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Boxing Year in Review 2015: The Middleweights

New stars, new titleholders, big fights, and a big crop of prospects highlighted 2015 in the middleweight division.

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Scott Christ is the managing editor of Bad Left Hook and has been covering boxing for SB Nation since 2006.

Year-End Top 10

  1. Gennady Golovkin (34-0, 31 KO)
  2. Canelo Alvarez (46-1-1, 32 KO)
  3. Daniel Jacobs (31-1, 28 KO)
  4. Miguel Cotto (40-5, 33 KO)
  5. Billy Joe Saunders (23-0, 12 KO)
  6. Andy Lee (34-3-1, 24 KO)
  7. Peter Quillin (32-1-1, 23 KO)
  8. David Lemieux (34-3, 31 KO)
  9. Hassan N'dam (31-2, 18 KO)
  10. Chris Eubank Jr (21-1, 16 KO)

Although Alvarez, 25, is the lineal champion of the division, Golovkin, 33, is the clear No. 1 middleweight in the world, and has been for a while now. This year, he went 3-0, stopping Martin Murray (a top 10 middleweight at the time), Willie Monroe Jr, and David Lemieux. He's a destructive force and since coming to HBO in 2012 has become one of their flagship stars. He's not a PPV A-side yet, as proven by dismal sales for his fight with Lemieux, but he's a star, and can draw crowds for live events.

Canelo is a solid No. 2, but it's still worth questioning if he's really proven anything in this division. Sure, 155 pound catchweights are technically in the middleweight division, and it's not that I have a serious issue with catchweight fights. Contract limits are contract limits, both guys agreed, both guys looked good, the playing field was level. But beating a non-middleweight with a 155-pound limit leaves the question open, and that goes for his 155-pound wins over Alfredo Angulo and Erislandy Lara in 2014, and his May knockout of James Kirkland. Canelo is a hell of a good young fighter, no question, and in line to be the sport's new top star, but is he really a middleweight yet? That remains to be seen.

Jacobs, 28, may be the division's real greatest threat to Golovkin, in that he has the sort of power to stop anyone here. (Golovkin does, too, of course, and the fact that Jacobs is with Haymon and Golovkin is with HBO means that this is a fantasy discussion right now, anyway.) His 85-second wipeout of Peter Quillin in December was impressive, and he also beat Caleb Truax in April, and Sergio Mora in August, though the latter win came via injury stoppage, and Jacobs did go down in the opening round against a light puncher.

Cotto, 35, thrashed Daniel Geale in a 157-pound catchweight fight in June, then lost to Alvarez in November in a competitive fight that has garnered a lot of post-fight controversy regarding the scoring, largely manufactured by Cotto and Freddie Roach pushing their displeasure, and pushing toward a money rematch. He looked good in that fight, but the difference in power was pretty evident, too, and if one were betting who could do better in a rematch, it'd probably be the guy who's 10 years younger and just entering what should be his peak years physically, rather than the undersized veteran who may be fighting mostly for money at this stage.

Saunders, 26, just keeps winning. He's a talented fighter, a good boxer who transitioned well from the amateur ranks, where he fought in the 2008 Olympics at age 18. Saunders won a tune-up over a club fighter in July, then finally got his world title shot against Andy Lee in December after a pair of postponements, narrowly outpointing the Irishman in a fight where Saunders started very well, but did fade down the stretch. Saunders feels like a vulnerable titleholder, but he's a titleholder and earned it.

Lee, 31, and Quillin, 32, are both kind of in the same boat. They're former titleholders, drew against one another in April, and then lost to close the year. Between their fight and their losses, Lee didn't return to action, while Quillin beat a shamefully overmatched Michael Zerafa on a PBC card in September. Neither of them are old, but they also aren't young fighters anymore, and there's a good chance we've already seen their peaks.

Lemieux, 26, is a guy who in theory should have a bunch of good years left in the sport. He's a powerful puncher, but Golovkin pretty badly exposed how one-dimensional his game can be, and in many ways, so did N'dam, 31, when the two of them met in June, which was N'dam's only fight of 2015. Lemieux could and really should rebound nicely from here, but you also never know what sort of toll a beating like the one he suffered against GGG may take on a fighter.

