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Boxing Year in Review 2015: The Welterweights

We finally got what we wanted in the welterweight division this year, and now major turnover has begun with the top two stars of the era either retired or close to doing so.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
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 Emeritus: Floyd Mayweather (49-0, 26 KO)

#2 Emeritus: Manny Pacquiao (57-6-2, 38 KO)

  1. Timothy Bradley Jr (33-1-1, 13 KO)
  2. Kell Brook (35-0, 24 KO)
  3. Keith Thurman (26-0, 22 KO)
  4. Shawn Porter (26-1-1, 16 KO)
  5. Amir Khan (31-3, 19 KO)
  6. Danny Garcia (31-0, 18 KO)
  7. Jessie Vargas (26-1, 9 KO)
  8. Sadam Ali (22-0, 13 KO)
  9. Lamont Peterson (34-3-1, 17 KO)
  10. Robert Guerrero (33-3-1, 18 KO)

This was a weird division to rank right now, because it's in a real state of flux. Mayweather, 38, is officially retired, but there are still a lot of people expecting him to fight again in 2016. Pacquiao, 36, is still officially active, but the working idea for now is that he will also officially retire after a fight in April, to focus on his political aspirations. So it's an odd time in the division. I chose to include Mayweather here because, for the first nine months of 2015, he was the clear No. 1 welterweight. I chose to include Pacquiao in a similar fashion because he, too, is sort of working on a different playing field than the rest. So that leaves 10 others, and it's a jumbled bunch.

Bradley, 32, and Brook, 27, are a toss-up for the "top" spot. Bradley's had a weird run since 2012, when he got an undeserved win over Manny Pacquiao. He followed that with a Fight of the Year victory over Ruslan Provodnikov, then beat Juan Manuel Marquez, then lost to Pacquiao, then drew against Diego Chaves in a fight most felt he won. This year, he beat Jessie Vargas but with a slight scare at the end, and looked excellent in taking apart and stopping Brandon Rios, who may just be finished as a main event fighter.

Brook is younger and has the best win between them in 2014-15, last year over Shawn Porter, but this was an underwhelming year for him, too. He beat mandatory challenger Jo Jo Dan in March, then came back to beat domestic-level opponent Frankie Gavin in May before sitting out the rest of the year. I have a slight edge to Bradley, but Brook would be a fair pick.

Some may also argue for Thurman, 27, but when you examine Thurman's record, he's still missing that signature win, unless you see his March rout of Robert Guerrero as worthy of that title. Guerrero's a good fighter -- still top 10 here, though barely -- but a step below Porter, which is Brook's best win. Thurman may finally be ready to really break through in 2016 -- it may be that Al Haymon was waiting to truly unleash him until he needed a new top guy at 147 pounds.

Porter, 28, is another of the division's talented and sometimes inconsistent fighters. He had a good 2015, beating Erick Boné in March, which was a short notice opponent switch, and then Ohio rival Adrien Broner in June. The Porter-Thurman fight has been a working idea for months now, but has yet to come together.

Khan, 29, spent the majority of his year talking about big fights, taking to the ring only once. He was disappointed to not get the date with Floyd Mayweather in May or September, and has since talked up a fight with Pacquiao for 2016, which is possible. His lone appearance came in May, when he beat Chris Algieri in a competitive bout.

Garcia, 27, has lost a lot of momentum considering he's still unbeaten and left the 140-pound division without dropping any of the belts he won there. That's because two of his last four wins (Mauricio Herrera in 2014, Lamont Peterson in 2015) were controversial decisions, and the other two (Rod Salka in 2014, Paulie Malignaggi in 2015) didn't exactly surprise anyone. He faces Robert Guerrero in January.

Vargas, 26, and Ali, 27, were both one-and-done fighters in 2015, whose paths nearly crossed for a December 19 HBO main event, a deal that fell apart. Ali is the mandatory challenger for Bradley's WBO belt. He beat Francisco Santana in a stay-busy bout in April.

Peterson, 31, could still go back down to 140, but for now we'll put him here. He had a pair of different performances this year, controversially losing to Danny Garcia, then controversially beating Felix Diaz, both catchweight bouts between 140 and 147.

Guerrero, 32, barely hangs on to a top 10 spot after a rocky 2015. He tried to rally late against Keith Thurman, but it was way too little, too late, and he was blown out in that fight for the most part. He then scraped past Aron Martinez three months later before taking the second half of 2015 off.

