I think we've located boxing's equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle. It is the junior middleweight division.
Several years ago, the 154-pound weight class was ripe with talent and intriguing matchups. Talented fighters that had outgrown the welterweight class headed north to collide with quality fighters already at home in the division. Names like Trinidad, Reid, Vargas, Wright, De La Hoya, Mosley, and Quartey all graced the junior middleweight division in the recent past.
As usually happens, though, time passes, fighters age (and sometimes get pudgier), and a new crop of pugilists usually emerges. As for the 154-pounders, we're still waiting for that new crop. The prognosis from here: get ready for a famine, at least for the foreseeable future.
The Current State of the Division
The division has had very little in the way of steady, consistent talent recently. Consider how many fighters have fallen from the top of the 154-pound heap in the past couple of years: Daniel Santos, Kassim Ouma, Roman Karmazin, Travis Simms, Cory Spinks and more recently Vernon Forrest.
The young fighters who should be there to pick up the slack have yet to show themselves. Highly regarded contender Sechew Powell was considered a serious player in the division before being stopped on this week's edition of Wednesday Night Fights. Former Contender participant Ishe Smith has been a bust. Hard-punching Joel Julio has yet to live up to the hype bestowed upon him early in his career. Placid boxer Yuri Foreman hasn't yet shown the ability to take his game to the next level.
Well, with such an open division, it serves as the perfect situation for a dominant champion to emerge, right? Well...not exactly.
Of the four major champions, none really appear willing or capable of ruling at 154. Newly crowned WBC champion Sergio Mora has campaigned at middleweight for much of his career, and indicated going into the Forrest fight that his plans were to return to 160. Undefeated Joachim Alcine, owner of the WBA strap, is talented, but an infrequent fight schedule has stalled momentum he desperately needs at age thirty-two. WBO champion Sergiy Dzinziruk, also undefeated and also thirty-two, has shown no inclination that he would like to leave Germany or fight any legitimate threats. Lastly is ancient IBF champion Verno Phillips, whose career began during the Reagan administration. Nearing his thirty-ninth birthday, Phillips' odometer does not foretell a lasting future in the division.
The picture is not pretty, friends.
There May Be Hope...
We wouldn't be boxing fans if we weren't optimists. There may be hope for the junior middleweight division after all.
Oscar De La Hoya's farewell tour, which has him hovering between 147 and 154, is enough to keep the division on life support for the time being. However, as was the case several years ago, talent from the loaded welterweight division is bound to make the jump to 154. Big welterweights like Paul Williams and Antonio Margarito might find the extra seven pounds to their liking, and even Miguel Cotto might eventually decide to make the same move. This alone would serve as a shot in the arm for the junior middleweight division.
A more permanent solution just might come from some some of the sport's newbies. While the talent currently atop the division is quite thin, 154 boasts some of the top prospects in the game. Vicious-punching dynamo James Kirkland, (22-0, 19 KO), had the boxing world buzzing after his recent one-round demolition of Eromosele Albert. His electrifying style and suffocating aggression might propel him to the top of the molehill at junior middle.
Likewise, fellow blue-chipper Alfredo Angulo just might be the goods, as he demonstrated against Richard Gutierrez in May. With intelligent handling and his steady work ethic, the future for Angulo, (13-0, 10 KO), could be limitless.
Lastly, the possible end of one fighter's run as an elite junior middleweight might signify the beginning of another. Deandre Lattimore, conquerer of the aforementioned Sechew Powell, was extremely impressive in his biggest career win. Though he has a slightly suspect chin to match his suspect credentials, his big left hand and youth (he's only twenty-two) make Lattimore, (19-1, 16 KO), an unlikely prospect to watch.
At the end of the day, there may be a ray of hope for the junior middleweights, which will be nothing but good news for fight fans.
Who will win #HOPKINSKOVALEV