Where’s the action for ’09? Division-by-division breakdown
Manny Pacquiao, seen here attacking a heavybag with his usual ferocity, last fought at welterweight, the division with the most talent and the most potential in 2009. Photo / Chris Farina/Top Rank
Every week, THE RING ranks the best fighters in the world, division by division. But since it’s the start of the new year, we’re going to try something a little bit different today and rank each division as a whole.
The obvious way to do this would be just to look at the quality of talent in each weight class and rank them based on that. But where’s the fun in doing things the obvious way? Instead, we’re going to rate the divisions based on their potential for 2009. A major part of that is the talent, but equally important is the intrigue level regarding possible matchups.
So here, counting down from number 17 to number one, are THE RING’s division rankings heading into ’09, based on expectations for what each weight class is capable of providing over the next 12 months:
17. Featherweight: With the recent departures of Jorge Linares and Robert Guerrero, the 126-pounders have less to offer than any other weight class. There are a grand total of two interesting fighters in THE RING rankings: Chris John, a talented practitioner who refuses to leave Indonesia, and Steven Luevano, a capable but hardly scintillating southpaw. Throw in negative bonus points for Oscar Larios holding an alphabet belt despite failing a brain scan in July ’07, and you have a division wholly deserving of the cellar-dweller designation.
16. Heavyweight: The talent certainly isn’t any better here than at featherweight – if anything, it’s probably a smidge worse – but hey, they’re the heavyweights. We’ll always have a faint whiff of interest based on the division’s history of importance. Still, the two best heavyweights in the world are brothers who will never fight, meaning we won’t have a recognized champion until one of them loses, and right now, there aren’t many contenders out there capable of beating either one of them. In fact, the two most interesting up-and-comers, David Haye and Chris Arreola, might each face a Klitschko in ’09, which means we’ll be scratching both names from the “interesting” list when they get knocked out.
15. Flyweight: With Nonito Donaire about to try his hand(s) at junior bantam, this division has absolutely nothing to offer – at least outside of Japan. In the Far East, Daisuke Naito vs. Koki Kameda might feel like Ali vs. Frazier. Anywhere else, it means about as much as a Week 17 showdown between the Browns and Bengals to determine Ohio’s best football team.
14. Junior Middleweight: The 154-pounders would be challenging the featherweights for the number-17 spot if not for one name: Paul Williams. The multidivision-ing stringbean adds instant intrigue to a weight class otherwise devoid of it. Who else has you excited near the top of these rankings? Vernon Forrest? Cory Spinks? Sergio Mora? The future looks decent, with James Kirkland and Alfredo Angulo looming, but that’s an argument better saved for the 2010 rankings.
13. Junior Flyweight: No disrespect meant to Ivan Calderon, but exceptional skills can only carry you so far when it comes to getting the boxing world buzzing. You’ve seen one “Iron Boy” fight, you’ve seen them all. That’s why 32 bouts into a perfect pro career, no network has even the slightest interest in opening up their checkbooks for this guy. And that carries over to the rest of the division as well. Calderon vs. his true No. 1 contender, Ulises Solis, would be a meaningful fight. Beyond that, however, about the best thing this division can give us is replays of Carbajal-Gonzalez I on ESPN Classic.
12. Strawweight: Boxing’s itty-bittiest weight class isn’t any better than its neighbor three pounds to the north, except for one thing: Roman “Chocolate” Gonzalez is far and away the most appealing fighter this division has known since Ricardo Lopez. Here are the numbers you need to know about the Nicaraguan: 22, 21, and 20. The first is his win total, in as many fights. The second is his age. The third is his kayo count. Throw in two other undefeated beltholders (Raul Garcia and Oleydong Sithsamerchai) for him to potentially face in ’09, and there’s a little something to work with at 105 pounds.
11. Cruiserweight: This division was underrated (especially by HBO) for several years, but now it’s been called underrated enough times to not be underrated anymore. It’s just a decent, but still below-average division without much depth. A rematch between Tomasz Adamek and Steve Cunningham would be huge (at least by cruiserweight standards). Guillermo Jones is a tough veteran worthy of a crack at the winner. Otherwise, the division has fallen off from where it was from James Toney vs. Vassiliy Jirov through O’Neil Bell vs. Jean-Marc Mormeck. And it doesn’t appear that the lackluster fourth season of “The Contender” is going to produce any additional star power.
10. Junior Lightweight: The good news: Linares and Guerrero bring young blood up from 126 pounds. The bad news: Edwin Valero’s headed up to lightweight and Rocky Juarez may land at feather. That leaves Humberto Soto as the only first-rate fighter with a noteworthy track record in this division. But between Linares, Guerrero, Urbano Antillon, Roman Martinez and maybe Yuriorkis Gamboa, there is plenty of hope for the future. The question is whether that future will begin in ’09 or take another year to materialize.
9. Middleweight: At first glance, this seems like a hot division: You have a popular, entertaining champ in Kelly Pavlik, and an equally entertaining, similarly talented No. 1 contender in Arthur Abraham. A fight between America’s best and Europe’s best in this historically significant division would be one of the top five fights that could be made at any weight in ’09. Two problems: First, the inside buzz is that the fight is highly unlikely; and second, the rest of the division is ordinary at best. But based on the off-chance that Paul Williams will make 160 pounds his home and score a fight with Pavlik, the middleweights land right in the middle of these rankings.