On the Cusp

Errol Spence Jr (19-0, 16 KO) is the division's best prospect and close to a final step up the ladder before he starts taking on contenders. More on him in the prospects section.

Chris Algieri (21-2, 8 KO) has, I think, proven he's not just a guy who got lucky against Ruslan Provodnikov, but he's probably a fringe contender at best. He's 31 and however much John David Jackson can aid him, his development stages are mostly behind him. He arguably looked better in defeat against Amir Khan than he did in victory against Erick Boné.

Brandon Rios (33-3-1, 24 KO) started the year with a shellacking of old rival Mike Alvarado in January, then got the crap beaten out of him by Bradley in November. He might have retired Alvarado, or at the least sent him packing from the land of relevance. He also announced his own retirement after the loss to Bradley, but quickly went back on that. That said, Rios making a serious run again as a welterweight seems unlikely. He's got a lot of miles on his body for someone who's only 29.

Victor Ortiz (31-5-2, 24 KO) made a return in December, and the former titleholder has a level of notoriety that could get him a big fight as soon as he wants one. Ortiz is still young (he's 28) and talent has never been a problem for him. It's about the mental side for Ortiz, and nowadays, that isn't just about lapses in defense or in judgment, but also includes how much he really wants to be a pro fighter, and everything that goes along with it.

Andre Berto (30-4, 23 KO) was trailing on two of three cards when he stopped Josesito Lopez (33-7, 19 KO) in March, and was then a surprise opponent for Floyd Mayweather in September, where he was predictably and easily outclassed.

Aron Martinez (20-4-1, 4 KO) is a 34-year-old scrapper with a lot of value right now. He took Robert Guerrero to the brink in June, and then upset Devon Alexander in October. If Martinez beats Sammy Vasquez Jr in January, he might stunningly be right in the mix for some sort of big fight in the summer for PBC, and it would be hard to say he hasn't earned it.

As for Devon Alexander (26-4, 14 KO), his most memorable moment of 2015 might have been his Twitter of comparison of vaginas and anuses. It sure wasn't the fight with Martinez.

Sammy Vasquez Jr (20-0, 14 KO) is a 29-year-old fighter from Pennsylvania, popular in the Pittsburgh area, who will get a chance to move up the ranks in 2016. Another PBC fighter, Vasquez went 3-0 this year. He's never stood out as a top prospect type of guy, but he's a good fighter who fights with a lot of heart.

Felix Diaz Jr (17-1, 8 KO) started looking a lot more interesting this year. The former Olympic gold medalist has competed at 140 and 147 in his pro career, and he was sort of a disappointing amateur standout turned pro for a while, but this year he beat Gabriel "Tito" Bracero in April, then had a very nice performance in a questionable loss to Lamont Peterson in October.

Top Rank's Brad Solomon (26-0, 9 KO) has sort of fallen off the radar the last few years, due to inactivity and some stagnation, but he had two decent wins in 2015, beating Adrian Granados and Raymond Serrano. The fact that Top Rank doesn't have many notable welterweights could mean that Solomon gets a bigger fight in 2016 almost by default. A crossroads bout between Solomon and Rios actually sounds like a decent idea.

Paulie Malignaggi (35-7, 7 KO) seemed ready to hang up the gloves after a loss to Danny Garcia, but instead has taken his career to the European regional scene, where nobody else can punch, either.

The Titleholders

WBC: Vacant

  • Floyd Mayweather def. Manny Pacquiao (UD-12, 5/2)
  • Floyd Mayweather def. Andre Berto (UD-12, 9/12)
  • Title vacated 11/2 after Floyd Mayweather's retirement

WBA: Floyd Mayweather

  • Floyd Mayweather def. Manny Pacquiao (UD-12, 5/2)
  • Floyd Mayweather def. Andre Berto (UD-12, 9/12)
  • Note: WBA has not stripped Mayweather of his "super world" title despite announced retirement on 9/13; Keith Thurman holds WBA "world" title (promoted from interim champion on 1/28)

IBF: Kell Brook

  • def. Jo Jo Dan (RTD-4, 3/28)
  • def. Frankie Gavin (TKO-6, 5/30)

WBO: Timothy Bradley Jr

  • Floyd Mayweather def. Manny Pacquiao (UD-12, 5/2 - TITLE CHANGE)
  • Title stripped 7/6, Bradley promoted from interim champion
  • def. Brandon Rios (TKO-9, 11/7)

