The middleweight division is hot right now, coming off of last weekend’s Canelo-GGG super fight, so let’s take a look at how it stands at 160 pounds, at least in one fool’s opinion.
1. Gennady Golovkin (37-0-1, 33 KO)
Golovkin, 35, has survived the two toughest tests of his career and established himself as the best 160-pounder in the world over the last several years, but by how much is he in front now? He barely beat Daniel Jacobs in March, and went to a disputed draw with Canelo Alvarez last Saturday, in a fight most feel he won.
I scored the Jacobs fight for Jacobs, but it was debatable and close either way. I scored the Canelo fight for Golovkin, and thought he was clearly better against Alvarez than he was six months prior, but even that I could see scoring a draw. Golovkin is probably past his best — age being a major indicator — but let’s not ignore that these are the two best opponents he’s faced, too. Jacobs and Alvarez are a legitimate step or two removed from the likes of Dominic Wade and Willie Monroe Jr, or even Martin Murray and David Lemieux.
So GGG stands on top. For now. Time is not on his side. Rematch talks to face Alvarez again are reportedly going to begin soon, but it’s no guarantee we’ll see that fight. If we do, expect it on May 5, 2018.
2. Daniel Jacobs (32-2, 29 KO)
I’m ranking Jacobs, 30, over Canelo because I think he did better against Golovkin than Canelo did. I’m not saying I think this means Jacobs would beat Alvarez, something that floated around right after the Canelo-GGG fight, because styles make fights, and Alvarez is a hell of a fighter himself.
But I do believe, for the time being, Jacobs deserves the No. 2 spot based on that performance, and his 2015 TKO-1 win over Peter Quillin was a really good one, too. He’s looked good for the past few years, often against opposition that wasn’t at his level, but he made clear they weren’t at his level, which is the most you can ask a lot of the time with boxing matchmaking and how we perceive fighters based on the results of fights.
Jacobs is currently slated to return to action on November 4, part of the Wilder-Ortiz card on Showtime at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
3. Canelo Alvarez (49-1-1, 34 KO)
This is a great top three. Alvarez is a middleweight now, can carry the weight, and took what GGG had to dish out, surviving it without, quite frankly, a whole lot of trouble. He was never in any serious danger against a man who was once on a true run of terror, decimating opposition he had intimidated before the bell ever rang.
I mentioned this on the 13th Round post-fight show with Connor and Kyle, but Alvarez is 27 years old. He’s just now entering what should be his prime years. He’s gotten notably better in the last four, since his loss to Floyd Mayweather, and he’s even better than he was when he beat Miguel Cotto in 2015.
Canelo has gotten a lot of stick — big hype fighters and golden gooses always do — but this is a legitimate top fighter. The head of this division is very strong right now, and looking forward, it’s Alvarez we should expect to see the most from in the next five years.
4. Sergiy Derevyanchenko (11-0, 9 KO)
I’m a huge fan of Derevyanchenko, 31, but his ceiling is lower than you might immediately imagine of a fighter who is 11 fights into his pro career, because it’s not like he’s going to get younger. He’s older than Jacobs, who has been fighting professionally since 2007.
But I was highly impressed with the way “The Technician” took apart Tureano Johnson, a solid contender, in his last fight on August 25, which earned him a mandatory shot at the IBF middleweight title, one of the three currently held by Golovkin. Johnson’s a good fighter, and Derevyanchenko dominated that fight, doing steady damage throughout and finally stopping the tough Bahamian in the 12th round.
5. David Lemieux (38-3, 33 KO)
Lemieux is 28. We’ve been paying attention to him for the better part of a decade now, as he’s gone from Quebec power punching curiosity to brief titleholder, beating Hassan N’dam in 2015 before losing the belt to Golovkin four months later.
This year, Lemieux has gone 2-0. He torched Curtis Stevens on March 11 in a matchup of power punchers, and then returned less than two months later to easily handle Marcos Reyes on the Canelo-Chavez undercard.
Lemieux is dangerous against anyone in the division, but he’s still kind of an all-or-nothing fighter, especially against better opponents. Golovkin put together a smart game plan and took him apart when they met, before stopping him in the eighth round. He always deserves respect, because punching with him is playing with fire and he can KO anyone, but top fighters will likely always beat him.
6. Billy Joe Saunders (25-0, 12 KO)
Saunders, 28, holds the WBO belt, the only one in the division not claimed by GGG, and he defended it successfully this past weekend with a somewhat mundane win over Willie Monroe Jr, a fringe contender Golovkin crushed in 2015.
Saunders is a solid fighter, smart and capable, but lacks plus power and has a tendency to fatigue in 12-round bouts, as we’ve seen against Chris Eubank Jr, Andy Lee, and even somewhat against Monroe, though less dramatically than before. He’s also not far removed from a far less than stellar performance — by his own admission — against Artur Akavov in December 2016.
Saunders is a player in this division, no question, and when he’s at his very best in a fight, can more than hold his own. He outboxed Eubank and Lee before those two both clawed back into the fight. Can he hang with the division’s best? Well, he says he wants to find out in December. Or maybe he’ll just fight Amir Khan.
7. Jermall Charlo (26-0, 20 KO)
The 27-year-old Charlo is a former titleholder at 154 who scored strong wins over Austin Trout (a close fight, but one where I thought he acquitted himself well against crafty vet) and Julian Williams (where he blew away a young contender with power).
Charlo moved up to 160 in July, beating Argentina’s Jorge Sebastian Heiland inside of four rounds. Heiland hurt himself early in that fight (or maybe before it), and never really stood a chance.
Charlo has good size for the division, can punch, and has skills. He’s potentially a high upside guy on the way up right now, and could make for some interesting fights in this division in the next few years.
8. Ryota Murata (12-1, 9 KO)
9. Hassan N’dam (36-2, 21 KO)
2012 Olympic gold medalist Murata, 31, clearly beat N’dam, 33, on May 20 in Japan. Unfortunately, two of three judges didn’t see it that way, and N’dam left with the win. The decision was bad enough that the WBA suspended judges Gustavo Padilla and Hubert Earle. I don’t buy that victory for N’dam, and neither did almost anyone else. The two are set to rematch on October 22.
Neither of these guys are likely going to be joining the top five any time soon, but Murata has legitimate talent and deserves to be undefeated and able to walk around calling himself “world champion” by modern boxing standards, even if it’s a paper version of one of the belts GGG holds.
10. Avtandil Khurtsidze (33-2-2, 22 KO)
Khurtsidze, 38, was/is the WBO mandatory challenger for Saunders, and the two were supposed to fight this year. Then Khurtsidze got arrested on a RICO charge, and as of now his career is up in the air.
When active, Khurtsidze is one of a handful of true must-watch action fighters in the sport today, a tiny (5’4” at 160) tornado of offense who totally overwhelmed unbeaten prospects Antoine Douglas and Tommy Langford in his last two outings. I thought then and think now that his motor and seemingly bottomless gas tank could be major problems for Saunders, if that fight ever does happen.