Thursday, July 11, 2013

Tracking the Middleweights: Year 3

In February and June of 2011, I noticed that a large collection of young talent was starting to converge in the middleweight division. During the time of the first article in the series, boxing fans were bemoaning the lack of suitable opponents for 160-lb. king Sergio Martinez. In addition, the other beltholders in the division (Felix Sturm and Sebastian Sylvester) remained safely ensconced in Germany with no designs to fight each other or Martinez. The division seemingly was in a holding pattern. However, I saw hope on the horizon. Less than 30 months later, fighters from the original 12 that I identified in early 2011, plus three that I added to my review in 2012 have started to make their mark not just in the division, but in the imagination of the boxing public.

It's fun to revisit the quainter times of early 2011, when I thought that Fernando Guerrero and David Lemieux had a chance to be the class of the division – in my defense, I also said that Gennady Golovkin "may have the most upside of anyone in this group."  In 2011, I grouped the fighters into three categories.
Early 2011 Top Talents: (all fighters listed alphabetically)
1. Gennady Golovkin
2. Fernando Guerrero
3. David Lemieux
4. Dmitry Pirog
Early 2011 Good Prospects:
1. Darren Barker
2. Daniel Geale
3. Danny Jacobs
4. Matthew Macklin
5. Sebastian Zbik
Early 2011 Suspects:
1. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
2. Andy Lee
3. Craig McEwan

