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September 05,2012

The Middleweight Division Muddle

Boxing News

History will show September 2012 to be a pivotal month. Three key events will have taken place that will provide clarity relative to the big picture at 160lbs and it will hopefully move us forward to some sort of defining moment in 2013 that will leave us with more answers relative to who actually is the top dog in this long celebrated marquee division.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


Just a few days ago Australia’s Daniel Geale successfully unified two of the more recognized alphabet belts when he supplemented his IBF middleweight title with Felix Sturm’s WBA Super World strap, defeating the talented German via split 12-round decision in the most unlikely of all places, Germany. That Geale managed the close win in the home grown favorite’s own backyard is significant on many levels, but of immediate importance it cleared-up some of the current middleweight turmoil and gave us a decorated challenger in a division that for years now has been devoid of color and electricity. That Geale was willing to step into the lion’s den and risk his standing and title tells us much about this brave Aussie. That he put the pedal to the metal gambled and fought his heart out late in hostile territory and managed to pull it out, tells us everything about his character. Watch this guy, he will not go quietly into the night and I expect he will continue to be a crucial player at 160lbs over the next year.


On the same night that Geale relieved Felix Sturm of his title, Kazakhstan’s stake in the 160lb ranks, Gennady Golovkin, made the 4th defense of his WBA World middleweight title with a systematic disassembly of an industrial strength tough Grzegorz Proksa in a manner that had me thinking I was watching the best middleweight boxer on the planet. The composure, punch placement and ridiculous power with which Golovkin demonstrated superiority over his challenger was both alarming and electric. Golovkin today seems to be the sort of throwback fighter I look to find but rarely realize; utterly willing to test himself against the very best in his division or weight classes just north or south of his comfort zone – and regardless of any presented fighting style or reputation. That’s what I call old school. I believe Golovkin is the most dangerous man today in the middleweight ranks. I believe he has the experience, skills, confidence and one-punch power to tear through the division much like a young Mike Tyson did a lifetime ago at heavyweight – or as HBO so aptly described him, like a young Julio Cesar Chavez SR. I expect Golovkin to be frozen out of the middleweight picture like a bag of genetically modified corn – or much like the real World middleweight champion has been these last two years – against perhaps the biggest draw in the division today, ironically, the son of the aforementioned great Chavez, Julio Cesar Chavez JR.


For the better part of the last 18 months Bob Arum has done more contorting and maneuvering where Chavez JR is concerned than a cornered, prime and under fire Pernell Whitaker. Chavez JR was at one point carefully moved into the position of #1 WBC contender for Sergio Martinez’s WBC title, but something strange happened along the way. Getting Chavez into the ring with Martinez proved extremely difficult. Martinez was relieved of his WBC title under several vastly different pretenses, depending on your source; HBO pressured him into another direction, the WBC failed to mandate that Chavez fulfill his obligation at #1 contender, the WBC stripped him, Martinez walked away from the WBC in utter frustration. The reasons are as varied as they are intriguing, but the fact remains, Martinez is the man who beat the man, and as such, WBC belt or not, he is the linear World middleweight champion until such time he is defeated in the ring for that designation. That Chavez JR won the WBC title in the wake of this intrigue is telling, and that he and Arum have been in no rush to clear up the outstanding business hints that they have been trying to preserve the Mexican as a lucrative attraction while waiting out the aging champion.


In a little over a week WBC middleweight titlist Julio Cesar Chavez JR will challenge the reigning World middleweight champion Sergio Martinez. Closer to 38 than his listed 37 years, Martinez has looked less than stellar in his last two showings, title defenses against fundamentally solid but otherwise unexceptional middleweight contenders.


The generally held opinion is that Martinez carries tremendous punching power, has exceptional hand and foot speed and is typically rated somewhere between #6 and as high as #3 in the mythical pound-for-pound top ten ratings. While I concede that Martinez has demonstrated moments of exceptional skill and power, he is not the power puncher many make him out to be nor are his reflexes approaching that of many of the other fighters rated in that mythical ranking system. In both the Darren Barker and the Mathew Macklin encounters, Martinez struggled at points to maintain the lead, hinting that the years and mileage may be catching up. To his credit he managed to outlast his foes and accelerate late to pull out wins that realistically, should have never really been in doubt.


On the Chavez JR front, the protected Mexican has demonstrated marked if unspectacular improvement in his last four fights. He is not exceptionally quick or powerful, but what he lacks for in explosiveness and finesse he makes up for in sheer post-weigh-in size and the accompanying benefits of strength and grit, answering the first bell anywhere from 179 to 183lbs; by the strictest standards of boxing today, a small cruiserweight. He has managed to outlast, overpower and overwhelm his limited and smaller natural middleweight opposition with his sheer size, thanks to today’s standard of 24 to 36-hour pre-fight weigh-ins. In effect, Chavez is a cruiserweight masquerading as a gargantuan middleweight.


September 15th will be an interesting night for the middleweight division. It’s made out to be the do-or-die crescendo of middleweight boxing for 2012, and although that may well be true on some level, it most certainly cannot be on another.


Boxing politics has seen to it that when Chavez and Martinez meet the majority of the advantages will be in the corner of the former, with the latter and aging approximate of what he was two years ago. It’s my belief that if Martinez scores anything less than a knockout, he loses the fight. If the fight is close and down to the wire, Chavez will get the nod. If Martinez clearly routes JR over the distance, Chavez again will get the benefit, and we the viewing public will be told we misinterpreted what we saw. Should Martinez hit a wall later in the contest as Chavez comes on, or should he be hurt and staggered, they will immediately stop it in favor of ‘JC Superstar’s’ oversized son.


That’s how I see the deck stacked. And if any of these Chavez-winning scenarios play out, expect Bob Arum to do everything in his power to preserve Chavez for a big fight spectacle with Daniel Geale while pretending that Gennady Golovkin doesn’t really exist. In any event, the middleweight muddle is as exciting as it has been in years at the moment, but the likelihood is that we’ll be left with more questions than answers after the dust has settled and the smoke cleared, but still realistically no closer to determining just who the best 160lb fighter is on the planet today.