Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hope on the Middleweight Horizon

Over the last decade, the middleweight division has been as thin as a supermodel.  Since the middleweight unification tournament of 2001 which featured Bernard Hopkins, Felix Trinidad, Keith Holmes and William Joppy, the division has featured no more than a couple of elite fighter at any one time.  In the interim, Bernard Hopkins' reign was ended by Jermain Taylor, who held onto the top spit in the division for several ineffectual defenses.  Other top-tier fighters such as Winky Wright and Kelly Pavlik have come and gone.  The European champions, such as Felix Sturm and former champ Arthur Abraham, were content to stay protected in their home turf of Germany against limited opposition. 

But now, there is a fresh crop of young middleweights. These new fighters are hungry and looking to make names for themselves. Suddenly, the barren middleweight division might become one of the best divisions in the sport over the next two to three years.  

This next wave hails from all over the world and features a variety of styles.  The cream of the crop is four undefeated fighters: David Lemieux from Canada, Dmitry Pirog from Russia, Fernando Guerrero from the United States by way of the Dominican Republic and Gennady Golovkin from Germany by way Kazakhstan.  Pirog and Golovkin are already titleholders and Lemieux and Guerrero should be ready for title shots by early 2012 at the latest.  

As far as amateur backgrounds go, Golovkin was a silver medalist in the 2004 Olympics.  Pirog and Guerrero were both decorated amateurs in Russia and the U.S. respectively.  Lemieux turned pro at 18 as has been ascending the ranks at warp speed.

Lying just beneath this top tier is another solid group of emerging middleweights.  Sebastian Zbik (Germany) is already an interim titleholder.  Matthew Macklin (England) just signed with Golden Boy and has a featured spot on U.S. pay-per-view in the spring against Winky Wright.  Daniel Geale (Australia) Darren Barker (England) and Daniel Jacobs (U.S.) also fit into this group.  Here you have brawlers (Macklin), technical fighters (Zbik, Barker, Geale) and boxer-punchers (Jacobs).  

In addition, three other middleweights are getting additional U.S. television exposure this spring, but may be suspects more than prospects at this point: Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (Mexico), Craig McEwan (U.S. via Scotland) and Andy Lee (U.S. via Ireland).  

All of the fighters mentioned above are young and just starting to hit their stride as major figures in boxing.  When you place these 12 in the division with a pound-for-pound king (Sergio Martinez) and two solid titleholders (Felix Sturm and Sebastian Sylvester), you have the makings of high drama in the middleweight division.

At this point, no one can predict how the future will unfold for these young titleholders and prospects.  Many will have their records impacted by each other.  Pirog already knocked out Jacobs.  Zbik is in talks to fight Chavez Jr. this spring.  

Ultimately, with this much talent in the division, there should be lots of excitement to come.  As the boxing community frets about the lack of suitable opponents for Sergio Martinez, realize that the wait won't be too long.  If Martinez decides to head north to super middleweight, don't worry.  The division will be in great hands.   

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