Remember, that Pirog had impressively knocked out Jacobs. Chavez was nothing more than a sideshow at that point of his career. Lee had already been stopped by Vera and had yet to face McEwan.
By June of 2012, these fighters started to further differentiate themselves in the division. With the additions of Marty Murray, Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam and Peter Quillin, the original dozen was expanded to 15.  Here's how I ranked the fighters just over a year ago.
June 2012 Top Talents (again, listed alphabetically)
1. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
2. Daniel Geale
3. Gennady Golovkin
4. Dmitry Pirog
Chavez was coming off of the best portion of his career by outpointing Zbik and stopping Lee. Geale had beaten Sylvester and Golovkin was essentially marking time. I decided not to penalize Pirog for his injuries at that time.
June 2012 Contenders
1. Darren Barker
2. Andy Lee
3. Matthew Macklin
4. Marty Murray
5. Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam
6. Peter Quillin
Lee had defeated Vera in the interim, although lost to Chavez after starting well. Murray went to Germany and received a draw against Sturm. N'Dam was slowly building his way up the organizational rankings. Quillin looked strong in beating McEwan.
June 2012 Suspects
1. Fernando Guerrero
2. David Lemieux
3. Craig McEwan
4. Sebastian Zbik
Guerrero was KO'ed by Brewer, Lemieux lost to both Rubio and Alcine, McEwan was bested by Lee and Quillin, and Zbik somehow got stopped by Sturm. This group has not done much better over the last 12 months, but I'll get to that in a bit.
I also didn't rate Danny Jacobs in 2012 because he had a large chunk of inactivity on account of a rare form of spinal cancer. Luckily, the cancer is in remission and Jacobs now finds himself back in the ring – a truly inspirational story in the sport.
For 2013, I will again rate the fighters in three groups – top talents, contenders and suspects.  I'll also assign letter grades and include comments on their performances over the past 12 months. At the end, I'll re-list the 2013 rankings of these fighters in a simpler format. 
July 2013 Top Talents (listed alphabetically) 
1. Daniel Geale (A+) Geale had an excellent year, picking up his second title in Germany by outpointing Felix Sturm and avenging the only loss of his career against Anthony Mundine. Geale will make his next defense against Barker, which will be his first fight in America. HBO, who is heavily invested in the division, will televise. Aligned with promoter Gary Shaw, Geale (if he beats Barker) could be in line for a future fight with Golovkin, Quillin or Martinez. In other words, really big things will be in store for him. 
2. Gennady Golovkin (A+) No fighter in the division has excited boxing fans the way that Golovkin has. Now a fixture on HBO, Golovkin destroyed Grzegorz Proksa, Gabriel Rosado and Macklin. In addition, he pulverized Nobuhiro Ishida earlier in the year in Monte Carlo. Golovkin is perhaps another good performance away from being a bona fide star in the sport. A victory over Martinez or the winner of Geale-Barker would help him reach that status.
3. Peter Quillin (A-) Quillin fought a savage war with N'Dam, where he knocked down N'Dam six times, and yet the fight was competitive until the 12th round. It was an excellent performance against a very solid fighter. However, N'Dam showed that with pressure and volume, Quillin could be outworked. Quillin also had a marking time knockout against Guerrero. He features three knockout punches (left hook, right hand and right uppercut) and excellent precision. He has advanced in the last year perhaps more than any other fighter on this list. Recently married, I hope he's happy because Golden Boy can't offer him too much at the moment, with the exception of a fight against Murray or Lee.
July 2013 Contenders
1. Darren Barker (C) Barker killed time over the last 12 months by beating Kerry Hope and Simone Rotolo. Barker's next big test will be in August against Geale. Barker could be competitive as Geale won't be able to hurt him. However, Barker will have to show the savvy he demonstrated early in his Martinez fight and yet somehow manage to match Geale's energy level and conditioning.
2. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (B-) Just a few more seconds and Chavez would have been the lineal middleweight champion. He came oh-so-close to stopping Martinez in the 12th round during an otherwise listless performance. Imagine what could have happened had Chavez bothered to train more! After the fight, Chavez was suspended for testing positive for marijuana. He hasn't fought since. Rumored to face Bryan Vera next, it's not clear if Chavez will ever make the middleweight limit again. For now, he remains in the division.
3. Andy Lee (C) Lee lost his trainer and father figure, Emanuel Steward, in 2012. He regrouped to defeat Anthony Fitzgerald and Darryl Cunningham as he transitioned to trainer Adam Booth. Lee seems caught in between styles right now, with Booth having Lee fight much more cleverly with movement, instead of the way favored by Steward, which was to sit down on his power shots. Nothing is scheduled for Lee at the moment. A clash against Macklin in Ireland would make sense and sell a lot of tickets.
4. Matthew Macklin (D+) Macklin scored a surprise first-round knockout of Joachim Alcine last year. He showed real aggressiveness in power in that outing. However, he was destroyed by Gennady Golovkin last month with a liver shot that could take years off of his professional career (that shot also broke a rib). Macklin most likely will have to go back to the domestic route in the U.K. for the time being. A fight against Lee or Barker in the next 12 months would do some good business.
5. Marty Murray (B+) Murray knocked out underwhelming Jorge Navarro but made his bones this year in giving Sergio Martinez one of his toughest fights. Murray sent Martinez to the canvas and it's possible that if the fight took place outside of Argentina, he would have won. Murray has lined himself up for a big fight against Quillin or Golovkin later this year. However, he's going to have to let his hands go more to have a chance on the cards. He'll get one more big shot; he better make the most of it.
6. Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam (B) N'Dam was knocked down six times but still won five rounds from all three judges in his fight against Quillin. N'Dam features high volume, odd-angled shots and some tricky movement. Unfortunately, his chin couldn't withstand Quillin's left hook. Nevertheless, he got up six times and showed tremendous heart and courage. N'Dam is in a tricky spot right now. For him to get a big fight, he will have to be the B-side to a larger name in the U.S. or Britain. If he's willing to travel and accept short money, he can be back on the world scene shortly. If not, it will be a long slog back through the European circuit.
July 2013 Suspects
1. Fernando Guerrero (D) Guerrero won two stay-busy fights (Jose Medina and Juan Carlos Candelo) but took some major punishment in his seventh-round loss to Peter Quillin. Guerrero just doesn't have the defensive skills or chin to last against the best in the division. He is another year from becoming a mere trial horse in the division.
2. Danny Jacobs (Inc.) Jacobs miraculously made it back to the ring in 2012 after his battle with cancer. Dipping his toe in the water, he's fought three times in his comeback against limited opposition. I imagine that in a year from now we'll know much more about what he can still do in the ring. He is rumored to be fighting Giovanni Lorenzo in August, which would be a nice test to see where his career goes from here.
3. David Lemieux (C+) Lemieux fought three times over the last year (Alvaro Ganoa, Albert Ayrapetyan and Robert Swierzbinski) and scored stoppages over all of them within two rounds. None of the three was a world beater but at least Lemieux had a solid year of regrouping. Lemieux had three problems in his losses – confidence, conditioning and defense. It looks like he's starting to regain his mojo in the confidence department. We don't know yet about the other two areas. I imagine that we'll find out sooner rather than later.  
4. Craig McEwan (D-) He lost in Prizefighter, beat a 19-23-1 fighter and had a technical draw after a fight was stopped in the first round because of a cut. McEwan's career isn't going anywhere right now.
5. Dmitry Pirog (Inc.) Pirog didn't fight in the last 12 months and pulled out of a clash with Golovkin because of a training camp injury. Pirog still hasn't capitalized on his 2010 knockout win over Jacobs. Now almost an afterthought in the division, he has lost all of his rankings juice and has no immediate shot of working his way back into the middleweight title picture.
6. Sebastian Zbik (Inc.) Zbik is semi-retired right now and hasn't fought in 15 months. It's unclear whether he will give it another shot in the middleweight division or stay on the sidelines. Should he decide to go back into the ring, a fight against Lemieux or Jacobs would make sense in trying to re-establish his credentials.
July 2013 Rankings (alphabetical within each category)
Top Talents
1. Daniel Geale
2. Gennady Golovkin
3. Peter Quillin
1. Darren Barker
2. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
3. Andy Lee
4. Matthew Macklin
5. Marty Murray
6. Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam
1. Fernando Guerrero
2. Danny Jacobs
3. David Lemieux
4. Craig McEwan
5. Dmitry Pirog
6. Sebastian Zbik

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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