Welcome to Today’s Knockout’s “Boxing Ranks in Review,” a feature where we examine one boxing division each week, starting with the heavyweights and, over the next few months, working our way down to the 105-pound minimumweights. Our champions will be the men who have earned it the ring, not been handed a belt by a combination of letters, and our rankings come from the computers of boxing’s most valuable website, BoxRec.
We’ve done the top four divisions, including a talented super-middleweight class led by Andre Ward, and now we’re to the start of a run of three great divisions—middleweight, junior middleweight and welterweight.
Many great fighters have been champions at 147 and 160, including “Sugar” Ray Robinson, Carmen Basilio, Emilie Griffith and Felix Trinidad, but there’s never been a better group at this weight level than the Four Kings—”Sugar” Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler. They faced off in a round robin that lasted for the entire decade of the 1980s—starting with Leonard-Duran I in June 1980 and ending with Leonard-Duran III in December 1989.
Leonard ended up as the unofficial winner, going 4-1-1, but that included the controversial decision victory over Hagler in 1987 and the highly disputed draw with Hearns in their 1989 rematch. There were also great fights, like the Hagler-Hearns war and the first Leonard-Duran fight, the bizarre “no mas” finish to Leonard-Duran II and Hearns’ vicious knockout of Duran in 1984.
Not all of those fights were at middleweight, but Hagler stayed at 160 throughout the 1980s, so that’s where the group fits best.
The current roster of middleweights isn’t quite that good, but there are still some great possibilities for PPV spectaculars.
CHAMPION: Miguel Cotto (40-4, Puerto Rico)
Cotto was thought to be coasting through the later parts of his career, especially after losing a pair of lopsided junior-middleweight fights to Floyd Mayweather and Austin Trout. In June 2014, he made his middleweight debut in a fight against longtime champ Sergio Martinez, and stunned everyone by knocking Martinez down three times in the first round and ending the blowout win in the 10th.
After a year off, he defended his belt against a decent opponent, knocking out Daniel Geale, and now he’s getting ready for a monster battle with junior-middleweight star Canelo Alvarez. Alvarez only has two blemishes on his 47-fight record—a four-round draw when he was 16, and a majority-decision loss to Mayweather. Mayweather chose to finish his career with Andre Berto, rather than giving Alvarez a rematch, so he’s moving up to 160 for Cotto. It should draw a big PPV crowd, and the winner has a couple major options—starting with the No. 1 contender at 160.
No. 1 Contender: Gennady Golovkin (33-0, Kazakhstan)
“Triple-G” might be the most exciting fighter in the world right now, with his 20-fight knockout string and massive power in both hands. If Alvarez beats Cotto, as expected, a Golovkin-Alvarez fight instantly becomes the first post-Mayweather superfight, and the winner could move up to 168 to fight unbeaten American Olympian Andre Ward in another huge match.
Is Golovkin for real? He’s never fought another star, with his toughest opponent to date probably being Geale last year. He knocked Geale out in the third, though, and no one has gone the distance with him in a fight scheduled for 10 rounds or longer. Brit Martin Murray gave it a good shot earlier this year, lasting into the 11th, but he had won one round at most before finally getting knocked out.
Golovkin will get another decent test next month against No. 5 contender David Lemieux, but we won’t know his true level until he fights Cotto, Alvarez or Ward.
No. 2 Contender: Peter Quillin (31-0-1, United States)
“Kid Chocolate” was another prospect with a good record against pretty bad opposition until he took an alphabet title away from Cameroon’s Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam in a battle of unbeaten fighters. The performance was dominant—he had N’Dam N’Jikam down six times on his way to an easy decision.
After three more wins over mediocre opponents, he got into the ring with Ireland’s Andy Lee this April and ended up with a hard-earned draw. Quillin didn’t make the 160-pound weight limit, and instead of signing for a rematch, he’s fighting lightly regarded Michael Zerafa this weekend on the undercard of Cornelius Bundrage vs. Jermall Charlo.
No. 3 Contender: Andy Lee (34-2-1, Ireland)
Andy Lee was supposed to be a superstar. An Irish Olympian, he moved to the United States to train with Emanuel Steward at the legendary Kronk Gym. On his first day, still suffering from jet lag, he borrowed shoes and gloves and dominated Bundrage in a sparring session.
Steward often talked about Lee’s chance to be the greatest star Kronk had ever produced, and his pro debut was the co-main event on a Joe Louis Arena card that also featured Johnathan Banks, Aaron Pryor Jr. and the ill-fated Octavio Lara.
Lee’s career hit its first snag when he was knocked out by journeyman Brian Vera in his ESPN 2 debut, running out of gas in a fight he was winning. He came back to win his next 13 fights, including a lopsided decision over Vera, and earned a fight with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Once again, Lee took an early lead before running out of gas and getting knocked out while winning the fight.
After that, his career was derailed by the death of Steward in late 2012. He returned to Ireland to work with Adam Booth, only to run into serious trouble in a 2014 fight with John Jackson. Lee looked to be on the verge of a third knockout loss, but landed a counter right that ended the fight.
That led to the draw with Quillin, a fight marred by a knockdown being recorded against Lee when Quillin had actually stepped on his foot. He’s scheduled to fight unbeaten British Olympian Billy Joe Saunders next month.
No. 4 Contender: Jermain Taylor (33-4-1, United States)
Jermain Taylor’s days as a contender were supposed to be done six years ago, when he lost back-to-back fights to Kelly Pavlik, and then was blown out of the Super Six competition with knockouts by Carl Froch and Arthur Abraham.
Taylor took two years off, spent the next couple years fighting club opponents, and last October, at the age of 36, he was given an alphabet-title shot against the very tough Sam Soliman. Soliman was coming off two wins over Felix Sturm, although one had been ruled a no-contest when he failed a drug test, and didn’t expect much trouble with the aging Taylor.
Taylor was losing early, but exploded in the middle rounds, knocking Soliman down four times in five rounds to win a unanimous decision. It was a great comeback story that was ruined when Taylor was arrested in January for threatening a family with a gun and charged with eight felonies, adding to the two hanging over his head for an incident just before the Soliman fight.
Things got worse in May when Taylor, undergoing treatment for substance abuse, was alleged to have beaten another rehab patient. At this point, he is being treated for mental illness while in jail, and his career is almost certainly over.
No. 5 Contender: David Lemieux (34-2, Canada)
In 2011, Lemieux was knocked out by Marco Antonio Rubio and lost a majority decision to veteran Joachim Alcine. That seemed to be it for a fighter whose only decent win had been a first-round knockout of Hector Camacho Jr.
Lemieux, though, did what smart fighters do—built his record up by fighting journeymen until he could convince an alphabet champ to give him a shot. In this case, it was N’Dam N’Jikam—the same fighter that Quillin had beaten to make his first big impression. Lemieux, like Quillin, had his Cameroonian opponent going up and down like a yo-yo, scoring four knockdowns on his way to a unanimous decision.
The Canadian, knowing he won’t get a third shot at the big time, has moved to immediately cash in by signing to fight Golovkin in October. It’s going to be a matchup of two big punchers—they’ve gotten 61 of their 67 wins by knockout—and should be worth a reasonable PPV fee.