to keep an eye on. With his skills and flashy fighting style, he could cross over, if someone could give him a pronounceable nickname.
Dmitry Pirog - 14-0 Pirog is a slightly more typical Euro fighter at first glance, but he has a style that could be tricky for most and has a punch that packs a wallop. Fighting gloves up and hunched down, he has a slippery defensive style where he's able to block most of what comes his way to the body and duck under and just slip punches to the head that aren't perfectly straight. He also has a varied offensive arsenal, and unlike many Europeans, likes to throw a lot of punches from all different angles, hoping to open up his opponent for his more powerful shots. He's already beaten some solid competition, like Kofi Janutah, and should be in line for a WBC title shot fairly soon. If he does get Sturm, don't be too surprised if he's able to take Sturm down, despite his relative lack of experience.
More prospects, including Fernando Guerrero, Darren Barker, David Lemieux and Dominic Wade, come after the jump.
Darren Barker - Barker, the current Commonwealth champion, is currently 20-0 with 13 knockouts. His upside potential likely isn't as high as some of the others on this list, but as a prominent Brit with a flashy style, he's pretty likely to end up on U.S. television in the future. He doesn't have a ton of power, and his defense is on the leaky side, but he has "dazzling" handspeed and likes to pop off combinations that can overwhelm his opponent. Next up, he'll be facing Wayne Elcock for the BBBoC title.
David Lemieux - Lemieux (pictured right), already 19-0 at only 20 years old, may not have the physical gifts of some of the others on this list, but he's a big puncher who fights smart and is developing into his body. All 19 of his wins thus far have come by knockout, including some recognizable names such as Donny McCrary. Relatively conservative with his punches, he likes to feint and move to create openings, and when he finds them, pounce on his opponents with power shots. He's being built into a local attraction in Montreal, but at his young age, he could develop to where he's able to have a name outside of that great fight city. He's still got plenty of time. In case you're interested, the McCrary fight is available here (spectacular knockout at 7:26).
Andy Lee - Andy Lee now has a record of 19-1, after his surprising TKO loss to Brian Vera, but he's still a solid prospect who may have a bright future ahead of him. Now, he's taken a recent step back, but he's still with Emmanuel Steward, and he's still a 6'2" southpaw with one punch knockout power. I'm not sure I can describe him any better other than to say he's a Steward fighter - he fights long, he pumps out the jab to keep people at a distance, he'll double up the jab before throwing a right hand, and he tries to tie up the second someone gets on the inside. The problem with the Vera fight is that prior to then, Lee had some bulldog in him, and would mix things up even when it wasnt' smart to do so. Now that he's already lost a fight for making that mistake, expect to see him become a more typical Steward safety-first style fighter who would rather win fights than entertain crowds. As an aside, I can't be the only one who's reminded of the Notre Dame mascot when I see him fight. It's just unusual for a fighter to ever he as upright and rigid with his elbows way up high, as he often fights.
Craig McEwan - The Scottish southpaw, at 16-0, is bound to get a lot of hype if for no other reason than that he's trained by Freddie Roach. He doesn't have the flashiest style, but he can be tricky, and he already owns solid wins over Brian Vera and Darnell Boone. In one respect, I doubt he'll be championship material because of his general physical limitations. On the other hand, he's a very smart fighter, and in each fight I've seen him in, he's had some struggles early, figured out his opponent, and kept on adjusting all fight, keeping his opponent off balance.
Fernando Guerrero - Guerrero has built up a 16-0 record, and in the process, has become one of Bad Left Hook's favorite prospects with his fan-friendly style. He can box, he can punch, he can fight inside and out, he has some spectacular talent and some major flaws and he has a ton of charisma. He's already faced some tough outs, and it looks like his handlers are angling to get him a title shot in the not too distant future. At this point, he needs to fix some of his defensive lapses, such as his tendency to pull straight back, but it's becoming more apparent that he has the stomach to be a top level pro fighter. A more in-depth analysis of Guerrero is here.
Dominic Wade - Here's sleeper #1. Wade is only 4-0 at this early stage in his career, and his fights have come against complete nobodies, but he has the physical talents to go a long way. He had a solid career as an amateur against a very deep crop of American middleweights, and he just might have the best pro style of all of them. He's calm, sits back in the pocket waiting to unload, and strikes with quickness and precision. Fighting for the Prize Fight stable, expect him to become a fixture on Friday Night Fights next year. He's not even 20 years old at this point, so he has a ton of time to develop. It's not much to base an opinion on, but you can see an absolutely sick knockout by him here. Just remember, you heard about him here first.
James DeGale - DeGale, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist, has been campaigning at 168 so far, but as he progresses a bit he should be moving down to 160. As Frank Warren's prized prospect, U.K. viewers will probably be seeing way too much of this kid in the near future. Yet another tricky southpaw, he has great fundamentals and excellent accuracy with his punches. On the other hand, he doesn't have a particularly exciting style, and there are questions about whether it will translate to the pros. He also has one of those lackadaisical looks about him, like he's almost going through the motions. Sometimes a kid makes fighting look too effortless, and that can be to his detriment. DeGale might very well be that kid.
Shawn Estrada - He was the U.S. Olympian at middleweight in 2008, beating out an extremely strong crop of competitors that included Jacobs, Guerrero, Wade and Shawn Porter, and for that reason alone we should keep an eye out for him. That said, he's always struck me as fairly ordinary when I watch him. Hopefully he can prove me wrong.
Dmitry Chudinov - When I do one of these, I have to include a sleeper special, and this is him. Chudinov was a top Russian amateur. Like Jacobs, he was the second place finisher in his country's Olympic tournament, losing a relatively close decision to Matt Korobov. When you look at the level of polish between those two, it's like night and day, but if he can continue to improve his fundamentals, Chudinov could be an exciting guy to watch. On the positive side, he's an extremely aggressive puncher, winging shots from all angles, swarming kind of like his sparring partner Alfredo Angulo. On the other hand, he leaves himself way too open to get hit, and has already been knocked down by a flush left hand a couple fights into his career. It doesn't bode well that a fighter with his style has already been knocked down, but if he can rattle off a series of wins, it probably means we'll see a bit of him and his brother Fedor on TV in the future.
A few other names to throw out there who are currently campaigning at 154, but might end up at middleweight if it becomes the money division - Erislandy Lara, Alfredo Angulo, Shawn Porter, Demetrius Andrade.