Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Boxing's Biggest Story

The welterweight division is now the biggest story in boxing, and its depth offers such a startling variety of intriguing match-ups that this one weight class -- by itself -- has the potential to push the fight game back into the public eye more consistently than in years. It is said, from time to time, that boxing is only as healthy as its heavyweight division, and that without dominant big men, boxing suffers. That's historically accurate, but only up to a point. After all, the welterweights captured the public's attention in the late 70s and 80s when the legendary likes of Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran and others roamed the weight class, between 140-147 lbs.

The group currently battling there is probably the best since then. Forget their fight's one-time publicity injection one division higher at junior middleweight: Oscar De La Hoya's decision to return to welterweight and Floyd Mayweather's own return to the weight means boxing's two biggest stars now reside there for any number of fights that could seize the masses' attention. De La Hoya is a rock star who transcends boxing, although he does that pretty well, too; Mayweather is the hip-hop fighter, all flash and skill, his generation's most gifted practitioner. Just below them in the welterweight stratosphere are "Sugar" Shane Mosley, the big-name veteran who toppled De La Hoya twice with speed, power and guts yet nonetheless has never quite won the following he deserved, and Miguel Cotto, the fastest-rising celebrity in the sport who stalks and crushes his opponents with flagrant disregard for what kind of punishment he has to endure to do so. Near that same level is Ricky Hatton, Great Britain's national hero, a frenzied mauler who incites soccer-style chants and whose signature victory over hall of fame-bound Kostya Tszyu is considered by many Brits their country's greatest boxing victory ever. He might move up from the junior welterweight limit of 140 pounds to take on either Mayweather or De La Hoya. Scratching their way to the top are Paul Williams and Kermit Cintron, each of whom earned the adoration of hardcore fight fans in their recent wins -- Cintron with a nasty knockout, Williams with his breathtaking volume of punches, bravery and the coordination he exhibited despite being freakishly tall -- and could break through to the rest of the world with another marquee victory.

And that's just the top seven. From there, the division's borderline top-10 guys are a murderer's row. Antonio Margarito, hyped as the most feared man in boxing before his loss to Williams for thumping young contenders into tears or the hospital, is still dangerous. Zab Judah, despite his recent defeats, looked better than ever against Cotto, demonstrating the speed and power that made him such a sensational phenom before his struggles inside and outside the ring. Joshua Clottey, with his sturdy defense, rock-solid chin and diverse attack, is a tough night for anyone in the division. Luis Collazo, with his difficult counter-punching southpaw style, scared Hatton back down to 140, however briefly, in Hatton's first flirtation with the higher weight class. What's more, the division has potential stars in prospects Andre Berto (knockout artist), Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (son of Mexico's all-time best) and Alfonso Gomez (contestant on the TV show The Contender). Even its dregs would be threats to take over if they switched to a neighboring division, guys like Carlos Quintana, David Estrada, Mark Suarez and Walter Matthysse. Then there are other boxers who could join the weight class soon or come back for a good money fight, such as veteran Ike Quartey, who tested a young De La Hoya like he had never been tested before, or Joel Julio, ESPN's 2005 prospect of the year. Now, let's make it pan out. When some of these same fellows and a few other greats lived at 140 pounds, any number of the best fights never happened. There's too much talent here to do anything but have all of them face off against each other.


BOB said...

I hate it when people use the heavyweight excuse. Since I was born I can't ever recall a time when the heavyweight division had more than 3 decent fighters. I loved watching Mike Tyson knock the shit out of everyone he faced, but once the rape allegation hit and he lost his mojo it was a decline in the division. There were a few decent fighters but none that made me have to watch.
The lighter weight classes have always had better matches and pure boxing, but people want to see knockouts NOT boxing, that is what is keeping the non-boxing crowd away.

Indiebass said...

I'm somewhat with bob on this one. The fact of the matter is I've always preferred watching the lighter-weight fighters. With few exceptions (most notably the Darchinyan - Donaire fight from a few weeks ago) there aren't any one-punch knockouts. As a result, the fighters aren't afraid to actually fight one another. The guys up in the heavier weight classes know it only takes one punch so you have these 12-round decisions where you could have just as easily watched two tanks drive around a field. They look awesome, but unless one actually hits the other one, there's not a lot to see.