The End Of Middleweight Madness?

The 160 pound class has long been considered one of boxing’s so-called “glamour divisions,” the locale of numerous great champions and great fights, but in recent years it’s unfortunately also become the focal point of much frustration on the part of die-hard boxing fans. The reason for this was simple: for too long no one knew for certain who deserved the title of champion at the weight. This of course is far from a rare circumstance in boxing, but the machinations at play in this particular division made the middleweights an especially vexing example.

Go back a bit and there was some logic and continuity. Bernard Hopkins was the undisputed champ before he was defeated twice on decision by Jermain Taylor, who then lost his crown to Kelly Pavlik in 2007. The man they called “The Ghost” was defeated by Sergio Martinez in 2010 and the Argentinian was clearly the rightful champion, despite the efforts of the WBC to install Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., until “Maravilla” was defeated by Miguel Cotto in 2014.

Chavez Jr. vs Martinez in 2012: Been a while since there was one clear ruler at 160.

However, by that time, Gennady Golovkin had stormed the division like a Kazakh bulldozer, laying waste to everything in his path. He won the WBA version of the world title and then went about defeating any and all top contenders who dared to face him, while patiently waiting for the lineal champion, whether it was Martinez or Cotto, to man up and take him on. And so he waited. And waited some more. As did boxing fans. And as did everyone even after Canelo Alvarez defeated Cotto but then announced he wasn’t yet a true middleweight so it was unfair to expect him to fight Golovkin, and instead he knocked out Amir Khan and Liam Smith.

Cotto vs Canelo was for the lineal crown.

Meanwhile, the WBO belt was floating around in limbo since it had been stripped from Martinez for inactivity, before settling finally with Andy Lee and then Billy Joe Saunders, though few saw either as legitimate threats to Golovkin. In fact, rightly or wrongly, the only man who was seen as having a serious chance of bringing an end to GGG’s stampede of carnage was Alvarez.

The whole point of boxing of course is to have the best pugilists battle each other; that’s why we have champions and top contenders in the first place, so for serious fight fans it was little short of maddening to have to wait even longer for the situation at 160 to finally sort itself out, especially when the solution was so obvious and simple: lineal champ Alvarez squares off with Golovkin, the WBC, WBA and IBF champ.

The Canelo vs Golovkin draw didn’t help to end the confusion.

In short, for a good four or five years confusion has reigned in the middleweight division, but now, clarity is on the horizon. Which may seem like a strange sentence to read after last month’s Canelo vs Golovkin showdown ended in a draw. But the fact is a rematch between the two appears a certainty, plus word has just now come down that a match between WBO champ Saunders and top contender David Lemieux is a done deal and will take place in December in Laval, Quebec.

The significance of the latter bout is clear: if Lemieux wins, it bolsters the claim of the winner of a Golovkin vs Alvarez rematch, as Lemieux himself suffered a one-sided drubbing to the Kazakh two years ago. And if Saunders wins, that’s actually a good thing, because then the Briton southpaw goes from being an afterthought who few rate as being in the same league as Canelo and Golovkin, to being the logical next opponent for top honours.

Andy Lee losing the WBO title to Saunders in 2015.

In other words, not only are we about to finally get some much-desired coherence in the middleweight division, but we also stand a good chance of getting some very appealing match-ups. After all, Daniel Jacobs and Jermall Charlo are also firmly in the mix and awaiting their opportunities.

But for right now, what appears certain is Canelo vs Golovkin II will take place sometime within the next several months, and Saunders vs Lemieux is definitely going down on December 16. And while the latter match-up may not be half as lucrative as the former, it’s still an attractive pairing given the contrasting styles of the fighters and the recent performances of both men. The slick boxing Saunders is coming off a convincing and one-sided win over Willie Monroe, while Lemieux has notched four consecutive victories, including an impressive, one-punch knockout of Curtis Stevens.

Even so, if a Lemieux vs Saunders showdown doesn’t yet have you pumped, clearly the combatants are going to do what they can to change that. Already the trash talk and the hype is in full swing.

Lemieux’s most impressive performance of late was against Curtis Stevens.

“Lemieux looks good against ‘B level’ fighters, but he is now getting in the ring with someone far superior,” says Saunders. “I don’t just want the dog meat that Golovkin has left behind, I want the dog himself. And once I beat Lemieux I’ll be moving onto the winner of the rematch between Canelo and Golovkin.”

“It’s time to be world champion again,” Lemieux said. “Saunders is about to get destroyed. I’m going to be extremely ready for this fight and I’m going to inflict a lot of pain on Saunders. His 0 must go.”

So keep your fingers crossed, long-suffering fight fans. Clarity, and some great fights, look to be on their way in the middleweight division.                    — Neil Crane 

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