Boxing fans of a certain age are fond of talking about the good old days, when there was only one world champion. The truth is, you would have to be a pretty old fan to remember those days. The WBC and WBA split off as competing sanctioning organizations in the early 1960s.
Still, for the first two decades of the alphabet soup era, unification fights were not unusual and undisputed champions were not uncommon. But since the IBF emerged in the 1980s and the WBO came to be recognized in the 1990s, the situation has more often or not been cloudy. The best we can usually end up with at this point is a situation like we have now at heavyweight, where nobody really disputes that Wladimir Klitschko is the rightful king. Deontay Wilder does hold the WBC portion of the title, but that’s no more than a claim that has yet to be meaningfully asserted with a direct challenge to Klitschko. Klitschko holds the WBA, WBO and IBF belts. More importantly, he is the lineal champion. He’s the man who beat the man who beat the man.
At middleweight, the current lineal champion is WBC belt holder Miguel Cotto. It’s a distinction he earned by pummeling Sergio Martinez in June of last year. It was one of 2014’s great performances and made Cotto the first-ever four-division world champion from boxing-rich Puerto Rico.
Yet, by now, few boxing fans or writers disagree over who the true top dog is at 160 pounds. When undefeated WBA champion Gennady Golovkin steps into the ring with Willie Monroe Jr. this weekend at the historic Fabulous Forum in Inglewood, California, the fight will be viewed as a true middleweight title fight.
Cotto has the historical claim, but Golovkin has put together the far stronger claim where it matters, in the ring. He’s knocked out 19-straight opponents, walking through a number of top contenders in an unprecedented fashion. Lineal or not, any claim to the world title at middleweight that is not defended against GGG at this point is a meaningless assertion.
Cotto has been one of the great stars of his generation and nothing but a credit to the sport. But it’s a joke that he is defending his title against Daniel Geale, a fighter Golovkin crushed in Round 3 last year. Cotto vs. Geale has the potential to be an exciting fight. To present it as a title fight is a travesty.
Aside from Cotto and Golovkin, there are no other truly meaningful claims to the crown at middleweight. Daniel Jacobs has a belt that is called the WBA “regular” world title. The WBA has a ridiculous habit of designating there world champions “super” world champions and then naming a second “regular” world champions. This is one of the most embarrassing practices in contemporary boxing and the WBA should be mocked and derided for it relentlessly by boxing writers.
Jacobs is a talented, legitimate contender at 160 pounds. He’s a cancer survivor with an incredibly inspiring back story. But anybody who refers to him as a world champion should blush from shame for telling such a whopper.
The WBO belt holder at middleweight is Andy Lee. He picked up the vacant belt last year when he knocked out Matt Korobov with one of the year’s best stoppages. The belt was vacant because undefeated and over-protected Peter Quillin wasn’t interested in fighting Korobov. Quillin did fight Lee earlier this year, though he failed to make weight, so it wasn’t a title fight. It ended up a draw.
The IBF title hasn’t been relevant at middleweight in a couple of years and is currently vacant. In October 2014,
Jermain Taylor captured that belt from Sam Solimon. Taylor was an undisputed champion in the early part of this century and it would have been a feel-good comeback story if not for the fact that Taylor is well-known to have sustained serious head trauma and probably shouldn’t be fighting at this point, even if he still has better skills than the majority of contenders.
As if to confirm this fact, Taylor was arrested with multiple felonies stemming from a bizarre shooting incident and was stripped of the belt before he could ever defend it. In June, former WBO belt holder Hassan N’Dam will face off with David Lemieux for the vacant belt. That should be a very exciting fight, but I will hardly view the winner as a true world champion, regardless of what piece of hardware the IBF hands him.
Still, if Lemieux comes out on top, which I think will be the case, he could make for a great showdown with Golovkin. Lemieux is a hard-punching knockout artist. He’s still just 25 and has rebounded nicely from back-to-back losses in 2011.
The biggest question hanging over the middleweight division is if, or when, Saul Alvarez will move up. After his brilliant Round 3 stoppage of James Kirkland last weekend, a Canelo-Cotto or Canelo-GGG fight would be among the biggest of any boxing year.