Top 10 Prospects

PBC on NBC: Jermall Charlo v Wilky Campfort Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
  1. Errol Spence Jr (19-0, 16 KO)
  2. Dmitry Mikhalyenko (20-0, 9 KO)
  3. Konstantin Ponomarev (29-0, 13 KO)
  4. Egidijus Kavaliauskas (11-0, 10 KO)
  5. Jeff Horn (13-0-1, 8 KO)
  6. Taras Shelestyuk (13-0, 8 KO)
  7. Alex Saucedo (20-0, 14 KO)
  8. Sammy Vasquez Jr (20-0, 14 KO)
  9. Teerachai Kratingdaenggym (32-0, 24 KO)
  10. David Avanesyan (21-1-1, 11 KO)

There are enough notable prospects in the division to do 10 instead of five again.

Spence, 25, is the obvious No. 1, part talent, part hype. As good as the young southpaw has looked, he's also done what he's done against the type of opponents he should. He's been matched semi-aggressively in some respects, but still carefully, just with more credit given his talent than we sometimes see. He went 4-0 this year and should be knocking on the door by the end of 201.

Mikhalyenko, 29, nicknamed "The Mechanic," is a finished product ready to take the next step. He went 2-0 this year, notably stopping Johan Perez on August 8 at the Fantasy Springs. He'll face Ray Robinson -- who has soldiered on nicely after losses to Brad Solomon and Shawn Porter in 2010 -- in January in Montreal.

Ponomarev, 23, went 3-0 this year, but he still fights like a young guy who makes mistakes sometimes, too. He was really impressive beating fellow prospect Mikael Zewski in May, but around those fights he didn't look quite as good, battling past Steve Claggett in January and beating Ramses Agaton in November by majority decision, although two of those cards were 79-73 and the third was a 76-76 from Robert Hoyle, who has a habit of seeing things quite differently than his fellow judges this year.

Kavaliauskas, 27, is a Lithuanian ex-Olympian promoted by Top Rank, one of the most purely enjoyable fighters to watch at London 2012, where he wound up winning a bronze medal as a lightweight. After deciding to go pro, he hooked up with Robert Garcia in Oxnard. If you saw Kavaliauskas in London, it's hard to imagine a more fitting pro trainer for him. Kavaliauskas went 2-0 in 2015.

Horn, 27, represented Australia at London 2012, losing in his third fight to eventual silver medalist Denys Berinchyk of Ukraine in the light welterweight division. His only blemish as a pro came in his fourth fight in 2013, which was stopped in the third round after his opponent was cut due to an accidental headbutts. Not enough of the fight had been completed to go to the cards, so really Horn has had no setbacks. (He beat the same fighter in 2014 via 9th round TKO, dominating him and dislocating his shoulder on the second knockdown of the fight.) He went 4-0 this year, including a solid win over Viktor Plotnykov in August.

Shelestyuk, 30, won bronze for Ukraine in the welterweight division in 2012. Like Mikhalyenko, Shelestyuk is really a finished product, probably about as good as he's going to get. He looked really sharp in November, beating a credible opponent in Aslanbek Kozaev, and went 3-0 this year.

Saucedo, 21, is the youngest of those listed, a Top Rank fighter who has gone about his business in a pretty normal fashion since turning pro in late 2011. He's kept pretty busy from 2012-present, including four wins in 2015.

Vasquez, 29, is ready to sink or swim in 2016. As said before, he's not a blue chip guy, but he's a good fighter. He went 3-0 in 2015, beating Emmanuel Lartei Lartey, Wale Omotoso, and Jose "Piston" Lopez.

Teerachai, 23, is a Thai fighter, as you probably guessed, and something of a rarity as a legitimate prospect at a weight this high. He's beaten some decent fighters already, nobody particularly outstanding or anything, but his 32-0 isn't a totally empty record, either. He's looking to get into the WBA title mix in 2016, and is on a course to face David Avanesyan for an interim belt.

Avanesyan, 27, is also next on the list. The Russian lost his second pro fight in 2009, but that was against Andrey Klimov over six rounds, and Klimov isn't some bum. His other blemish is a 2013 draw with Aslanbek Kozaev, also a decent fighter. Since then, he's gotten himself the interim WBA belt, a likely fight next with Teerachai, and he also made some headlines (kinda) by injuring Kell Brook with a body shot during sparring this year.

Other prospects, in alphabetical order: Emmanuel De Jesus, Dusty Hernandez Harrison, Jamal James, Paul Kamanaga, Carlos Ocampo, Bryant Perrella, Yves Ulysse Jr, Terrel Williams, Mikael Zewski.

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