Eubank, 26, is right between prospect and contender. After his narrow loss to Saunders in November 2014, he beat Dmitry Chudinov in February, then bounced from Frank Warren over to Matchroom, going 2-0 for them with easy wins against Tony Jeter and Gary O'Sullivan. He's now back on the market, leaving Matchroom after they failed to win a purse bid for a fight with Nick Blackwell. Eubank's talent is very real, and it's arguable that he has more upside than anyone in this top ten other than Canelo.

On the Cusp

Tureano Johnson (19-1, 13 KO) could face Golovkin early in 2016, after having a fight with Eamonn O'Kane featured on the GGG-Lemieux PPV card in October. It was Johnson's second win of the year, following a January victory over Alex Theran.

Willie Monroe Jr (19-2, 6 KO) beat Bryan Vera handily in January, then took a fight with Golovkin in May at The Forum. It did not go well, but he showed some real grit and heart in the loss, too, and he's got talent.

Gabriel Rosado (22-9, 13 KO) got back in the winner's circle with a December defeat of Joshua Clottey (39-5, 22 KO) in a 158-pound catchweight fight. Rosado had a lot of physical advantages in that fight, and it was also his first win since 2012, but his losses over that time came against Golovkin, Quillin, Jermell Charlo at 154, and Lemieux. He wants to fight Canelo Alvarez, but would seem unlikely to get that call without a couple more notable wins.

Former titleholders Daniel Geale (31-4, 16 KO) and Sam Soliman (44-13, 18 KO) are still active, at least technically in Geale's case. Geale, 34, hasn't fought since losing to Cotto, and really hasn't scored a notable win since he beat Anthony Mundine in January 2013. Soliman, 42, has lost two in a row, and fought just once this year, dropping a close decision to prospect Dominic Wade in June.

This is a division with depth that lies largely in its prospect ranks rather than established contenders or noteworthy fringe contenders. We'll get more into the prospects below.

The Titleholders

WBC: Canelo Alvarez

  • Miguel Cotto def. Daniel Geale (TKO-4, 6/6)
  • def. Miguel Cotto (UD-12, 11/21 - WON VACANT TITLE)

WBA: Gennady Golovkin

  • def. Martin Murray (TKO-11, 2/21)
  • def. Willie Monroe Jr (TKO-6, 5/16)
  • def. David Lemieux (TKO-8, 10/17)

IBF: Gennady Golovkin

  • David Lemieux def. Hassan N'dam (UD-12, 6/20 - WON VACANT TITLE)
  • def. David Lemieux (TKO-8, 10/17)

WBO: Billy Joe Saunders

  • vs Peter Quillin (D-12, 4/11)
  • def. Andy Lee (MD-12, 12/19 - TITLE CHANGE)

Top 10 Prospects

  1. Sergiy Derevyanchenko (7-0, 5 KO)
  2. Ievgen Khytrov (12-0, 11 KO)
  3. Arif Magomedov (17-0, 10 KO)
  4. Antoine Douglas (19-0-1, 13 KO)
  5. Ryōta Murata (8-0, 5 KO)
  6. Hugo Centeno Jr (24-0, 12 KO)
  7. Esquiva Falcão (12-0, 9 KO)
  8. Maciej Sulęcki (21-0, 6 KO)
  9. Dominic Wade (18-0, 12 KO)
  10. Igor Selivanov (11-0, 8 KO)

This is a division deep enough with legitimate prospects that it's worth listing 10 instead of five.

Derevyanchenko, 30, is a polished prospect, nicknamed "The Technician," with power and boxing skills. The Ukrainian won bronze at the 2007 World Amateur Championships, and competed at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. He turned pro last year, fighting out of Brooklyn, and has looked very impressive. This year, he went 4-0, beating Vladine Biosse, Alan Campa, Elvin Ayala, and Jessie Nicklow. He stopped everyone but Ayala, and he shut out Ayala over eight rounds. Really, Derevyanchenko is more than a prospect, and he's ready to graduate to legitimate contendership.