8. Bantamweight: If you’re looking for big names, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for a universally recognized champion, prepare to be disappointed. But if you’re looking for serious quality, from No. 1 down to No. 7, you’ve come to the right place. Throw the names Hozumi Hasegawa, Anselmo Moreno, Silence Mabuza, Joseph Agbeko, Gerry Penalosa, Wladimir Sidorenko, and Abner Mares into a hat, and let the fun begin.
7. Super Middleweight: With Joe Calzaghe gone, this division lacks a clear leader but suddenly boasts plenty of depth – and the talent isn’t all based in Europe. Mikkel Kessler and Carl Froch are, but North America contributes Jermain Taylor, Lucian Bute, Librado Andrade, Allan Green, and Andre Dirrell, plus Anthony Mundine (Australia) and Sakio Bika (Cameroon) are quality vets. Mix and match those nine names any way you like to produce fights worth watching in ’09.
6. Light Heavyweight: The lower half of THE RING rankings aren’t so inspiring – Roy Jones and Clinton Woods are still hanging on at Nos. 6 and 7, after all – but the top half provides a solid collection of marquee names and gifted talents. There’s a tremendous old guard, headed up by champ Joe Calzaghe, Bernard Hopkins, and Glen Johnson, and a single, sensational hope for the next generation in Chad Dawson. After Dawson takes care of a pointless rematch with Antonio Tarver in March, his pursuit of something bigger will become one of the main focuses in the sport, and maybe he’ll even fight for the vacant RING title if Calzaghe retires.
5. Junior Bantamweight: A few months ago, it was all about the potential superfight between Cristian Mijares and Fernando Montiel to crown a champion. Now it would take a slugfest between Montiel and Vic Darchinyan to establish supremacy. (Don’t you love the stylistic versatility of Montiel?) Darchinyan’s upset of Mijares shook things up, but this remains a stacked division. We’re getting Darchinyan vs. Jorge Arce, and Montiel vs. Nonito Donaire in early-’09, and we’d love to see the winners clash for THE RING title. Throw in names like Mijares, Alexander Munoz, and Jose Navarro, and there’s simply nothing not to like.
4. Junior Welterweight: The 140-pounders land this high for one reason and one reason only: Manny Pacquiao vs. Ricky Hatton. This fight is almost certain to happen in May, and even though Pac-Man’s speed may be too much for The Hitman, this is an easy fight to hype and almost assuredly will be an exciting fight in the ring. It’s not as big in the States as Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather (more on that later), but if you include pay-per-view buys in Britain, it probably would be the top money fight of ’09. The rest of the division is nothing special, but the best are all willing to fight each otherÔÇöas evidenced by the planned Timothy Bradley-Kendall Holt clash, which will produce a clear No. 1 contender for the Hatton-Pacquiao winner.
3. Lightweight: Go ahead and take Pacquiao out of the equation, since he’ll probably keep frying bigger fish at 140 and 147 pounds. This division is still stacked. The champ is Juan Manuel Marquez, ranked second pound-for-pound by THE RING, and he’s taking on Juan Diaz in a can’t-miss action fight in February. Nate Campbell is a threat to anyone. Edwin Valero is coming. Joan Guzman, despite his disaster on the scales last year, is still a tremendous talent. And Joel Casamayor, if he is indeed hitting the gatekeeper stage, is as good a gatekeeper as you’ll find.
2. Junior Featherweight: There was a temptation to go with the upset special and make this division number one, but as you’ll see when we get to the weight class at No. 1, it would have been unacceptable to do the unexpected just for the sake of doing the unexpected. Still, what a tantalizing weight class this is. No other division has a top four that comes close to Israel Vazquez, Rafael Marquez, Celestino Caballero, and Juan Manuel Lopez. We already have a true champ here (Vazquez), but the dream for ’09 is a four-fighter tournament. Every possible matchup would be impossible to pick. If Vazquez-Marquez IV isn’t going to happen, it’s time for those two to mix with the next two top contenders and help this top-heavy division live up to its enormous potential.
1. Welterweight: Where do we begin? Maybe with the fact that the pound-for-pound best in the world, Pacquiao, last fought here, while the previous P-4-P king, Mayweather, is rumored to be getting the itch that we all knew was going to need scratching before long. Or, extending the pound-for-pound angle, how about the fact that Antonio Margarito, Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosley, and sometimes-welterweight Paul Williams are all in the P-4-P top 15? Margarito’s fighting Mosley in January in a solid matchup, and he’s likely to fight Cotto again a few months later and fill the RING vacancy. Meanwhile, nobody wants anything to do with Josh Clottey, Andre Berto would be a future champ in most divisions but might never be good enough to crack the top five in this one and Carlos Quintana, Zab Judah, and Luis Collazo provide an outstanding veteran backbone. Heading into ’09, all eyes are on the welterweight division. Yes, folks, there is life for boxing after Oscar De La Hoya, and ironically there’s the most life in the weight class that he last called home.