Monday, June 20, 2011

Revisiting the Young Middleweights

Coming into 2011, there appeared to be a new crop of young middleweights about to inject new blood into a top-heavy and mediocre division.  The middleweight division hadn't been particularly deep since the turn of the century.  And while there had been some big names at the top of the weight class, such as Bernard Hopkins, Kelly Pavlik and now Sergio Martinez, there had always been a problem in finding enough competitive opponents. 

This new wave sought to change the status quo.  They had won titles, prevailed in eliminators and beat the division's gatekeepers.  In this earlier post, I detailed many of their professional and amateur highlights. 

2011 was supposed to be their opportunity to  reach the top echelon in the division.  But, shockingly, in the past four months, many of these fighters have suffered their first losses, or have struggled to impress.  In addition, two of them (and not necessarily among the most regarded of the group) won titles.  As a result, the future for many of these fighters looks a lot different in the middle of 2011 than it did at the beginning of the year. 

Without further adieu, let's evaluate the progress of this group.  You'll notice one of three markings next to each fighter.  "+" means that the fighter made forward progress, "-" denotes that the boxer took a step a back and "NC" stands for no change in a fighter's status.  In alphabetical order:

Darren Barker:  (NC)  Barker will be fighting Sergio Martinez in October.  He may not be ready to defeat a boxer of Martinez's caliber, but sometimes a fighter has to seize his title shot when it is offered.  (This title shot is of the mythical variety because Martinez, although recognized as the best fighter in the division, has been stripped of his belt.)

Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr.:  (+)  Chavez had an impressive victory over Sebastian Zbik (see his separate entry later in the post).  He showed an excellent left hook and a willingness to fight in the trenches and go to the body.  His defense is still abysmal and this attribute will hinder whatever chance he has of becoming a top-level fighter.  However, when properly motivated, he makes for exciting television.  Expect to see him a lot over the next 18 months.

Daniel Geale: (+)  Geale had perhaps the best victory of anyone on this list, winning a middleweight title with his rousing defeat of Sebastian Sylvester.  Geale showed impressive athleticism and internal fortitude in the victory.  For a foreigner, it is often difficult to win a decision in Germany, but Geale triumphed by relatively wide margins on the scorecards.  He may be next in line to face Martinez after Barker. 

Gennady Golovkin: (+)  Golovkin knocked out former junior middleweight titleholder Kassim Ouma this past weekend.  Ouma came in prepared and put forth a spirited effort.  However, Golovkin's combination punching, solid right hands and superior conditioning secured the victory.  Although Ouma is not the fighter that he once was, it was solid win.  Golovkin still has some promotional problems with Universum to sort out before he can make his American debut.  He may have the most upside of anyone in this group.  

Fernando Guerrero: (-)  Guerrero got knocked out by a 12-loss fighter last weekend.  Although Grady Brewer has been a serviceable fighter for many years, excellent prospects are supposed to beat him.  Guerrero cemented concerns about his chin with his inability to withstand a couple of right hands from a fighter with a career knockout percentage of 40%.  For some reason, Team Guerrero thought it was a good idea to move down to junior middleweight.  Perhaps they are rethinking that strategy after last weekend's debacle.

Daniel Jacobs: (NC)  Jacobs knocked out professional loser Robert Kliewer (11-13-2) in March in an off-TV fight.  Golden Boy has nothing currently planned for him. 

Andy Lee: (-)  Lee is the only fighter on this list to win his fights and lose stature.  He was able to stop Craig McEwan (see below for his entry) in the tenth round of a fight in which he was behind on the scorecards.  Lee's defense was atrocious.  If McEwan had any real power, Lee would not have survived.  Lee couldn't get out of the way of McEwan's jab or and was seemingly hit by almost all of his opponents' power shots.  Lee fought again in May and defeated Alex Bunema in a marking-time fight.  He may face Brian Vera next in the fall.  Although that fight will provide an opportunity to avenge an earlier loss, it means nothing in the grand scheme of the middleweight division. 

David Lemieux: (-)  Lemieux faced Marco Antonio Rubio earlier in the year for a #1 ranking from the WBC.  Rubio can be vulnerable to power punchers but he also knocks out lesser fighters.  After dominating the first five rounds, Lemieux succumbed to Rubio's power, with his conrner stopping the fight in the seventh.  Perhaps the young French Canadian was moved too quickly.  Team Lemieux took a gamble – and lost.  Lemieux is currently at the Drawing Board.

Matthew Macklin: (NC) Macklin fights for a belt this weekend in Germany against long-time titleholder Felix Sturm.  Macklin will be the decided underdog, but expect a spirited effort.

Craig McEwan: (-) McEwan looked great for eight rounds against Andy Lee.  He moved well and showed a great jab.  Then those old problems regarding his stamina and chin resurfaced.  Winning perhaps seven of the first eight rounds of their fight, McEwan found himself staring at the ceiling after tasting a left hand from Lee.  McEwan's lack of power and substandard conditioning prohibit him from reaching anywhere near the top of the division.  

Dmitry Pirog: (NC) Pirog turned in a lackluster effort in March against unheralded Javier Francisco Maciel.  After the fight, it was revealed that Pirog suffered a hand injury during the contest.  That may explain his tentativeness in the ring.  However, almost a year has passed since his shocking knockout of Daniel Jacobs, and no big fights loom for him on the immediate horizon.

Sebastian Zbik: (-)  In many respects, Zbik fought a spirited battle against Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr.  He had a high work rate and threw impressive combinations that landed at will.  But champions shouldn't lose to fighters that display the type of poor defense that Chavez exhibited.  Zbik demonstrated that he doesn't have enough power to keep the bigger punchers in the division at bay.  He also fought a stupid fight, insisting on meeting Chavez in the trenches, instead of using his movement, clean combinations and ring generalship to win rounds.  To his credit, he absorbed a punishing beating, but a smarter fighter would never have engaged Chavez in that manner.

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