Khytrov, 27, is another Ukrainian now operating out of Brooklyn, and a very good prospect, but his status took a mild hit with a rough performance in August against Nick Brinson. Brinson was ahead on the cards going into the eighth and final round, when Khytrov finally turned up the heat and stopped his opponent. Brinson is a decent fighter, but it was a rough night for Khytrov. But he also won four other fights on the year, beating Maurice Louishomme, Jorge Melendez, Aaron Coley, and Josh Luteran, and he's got wicked power. The fight with Brinson was valuable.

Magomedov, 23, is younger than our top two, if you hadn't gathered that by the listings of their ages. He also went 4-0 in 2015, beating veterans Derrick Findley and Darnell Boone in April and May. The win over Boone isn't as impressive as beating Boone was a few years ago, as the 35-year-old has now entered the stage in his career where he can be stopped, but Magomedov finishing him in 2:37 is pretty nice nonetheless. In July, he beat another unbeaten prospect, Derrick Webster, and ended his year with a beatdown of Jonathan Tavira in December.

Douglas, 23, from Burke, Virginia, looks like a new rising star for the ShoBox series, going 3-0 on the program this year. He stopped Thomas Lamanna in six on March 13; stopped Istvan Szili in three on July 17; and stopped Les Sherrington in four on November 6. "Action" has emerged as the clear best American prospect of the division, in my view.

Murata, 29, was the surprise gold medalist in the middleweight division at London 2012, after winning silver at the 2011 Worlds in Baku, winning Japan's first gold medal in boxing since 1964. He turned pro in August 2013, and immediately beat Akio Shibata, a seasoned veteran who is still the top middleweight on the domestic scene in Japan. He's beaten some other decent, veteran fighters since then. In 2015, he made his U.S. debut under the Top Rank banner, beating Gunnar Jackson on November 7 in Las Vegas, a wide 10-round decision victory. Murata's upside might be a bit limited, but he's a good fighter worth keeping an eye on for sure.

James De La Rosa v Hugo Centeno Jr. Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

Centeno, 24, is a Haymon fighter who fought just twice in 2015, in September and December, and just twice in 2014, too. He'll hope to be more active in 2016, probably, or at least have bigger fights. He's a tall middleweight at just under 6'2" and has some decent wins so far, moving from 154 to 160 in the last two years.

Falcão, 26, lost to Murata in the gold medal match at London 2012, and has more pro fights, and may have more potential given he's a bit younger and less of a finished product. But he's also not faced the level of competition Murata has to date. He's stayed very busy, though, sort of harnessing his skills as a pro thus far. He went 6-0 this year on Top Rank cards.

Sulęcki, 26, moved his career to the United States this year, and fought on a couple of PBC on Spike undercards in Chicago and Newark, two cities that have large Polish communities that support their fighters. He beat Darryl Cunningham in April and Jose Miguel Rodriguez in August, both by stoppage, and has actually won his last three fights by stoppage, his first since 2012.

Wade, 25, fought just once in 2015, edging past Sam Soliman in June on ShoBox, winning a split decision. It wasn't quite the result he was looking for, but he got the win. He has wins over some familiar prospect checker names, like Troy Lowry, Dashon Johnson, and Marcus Upshaw, as well as Nick Brinson.

Selivanov, 21, is a young Russian who went 7-0 this year, after turning pro in August 2014. All but two of his fights have been at home in Russia, and he most recently beat Kassim Ouma by eight-round decision in Saint Petersburg on November 29. He's still more of a question mark than the other guys here, and there's not a lot of footage available on him, but (1) what there is shows a young fighter with promise, and (2) we needed 10. "Top 9" is nonsense. Other prospects possibly worth considering for this spot: Rob Brant, Luis Arias, Tommy Langford, Alantez Fox, Artur Akavov, Kamil Szeremeta, Yamaguchi Falcão, Paul Mendez.

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